Spotlight: a Labor of Love
Healers of the Wild
by Shannon Jacobs
Reviewed by Tamia Nelson
March 19, 2002
We're not alone on this earth. Wherever we
live and workin city, suburb, or countrysidewild animals are
living out their lives alongside us. And we've got a lot in common with
our wild neighbors. They are (to borrow the words of one of Shakespeare's
great tragic characters) warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter
as we are, and fed with much the same food. They also have the same
senses, affections and passions as we do, are as easily hurt as we are,
and are subject to many of the same diseases.
But there's one big difference. When wild animals are injured or
become ill, they can't call 911 and expect an ambulance to show up at the
door. (A lot of people can't either, of course, but that's another
story.) So wildlife suffer and die alone and unattended. This is nature's
way, and there's no point in lamenting it. Yet sometimes wildlife die
needlessly, and sometimes we're to blame. Waterfowl are strangled in
nooses of monofilament. Loons ingest discarded split-shot sinkers and die
slowly of lead poisoning. Cars kill nursing raccoons, leaving their young
to starve. Trapped muskrats "wring off" and succumb to gangrene. Sea
turtles think floating plastic bags are jellyfish, eat them, and then
suffer fatal intestinal obstructions. House cats kill nesting veeries and
other songbirds. Partridges fly into plate glass windows. Migrating birds
die by the thousands in collisions with high-tension lines and office
towers. The list is a long and disheartening one.
If you paddle for many seasons, you'll see the evidence at first hand.
Wildlife watching is one reason why we go out on the water, after all,
and if you get into the habit of observing wildlife when you're paddling,
chances are pretty good that you'll carry the habit over into your
everyday life. And the more you look, the more you'll see. Sooner or
later, then, you'll find a wild animal in distress. It can happen
You're trimming a tree in your backyard. As you get ready to go back
inside, you discover a baby squirrel lying helpless on the ground.
What do you do now?
You're driving to the lake for a day on the water. You notice a turtle
upside down at the edge of the road. You stop, put on your emergency
flashers, and walk back to the turtle. It's alive, but it's been struck
by a car. Its shell is badly cracked. What do you do now?
You're hiking along a hedgerow on the margin of a stubble-field. A
halting movement on the edge of your vision attracts your attention. It
turns out to be a yearling whitetail deer, limping along with an arrow
shaft protruding from her flank. What do you do now?
You're launching your canoe. You see a mallard drake with a large
fish-hook skewering his beak. He can't eat. He's obviously losing
strength. What do you do now?
You're having a late breakfast on Sunday morning, watching the birds
at the feeder in front of your picture window. Suddenly, a moving shadow
blots out the view. Then there's a loud bang, and the plate glass in the
window seems to tremble. You go outside and find a red-tailed hawk with a
broken wing. What do you do now?
Not sure? You're not alone. When Shannon Jacobs found an obviously ill
robin in her flower bed, she didn't have a clue what to do next. She
began by asking her friends and neighbors for advice, but none of them
had any ideas, either. Finally someone gave her the phone number of a
wildlife rehabilitator. Shannon called the rehabilitator and then took
the robin round to her home. A happy ending? Not necessarily. The
rehabilitator couldn't give Shannon any guarantees. But at least it was a
good beginning. The robin had a fighting chance.
What's a "wildlife rehabilitator"? If you aren't quite sure, you're in
good company. Yet all across the world, a small but dedicated group of
people have opened their homes to ill and injured wildlife. For the most
part, these rehabbersthat's the name rehabilitators often give
themselvesare unpaid volunteers, who meet the considerable costs of
nursing ill and injured wildlife out of their own pockets, with
occasional, and very welcome, assistance from private donors. "Unpaid"
doesn't mean "unskilled," though. Rehabbers spend years learning to care
for their wild patients. In many states they even have to pass a
qualifying exam before they can work independently. Not surprisingly,
then, rehabbers often achieve very high levels of clinical competence.
Many contribute to the professional veterinary literature. Some have even
This came as quite a surprise to Shannon, a professional writer and
author of two children's books about animals. It also awakened her
curiosity. In the end, she spent four years in the company of rehabbers,
learning who they were and what they did. The result was Healers of
the Wild: People who Care for Injured and Orphaned Wildlife.
It was worth the effort. Healers is a wonderful book. Although
written primarily for young people, it never patronizes and never talks
down. Indeed, it's a model of clear expository prose, whose text is
enhanced by hundreds of black-and-white photos and well-executed line
drawings. Just another illustrated children's book? Certainly not!
Healers is an engaging narrative, a handbook for property owners
concerned about bats in their belfries, a guide to wildlife watching and
conservation, an invaluable reference
. It's all these things, and a
great deal more besides. First and foremost, though, it's a guide to the
rehabber's world. It's also a great help to anyone, paddler or not, who
may someday encounter an ill or injured wild creature and ask herself,
"What do I do now?"
And that's just about all of us.
This would be enough for most books, and most authors, but there's
still more to be found in Healers. It has a useful glossary (Do
you know what a "pinky" is?), a comprehensive directory to state and
federal wildlife agencies, andthat rarest of treasures in any
booka good index. It even has several excellent "immediate action" flowcharts and checklists. These
give quick, authoritative answers to questions ranging from "I found a
now what?" to "What can I do for an injured sea lion?"
Most importantly, however, Healers is simply a good read.
Shannon introduces us to a benign international conspiracya
conspiracy of compassion. The "conspirators" inhabit an almost unknown
and largely invisible world, a world in which seemingly ordinary people
devote their lives to healing injured squirrels, saving sick sea turtles,
or rescuing stranded whales. And for the most part, these extraordinary
"ordinary people" work without any compensation whatsoever: theirs is
truly a labor of love. I strongly suspect that Healers was a labor
of love, too. It's certainly a book that no paddler with an interest in
the world's wildlife can afford to be without.
Jacobs, Shannon. Healers of the Wild: People Who Care
for Injured and Orphaned Wildlife. Coyote Moon Press, Denver CO,
1998. ISBN 0-9661070-0-4. 214 pp, glossary, index, appendices.
Think you've found an "orphaned" bird
or animal? Before you do anything, read this. Do you
need a wildlife rehabilitator now? Don't know where to turn? No
problem! First, check out "How To Locate a
Wildlife Rehabilitator." It's an extensivethough necessarily
incompletedirectory of rehabbers, both in the United States and
Still can't find a rehabber in your area? Then call your local
Humane Society, your veterinarian, or your state's Fish and Game
Department. Someone will be able to help you. Keep trying.
Copyright © 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights