By Karen Orth
Almost 2 weeks had passed since the Bastrop fires began. Many people lost their homes and pets. Being a wildlife rehabilitaor, my heart was particularly heavy thinking of the damage done to the area wildlife, especially coupled with the record drought that had already severely impacted the existing population.
The fire was mostly contained now. Firefighters were sorting through the ashes and embers assessing the damage while searching for any signs of life. After seeing movement in a pile of brush, a group of firefighters managed to contain a hobbling juvenile raccoon in a concrete pipe. I was called and asked if there was anything that could be done. I could hear the desperation in their voices; they had seen so much death and destruction and really wanted to get this little one some help. I agreed tomeet someone that afternoon.
Even though malnourished and dehydrated, the little raccoon was still aggressive and defensive. I was astonished at her strength. I gazed into her eyes and could tell she was a survivor and not at all ready to give up this life on earth. She obviously had a lot of fight left in her which is exactly what would be needed in the upcoming weeks.
Infection had already begun in her encrusted paws making the uphill battle even tougher. I started antibiotics and pain medicine immediately, and she was place in a warm cage on soft blankets. I figured she needed some time to rest and recover from the trauma of being captured and transported. I put food and water in the cage in case she felt like eating later. Much to my surprise, the little raccoon wasted no time at all and plunged both her front feet into the water bowl! Bless her heart! “Still a raccoon aren’t ya, girl?” I laughed.
Over the next several weeks, the raccoon was kept on clean padded blankets and lay mostly on her back as if she knew not to put weight on those burned feet. She allowed me to clean her cage and treat her paws to a point. Although quick to warn me if I crossed the line and got too close, she never bit me. It took forever for the smell of smoke to go away. (A bath would have been too stressful for both me and her!!) The smell often seeped into my own clothes after her treatments. Each night my husband would say, “So how’s old Smokey girl?” I would reply, “Better today than yesterday.”
Today, Smokey’s wounds have completely healed. She can walk and even climb — all without toes!! The pigment has returned to her nose, and she is now a healthy weight, but we are still waiting for her whiskers to regrow! She is living happily with other raccoons in a sanctuary where she has plenty of water for foot plunging!