(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Wayward Creatures tends to wild animals of all types in need of rescue and healing…
It should come to no surprise to anyone living in Stevens County that there are a few wild animals around.
Like any living creature, sometimes these animals can become sick or injured, and for some lucky ones they find their way to Wayward Creatures Wild Relief Agency which is operated by Dr. Jessica Adams, the owner of the Chewelah Veterinary Clinic.
“It started when I was an associate veterinarian and people would bring in animals with fixable problems but wouldn’t have the money for them,” Adams said.
After graduating from Washington State University, Adams was an associate at the Chewelah Veterinary Clinic from 2005 until 2011. She found herself trying to rescue these animals unable to be taken care of by their owners and trying to rescue wild animals brought into the clinic. Care wasn’t cheap for somebody paying for the care of these animals alone, however, and that’s why Adams formed the Wayward Creatures Relief Agency.
Now she has a collection of animals that resembles a kids stuffed animal collection, except these ones are quite alive with claws and teeth.
Adams said she gets donations to the rescue and many veterinary clinic staff members also donate their time, food and money to help animals. Her goal is simply to repair and then release animals back in the wild. If they’re too acclimated to humans or permanently injured then they’re given to a zoo or other animal organization. Adams keeps wildlife for only as long as it takes to get them healed or raised and releasable; if a wild animal cannot be released within six months, it may need to be transferred to a zoo, or get special permission from Fish and Wildlife to be held longer
“Right now I have a more diverse collection of animals than I ever had,” Adams said.
Wayward Creatures is currently housing 12 coyote pups, one otter, one skunk, four raccoons, one fawn, two birds that need to be hand fed and Opie the dog.
Opie was born with two heart defects and the owners could not afford to give him what was thought to be life-saving surgery. Adams took the sixth-month old, bright-eyed dog to WSU Cardiology, but the defect was found to be extremely rare and irreversible so he’s now just living out the rest of his days with the Chewelah veterinarian.
“With wild animals you have to make a triage of what is fixable, what can be released back into the wild and what can be given to an educational institution or zoo,” Adams said. “Sometimes if they can’t forage or hunt in a normal life cycle and can’t be given to another organization then you might have to euthanize them.”
Adams is a member of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians and a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator. Taking care of these animals isn’t easy, however, as they all have different needs, different food types and frankly different sizes and numbers of limbs.
“You can’t go down to Sety’s and get raccoon feed,” Adams said.
Adams has to be careful not to acclimate animals too closely with humans otherwise they’ll become comfortable with people’s porches which can lead to wildlife conflicts. Currently she’s working with a large group of coyotes – one group found after a farmer had shot the mother for chasing cattle, and another group when a shed was moved and the coyote den was found under it.
“It seems animals come in waves, one year I had a bunch of squirrels,” Adams said. “This year I thought it would be the year of the coyote but more animals keep coming in.”
Wayward Creatures isn’t a long-term rehab center for migrant birds or marine mammals (the one otter will be transferred to a zoo as soon as a spot is arranged), and Adams said she also can’t do large carnivores like cougars.
“I have had cougar kittens but these animals usually don’t go back into the wild because you don’t want a cougar used to a person,” Adams said. The kittens were transferred to a zoo within a few weeks, before they got too large to house.
Venomous snakes and moose are also out of the realm of care for Adams because she said she can’t provide them care safely.
Adams has a number of domestic animals as well, some she refers to as “foster fails” because they came to Wayward Creatures and ended up staying for one reason or another. This includes a corgi, a medium-sized dog named Minnie and a calico cat. The number of domestic saves at any one time is limited however since Adams simply doesn’t have a large amount of pens and there are other organizations that can take in more animals.
“Pens can cost up to $1,500 to put up so they’re an investment,” Adams said. “We are continuing to build more around the property here.”
One turtle at Wayward Creatures had a fractured shell that they repaired with bone wax and fiberglass boat deck epoxy.
“She’s watertight again,” Adams said while putting the intrepid turtle in a sink and feeding it worms.
In several pens, Adams has three young raccoons named Miranda, Ursula, and Growler and another baby raccoon named Marleena. Adams said that people taking in raccoons as pets is a bad idea because they’re very smart, very curious and very destructive. It’s also illegal to keep wild-caught animals as pets, and depending on the situation they may be confiscated or even euthanized if discovered. Transferring them as promptly as possible to a licensed rehabilitator is best for all involved. Washington Fish and Wildlife has a list of rehabs by county on their website.
Raccoons can be hard to rescue because they’re very social creatures. It works better if they’re rescued in groups as they expect to be with their mom for a year after birth. If it’s just them and a human they can become very attached.
“We released some raccoons a while back and I remember I went to feed another group one day and I felt a hand on the back of my head and it was a raccoon that had returned and wanted some food,” Adams said. “So I let her back in and continued to feed her and released her again. She came back with two kids the next year and eventually they stopped coming by.”
Adams has already released one skunk — Vladimir Pewtin — this year and has another baby skunk — Anastasia — that is quite loud come meal time.
“Skunks also make very bad pets for obvious reasons,” Adams said. “Even if you remove their scent glands, they’re eight pound bears. They like to break open stumps to get to insects and rip things up.”
Washington Fish and Wildlife works with Adams in releasing animals close to where they were found and in uninhabited areas.
Typical stories for rescued wildlife are hikers or people that have disturbed dens on accident. One of Adams’ skunks was just found by hikers and the animal acted quite social and wouldn’t stop following them. The Chewelah veterinarian does have important advice for anyone that comes across a wild animal.
“Don’t pick it up,” she said. “Someone watches an animal for an hour and thinks it’s abandoned when in reality they might only be fed or attended every 12 hours or so.”
If an animal is still left unattended a day later, however, then that might be an orphaned animal. Adams said it’s best if people use wildlife cameras to see if an animal is orphaned since a person’s presence might deter the mother from returning immediately.
With Stevens County being close to nature, there will probably be no shortage of rescues for Wayward Creatures. From hand feeding birds to making sure raccoons are in the right cage, there’s never a dull day for Adams.
One thing is for sure, wild animals in Stevens County are lucky, whether they know it or not, to have a rescue resource like this.