Distress Call

Deb Reinhart, a veterinarian and avid jogger who lives in Seattle, was recently in town to visit her mother. Heading back from a run on her mom's tree-lined residential street, Reinhart spots an opossum in the gutter, mildly mutilated from an unsuccessful encounter with a car. "If she's a female, there may be babies in the pouch," she mused, kneeling carefully to make sure the mom-possum wasn't going to bite. Gently, she probed the pouch--possums are marsupials, like kangaroos. Their embryonic offspring crawl from the mother's vagina into her pouch, where development is completed. Reinhart lifted two worm-like, oozy things up close to her face. Their heads wiggled, rooting for milk. "These guys might make it," she said. Her mom knew where to find wildlife rescuers on the Internet. Within an hour, the two barely born opossums were snuggled in a towel in a cage with a mother possum who seemed ready and able to accept the orphans. The cage belonged to a wildlife rescue volunteer, whose home was crowded with squirrels, opossums and rabbits. Most were injured but healing, nearly well enough for release.

The minute the word "urban" gets stuck in front of "wildlife," the critters' days are numbered. Raccoons, rats, mice, squirrels, opossums, skunks and rabbits become dependent on humans for sources of food and shelter, but they don't do streets or highways very well. If they get in our houses, we want them out. They sometimes win a "conflict" with a backyard dog, but not every time. Animal-loving city-dwellers are needed every year in Dallas and Fort Worth for volunteer training for rescue and rehabilitation work.

Texas Discovery Gardens and the DFW Wildlife Coalition are sponsoring an information and training session called Call of the Wild: Urban Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation for people interested in helping out. "This is a free workshop for animal lovers," Bonnie Bradshaw, spokesperson for TDG, says. "We'll cover all kinds of volunteer opportunities including transporting animals, answering the wildlife hotline, building cages, presenting educational programs, staff exhibits at community events, as well as providing direct care." If you're squeamish at the thought of the roadside wounded, there are still plenty of ways to help.

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Annabelle Massey Helber