I find wild animals fascinating. I was raised on PBS Nature documentaries. Some of my earliest memories involve cheetahs chasing down and disemboweling gazelles. I donate money to save polar bears, and gasp with delight when I glimpse a deer in a National park.
However, a wild animal on my property is a different story.
As I stepped out into the bright sunshine with my laundry this morning, I noticed a brown shape huddled on my doorstep. It was a bat. A bat that was obviously in trouble. There were bloodstains on the concrete. His wing was crumpled. He wasn’t moving.
I assumed he was dead.
He wasn’t. That became clear when I tried to pick him up with a plastic bag.
He struggled lethargically. He extended his good wing. He opened his mouth to reveal tiny teeth and an amazingly pink throat.
I was hit with a number of emotions at once:
1) Wonder. I had never seen a bat outside of a zoo, and I was fascinated. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live upside down, and to see not with your eyes but with your nose and ears. It was amazing to see this creature up close.
2) Grief. It was gut-wrenching to see this animal suffering. His broken wing was glued to the ground so he couldn’t move.
3) Responsibility. Because I was the one who found him, it was up to me to deal with him. I had no idea what to do next. Part of me wanted a neighborhood cat to come along and solve the problem for me.
So I did what most people do these days when they don’t know what to do. I Googled it.
I learned that the Ottawa Humane Society is the organization to go to if you find injured or sick wildlife. (http://ottawahumane.ca/wildlife/injuredsickwildlife.cfm)
I also learned that you should never touch bats. Bats that are sick can also infect humans. Oops. (http://www.ottawahumane.ca/wildlife/batfaqs.cfm)
It was a relief to call the professionals. I was asked to put a recycling box over the bat to contain him. They would do the rest.
Forty-five minutes later a Humane Society van was leaving my driveway with the injured bat. He was no longer my responsibility.
As I watched them drive away, I thought about how we humans generally interact with urban wildlife. It is amazing how many animals live in cities without us ever seeing them. I’m always surprised how seldom I see rats, mice and raccoons. This is either because they are nocturnal, or very good at hiding.
It seems we only encounter these animals when they are dead on the side of the road or living somewhere we don’t want them to live, like in our attic. As a result, we mainly see them as pests and nuisances, albeit cute ones. Which is unfortunate. They are so much more than that. Raccoons and rats are amazingly intelligent, persistent and curious, qualities we admire in other humans. However, our expectation that urban homes are free of animals often brings us into conflict with them. It would be nice to see more public education about urban wildlife, so that an animal control website isn’t the first place we learn about our four-legged neighbors.