For injured wildlife in the city, options are complicated

Last Saturday afternoon, Cassandra Babbitt noticed the Canada goose by her Southeast Wichita apartment.

It was alive — but not moving. It appeared to have a head injury and its left eye was closed.

On Sunday, when the goose still hadn’t moved, she took action and went to her computer, searching for “Bird Rescue”

Nothing popped up for Wichita.

Babbitt called Ellen Querner, who is well-known in the animal rescue community and who is a former cruelty and neglect investigator for the Kansas Humane Society, and now with Pals Rescue. Querner suggested she call Animal Control.

Babbitt did and was told to call the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

She did. No one answered. It was a Sunday.

She also called the Hutchinson Zoo. Again, no one answered.

Babbitt called Animal Control again and was told the Canada goose was a federally protected migratory bird.

“I said does that mean you are going to let me sit here and watch this goose die?”

For years, the policy has been to let nature take its course.

That didn’t sit well with Babbitt.

“I can’t stand to watch it die and not do anything to help,” she said.

She called Querner again – who came to the rescue, caught the goose and took it to a local bird rehabilitator, where it later died.

But Babbitt’s dilemma is just the latest call – in that time of year when wildlife calls are expected to rapidly increase – as babies are born and humans have more chances to see life and death played out in front of their eyes.

“We get so many calls from people who have found injured wildlife and don’t know what to do,” Querner said. “We are unable to point them in a direction. We don’t know who will take care of them. One would assume it would be either the Wichita Animal Shelter or the Kansas Humane Society – but as such, neither of those organizations will handle them. Wildlife and Parks will not take care of them. People are left to their own to figure out what to do with an injured animal and they don’t know how to handle it. There is no place for them to go.”

In past years – and in a stronger economy – injured or orphaned animals were often sent to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, where inmates cared for the animals. That program has been discontinued.

In an urban society, people’s good intentions sometimes runs adrift of what’s best for the animal or bird, said Charles Cope, district wildlife biologist with KDWPT.

“The point you raised about how to handle sick and injured animals in urban areas is valid,” Cope wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle. “Society and the laws that have been passed have made the problem even more complex. Unless the taxpayer is willing to pay for the service, I do not know of a better solution than to ‘let nature take its course.’ ... Also, many people try to lend a helping hand by catching a wild animal, but their actions may actually jeopardize the welfare of the animal, as they may not understand that the animal hasn’t been abandoned.”

About 10 years ago, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service changed the federal law to allow individuals to have migratory birds in their possession for one calendar day in an attempt to get an injured animal to a rehabilitator or a veterinarian, Cope said. The fish and wildlife service also exempted veterinarians from having a rehabilitation permit so they could provide emergency care or make a decision to euthanize the animal.

Unless veterinarians have a rehabilitation permit, they can provide care only to stabilize an animal, and then it has to be turned over to a rehabilitator having a permit for that animal. Neither the KDWPT nor the United States Fish and Wildlife Services pays for any care or services rendered to the animal.

Querner said she’d like to see a list of agencies or individuals developed so that wild animals who are injured can be humanely euthanized, rather than left to die on their own.

“I’m not saying we have to save them,” Querner said. “We have 10,000 geese or more around here. But it doesn’t mean that if they are injured, they have to suffer. That’s all these people want, they don’t want to see them suffer anymore.”