Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wildlife arriving at the cottage pose problems for both of you Unwanted guests

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If you have a cottage, you know some visitors don't get an invitation. After a few years at my lake, I've compiled a list; and this list is growing. It started with boring people, expanded to include raccoons and now includes skunks, too. Sometimes the best thing to do to prevent their return is ask an expert.

An unwanted cabin appearance is usually the fault of the occupants. Typically, that person invites critters by leaving garbage or food out. For the most part, when you remove a potential meal the guest moves on to a more promising diner.

A few years ago, raccoons found our outside stash of dog food. If you have a dog, you've heard the stories of raccoons injuring them. But you may not know that some carry a fatal form of ringworm that can be transmitted to pets and humans, too. Once we removed the chow, the raccoons left us alone.

A few weekends ago, however, new guests arrived -- a family of skunks. For most of us, the word skunk sends shivers down our spines out of fear of being sprayed. We generally prefer to smell better than the kitchen garbage fermenting at the local dump. But our dogs don't have this same concern.

My teenage children seemed to side with the dog. Thinking two babies were two black kittens, one of my girls said, "Awe, they're so cute. Here, kitty, kitty." I had visions of my girls dragging my dog, Bella, outside to meet the kits after which my girls and the dog started taking alternating tomato soup baths.

To keep them away from the little guys, I informed them that skunks can possess rabies and are not meant to be kept as pets. Keeping wildlife as pets it is also against the law. But that was the extent of my skunk trivia.

Most of us can't leave animals to suffer, especially if they have been orphaned. So what do we do?

When it comes to injured wildlife, the Wildlife Branch of Conservation Manitoba explains that "these situations are dangerous." Injured animals are stressed and can behave in an aggressive manner.

In the case of the Pepe Le Pew family who'd lived under my neighbour's garage we sought our local conservation service, which set a humane trap to catch the mother and four kits. The goal was to relocate them. Some might assume that we should have left the skunks where they were, but moving them was the right thing to do at our beach. We have dogs and other potential predators. The real danger is the local highway and road.

Thankfully, there are two volunteer organizations that can help you sort out wildlife concerns. Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre and Prairie Wildlife Centre are both volunteer-run organizations with experience in dealing with injured or abandoned wildlife.

According to WHRC, it is typical of many mammals to leave their babies alone for long periods of time. For some birds, it's not normal at all -- they need to be fed every 15 minutes. Specialized care is the reason why dealing with wildlife issues should not be based on your gut feelings. Nor should we seek instruction from a neighbour or mother's third cousin who once had a pet rabbit 40 years ago.

WHRC deals with 1,700 animals and 10,000 inquiries a year. The online advice it offers is very detailed. It not only organizes information by species, it also offers what to do when those species are different ages. For instance, WHRC explains that birds knocked out of the nest can be returned to it. Unlike their mammal counterparts that possess a good sense of smell, many birds will take care of chicks even if they'd been touched by human hands.

WHRC also recommends some species should be handled by experts. These are primarily bears, raccoons and skunks. In a province that shares space with polar bears, I think this is sage advice.

Prairie Wildlife Centre offers similar information, but focuses on the things we can do to prevent harm or injury to our furry and feathered friends. The website explains everything from discouraging petting or playing with wildlife (to avoid parasites), to postponing trapping until fall.

Nevertheless, the PWC list is a good way to learn about the animals and birds around us. It will take a few minutes to peruse this extensive list, but it's worth it.

Both organizations require donations. This is where that urge to help wildlife should be directed. Rather than keeping a kit, donate to those who can rehabilitate it properly. Each group has unique fundraisers that won't demand you reach for your wallet. You can donate Air Miles or Canadian Tire money.

With a bit of wildlife knowledge, we might be able to share the outdoors without encounters with unwanted visitors.

Contact number and websites:

Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre, (204) 878-3740,

Prairie Wildlife Centre, (204) 510-1855,

The tip line for injured animals is 1-800-782-0076 (or your nearest conservation office). Don't approach an injured animal, but do note the exact location where it can be found and offer as much information about the condition of the animal as you can.

Another source is Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship (204) 945-6784,

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2012 D5

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