Raccoon rescue and rehabilitation resurgence

Dee Howe and her raccoon center

By Harry Kane

Raccoon 1
Photo by Harry Kane

Daveta “Dee” Howe and her husband Thomas Howe started Urban Wildlife Rehabilitation Inc. in 2001 because they found out that there was no help for injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife in Springfield, Mass.

Before she began her backyard and basement wildlife center, Howe volunteered at a dog pound. Together, the Howes made a website for finding homes for homeless dogs that were in that dog pound. But she soon found that there were lots of calls from Springfield residents about needy wild animals. When Howe learned that the Deptartment of Public Works is responsible for picking up the dead or hurt wildlife, she was mortified and wanted to act.

And then one day, Dee found an injured skunk in the road. Howe knew she wanted to do more. Her husband told her not to contact the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife because he thought they would never receive a permit in an urban area like Springfield. She said to her husband, “It can’t hurt, I’m gonna call.” So she did. “They said, ‘if you can pass the test, you can get a permit.’” So the Howes studied and passed the test. That was 13 years ago. Her business grew exponentially until it took up most of the basement and backyard. Now, her non-profit is divided up among three rehabilitators.

Dee and tome Howe in their backyard
Dee and tome Howe in their backyard ~ Photo by Harry Kane

The Howes mainly focus on rehabilitating raccoons. Dee Howe says there are a lot in the city. But the couple also rehabilitate skunks, porcupines, opossums, groundhogs, squirrels, opossums, rabbits, muskrats, bats, rabbits, groundhogs, and foxes. Their website is http://urbanwildliferehab.org/

What threatens the raccoons?

The injured wildlife that come to Dee Howe’s center are usually hit by cars, she says. But there are plenty of other reasons why wild animals end up at the Howes. Sometimes, the animals get into backyards, and the owners’ dog attacks them. Other times, she said, they get their legs stuck in a fence, and “they hang upside down” for days. A lot of them get caught in dumpsters. Howe instructs people by telephone how to get the animals out without touching them.

But Dee Howe says, at the end of the day, wild animals die because of humans. People, she said, think that raccoons are diseased because they are rabies-vector species. Howe says people don’t understand that most raccoons aren’t carrying the disease. “They’re afraid of them, so they’ll hit them with a shovel or other things – crowbars.”

Tom Howe recalled a rescue back in 2011 when a few raccoons were stuck in a dumpster. Dee and two volunteers went to the dumpster and found one raccoon caught in a tight spot and two other dead raccoons rotting away. Howe climbed in the dumpster and found the injured raccoon who was trapped in a rusty space on the dumpster floor. The raccoon was brought to safety.

Raccoons this year

Howe said in 2013, she has been inundated with raccoons, foxes and baby coyotes. This year alone she has rescued 162 animals, of which 78 have been raccoons.

Many independent wildlife rehabilitators like Dee Howe will work closely with Tufts Wildlife Clinic. However, Tufts does not treat raccoons or skunks because of rabies concerns, said Rushmie Nofsinger, associate director of public relations.

Telephone calls about injured skunks or raccoons who need rehabilitation are routed elsewhere. Occasionally, a few will be brought to Tufts to be euthanized because they have sustained severe trauma such as being hit by car. So far this year, Tufts has received about 25 skunks and raccoons brought in for this purpose.

Raccoon rescued in a dumpster - photo by Dee Howe
Raccoon rescued in a dumpster in Springfield, Mass ~ Photo by Dee Howe

Raccoon couple stay the winter

Two raccoons that are living in Dee Howe’s basement are going to be staying over the winter. Howe referred to the juvenile male as “Fence Boy” because he was caught in a fence in the backyard of a Springfield home. The other raccoon that shares the cage is a younger female that also went through a traumatic experience.

As Dee Howe related, Fence Boy got his back leg caught in a crack in a fence. He fell forward and hung upside down for three days, she said. Animal control picked him up and brought him to Howe’s house.

The female raccoon’s trouble began when its mother was trapped and relocated several miles away. Her babies apparently were thrown into the street and all died except for one, Howe said. A neighbor saw the lone survivor, picked her up, and brought her to Howe’s center. That female raccoon has been at the center since July.

Howe started rehabilitating the female raccoon with fluids and giving her formula. But Howe soon realized that the baby raccoon was lactose intolerant, so they switched formulas. That didn’t seem to help. The baby raccoon wasn’t eating well. And then she lost a lot of her fur. “Finally, we got a handle on the intestinal problems and she started to get well,” Howe said. Because the female raccoon’s coat is fairly thin she won’t be released this winter and will spend it with Fence Boy.

Howe explained that animals should never be raised by themselves. They need to be with their own kind to be socialized. The two raccoons will spend the winter together in Howes’ basement and then released together in the spring.

When Howe gets raccoons, they are usually babies. The mothers are usually killed, either by accident or by a homeowner or by animal control. In fact, it’s illegal for trappers to bring Howe the mothers, but she admitted, some trappers will bring her the babies.

The mother raccoons often go out while nursing and collect food, says Howe. They will take cat food off porches and bring it back to the baby raccoons who will often be living in chimneys. But sometimes the mothers are killed and the babies are left to fend for themselves.

Photo by Harry Kane

Howe said her job would be much easier if she could keep the mothers with the babies: they nurse and keep everything clean, she said.  Instead, it costs Howe estimated it costs $1,000 per raccoon, from beginning to end of the rehabilitation process. The formula costs roughly $220 a bucket. She gets six to eight 20-gallon buckets, plus solid food, veterinary bills and more. Howe has figured that it costs approximately $20,000 a year run to run her rehabilitation center, which includes four raccoon cages, one skunk cage and one squirrel cage in her back yard.

Clan of raccoons set free

The Howes often release the rehabilitated raccoons in the fall, by doing what’s called a soft release. The owners of some Springfield area properties have allowed the Howes to release raccoons there. When the raccoons have reached an adequate weight and are healthy the Howes transport the animals to these designated rural sites, often near streams or brooks so that the animals have easy access to water.

“Our logic is that we want them to become comfortable with the area before they are released,” Tom Howe said. Five-gallon feeding buckets are outside the barn for the raccoons until such time that they are able to find food for themselves; the buckets are monitored through the winter. The raccoons will sometimes get hurt and manage to come back to the release site. “They seem to know that they can come back, and they’ll get some help,” Tom Howe said.

Alan and Dorothy Fritts own the property where four raccoons were released in late September. This soft release site is located in Hampden, on the edge of East Brook, formally known as Laughing Brook. The land was later bought by the Audubon Society. The Fritts own a barn that has an open area where the raccoons can come and go.


About Harry Kane 4 Articles
Harry Kane is a print journalist, photographer, videographer and video editor. Kane worked at a weekly newspaper called The Somerville News for two years while he attended Emerson College. Previously, Kane shot and edited video in LA and NY.