The Sad Side of Rehab

Two baby raccoons in an outdoor enclosure

This has been a difficult week for rehabilitation efforts here at Earthfire, having more losses than wins. They warn you when you start that it won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. You won’t be able to save them all, and it can be heartbreaking. But knowing something intellectually and handling it emotionally can be quite different.

Flightless Duck

We received a call that a Momma duck and five ducklings were left in an intake pen at a local shelter. Momma had been injured and wasn’t able to walk well. Although it was late in the day, I loaded a crate into my car, stopped and got some feed for them, and made the hour-plus trip over the hill to bring the family to our facility. Knowing the vet would be closed by the time I would get back, I made an appointment for Momma to be seen in the morning. When I arrived at the shelter, one of the five ducklings had already passed, but the other four looked to be in decent shape, so I was hopeful. And Momma put up quite a fight, which was also a good sign of her fighting spirit. With the family safely secured in the crate, we headed home.

In the morning, we went to the vet and separated the ducklings from Momma so that she could be seen, only to find that another duckling had passed overnight. But again, the remaining three looked to be fighters. Momma had to stay at the vet for tests, so the ducklings came back to the office with me to await the return of their mother.

Three ducklings wrapped in a gray towel
Three little ducklings • Photo by Dawn Harrison

After the short ride from the vet to the property, two of the three looked in bad shape. They were cold and listless, so I wrapped them gently in a shirt and held them to my chest for body heat. Sadly, within a couple hours, they passed away. When Momma returned from the vet, I put the remaining duckling in with her. She was very protective of it, and since it was pretty active, I gave a little sigh of relief that we at least had helped Momma and one duckling. Unfortunately, when I checked before going home, the last duckling had also passed. I think they just had too hard a time figuring out that the food I offered them was, in fact, edible. The shocking change from wild foraging to domestic feeding can’t be easy.

Raccoon Babies

In addition to this rapid loss of ducklings, we also lost three out of five raccoon babies who just failed to thrive. The three that we lost were, unsurprisingly, the smallest of the five. They were also the ones who weren’t able to transition from the bottle to solid food. When the vet examined them, she said that they may not have been mature enough to be weaned, although their siblings were. I don’t know if it was that, depression, inability to process the nutrients in goat’s milk sufficiently, or something completely different, but they each just stopped trying to eat, stopped trying to fight, and passed away.

Hold On To the Victories

Losing any creature is not easy. We can tell ourselves that they are in a better place, that we gave them the love that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and that we tried our best to ease their passing. But the fact still remains that you give of yourself in hopes that they will thrive and be able to live out their lives. You hold them against your chest to warm them, you wake up at night to bottle feed them, you spend countless moments thinking of other ways to possibly help them flourish—in essence, you love them. It doesn’t matter if they were in your life for a day or a week or years, they make an impact.

Two baby raccoons inside a crate
The baby raccoons • Photo by Dawn Harrison

On the up side, we still have two very active, healthy little raccoon girls who should be ready for release in the coming months, a raven who seems to be doing well and will get his final exam in about a week, and a duck who has been improving over the past few days. So in the end, I must choose to hold on to the victories while first processing and then letting go of the heartbreaks as they come. To be overwhelmed by the sad times means that you are less able to help all the future creatures who will come into your life.

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