What Will You Do If You See an Injured Animal on the Road?

The idea: We’ve almost all had the heart-wrenching experience of seeing an animal, wild or domesticated, injured or lost on or beside the road. We may have even inadvertently hit an animal that darted out in front of our car. Here’s what to do, courtesy of — surprise! — PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk.

The eloquent and controversial Ingrid Newkirk of PETA has a new book out called Making Kind Choices : Everyday Ways to Enhance Your Life Through Earth- and Animal-Friendly Living with 78 short chapters (click on the above link to browse the full table of contents), each containing advice on subjects that range from animal- and environment-friendly cleaning, shopping and cooking to humanely dispensing with rodents and weeds. One of the chapters deals with how to deal with a hurt or lost animal on or beside the road. Here is her advice (from my memory and with the help of the SPCA guidelines — anyone with the book correct me if I have something wrong or missed something important):

  1. Be prepared: Keep a list of emergency numbers for your area in the car. You should have one of these anyway for the local hospital, doctors, insurance company, local police, drunk driving reporting line, roads & public works, power company, towing company and garage. Just add the numbers of the local humane society, animal rescue, wildlife rehab centre, pound and veterinarian. And be prepared emotionally — no matter what, this is likely to be an emotional roller-coaster ride.
  2. Have a rescue kit: You should have a first-aid kit in your car even if you’re not a samaritan. Just add to it a big towel, a blanket, some gauze (to cover a bleeding area, or, in a pinch, to use as a muzzle), a snap-open can of strong-smelling food, fresh water, a water bowl, and a nylon lead. Keep it all in a cat carrier or strong cardboard box.
  3. Don’t endanger anyone else in your rescue: If the animal is on the road, avoid getting hit from behind, brake carefully, and if it’s a quiet road park safely behind it with flashers on and have a passenger flagging other traffic. Use flares if you have them. Otherwise pull off safely to the side. No matter what, call the appropriate authorities immediately. If you cannot safely capture and securely transport the animal, tell them its precise location and description, give them your number, ask how long they will be and try to stay on the scene until they arrive.
  4. Know your limits: Get help if the animal is large or appears very hostile or stressed. Otherwise speak gently, move slowly, do not look it in the eye, stay in the animal’s sight, and if it is injured or sick restrain it and try to wrap it and lift it into your car safely and securely and take it to the nearest veterinarian (call ahead). If you get bitten or scratched, be prepared for a rabies regimen. If there is a risk of the animal panicking in the car and interfering with your driving, don’t drive — leave the animal in your car, call and wait for help.
  5. If it’s merely lost: Consider what you would want done if your pet were lost. Don’t assume it has been deliberately abandoned. Call to it patiently and calmly, restrain it and look for a tag or other identification. If there’s a house nearby try to find a neighbour who might know whose pet it is. In a rural area if there’s a name on the closest mailbox, use your cell phone to call the resident. Stay calm. If you can’t find it’s home, take it to the nearest animal shelter or pound. If you’re willing to adopt it if its home isn’t found, tell the shelter immediately, and be prepared to pay adoption costs (vaccinations, license, neutering).
  6. At the vet: Although there are some kind and generous vets out there, be prepared to pay for any surgery or treatment needed. Some vets won’t treat wild animals or unvaccinated pets at all — if that happens, ask to be referred to one who will. If it’s a wild animal and it’s injured, unless the injuries are very minor and in consultation with the vet have it euthanized immediately — it will be terrified in confinement and unlikely to respond and survive in the wild again. If it’s wild and its injuries are minor, ask the vet where the nearest facility is that re-introduces animals into the wild, and work with the vet to get the animal taken there. If it’s a pet, the severity of the injuries will determine whether it’s more humane to operate or euthanize — work with the vet to decide what to do.
  7. At the pound: Many animal control facilities are severely resource-constrained and may automatically euthanize animals that are seriously injured or even if they are healthy after a short claiming period. Some will not pick up stray or injured animals and may not even accept some animals. Stay calm, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Work with them, or find another place to take the animal.

