One Lucky Deer

By Donna DuBreuil, President,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre,
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Even though we no longer do wildlife rehabilitation, the animals we have helped over the years are never far from our minds.

Just after Christmas one year, on what we had hoped would be a quiet morning, we received a call from a family that had pulled an adult deer from the Ottawa River.

Although not something we would ever recommend the average person attempt, this family managed a very effective rescue. They were well experienced with the water and ice conditions having lived there for many years and using a boat were able to safely get the deer to shore.

The deer was suffering from hypothermia and shock and although it was only semi-conscious, we instructed the family to bind its legs together. We were glad we did. On arrival at the Centre, while carrying her inside, she revived enough to let out a loud bellow while thrusting her long legs and sharp hooves in all directions.

The first order of business was to get the 50-kilogram doe warm. A tent was constructed around a large indoor cage, directing the warm air from a heater to where she lay. She continued to shake uncontrollably from fear and hours spent in the freezing water. We monitored her response for the next few hours and eventually the shaking subsided as her internal temperature rose.

After changing wet blankets, we left her overnight with deer feed and apples. Happily, the next day we found her standing, eyeing us with caution. We knew that we had to return her to the wild as soon as possible but that she would die of stress if we attempted to restrain and transport her anywhere.

The decision was made to create a channel, along with floor mats to give her secure footing, that would guide her from the cage to the outside compound leading to a gate and freedom. Finally, with a little prompting, she slowly left with just a short glance back as she headed for the gate. We figured the Centre’s location on the Greenbelt with a connection to the Ottawa River corridor would get her back to familiar territory.

The next day, a doe and two bucks were spotted at our bird feeder. We think it was her as she appeared less nervous than the bucks, probably having decided the accommodation was up to snuff.

This will be our last column for the season as our four-legged friends have the good sense to lie low for the winter. We hope to return next spring with more tales from the wild.

The Centre, as a volunteer organization, depends on donations and issues charitable receipts for its education programs. See for information.

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Fall Best Time to Animal Proof your Home

By Donna DuBreuil, President,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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Squirrels have been frantically burying nuts for the past month while chipmunks, cheeks bulging with seeds, are stashing the last bit of food in their underground dens.

We humans are also battening down the hatches, preparing for winter. One of those tasks should be to inspect your home to ensure that wildlife do not become unwanted tenants over the winter.

Last week’s column focused on animal-proofing to deter mice. This week, we will consider those areas like attics and chimneys that sometimes attract squirrels and raccoons looking for shelter. Better to prevent the problem of babies being born in these areas next spring and having to provide a grace period at that time.

Animals gain entry into attics through soffits, fascia, roof vents, loose shingles and where two roofs intersect as shown in the photo. Look up under the eaves to see if you see any weak spots or openings and then stand back from the house to observe the roof as well.

Unless you feel comfortable doing work on and around your roof, we suggest you hire a contractor who does home repairs. If you go this route, it is important to make sure the person you have hired is sensitive to the fact that there may still be animals living there. To be confident that no animals are in the attic, check out our web page “Animal in My Attic” for step-by-step advice.

The right materials should be used for doing any repairs. Chicken wire will not deter a raccoon nor will it even stand up to a determined squirrel. You should use a heavy 16 gauge one-inch welded wire mesh that is secured with screws and washers or a half-inch welded wire mesh if red squirrels are involved.

Squirrels and birds may move into chimneys to escape bad weather. Raccoons sometimes use chimneys during the birthing season to have their young. For these reasons, it is important to install a chimney cap and also a spark arrestor screen. A cap alone is not sufficient to keep animals or birds out. The screen can be made out of the welded wire mesh mentioned above, shaped so that it fits securely over the chimney.

After mid- October is the safest time to do roof repairs as most babies will have moved out, but be mindful that animals may have also moved in for the winter. However, there is still time for any that have to find another denning site for the winter.

As a volunteer organization, the Centre welcomes donations and issues charitable receipts for its education work. See for information.

