- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - Volunteers Dawn Tutt, Dee Smallwood and Melissa Benson might wish they could just turn off their sense of compassion, at least for a day or two.

But these women, the leaders of the 3D Wildlife Rescue and Rehab project in Kankakee County, have made caring for orphaned squirrels, rabbits, raccoons - even opossums - a 24/7 responsibility.

“We’re licensed by the state, so we get calls from as far away as Midway Airport and over to Morris. I have some squirrels here from Beecher and some over there from Berwyn,” Tutt explained. Her living room might have as many as 21 tiny mammals, plus her two dogs and four cats.

But she doesn’t have raccoons here. Benson, who lives in rural Grant Park, is the specialist with those masked critters. “We have some they found in a barn and the mother was probably killed on the road or by a predator,” she said. “And they need to stay with us a long time. They would have stayed with their mother for a year.”

So this crew doesn’t just bottle feed and nurture these orphans. They make sure they learn some of the skills they’ll need when they’re released to the wild. The squirrels get practice climbing and opening nuts. Benson hides fruit for the raccoon training.

Humane society representatives, animal control officials and homeowners have learned to call the 3D group during the past two years. The women say they’ve had calls about their main mammals, as well as a deer, a turkey vulture, an owl, geese and ducks.

“We’ll help the birds, but that’s usually just a 24-hour thing until we get them to someone with more skills,” Tutt said. She added she’s been drawn to help small animals all of her life. She and the rest of team have been given some training from a local veterinarian’s office.

“The most important thing I can tell people who find an abandoned baby animal in their yard is, first, make sure that the mom isn’t coming back. And, secondly, don’t try to give it anything to drink,” she said. “They need to be warmed up first. If there are two things you should do: Call one of us; and try to keep the animal warm.”

The volunteers often pick up animals that are less than a week old. So, around-the-clock feedings are not uncommon. There also are bills for the formula served up to the youngsters with syringes.

Smallwood noted the out-of-pocket costs do add up, so the volunteers are staging their first fundraiser July 16. They’re planning raffles and food, and maybe a visit with one of the critters they’re helping. The event, set for 1 to 6 p.m., also might include gift baskets from other friends of animals of wildlife.

Whatever the results of the fundraiser, Tutt said the group won’t give up on the orphans.

“The fact is that I don’t name all of the animals, but some of them that still live around here … they know me and I know them by name,” she said.

“Oh, my daughter, Micaelyn, (13), names all of the raccoons and she’s keeps track of the hundreds of names she’s used,” Benson said. “She has pictures of each one. She wants to be vet someday.”

Tutt noted it requires about three hours to feed all of her furry friends. She admits the feedings cut into her sleep time, “but I’m a great power napper.”

The women do admit the bittersweet moments of releasing the animals always is the hardest. Their cages fill up in spring and stay busy for most of the summer. But the time always comes when they take the animals back to the neighborhood where they were discovered, or to a safer environment where they know they’ll find food water and shelter.

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Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/24R3bdO

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Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com


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