The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The road to animal cruelty is much the same.

It’s really difficult some days to hold one’s tongue. A woman brought a pigeon in to the wildlife rehab place I work for with a severely broken leg. Her dog had gotten hold of it a week and a half prior. She knew about us, but thought she could raise it on her own, try to set the leg and splint it herself.She said “he’s so happy and he’s been eating seeds and water.” The bird was severely emaciated upon examination, and his crop was completely empty. He had not been eating anything.

“He’s totally fine with predators – he doesn’t mind our cat and dog being by him all the time.” That’s because he’s been in massive pain and just wants it to end. He’s incredibly stressed out and on high alert, but he can’t fly away so he freezes.

“I wanted to keep him, he’s so cute.” Yes, adorable. No, do not keep wild animals. It’s illegal and unethical.

“I thought I could splint it on my own, but then decided it was too bad to do myself.” No shit. Plus we have pain medication and can put him under for the procedure so he won’t feel it. You have none of that and even less experience.

“If he needs a place to rest after you are done I’d like him back.” No way in hell would we ever give you an animal. You tortured this poor creature for your own entertainment, just so you could feel good about yourself, thinking you’re doing something generous and benevolent by keeping him in constant pain and suffering. Not to mention that since this woman kept the bird for so long, the bone could not be set properly, therefore he was unreleasable and we had to euthanize. We hate euthanizing but sometimes it is the best option we have to end an animal’s suffering, and this one was suffering greatly at the hands of a misguided human.

When will people learn? A wild animal is NOT the same as a human, or even your pet. It will not whimper or cry, it will hide pain to the absolute best of its ability. To show pain is to show weakness, to show weakness is to be easy prey. So when that broken pigeon doesn’t scream when you pet it, it’s because it’s trying its best to not look like an easy meal. When the bunny you find in your yard just sits in your hand, it’s because its only defense is to freeze and hope the predator loses sight of it. It’s terrified, not friendly.

Animals cannot read our minds. They can’t know which of us will help them and which will hurt. We are at the top of the food chain and every creature on this planet knows it by instinct. They are afraid of us and will defend themselves to the utmost, as best as they can, whether that’s lashing out or staying still.

Humans are terror. We are tangible danger. We stare at animals because for humans, looking one another in the eye is a sign of respect, affection and intimacy, but to an animal it’s a message of intimidation. Every move we make we are creating a harmful situation for them, making their lives more difficult, more stressful, more fearful. Wildlife rehabilitators know this and we spend as little time handling an animal as possible. We do only what’s necessary to meet the animal’s needs and rehabilitate them to have the proper health and skills necessary for survival back in the wild. No cuddling, no petting, no opening the cage every 5 minutes just to look at it. Those things just create stress, stress and more stress. Oh, and by the way, wild animals can, and do, die of stress. Particularly rabbits and deer.

Any interaction with an animal, wild or otherwise, should always be qualified with the question, “is this what’s best for the animal, or is this for my benefit?” When you keep a wild animal in your home, the answer is ALWAYS “for my benefit.” You cannot provide adequate nutrition, stimulation, or medical care with the resources available to you. That wild animal doesn’t want to be in your home, it is terrified of you, it hates being there, it desperately wants to get away from you.

Get that through your head. If you do, maybe wildlife rehabilitators will be out of a job, and we’d be so happy about it. People cause the greatest damage to wild animals by far, whether by hitting them with our cars, letting our cats and dogs roam outside unleashed and unsupervised, “rescuing” a prey animal from a predator, trying to raise wildlife on our own, not rinsing out food containers we throw in the recycling, which attract animals that people then try to get rid of with traps or poison, if the jars don’t get stuck on the animal’s head and suffocate them first. We don’t clean bird baths/feeders thereby spreading infection and disease, we refuse to do what’s necessary to make our windows bird-safe because it’s ugly and costs $20, we won’t patch holes in our siding, instead opting to kill any animals taking advantage of a seemingly safe place to live, or moving them without checking for babies and ending up orphaning a nest of squirrels or raccoons that need their mother.

Humans are the absolute worst for the safety of wildlife but it’s so simple to fix: leave it alone. Do what’s right, call experienced and licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Don’t try to do it on your own. Don’t be that lady. Understand that if you find an injured, sick or orphaned animal it is suffering and excessive handling will only make it worse. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area and ask them what to do before you make a single move. Ask yourself, “is this what’s best for the animal, or is it just something that will get me a lot of likes on Facebook and Instagram?”

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