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A Mouse in the House

By Kate MacNeil, Education Coordinator,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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Each fall, when the cold weather begins, it is normal for mice to seek out shelter in houses. Just as predictably they often move to a more natural setting in the spring.

It is very difficult to keep mice from getting into your garage, attic or between the walls, but the good news is you can keep them from getting into your house proper or living space.

About 6 years ago I found this out first hand. I kept noticing white crumbs under my kitchen sink, next to the garbage container. I would clean it up and they would appear again. Finally after three days I took everything out and realized the crumbs were from a hole in the bottom of my garbage pail, compliments of a mouse. It was the perfect set up, she would enter through a hole in the drywall where the plumbing pipes for the sink passed through and have a snack. It was easy access to food and kept her safe from meeting either of my cats. It was like a drive-through window!

I was not crazy about my new visitor, like most people, but I was excited because I knew just what to do to solve my problem. In fact I had given this detailed advice to hundreds of people who had the same problem. If I had taken my own advice in advance I could have avoided the problem altogether!

I got busy animal proofing the access points using metal lath (sometimes referred to as diamond wire), which can easily be bent and forced into holes or nailed to flat surfaces. In spaces too small for metal lath, waterproof stainless steel or copper scouring pads can be used. Never use steel wool as it rusts and disintegrates quickly. In addition to under your sinks, also animal proof where services enter through the wall. Under doors leading from a garage or basement, you can use weather stripping but make sure it extends the full width of the door. The proofing worked like a charm, the drive-through window was closed.

Lethal control methods are never recommended for obvious humane reasons but also because you risk the likelihood of killing a mother leaving dependent young dying and smelling in your walls. For more information, including a picture of the animal proofing check out

Next week we will be talking more about general animal proofing around your home to deter other wildlife that may be seeking shelter for the winter.

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Three Legged Fox

By Kate MacNeil
Education Coordinator, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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Even though we no longer do wildlife rehabilitation, the animals we have helped over the years are never far from our minds.

It was a cold and snowy February day when we got a call from an elderly lady in Lynwood Village, there was a fox curled up in the snow in her backyard. It had a serious injury to its hind leg and there was blood everywhere. She had no way to contain it. Although we normally did not have the resources to go to a site, it was the off-season and it was near the Centre, so we thought we could check it out. A few minutes later we were piled into the van with towels, nets, gloves and carrier in hand on our animal rescue adventure.

We located the house, and the four of us unloaded the supplies and were off in search of Mr. Fox. He was still curled up in the snow, and the caller had not exaggerated the amount of blood. Things did not look good.

Our plan was to spread out and slowly surround the fox. As we approached he got wary and still had enough gusto to start to run. One of his hind legs looked to be holding on by a thread. He retreated to a woodpile and we were able to quickly get him into the carrier. We were relieved and maybe a little bit impressed with ourselves but we were anxious to get him to the vet.

As always, Alta Vista Animal Hospital and their dedicated staff quickly squeezed us in and we were very relieved to get some hopeful news. Although the hind leg was severely injured and could not be saved, they were confident they could amputate it and once recovered, the fox would be releasable. We had heard of dogs with three legs, but a fox? We decided to give it a try.

Antibiotic treatment and wound flushing went well and before we knew it, it was time to get the fox moving on three legs. The vets were very confident the fox could compensate but he would need to strengthen his remaining legs, and that meant lots of exercise. The space in his cage would not be sufficient so we constructed a makeshift run that included part of a closed off hallway that led from the fox’s cage. Within several weeks the fox was moving so fast we could not tell he was missing a leg. The day he jumped onto the top of his 4 ft high cage and curled up for a nap we knew he was ready to go. We released him back in the area where he was found and when the carrier opened he sniffed around a bit and then casually strolled away.

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Lacking hair but not energy!

