By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – A baby raccoon recently caught the eye of a passing motorist who, believing it to be orphaned, plucked it off the road and brought it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.
In Northeast Mississippi, that would be Amanda Harkins at the Saltillo Small Animal Hospital. Harkins has cared for rescued, injured and orphaned wildlife since May 2010. But her impending return to school will leave the area without a dedicated specialist come August.
Her boss, veterinarian John Morris, also is a certified rehabilitator but doesn’t have the time to carry on Harkins’ case load. Morris said he’s morally obligated to nurse back to health injured wildlife, but he can’t raise wild orphans – an undertaking that requires an incredible amount of time.
The region’s only other wildlife rehabilitator, Cheryl Gordon of Pontotoc County, said she’s also leaving the area in a few months.
Residents who find helpless robins, raccoons or deer now must contact the Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation agency in Hernando for help.
“Most of what we do is educating them on the telephone,” said Valery Smith, MWR director. “People will call, and we have to ask a lot of questions … to determine whether the baby actually needs help.”
Smith said most calls involve young birds on the ground. People worry they’ve dropped from a nest or will fall prey to the family cat. But at this time of year, she said, hundreds of fledglings are grounded while learning to fly.
“The parents will actually feed them on the ground for a week or so to build up pec muscles enough so they can fly,” she said. “Put the dog or cat up and give the mother a chance to lead the baby away from danger.”
Many of the so-called orphans at the Saltillo Small Animal Hospital likely were taken while their mothers hid helplessly nearby, Harkins said. She gestured toward the 9-week-old raccoon brought in by the motorist about one month ago.
“Its mother was probably carrying it across the road, and the car startled her and caused her to drop her baby,” Harkins said. “She was probably watching them take it.”
People mean well when they rescue animals, she said, but many unintentionally cause more harm than good. Injured animals, no matter how cute, make nutritious meals for those higher on the food chain. Baby animals, no matter how alone, probably have a protective mother nearby.
“Unless you see a dead mother with a baby lying beside it,” Smith said, “you cannot assume that baby is orphaned.”
But when outdoor animals truly need help, wildlife rehabilitators often are their only saving grace.
“You have to find people who love the animals for the right reason,” Morris said. “Not to snuggle it and keep it as a pet, but to rehabilitate it. And when that’s not feasible, to possibly euthanize it.”
Morris said he’s seeking another wildlife rehabilitator to replace Harkins. The MWR also needs more volunteer rehabilitators to serve the region. It offers several training opportunities throughout the year to become certified under its license.
As for the young raccoon, she’ll be released into the woods after another month or so in Harkins’ care. But first, she has to learn how to catch and eat live mice.
“She can’t eat cat food and drink milk from a bottle all her life,” Harkins said. “She’s got to learn how to be wild.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
■ If you find an injured or orphaned
wild animal – or if you’d
like to become a wildlife rehabilitator
– call the Mississippi
Wildlife Rehabilitation agency at
(662) 429-5105 or visit
It’s a myth
■ The scent of a human will not
cause a mother bird or any
other wildlife matron to abandon
her baby. If you see a small
bird out of its nest, it’s OK to
pick it up and put it back. If
there’s no nest, you can make
your own with a small box or
plastic container filled with
shredded tissue and affix it to a
■ State law forbids people to
raise wildlife as pets or to care
for injured and orphaned wildlife
without a permit.