In the Field: Paw Patrol

Illustration by Juliette Borda

THE FOUR LOCAL women who run the Morgan County based wild animal rescue service Paws, Wings & Other Things are on duty 24/7. They have to be. They swing into action whenever civilians find injured or orphaned wild animals needing care. Their work is unpleasant and even dangerous, and it often happens in the middle of the night. “It was originally supposed to be a hobby,” says founder and president, Katja Kimball. “The first year we helped 128 animals. Last year it was 1,225.” Here’s what they’ve learned from their adventures.

RACCOONS ARE tough. “Nobody wants to take them because they’re very expensive to rehab and a lot of work,” says volunteer Susan Hobbs. The cost is at least $200 a pop, whether the animal is being rehabilitated as an injured adult or raised as an orphaned kit. The group takes both, along with raccoons people tried to keep as pets—something Kimball strongly discourages. “When they turn 6 months old, they will rip your face off because all they want to do is mate,” she says. “They make terrible pets.”

WILDLIFE RESCUES can get hairy. Kimball once had to wade through icy, knee-deep water in the middle of February to help a wounded bald eagle. All while wearing sandals, because she left her home in such a hurry that she forgot to change shoes. On another occasion, she and her husband got up at 4 a.m. to rescue an osprey from the top of a 200-foot-tall grain silo in the middle of a Windstorm. “He wrapped the bird in a blanket and then tied him to his waist so he could climb back down the silo, ” Kimball recalls. “It was quite the ordeal.”

WELL-MEANING SOULS feed the wayward fauna they find the wrong things. Often, the mistake worsens their condition, especially in the case of birds, whose bodies can’t dispose of undigestible matter. One person gave milk to a fledgling bird because “baby animals drink milk.”(Pro tip: Baby birds most definitely don’t.) Another fed a finch, a seed-eater, roast beef. But the most notable was a woman who breastfed a baby raccoon. “She thought it was more natural,” Kimball recalls. “I told her, ‘Ma’am, there is nothing natural about your breast for a raccoon.’” (Her own baby had to be checked for parasitic infections.)

Illustration by Juliette Borda

SOME OF THE animals the group ministers to aren’t typical Hoosier denizens. One bitter cold night, Kimball got a call from a man who’d picked up what he thought was a stray cat. In fact, it was a young bobcat suffering from hypothermia. The good Samaritan drove it home, where the warmth revived the surprised and angry predator. Fortunately, the rescuers were able to wrangle it into a cage and provide care. Another time, the group aided a pelican that, while migrating through the state, snagged itself on a fishing line on a lake in Putnam County. It was rehabilitated and released this past April.

ANIMALS CAN come home with you unannounced. Once a frantic woman contacted Kimball with an incredible story. She thought she’d hit an animal while driving, but hadn’t seen anything on the road. She parked in her garage and the next morning found a terrified coyote crouching in a corner. It seems when she’d hit it the night before, it became lodged in her grille and rode all the way to her house. It was treated for (relatively) minor injuries and released. And this was no one-off. On another occasion, a woman called upon discovering a large barn owl stuck in her car’s grille. It also made a full recovery.

IT’S POSSIBLE to love wildlife too much. One woman found an abandoned fawn on her property. “By the time I got out there, they had taken it inside,” Kimball recalls. “It was in one of the kids’ bedrooms, watching Law & Order with the family.” On another occasion, a determined lady saw a deer brushed by a car and hauled it, unconscious, into her house. The 80-pound animal woke up and tore the place apart trying to escape. “Deer are not Bambi,” Kimball says. “They can kill you.” The moral of this story is clear. Don’t try to help—or feed—wildlife. Instead, check out the Indiana Department of Natural Resources list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators at in.gov/dnr or contact Paws, Wings & Other Things at 317-263-1131 or via Facebook.