Tallahassee Democrat
March 17 1998

Would-be animal rescuers must be cautious

by Sandy Beck


  • St. Francis Wildlife - 627-4151
  • Tallahassee Animal Shelter - 891-6790
  • Leon County Animal Control - 487-3172
  • Northwood Animal Hospital - 385-7387,
    1881 M. L. King Blvd
  • Allied Veterinarians Emergency Hospital - 222-0123, 9th Ave. & Thomasville Rd.


Mother opossum with baby on her back
Photo by Bob Beck

You're on your way home. Suddenly, an animal darts across the road. You slam on the brakes, but not quickly enough.

At some time, all of us have encountered injured animals, both wild and domestic, mostly on the roads. Sometimes it's difficult to determine what is best for the individual animal or situation.

The most important thing is not to make the situation worse. Inadequate preparation or improper handling of the animal, might exacerbate the injuries or harm you.

If not removed from the road, the animal will be repeatedly terrorized by passing cars and eventually killed. An injured or dead animal may also cause other animals, looking for an easy meal, to be killed.

In my car, I keep some basic emergency items:

Think safety first.. You don't want to hurt yourself or the animal. Park your car off the road, then sit there for a moment and think about the situation. Carefully consider all the possibilities. Think about how you're going to pick up the animal or move it out of harm's way.

A wild animal will view you as a predator. Even a normally docile pet may be frightened and try to protect itself. Don't let your guard down for a minute.

Mammals may try to bite. Birds of prey (hawks and owls) may try to grab you with their powerful feet and sharp talons. Many water birds, like loons and herons, will lunge at your face with their dagger-like beaks. Deer will kick. Cats will scratch.

Avoid being bitten or scratched at any cost. Never handle raccoons, foxes, bats, or any mammals (even babies) that may carry rabies. If an unvaccinated mammal bites or scratches you, it will have to be killed to be tested for the disease.

While Florida's squirrels, rabbits and opossums have not been known to carry rabies, adults can inflict a nasty bite when frightened. Always use heavy leather gloves and common sense.

Birds and reptiles never carry rabies.

The right approach is essential

Quietly approach the animal, from the rear if possible. Carefully place a towel or blanket over it, covering the animal completely.

Avoid a bird of prey's feet. Hold its folded wings against its sides, point the feet away from you, and pick it up, blanket and all. Grasp a water bird's long beak with one hand. Birds will be much calmer if kept in the dark.

If it is a small mammal, like an opossum or cat, put the box on its side next to the animal. Hold up the towel to screen your hands from his view, and, wearing the leather gloves, gently push him into the box.

Once you have a bird or animal in the box, securely fold or tape the flaps. Keep the animal quiet. Do not allow children to stare at it or handle it. Wild animals are easily stressed.

A large dog can be eased onto the blanket and dragged to your vehicle or the roadside, or the blanket may be carried as a stretcher.

Tape up a turtle's cracked shell to prevent dehydration. Injured snakes can be carried in a tied up pillowcase.

Even a dead opossum may have some life to her. If you find tiny babies in the pouch on her belly, keep them warm, and take them immediately to Northwood Animal Hospital where they will be placed in an incubator.

Exhaust fumes and the possibility of heat stroke make transporting animals in car trunks very dangerous.

Don't take an injured animal home. It will need medication and specialized care. A bird's fragile broken bones need to be set properly and immediately. Wild animals that seem tame may actually be in shock.

What should you do if you feel unable to rescue the animal yourself?

"After hours, we'll suggest that people take injured cats or dogs to an emergency animal clinic, or we'll send an officer to help out or call an Animal Control worker," said Lieutenant Walker with the Leon County Sheriff's Department. "If it's a wild animal, we advise people to call St. Francis Wildlife."

St. Francis Wildlife has a 24-hour emergency number.

For domestic animals within the city limits, call the Tallahassee Animal Shelter. In Leon County, call Leon County Animal Control.

Rescued wildlife can be dropped off at Northwood Animal Hospital, day or night.

Injured dogs and cats can be taken to Northwood Animal Hospital or Allied Veterinarians Emergency Hospital. Both provide after hours emergency care and treatment.

Mark the location before calling for help

If you must leave the site where an injured animal is, mark the spot in some way. Tie a rag on a tree. Then note the exact mileage from the site to the nearest landmark, and call for help immediately.

Some will ask, "Why not let nature take its course?"

When our pets or wildlife are the victims of automobile collisions . . . this is not nature's doing.

Our town is blessed with veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators who give freely of their time and expertise. Our own ability to help is greatly enhanced when we are prepared with a few emergency items, some knowledge of animal behavior, and a compassionate heart.


 St. Francis Wildlife