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Friday, February 21, 2014

I'm Back! Just not here...

Hey everyone! After a long hiatus, I'm back to blogging at a new site:

The Armchair Ecologist is about the things we're fascinated by, but never got around to studying. We're gonna talk citizen science, backyard naturalism, and give some ecological context to our interactions with nature.

Stop by the site, connect with me and other armchair ecologists with the facebook page, the twitter feed @armchairecology, google+, or send me an email at! Tell a story, submit a fun fact, or request a topic to be covered!

It's good to be back, I hope to see you all there!

This is the part where I pester you to promote the blog on all those cool social media links up there :) 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Culture Shock

In coming from wildlife rehab to small animal medicine, there was definitely some things to adjust too.
                 What stood out to me the most was the focus. With wildlife, the entire animal is observed.  When getting them off the street, you have no idea the scope of the animal’s injuries.  In examination you watch the face and eyes while probing wounds, feel bones opposite obvious breaks, and observe the animal on a large scale, because any reaction or variation could give you a clue to the full extent of the damage. With companion animals, on the other hand, they have already been under the close supervision of someone who knows them well. The owner knows their dog’s behavior, gait, eating habits, and a host of other minutia unique to that animal, so when they come in with a limp, only the leg is radiographed, instead of the entire body. This fine focus translates to surgery as well, where the companion animal is draped entirely in surgical cloth, leaving only the 2 inch by ½ inch strip of cat exposed for incision.
                The other huge difference was the pacing.  At the clinic, Dr C had his appointments for the day plotted on a computer program.  His appointments and surgeries are scheduled, and in the intervening time, the vet techs  take care of the day to day tasks  at the measured pace of working professionals. The infirmary is frenetic. Especially in the summer, Max the vet is pulled in innumerable directions. Tending to animals already there, taking in new animals (that often arrive in large groups) at random throughout the day, and tending to a perpetually new staff of volunteers.   
Every day is a new learning experience! Next time maybe I’ll go over the things that carry over into both practices…. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Domestic Life

It has been a very boring couple of months.
In that couple of months I have I have lived like a refugee, sneaking showers and borrowing food from understanding locals; I have moved twice, once driven by insects and once by loss of employment; I have left and returned to the nature center three separate times, finally settling at a different internship altogether.
Writing that out, it didn’t sound boring, but you come here to read about animals, and that series of unfortunate events had precious little to do with the wildlife I so miss working with. However, finally my life has become interesting again, last week I embarked on a new adventure: Small animal practice.
Now, from an undisclosed location in southeast Michigan, I witness and occasionally assist a crack team of experts, dedicated to the preservation of the well being of this state’s beloved companion animals. Dr. C and capable Vet Techs F, K, J, A and others, as well as faithful feline companion Clarice stand in the gap for our pets, and are gracious enough to let me hover over their shoulders. 
You will note, that I am not so forthcoming with names and details as I was before. The clinic of my latest incursion is a for profit enterprise, thus any writing associated with them could have an effect on any possible patients in their choosing a doctor. There is a chance, however slim it may be, that while bringing your animal in for a checkup you observe me stealthily observing. If this happens, the burden and grave responsibility of maintaining my cover has fallen to you. In that event, you will acknowledge me only by the secret hand signal: an enthusiastic thumbs up, to which I will respond in kind.  
Today’s communiqué was only to alert you that I am back and blogging, and look forward to further updates as the situation warrants.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Finals Week and Tempting Fate

          Hey everyone! Final exams have come to a close here at MSU, so I can get back to giving more attention to the blog. My lack of writing certainly doesn't mean things have been slow here at the infirmary. Last week saw a ton of activity. I haven't been this busy at the infirmary with intakes since my first day on the job! 

       The day began as many do, with Linda tempting fate. Before I could stop her, she said, "It doesn't look too bad in here today." We were alone. Max the Vet was out of town, and the interns had bailed out for finals week; so I immediately started panicking. Fortunately most of the cages were empty, and the ones that had critters in them weren't too high maintenance, so we plowed through until about noon, when things went nuts. 

