BETHESDA – Now that spring has arrived, we will begin to see more and more wildlife all around us.
Belmont County’s newest – and only – wildlife rehabilitation organization is urging people to do what they can to help preserve local wildlife and is sharing tips on just how to do that.
Feronia Wildlife Rehabilitation, a nonprofit organization in Bethesda, is now open and ready to help local wildlife. The organization is the only one of its kind in Belmont County and the surrounding area. Jordan Castello, owner and rehabilitator, began operations in November and recently leased 12 acres of property where the organization will continue its efforts. Currently, Castello is rehabbing two red squirrels that will soon be released back to the wild, which is the ultimate goal for every animal in her care.
“My goal is to make sure each animal has everything it needs and is well taken care of and then it can go and live a fully functioning life in nature,” she said.
Castello said spring is the “busy season” for animals and she is excited to lend a helping hand wherever she is needed. FWR is a Category I rehab, meaning she can help rehabilitate squirrels, rabbits, opossums, songbirds and waterfowl. At this time, she is unable to handle Category II, or rabies vector mammals, such as racoons, foxes, bats and raptors.
Castello said there are a few tips to keep in mind if a baby animal is discovered: Try to reunite it with its mother; if unable to do so, do not give it food or water. And never “cuddle” a wild animal.
“The most important thing is if they can get it back into the nest where it came from, by all means do that,” she said.
The most common misconception Castello said she hears is “if you touch a baby, the mother will no longer care for it.” This is untrue. If reuniting is not possible, she recommends contacting the rehab for assistance.
“It’s what we’re here for. I will take it in and the best I possibly can by other means of reuniting or if I have to, I will take it and raise it. But their moms are the best moms,” she said.
If reuniting is not possible, Castello said not to feed or water the animal while waiting for a rehabber.
“Don’t try to give it anything because that sets us behind on what we have to do. We’ll have to flush out what they were given. Stuff off of the farm store shelves is actually very bad for them. … There are actually special things that we have access to that are specially shaped for these animals,” she said.
“Keep it in a warm, dark, dry place and call your closest rehabber, which in Belmont County is me.”
Castello said to never “cuddle” a wild animal, even if it is passive enough to allow it. Just because an animal is still does not mean it is content; instead, Castello said, it is “scared to death.” Like in rabbits, this fear could actually lead to the animal having a heart attack.
“To do that to any animal is actually detrimental and is very nerve racking for them, especially when they are a baby. Handling as little as possible and putting them in a dark, quiet, dry place is literally the best thing,” she said.
If a person comes across a deceased opossum on the side of the road and is brave enough to do so, Castello suggests checking the animal’s pouch for live babies.
“It’s really worth it because they are very beneficial to our environment. Not only are they what I like to call nature’s garbage men, but they eat a lot of ticks, which is very helpful to us as well,” she said.
With mowing season upon us, Castello recommends that residents check for discolored areas in their yards prior to beginning yard work. She said to check any discolored area for a hole or den where babies could be. If there are babies or you think there could be, she recommends covering the area with a tote or small laundry basket while completing the yard work. If such babies are injured in any way, she said to contact the rehab center so she can assess the situation.
Though the organization cannot care for Category II animals, Castello recommends to still contact her for help with them as she is able to transport them to a proper rehabilitation center.
When it comes to deer, the state of Ohio has very strict laws, Castello said. She recommends leaving any fawns where they are if found alone.
“If someone sees a fawn in their yard, which is the call I get the majority of the time, just simply leave it alone. The mother will come back. The moms find quiet, safe places to leave the babies sit, sometimes for hours. She will come back, get it and take it with her,” she said, adding that if the mother is potentially dead and the fawn remains in the area until the following day, call her to see what can be done. However, she said the organization is limited in what it can do.
Castello also reminds residents that it is illegal to harbor wildlife longer than need be.
Castello said she cares for animals and wants to do her best to preserve their way of life.
“The reason I got started doing this is because there wasn’t anybody in Belmont County to do this, and the closest was in Muskingum County. Those are precious moments that could be used, traveling all the way there an hour and a half, that’s a lot of time that could be saved in rehydrating the animal. We need this here, and I want people to have a place to take animals,” she said.
For more information, questions or for assistance with local wildlife rehabilitation, call the organization at 740-921-3594 or visit its Facebook page.
The rehab center relies solely on donations to function. Anyone interested in donating to the nonprofit can do so by mailing checks to PO Box 138, Bethesda, OH 43719 or by calling the phone number listed above.