What’s to be done for a fox in need?

By Gordon Lambie

A small fox that paid a visit to the Record’s parking lot generated a lot of concern about animal welfare on Monday afternoon. Almost 100 people commented on photos of the fox, worried about the creature’s wellbeing and sharing suggestions about how to help. The experience raised the question, what does one do for a wild animal in need?
Tamara Neely of the Eastern Townships SPA said that the Sherbrooke shelter gets that question, or some version of it, almost every day because of the organization’s reputation for being the go-to resource for animal welfare in the region. When it comes to wild animals, however, the SPA can only refer.
“We are not equipped for wildlife,” Neely said, explaining that although the Sherbrooke shelter is well suited to domesticated animals, a wild animal would not fit in well and could not be given the care it needs. As such, the SPA mainly refers callers to other resources, either at local wildlife shelters or through the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.
Anne-Marie Demers of the Lobadanaki Animal Refuge in St. Etienne de Bolton has been working with wild animals for the last four years, before which she sheltered livestock. Asked about what her work involves, the shelter owner said that sheltering and rehabilitating wild animals is a vocation, more than just a simple job. On top of the specialized permits and dedicated veterinarian needed to operate, Demers said that people taking on the role need to be prepared for challenging situations.
“These animals are often injured and stressed, or diseased” she said. “They will bite.”
Although the work of the shelter is primarily focused on rehabilitation and re-release, Demers said that there is also a lot of work to do on spreading awareness about how best to help wild animals in distress. Many people, she said, either don’t know what to do when they encounter a wild animal, or jump into trying to help it when it doesn’t necessarily need help
For example, many of those who commented on the photo of the skinny fox that came to The Record suggested feeding it, but Demers said that doing so would be a very bad idea.
“You’ll create a monster,” she said, explaining that feeding a wild animal creates an association for it between people and food. This, in turn, will break down its fear of people and cause it to seek out humans. “It will not end well,” she continued, sharing that fed wildlife often end up getting hit by cars or involved in animal attacks.
Claude Gagnon, owner of Faune Estrie animal control service, echoed that sentiment, sharing that often what he encounters is people feeling that they need to rescue an animal.
“People think of Bambi,” Gagnon said, arguing that people are very quick to form attachments with animals without understanding that the realities of life in the wild are not gentle or sweet.
Both Gagnon and Demers said that they work to help animals who have been hurt through human interference, but they counseled against trying to “save” wild animals from things which may just be a part of their natural lives
“We have end of life services for humans, but people seem to think that animals should live forever,” Gagnon said, suggesting that if an animal is not obviously injured or showing signs of aggression, then the best thing to do is to encourage it back into the woods and let it live its life.
Both the SPA and the Lobadanaki Animal Refuge representatives spoke highly of the resources on wildlife available through the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks’ website, https://mffp.gouv.qc.ca/?lang=en, but Demers added that those interested in learning more about wildlife rehabilitation can come to the shelter for a guided tour as of August 17.
The Lobadanaki shelter can be reached by email at refugelobadanaki@gmail.com or by calling 819 674-1606.

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