       We had a call early in the day that someone was going to bring us in a rabbit. The rabbit never came, but in its place, came five juvenile fox squirrels (one missing his tail), one Mourning dove with an infected humerus fracture, one five week old Red Fox with mange, and a Painted turtle whose shell had been cracked trying to cross the road. 
       The Fox squirrels were easy. We weighed them, checked them for ectoparasites, and put the tailless one on antibiotics. After smearing the poor little guys stump with silver-sulfadiazine cream to kill whatever bugs were growing on the surface, we shipped them off to foster parents. 

       The dove was the day's sad story. His wing was badly broken, a compound fracture of the upper arm, the bone protruded through the skin under his wing. On top of that, the bird had the acrid smell of infection on him. We are usually very good at dealing with infections in animals and are historically successful, but when bacteria make it into a bone, it's almost impossible to eradicate. He will probably be euthanized.   

       The Red fox and turtle both showed very positive signs, though. In a week or so, once the little fox's meds have rid her of her mange, she too will be sent to a foster, to be raised with another juvenile until old enough to be released. 

       Turtles are interesting things. Their prognosis when hit by cars is actually pretty counter intuitive. The conventional wisdom is that the more damage done to the shell, the more likely the animal is to survive. When a turtle is hit by a car, the shell can do one of two things: shatter or deform. When a shell shatters, it absorbs a vast amount of energy from whatever hits it, acting just like modern body armor (composed of extremely hard ceramic plates). But when the shell deforms, it just transfers the energy into the internal organs of the turtle. 

       Fortunately, this one looked rough on the outside, with multiple cracks on his outer shell. He had feeling in all of his limbs and tail, and was obviously not happy to see me. Once we get him on proper medication, we will weld the shell together with a type of fabric and epoxy that will flex and slough off when the shell is healed, and release him. 

       All in all, this week seemed like a win! Until next time…

Friday, April 15, 2011

Its Baby Time.

Baby season is upon us

The time has come to return from the realm of relative competence, and become the bumbling, know-nothing intern once again. The learning process makes for waaay better reading anyway. 
            We had our first bunny come in yesterday, and as I held the tiny ball of fur in my hand, I realized I had no idea what to do. For babies all the rules change. Feeding, rehydration, and treatment all need to be adjusted not only to the species of the patient, but the age as well. I wandered through the infirmary like a toddler who had superglued his fingers together and didn’t know what to do about it. Fortunately Linda was there to bail me out, and we got the little one straightened out.

The bunny had come in after being attacked by a dog, with two neat puncture wounds through the skin. She was otherwise alert and awake, and there were no immediate signs of internal injury, so we got some fluids in and set her aside to be picked up by one of our volunteer foster parents.
          Later on in the day, we had a family bring in a baby red fox. The little fox kit was a little over two weeks old. Its eyes were still blue and pointed (comically) in opposite directions, and its fur was still dark. Since its eyes were open, we could give it solid food, but his sniffling gave us cause for alarm. All members of the Canidae family (as well as a few others) are susceptible to canine distemper, and this disease often presents nasal discharge before the uglier neurological symptoms develop. Because of this possibility, the tiny red fox had to be treated very carefully, to avoid contaminating our surfaces and tools with the virus.  I didn’t handle the little fox this time around. Being more of a bird guy anyway I let the interns deal with the little fluffball, wrapping him up in a towel and getting some food and water into him.
Here is a little video to give you an idea of what she looked like. 

(NOTE: This is for illustration purposes only. That is not me, and those are not our foxes. If you find baby animals like this man did, you should get them to a rehabber AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! Raw chicken is is very low in nutrition for infants, and their health will suffer if he keeps them for too long...)

            Once they were done, it went into a warm, dark crate to rest, where it spent the rest of the day barking like a sad puppy. :(

So we now begin weathering the storm of cute and cuddly...
Updates as events warrant.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Exploding Doves

             I know! I’ve been away for a long time. The last several weeks I haven’t had a chance to work at the infirmary, so I had no new stories to tell. I was feeling bad about leaving you all high and dry without any fresh critter antics, so I dug deep, and did my best with what I had…

Doves are symbols of peace. Tranquil creatures of grace, whose slow flight and gentle nature have become its trademarks. The low call of a Mourning Dove near the close of a summer day in enough to draw a sigh from even those least attuned to nature.

