Ask ELi: Who Do You Call for a Sick Wild Animal?

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Monday, August 26, 2019, 8:00 am
Brad Minor

Above: A healthy squirrel suns itself on ELi’s Publisher’s porch during winter.

The recent case of an ill racoon in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood brought a number of requests to ELi to find out what one can do in such a situation in terms of asking for government assistance.

The fact is that in East Lansing – and Ingham County more generally – there appears to be something of a service gap for animal-related problems.

Currently, the City of East Lansing does not have officers or other workers whose job it is to manage animal or pest control. And Ingham County Animal Control focuses mainly on dogs and cats.

“Ingham County Animal Control does not come out for wildlife,” East Lansing Deputy Police Chief Steve Gonzalez explained in an interview with ELi. “On their website, they basically say that if you have a wildlife problem, they will refer you to a commercial pest control company.”

The City’s Department of Public Works will try to work with residents and neighborhoods when it comes to things like some aspects of deer population management, but they simply do not have the manpower or other resources to do things like remove unwanted raccoons from private properties.

ELPD will help with information, but is limited in its ability to help directly.

Gonzalez said that in scenarios where an animal is actually being aggressive and posing a threat to people, ELPD will respond. But there are a few options for police officers.

“If the animal is not posing a threat to safety, we will talk with the homeowner and present their options to them and help them navigate the situation. We can assist them and walk them through the process, but as for physically mediating the problem, our hands are tied because of resources. Also, [wild animal control] is not what police officers are trained to do,” Gonzalez said.

“The problem we run into is, once we snare an animal, how do we transport it? The best we usually do is to use one of the pickups trucks with someone in the bed of the truck with the animal, and that's just not ideal.”

Gonzalez wants to be clear that doesn't mean he wants residents to avoid calling ELPD if they think an animal might be dangerous.

“When a homeowner thinks that there is a safety concern – and when I say safety concern, I mean that the animal is acting aggressively and is charging people – then they should give us a call,” he said.

“Generally,” he said, “it culminates in the animal having to be put down, since it’s a public safety concern.” He gave an example that he said has happened in the City, with raccoons in the later stages of rabies.

Gonzalez also specifically recalled one time when a coyote fell into a house’s egress window and got trapped.

“We simply did not have the resources to deal with the animal, and Animal Control won't come out in wildlife situations like that. When that happened, we actually had to contact the DNR [Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources] to help deal with it.”

What should a homeowner know if they want to try to deal with a wild animal on their own?

Raccoons, skunks, and coyotes, and other small animals may be killed on private property year-round in Michigan if the animals are damaging or threatening private property. A license or permit is not required. But, according to the DNR, it is never legal under any circumstances to try to take care of the situation by using poison. For hunting and trapping regulations, see the 2019 Michigan Hunting Digest.

If you want to try to save a sick or injured wild animal, one option is to contact the nonprofit Nottingham Nature Nook, which rehabilitates. For more about that local organization, read this special report from ELi.

If you’re going to hire a for-profit animal control company, check to make sure they are permitted by the State.

The DNR provides a list of permitted animal control businesses, although it is clear that listing does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement of the business by the DNR.

Vaccinating your dog for distemper helps prevent problems.

One threat that animals like raccoons pose, specifically to domestic animals, is distemper. The viral disease affects foxes, coyotes, skunks, and unvaccinated dogs. (It does not affect humans.)

According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the disease is more likely to occur when raccoon populations are large or concentrated. It is spread when animals have direct contact with body fluids or droppings from an infected animal.

Distemper is usually fatal for dogs, and dogs that do survive may have irreparable nervous system damage. This is why veterinarians strongly recommend vaccinating dogs.

You may be interested in this prior reporting from ELi:

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