By Kate MacNeil
Education Coordinator, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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Even though we no longer do wildlife rehabilitation, the animals we have helped over the years are never far from our minds. In fact, having had the privilege of caring for a wide variety of species, all with special personalities, has reinforced our commitment to reconnect people to nature.

It was late fall and the caller described finding a baby squirrel while raking leaves. They said it was very tiny and had no fur. The caller thought it was a newborn squirrel. Even though some squirrels have a second litter in the late summer, this would be very late in the season for a newborn. However, we had given up being surprised by exceptions to rules where Mother Nature is concerned.

When the squirrel arrived at the Centre we were astonished to see this hairless squirrel was not a newborn, but rather a juvenile red squirrel, that was completely bald. The squirrel was about 10 weeks old, but obviously had endured some serious hardships. Having had a few such experiences with hairless squirrels in the past, the diagnosis was that it was likely a stress induced nutritional deficiency. The course of treatment was a good diet, including vitamin supplements and sufficient time to recuperate, which meant over-wintering at the Centre.

Normally, at this age squirrels would be in a larger cage with a nesting box and lots of fresh branches to eat and climb. But since this little squirrel was debilitated when he arrived, we kept him in a smaller carrier with a heat source. This lasted only a short time, as he was so full of energy, he needed more room.

We moved him to a large cage in the library with lots of sunshine. We also gave him extra blankets for his nesting box. He could not have been more pleased. We were mesmerized at his ability to dart around the cage at top speeds. It was tiring just to watch him.

Each day we peered into the cage looking for signs of improvement and sure enough one day a small tuft of red fur appeared on the top of his head. From there it took no time at all for him to become fully furred. He teamed up with two other reds and would spend his days pulling the filling from his stuffed toys to make nests in the evergreen tree that filled the cage. The following spring he was released back into the wild, in much better shape than when he arrived.

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A Skunk with Attitude

By Donna DuBreuil, President,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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This young skunk was orphaned when his mother, uprooted by construction, dropped him when startled by a truck. Because he was just a few weeks old, with eyes still closed, he hadn’t acquired the defensive posture common to baby skunks and quickly adapted to his caregivers at the Centre as substitute moms.

Homer, as he was dubbed by staff, would firmly grasp the bottle of formula in his forepaws while resting his chubby back feet on it for leverage. Baby skunks are quite adorable with soft-as-velvet pads for feet and an attitude that exudes confidence.

As soon as his eyes opened, he started the play/practice routine of lifting his tail high and forming a perfect U of his body to aim his ‘lethal weapon’ at pretend opponents. He would stamp his feet and then slide each one gracefully backwards looking like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk.

Because it was some weeks before other baby skunks came into the Centre, Homer developed a ‘spoilt only-child attitude’. When introduced to the others who were smaller than he was, he was a total brat. He stomped aggressively and circled the three who were huddled together for protection, squealing at them and aiming his little bum with serious intention. It was quite hilarious to see this baby skunk throwing a temper tantrum like a three-year old in a toy store.

However, within a few days, they were best of friends, playing and sleeping on top of one another although Homer was definitely the leader of the pack – partly because he was bigger but mostly because of his confident attitude.

When it came time to take them on nightly walks to learn the ways of the wild, the smaller skunks would follow him in a single line and he would follow me as I was still considered the mother of the tribe. Living on a country property, we were able to meander across fields, lifting rocks in search of slugs and investigating logs in the woods for edible delicacies.

A neighbour who would sometimes see us on these outings would call out “it’s Mother Superior and the Sweet Sisters of Charity”, given their black and white habits. Goodness knows what he said behind our backs.

At the end of summer, it was clear the skunks were ready to go out on their own. One warm evening, we simply left the cage door open and off they went. Occasionally we’d spot them around the property. Homer, because of his size, was easy to pick out but he didn’t venture near which was the way it should be.