            On the other hand, once they are in the infirmary, all the lovely pretense dissolves into a frantic bird, whose mind seems to operate like a very simple calculator: only able to process one input or cause one action at a time. For example, when they're placed in their cage they begin processing:

I'm in a cage-> Bang head on wall
I'm still in a cage-> Bang head on next wall
All walls head-butted, I'm still in a cage-> Coo

            This makes it interesting to change their cage linings or feed them. When I open up the door, the dove is going to do one of a few things.

Option 1: Explode from the cage, fly around the room and hurt itself. 
Option 2: Run back and forth along the back wall of the cage.
Option 3: Coo.

            All too often, the chart hanging from the cage door has EXPLODING DOVE written on it. Option one, while dangerous for the silly bird, is always entertaining. With a triumphant coo, he will hurl himself toward the screen that hangs over the mouth of the cage to prevent its escape and push through with Herculean effort.

            When this happens, the dove will sometimes undergo a "fright molt", where the feathers around the tail area will fall out to prevent capture, giving the appearance of a small feathery explosion in the general vicinity of its escape. The fright molt comes in very handy when you are being chased by a much faster predator, and has left many a Coopers Hawk and infirmary intern alike holding nothing but a handful of feathers.

            Ever since I started at the infirmary, I haven’t been able to see doves in the same light again. Instead of seeing them as the symbol of peace, I just remember standing dumbfounded with a wad of quills in my hand, watching one of my patients merrily coo away…

Just look at that smug jerk, mocking me with his powers of flight...

This is where I ask you to spread the site to all your animal loving friends! Use the cool buttons below, or post a comment! 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Loss of a Patient

First off, I’m sorry my posting schedule has been a little off lately, but the blog has become more difficult lately. After the new year, I cut my hours at the infirmary down by two thirds, and while it has done wonders for my grades…I have less to write about.
            But you didn’t come here for excuses! You came for results! So I will do my best to comply.
This Saturday, we lost a critter. We had been brought a small grebe earlier in the week. Grebes and Coots are funny birds, in that they are designed to work very well in the water, but not so much in other places. Their feet, tail, and feathers are all designed to make them efficient swimmers and fishers, but they are slow in flight, and almost immobile on land.
A Western Grebe similar to our patient. 

           Also, being waterfowl, they are not terribly bright. Occasionally, they will mistake a parking lot or a street for a body of water and land. Unfortunately they cannot take off from solid ground, so we get in a lot of hungry grebes with scuffed up feet.
            Such was the case with this guy, but for one reason or another, on Saturday morning he began to deteriorate. It was difficult to see, and because we were shorthanded, the poor little diver floated under the radar.
                It wasn’t until we had finished the other chores that we noticed he had not eaten. I lifted him out of his tub, and his feathers were not waterproof, he was soaked and cold. The sharp, pronounced breastbone under his feathers told me he had not been eating as well as he should, while the strands of mucus and pale coloration inside his beak told of dehydration.
                Small animals are very fragile, and in the state he was, there was little we could do for him.
                As a last emergency measure, I injected some fluids under the transparent skin just above his hip. This subcutaneous injection (or sub-Q) is not ideal, the skin does not absorb liquid as well as the digestive system, but it allows us to place a full days worth of water into an animal, something the stomach cannot hold. This can also be done when tube feeding would kill the animal outright.
               The grebe died about thirty minutes later, after we gave him the fluids and placed him on a warm rice bag to recover some heat.   
               Not all stories from the infirmary are happy ones. Sometimes there are issues that we cannot detect with the technology and personnel available to us. Sometimes an animal can deteriorate in a matter of hours, or succumb to wounds too deep or too old to treat. But even in these situations there are lessons to be learned. We will all be more observant in the future.

This week’s plug is the new blog by new HNC intern Melissa! Go read about her adventures in nature and life here. Make sure to tell her the Wildlife sentcha!