Coexisting with Wildlife
By Grace Allen
Spring has sprung and along with the nicer weather comes more opportunities to spend time outdoors. While outdoors, it’s highly likely you’ll see some wildlife in these parts. A recent program at the Norfolk Public Library detailed the many animals residents might come across, their habits, and what to do if they appear injured or diseased.
Presented by Norfolk Animal Control Officer (ACO) Hilary Cohen along with Millis/Medway Animal Control Officer and Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator Erin Mallette, the program “Our Wildlife Neighbors and How to Coexist with Them” discussed what the public can do to help area wildlife thrive, as well as when to call in the experts.
“We have interactions daily with everything from racoons to fishers,” said ACO Cohen. “You name it, it’s all out there. We try to take a balanced approach as to wildlife rehabilitation efforts and what’s in each and every animal’s best interest in each and every instance.”
ACO Mallette, a wildlife rehabilitator for the past five years, discussed the complex laws in the state around which nuisance animals can be trapped and relocated and which ones cannot, as well as various situations homeowners might encounter and what to do in each instance.
A chimney, for example, might make an appealing home for animals, especially when not in use, as does the space under a deck or porch. When a homeowner discovers evidence of the animal, they will often call animal control.
“You have to fix the problem,” said ACO Mallette. “You can’t just remove the animal. If you don’t put a cap on your chimney, something else will try to get in. If you have skunks living underneath your deck and you take those skunks out but don’t put any lattice around the opening, something else will move in there.”
ACO Cohen emphasized all animals have a place in the local ecology and homeowners have to adapt.
“If you take one racoon out of your property, it’s going to be replaced by another,” said Cohen. “The onus is on us. If you don’t want wildlife on your property, you have to make your property not friendly to wildlife. Whether it’s fencing, whether it’s deterrence, whether it’s lattice or chicken wire under your shed or deck, that is on the homeowner.”
ACO Mallette, as a wildlife rehabilitator, will intervene if wildlife is injured, but notes that even then, many animals should be left alone.
“You can’t save everything,” said Mallette. “In my opinion, I find it cruel. You have to consider what is humane and what is not humane. Seventy-five percent of wildlife brought to rehabilitation does not need to be rehabbed.”
Cohen and Mallette said the rise of social media has contributed to the desire to “save” animals as well as to the increase in instances of people picking up baby animals, especially in the spring, in a misguided effort to help them. Often, babies are left alone while the mother searches for food, they said, noting that the mother will return.
“It’s just desensitization” explained Cohen. “If you see random people on social media saying, ‘Oh look, I found this bunny and I nursed it back to health,’ people think it’s okay. But the bunny can end up with capture myopathy from being anywhere near humans. This is the time of year when my call volume gets incredibly busy. People genuinely want to help but the best help when the animal is not injured is to leave it be.”
Both officers said that in many situations, homeowners should call animal control and ask for assistance if they are unsure if an animal is injured, sick, or abandoned.
“Call and ask our opinion,” said ACO Mallette.
ACO Cohen added, “If I don’t know, I’ll ask Erin and we’ll come up with a plan.”
“Our Wildlife Neighbors and How to Coexist with Them” was held on April 11 and filmed by Norfolk Community Television. The program can be viewed in its entirety on the station’s YouTube channel, accessible via www.norfolkcable.com.
ACO Cohen can be contacted by calling 508-528-3206 x 7 or by email at [email protected]
ACO Mallette can be contacted by calling 508-533-3251 or by email at [email protected]