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Caring for a Coyote

By Kate MacNeil, Education Coordinator,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –

The call came in from a Richmond resident. Their dogs had chased down a coyote and they felt terrible. The animal seemed exhausted and looked ill. Luckily the coyote sought refuge in an old pen and the homeowner managed to close the door. With the help of the Humane Society the coyote was picked up and brought to the Centre.

It only took a quick glace to know he had a severe case of mange. From his shoulders to the tip of his tail were almost bare, scabbed and irritated. Not only would this have been extremely painful but it also would have been difficult for the animal to keep warm.

The good news was that mange was easily treatable with four injections, a week apart. The bad news was would this animal tolerate the stress of being confined for four weeks? We set him up in one of the large outdoor cages, in a quiet corner of the compound. To our surprise the coyote seemed almost relaxed. He would sit almost knowingly in the corner, as if he understood why he was here. Just as we breathed a sigh of relief, it was time for his second injection. His first injection was given at the vet during his examination -while he was sedated!! He was tolerating being confined but how was he going to feel about a poke in the backside? Likely not great!

Most of the animals we dealt with were babies or small enough to handle with thick gloves. This would not work for the coyote and after much discussion the dreaded “C word” came up- catchpole.

As we approached him he just looked at us with big sad eyes. As we got closer he still made no attempt to get away. As we gently and very loosely placed the loop around his neck, we realized, we did not have to tighten it, he just laid there. I like to think it was because he knew we were helping him.

The next two doses went just as smoothly. His hair was starting to grow back and we were discussing when to release him, he answered that question by almost chewing the cage apart in one night, as if he knew it was time to go.

We drove him back to a wooded area close to where he was found. We did not want to release him on the road so we walked through brush and woods. When we opened the cage, he was off like a flash. The path that had taken us ten minutes to walk took him only seconds cross. We barely got to say good luck. He looked magnificent running through the woods, across the road and into a field.

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Caring for Bear Cubs

By Donna DuBreuil, President,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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This story, from the days when we did wildlife rehabilitation, will hopefully serve as a reminder to not panic when bears enter developed areas. There is always a reason for it.

Like this one, after a dry summer leading to a shortage of natural food such as acorns and berries, that year overly zealous wildlife officials relocated dozens of adult bears, leaving behind many orphaned cubs. Female bears are cautious and protective of their cubs, sending them scrambling for the nearest tree when there is any threat. And, of course, that is where the cubs stayed as their mothers were trapped and carted away.

The first cub to arrive at the Centre weighed just 23 pounds. He was found on a nearby golf course, living on cat food put out by concerned staff. The second, an unrelated cub, came in just a few days later, having been rescued from a tree at an apple orchard. He was a bit larger at 35 pounds but neither would have survived winter given that their metabolism requires a weight of at least 50 pounds to trigger a hibernation dormancy response.

The cubs couldn’t have been more different in personality. The smaller, whom we named Pokey, was very assertive and wary, quickly becoming the dominant cub, while the other little fellow reminded us of Marty Feldman, the British comedian with prominent eyes and a goofy laid-back personality.

Already mid-November, volunteers worked frantically to reinforce an outdoor cage and build an insulated ‘den’ big enough to shelter the two cubs. However, Pokey claimed the den and let out fierce growls wherever ‘Marty’ tried to enter.

Each day, Marty delicately moved his backside a few inches further into the den, a silly expression on his face that said “maybe he won’t notice”. Pokey continued to growl his displeasure. Finally though, after a bitterly cold night, we were relieved to find that Marty had finally been accepted as a roommate, the two snoring peacefully inside the warm den.

They ate voraciously – large bowls filled with dog kibble, meat, fruits and nuts – until they had put on sufficient weight to go into dormancy in late January. They didn’t reappear until mid-March and again were ravenous. Although bears are often depicted as large threatening carnivores, their food preferences were decidedly vegetarian – romaine lettuce being a favourite, followed by fruits and nuts.

By mid-June they had tripled in weight and were ready for their independence. It was a special day as they were transported deep into the wilderness in what we all hoped would be a safe new home for them.

