Tatiana Garrett is our newest guest blogger! She grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. Tatiana has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails” on Watch312.com.
Children are taught to not stick their fingers in electric sockets or on hot stoves. When it comes to wildlife, why have some people forgotten this childhood lesson to not touch everything that looks compelling? Places in Florida have signs posted imploring people not to “molest” alligators. Who are these people that have molested so many alligators that laws and signs had to be created?
I’ve also seen wildlife condemned to life in a cage because people are compelled to cuddle or feed baby squirrels, raccoons, and birds (imprinting the wildlife on humans and making it impossible for them to survive in nature). Sad scenarios like this happen because some people can’t control the urge to explore the world with their fingers.
No wildlife will benefit from a person’s “petting” or cuddling. Yes, squirrels in the park are cute, but when someone feeds them, they lose their natural fear of people. Then that squirrel sees a three-year-old with a bag of Cheerios and runs up to take a snack. The mom freaks out when her child is bitten and then the city intervenes with squirrel abatement. I’ve seen this exact scenario play out. A child is bitten, tax dollars are spent, and squirrels end up euthanized—all because someone fed squirrels in the park.
Sometimes the same results come from rescue attempts. Every spring people find baby birds and bunnies and think they must intervene when they don’t immediately see the mother (who may simply be off getting food). Despite good intentions, people can do more harm than good. Feeding wildlife the wrong food or feeding improperly (such as feeding a bird with a full crop) can be fatal. Any orphaned or injured wildlife must be taken care of by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
If someone finds themselves with an urge to cuddle with something warm and furry, they should go home and hug a cat or dog. If they don’t have one, they can volunteer at a local shelter and cuddle and play with those pets that are waiting for some love. Let wildlife stay wild. Interfering with mother-nature can get people bitten and it can get the cute creatures killed.
There are laws making it illegal to own or feed wildlife. Being in a big city though, education can be more important than focusing on legalities. I don’t know too many police officers that have time to wait in parks to issue tickets to ignorant squirrel feeders.
You are actually doing the right thing at this very moment by taking a few minutes to think about ways to positively interact with wildlife. Perhaps you’ll even take the next step by telling someone else that to be compassionate to animals is to be respectful of them. This goes for pets too. Pay attention to your cat or dog. Read their body language and back off if they aren’t in the mood for hugs and some good ole face smushin’. Teach this to children too, as their shorter stature leads to face bites.
Love is displayed by caring for another being in a way that considers what is best for the other. Love is not selfish, and you don’t show it by manipulating another just to make yourself feel good—while causing them harm or discomfort. If you have love for animals, show them respect by appreciating them in a way that isn’t harmful. Learn about their needs, advocate for their protection, support a charity that cares for them, capture their beauty in photography or paintings… there are many ways to show love without a harmful touch.
If you live in the Chicago area, call Willowbrook Wildlife Center (630) 942-6200 if you find injured wildlife (put the number in your phone, just in case).
Tagged Tatiana Garrett