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News Item - Letter

Veterinarians appalled at MNR proposals that will eliminate help for wildlife in Ontario

January 24, 2005

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a practicing veterinarian in St. Thomas, Ontario and am writing in regards to the proposed changes to be made to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Program, specifically EBR Registry Number PB04E6022.

The proposed title of “Enhanced” Wildlife Rehabilitation Program is a cruel joke! It is obvious that the intent of the MNR is not to enhance but to almost eliminate wildlife rehabilitation in Ontario if these changes are enacted.  I have been aware for some time of the MNR’s attitude of disapproval towards wildlife rehabilitation in general, but I assure you they are completely out of step with public opinion on this issue.

My understanding of their “logic” in this move is two fold. First, they maintain that nature should be left alone. Injured, sick or orphaned wildlife should die. They claim it is not “natural” for a human to save a wild animal, raise it and release it later. I see several fallacies with this approach. We humans have inexorably changed nature already, destroying habitat, removing top predators, building roads with busy traffic, etc. The small sliver of wilderness still remaining in Ontario deserves our respect. We owe the wild creatures as much help as we can give them. If we teach our children to kill or leave to die a wild animal that could be helped and then returned to nature, what are we teaching them? Surely not compassion, surely not a deep and abiding respect for our environment.

No, we are teaching them to not care, that we are separate from nature, that the wild things are separate from us and their suffering should be ignored. This hands off approach to nature damages our humanity as much as it damages the wildlife.

The great hypocrisy of the MNR is that they get much of their funding from hunting and fishing licenses. Hunting and fishing they conveniently consider as not disturbing nature, but somehow rescuing a baby skunk will dangerously upset the natural balance. This is considered so dangerous that there is a $100,000.00 fine if you are caught.

The second major argument the NMR puts forward as a reason for the proposed changes to the wildlife rehab regulations is the need to control diseases, especially rabies. Controlling the spread of disease is a noble pursuit, but these new regulations are not based on sound scientific and practical facts. International standards call for orphans to be raised with conspecifics to learn proper behavior and to be released as a group. The proposed regulations would have single orphans raised and released separately, almost ensuring their inability to survive.

The proposed rules about how far away from their capture location rehabilitated wildlife can be cared for and eventually released are absurdly limited and not at all conforming to international standards or rational science. The proposed regulations state that if a rabies vector species in need of help is found more than 50km away from a licensed Rehabilitation center, it must be killed. If these new regulations take effect the number of available rehabbers will drop from the current approximately 100 in Ontario to perhaps only half a dozen, due to the overly strict physical plant requirements. This would leave almost all of Ontario’s vast geography without a licensed center within the required 50km, resulting in mandatory euthanasia of all sick, injured or orphaned rabies vector species in those areas.

The proposed requirements for releasing rehabilitated animals state that rabies vector species (raccoons, skunks etc.) must be released within 1km of where they were found, even if that is in the middle of a city or some other unsuitable site. Accepted international standards allow animals to be released in an appropriate environment as close to the  capture location as possible.

When the kindly average citizen is presented with only two legal choices of killing sick, injured or orphaned wildlife or leaving them to die, most will in good conscience disobey the law and raise the animal secretly themselves. The MNR claims to want to “professionalize” wildlife rehab, but the opposite will happen. The entire process will go underground, with no supervision at all. This will definitely increase the risk of spreading zoonoses, not to mention well meaning but inappropriate diet and rearing environments. The current system of licensed wildlife custodians and their network of supervised foster caregivers works fairly well and should be allowed to continue. There is no reason that wildlife cannot be safely and successfully raised in small, low-tech settings. Expensive (and therefore rare) large dedicated facilities are not necessarily  better than someone’s well maintained garage or shed.

From my decades of working with the public as a veterinarian in Ontario, I know that the vast majority of the people in our province would be vehemently opposed to these new regulations. In fact, most people seem to think that there is some government organization that cares for sick and orphaned wildlife. They are surprised when I tell them it is all done by volunteers, without any government money do it all.

Last year, I had a teacher bring to me a baby squirrel that her grade 3 classroom had seen get knocked out of its nest by a storm. It had a concussion and was not able to walk properly and so could not be returned to the nest. Our local official wildlife rehabber was notified and she took the baby squirrel to one of her network of foster caregivers who raised it in a cage with an orphaned squirrel its own age. He recovered fully in time and was released near the school. The teacher stayed in touch with the foster caregiver and the school children sent the squirrel get well cards. If these proposed regulatory changes had been in place at that time, I would have had to kill that baby squirrel. The public would be rightly outraged in such a situation, as would I.

I sincerely hope that common sense will prevail and these new regulations are not  passed.


Mary Wester Yett, DVM
St. Thomas, Ontario.

Click here to view original letter in Word format


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