So, if you see a bear, don’t panic – visit for advice.

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“Stitches” the Chipmunk

By Donna DuBreuil, President,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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It was mid-summer when the person brought the juvenile Eastern Chipmunk into the Centre for help. He had observed it on his property for several days and noticed a huge tumour on its back.

We were surprised on examining the little fellow that he could still get around given that the swelling was the size of a golf ball and extended from his neck down to his tail. We weren’t optimistic when we took it to the Centre’s veterinarian for an assessment.

However, several hours later we received a call from the veterinarian telling us that the large swelling was actually tapeworm cysts or larvae. The chipmunk serves as an intermediate host, before often being consumed by a primary host such as a dog or fox, in the life cycle of the tapeworm.

The veterinarian explained that he was able to remove thousands of the larvae but apologized that it was quite a challenge to suture such a large wound. We saw what he meant when we picked up the chipmunk. He had done an excellent job in stretching the skin to cover the large opening but was unable to match up the chipmunk’s stripes.

While the wee chipmunk was none the worse for wear, he definitely had a designer look, with his stripes forming a zigzag pattern down his back. It was how he became known as “Stitches”.

We kept him at the Centre on antibiotics for a few weeks to ensure that the wound did not become infected. During this time, he did what all chipmunks we had experience with did for entertainment. When we opened his cage door to feed or medicate him, he’d make it appear that he was in one corner under the towel but as soon as we pounced, he’d eject like a torpedo from the opposite corner. It then took three of us with butterfly nets to catch him or, more to the point, he tired of the game and let us catch him.

The person who had rescued the chipmunk was delighted that he could be saved and more than happy to share his property with him. In fact, he gave us regular reports on “Stitches” who he continued to see for several years. He did tell us that he put out extra sunflower seeds that first year and that “Stitches” worked overtime putting down his winter cache, having lost a few weeks while at the Centre.

Keep in mind that some species such as squirrels and rabbits are still raising litters of young so give them a grace period before doing any animal-proofing.

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Fast Moving Mink

By Kate MacNeil, Education Coordinator,
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre –
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During the years we did wildlife rehabilitation we would care for a wide range of species each season. Although we would occasionally see adult mink, we would not often get orphaned young. In June of 2000 this changed.

A 4 week old little female arrived at the Centre and like many other young animals she was weak and lethargic. She was very dehydrated and had a few fleas and ticks but otherwise seemed okay. We gave sub-Q fluids and within two days she was moving at lightning speed.

Mink are members of the weasel family, an adult weights around 1.5-3 lbs. Their diet consists of rodents, frogs, fish and birds. With a diet like that, it was not surprising that our new friend had sharp, tiny white teeth. She would happily bite and lick at the feeding syringe as if she had not eaten for days. Although she loved to eat her formula, she was not a fan of getting her face washed afterwards and she would make all kinds of squeaking noises. She sounded like a toy.

Soon it was time for her to move to a large cage in the library. We placed a variety of toys, sticks and plastic tubing in her cage to keep her busy, and boy did it work. She did not stop! One of her favourite moves was swinging like Tarzan on the stuffed toys hanging in her cage. Her other favourite manoeuvre was the fireman roll. She would knock a stick so it was on a 45 degree angle. She would then climb up the cage, jump onto the top of the stick, roll herself into a ring like a donut and slide down.

I had read years before that weasels moved like water flowing over rocks and that trying to catch one was like trying to catch mercury. I am old enough to remember breaking the glass thermometer and catching the mercury between two pieces of paper. Catching this little mink was indeed like trying to catch mercury, or pin Jell-O to the wall! A big part is the agility that many members of the weasel family demonstrate. We would catch her to weigh her and give her cage a thorough cleaning and staff would emerge sweating and smelling from the squirt of musk they received.

For the rest of the summer we enjoyed her impressive acrobatic routines and when she was released back into the wild she bounded away with the energy and curiosity she normally demonstrated.

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