What to do if you find an injured animal

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

August 1, 2013

If you see an injured or seemingly abandoned animal, the one thing to remember is to leave it alone.

“Never touch it with your hands, that seals the animal’s fate,” said Nancy Carey, a wildlife rehabilitator based in Underhill.

The risk of rabies—which is fatal if left untreated—is so great, that an animal that has been improperly handled must be tested. Testing requires killing the animal and taking a sample of its brain tissue.

“Exactly what they want to avoid is what they’ve caused,” she said.

As for the idea that touching a baby animal means its mother will reject it, Carey said that’s an old wives’ tale.

“The mother doesn’t care, just like us,” she said.

Carey said people should look for four signs before intervening, and keep in mind that the mothers of animals who seem abandoned are often nearby.

The first sign is if the animal is in harm’s way—in a road or parking lot, for example. Another is if the animal has a visible wound on it.

A third sign is if a baby animal is near a dead mother. Finally, flies on a baby animal—like those you would see on a dead animal—signal that its mother is not taking care of it.

If an animal needs to be moved, use whatever you have on hand—gloves, a t-shirt, a towel, a blanket, even your car’s floor mat. While reptiles and amphibians aren’t carriers of rabies, they can harbor parasites such as salmonella. If the animal is injured or orphaned, call a licensed rehabilitator. Vermont has 17 licensed wildlife rehabilitators whose goal is to release injured and orphaned wildlife back into the wild.

Call the rehabilitator before you try to capture the animal to make sure they accept that species. They can usually advise you of the best way to handle the animal.

If you are calling about a raccoon, woodchuck, fox or skunk—animals frequently associated with rabies—you must go through the rabies hotline, 1-800-472-2437. They will refer you to the appropriate rehabber.

For a full list of rehabbers, visit