Here's a tip from your friendly state game wardens: Leave wild baby animals alone.
Vermont's Fish & Wildlife Department says this is the time of year when people spot that itty-bitty raccoon, fawn or skunk and think, New pet!
Not quite. Despite your best intentions, officials say animals that appear abandoned are actually quite well equipped to take care of themselves. And by touching them, you're endangering their lives — and your own.
"It's tempting to think an animal may need rescuing — especially a baby — but wild animals are not pets and may pose a health risk," Dr. Robert Johnson, Vermont's public health veterinarian, said in a prepared statement. "Once people take in a wild animal and are bitten or exposed to its saliva, it needs to be tested for rabies, and this means killing the animal."
In 2013, a baby skunk rescued from the side of a road tested positive for rabies. That meant everyone, including six children, exposed to its saliva had to go through preventative rabies treatment. And just this year, a family with two children bottle-fed two young raccoons they found. That, too, ended with officials killing the animals to test them for rabies.
Not every story has such a sad ending. A woman in East Montpelier captured the hearts of Vermonters — and people around the world — last year with her tale of an adopted wood duck, Peep. Kimberlee Stevens found the duck when it was a baby and treated it like her own child. But when state officials got wise to the situation, they threatened to tear the "family" apart. After an outpouring of public support for Stevens, then-governor Peter Shumlin gave Peep a reprieve.
Officials, however, say not to get any ideas. Taking wildlife into captivity is illegal in Vermont.