This picture, from Rockymounttelegram.com, was taken at a wildlife rehabilitation center. It shows an optometrist checking cataracts on an owl’s eyes. Those, believe it or not, can be treated, much like cataracts occurring in human eyes. The owl can then be returned to the wild with the expectation that it will be able to successfully forage for itself. I’ve had questions from several individuals about the practice of taking on orphaned baby animals, feeding them, and then returning them to the wild. The questions posed raise valid concerns. First, I’d like to say, the animals which state or federally licensed rehabilitation personnel agree to care for are in need. They are not juvenile animals which are on their own and happen to come into the hands of well-meaning individuals. They are animals, young or old, which have been injured or orphaned, and are in need of care. State licensed rehab personnel cannot work with migratory birds or animals. A federal license is required for that. A state licensed rehabilitator cannot keep the animal after the need for care has been adequately met. Those cared-for animals must be returned to their natural environment. In the case of the owl shown in the adjoining picture, it was successfully treated and released. It is not an easy job to care for, feed, love and provide for any animal with the expectation and necessity of turning it loose. We work to give the animals all the care they need, educate them to the best of our ability about foraging, making sure they are aware of the outside world around them and then releasing them when the time is right. There is a process called soft release whereby the animal is returned to the wild in an easy, minimally controlled way. In the case of the eight little squirrels I am now caring for, they will be taken to a state park, and put out where there are many pecan trees and a source of drinking water (a lake) nearby. We’ll remain at a campground there in our RV, and provide them with a small amount of food each day for several days, watching to make sure that they are foraging on their own. That will be done with no interference on our part. Meanwhile, the cages in which they are now living provide them with safety from domestic predators, such as cats and dogs. The cages are kept outside in the yard so the squirrels can become used to the weather and the sounds of the wild animals and birds which frequent this area. Is this care a perfect solution? No, in a perfect world there wouldn’t be orphaned or injured animals. We learn as we go along, and we give our best effort to making sure animals that come to us get the very best care of which we are capable. Meanwhile, we value your input and suggestions, dear readers, Know that I, personally, feel grateful for the opportunities to care for some of God’s creatures in need. It came to my attention this morning, when browsing the websites of some rehabilitation centers and other caregivers, that sources of materials for caring for animals are unlimited. One story, in particular, caught my attention. The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest district donated more than 1,000 feet of old fire hoses to a rehabilitation center located in the Cascades Mountain range. There, a bobcat, that can never be returned to the wild, spends his days lazing in a “hammock” woven from some of that hose. * See the end of the post for the reason why this animal must remain a captive. Wildlife Images employees there have also provided hammocks and large balls made from the old hose materials for two cougars, a river otter, a coati, and a skunk. Another center is using the same material to build hammocks for two grizzlies, and two black bears, and beds for four wolves. Smaller hoses are being used to craft creative tubes for rehabbing young squirrels and captive chinchillas. Even a resident badger has an entertainment center created from hose material. Old fire hoses as animal toys or furniture provide a durable and safe toy or furniture, for those wild animals. The mix of rubber composites and synthetic polyester weaves have proven durable without being harmful if chewed on or ingested. Now, for a last concern raised by a reader of this post about wildlife rehabilitation, and why the bobcat at the Rogue River center remains a life-long captive. Sometimes, well-meaning people will pick up a small animal and take it home to care for it, without first ascertaining that it is an orphan or injured. Many small animals are juveniles which are experiencing a case of parental tough love and being slowly forced to start out on their own. That is a natural process and should be left alone. Then, there is the case of people who just want a cute little exotic pet without giving a thought to what happens when that naturally wild animal matures and develops attitudes and appetites unsuited for domesticity. The bobcat which is now a permanent resident of the Wildlife Images Center at Rogue River, near Medford, Oregon, was illegally snatched from the wilds as an infant by a man who illegally kept it as a pet. Wildlife agents became aware of the bobcat snatch and grab more than three months later. By then it was too late to return that bobcat to the wild. He would not have survived such a return, not having been given the necessary survival education by an caring feline parent. So sad for him! He will only know and experience life now as a captive animal, but Wildlife Images provides him with all the loving care in their capacity.