This final advice from the SPCA is also helpful:

If you’re uncertain about whether or not to assist or keep an animal you see alongside the highway, think of what you would want the finder of your pet to do if he happened to find him injured and his collar missing. You’d want him to take your pet to a veterinarian, and you’d want him to try to find you. At the same time, be reasonable about how much you can afford to do for that animal if no owner shows up. Are you willing to add him to your household? And will you be willing to return him to his original home if the owner turns up after you’ve started to form an attachment?

It’s likely that at some point you’re going to face such a situation. It’s helpful to know in advance what you will do. Think it through now. When it happens you’re not going to have time.

Postscript: Two important facts about saving injured birds:

  1. Do not feed an injured bird food or water. If the bird is in trauma, food can aggravate the trauma and cause death, and water can block air passages. Only provide food when the bird has recovered (has been alert at least 1/2 hour); then berries, grape halves and watermelon pieces are best, providing fluids and sugar. Call the experts before trying to rehabilitate an injured bird.
  2. It is a myth that a parent will not reclaim a baby bird touched by human hands. If the parents haven’t arrived in an hour, and you can’t find the nest, drop a towel over the bird, and put it in a cardboard box in a warm, dry, dark place away from predators until it recovers. Then if it’s not healthy or mature enough to let go, call the experts.

Image: Harvest mice, now an endangered species, photo by Stephen Dalton from Secret Worlds.

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12 Responses to What Will You Do If You See an Injured Animal on the Road?

  1. Great post, Dave.Yesterday I saw a little mouse running between the wheels of the car in front of me while parked at a red light. I lost sight of it after a few seconds, though. I hope it survived.

  2. Rayne says:

    Thanks, Dave. I’ll point out that local Humane Societies may be able to provide assistance that shelters operated by local government cannot due to budget restraints. Vets may be able to suggest the better approach of the two if there’s an option.

  3. I don’t know about other cities, but I know Allegheny County here in Pittsburgh has a no-kill shelter for dogs and cats. I imagine other towns have something similar. If you have the option, dropping a stray off at those facilities is obviously the way to go.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Hey Justin — Something To Be Desired is awesome — well produced, well edited, well acted, great music, unpretentious. Readers, check it out by clicking on Justin’s name above. There are quite a few no-kill shelters but they tend to be clustered, and not well advertised — it’s frustrating how much research is needed just to make up the list in Ingrid’s Point 1.

  5. To stay on the topic of this entry: Have you seen this?http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1502933,00.html

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, Mikhail. This is consistent with Masson’s books When Elephants Weep and The Pig Who Sang to the Moon.

  7. JoJo's Jelly says:

    Fortunately, many of the no-kill shelters around us in Northern Ontario are powered by the private owner’s own pocket and heart, but unfortunately they are also usually full because many people did not make wise pet choices. These unwanted ‘pets’, through no fault of their own, have crowded out the sick and injured animals who are just SOL if there’s no room. I think it is great advice to seriously think about what you would do if you cannot find a shelter or home for an injured animal, just as people should seriously think about what they’re in for when they decide to get a pet! These are long-term, caring, commitments, people!Great site, Dave, I admire it so much!

  8. Derek says:

    At the other extreme, we live far enough out in the middle of nowhere, that our yard, road, and nearby highways are full of life: rabbits, birds, prairie dogs, skunks, elk, deer. With the larger ones, you have to be careful not to kill yourself trying to avoid them. People aren’t always successful.As far as injuries, or accidents go; we’re lucky to have another animal around as well: coyotes. Any injured animal is that night’s supper. They’re also good for weeding out less intelligent house pets. We used to have six cats, now we have two smart ones.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Great advice JoJo — and congrats on the new and very funny blog. Are you by chance related to JoJo Chinto(h) the CITY news reporter?Derek: Don’t think that’s what Darwin was getting at exactly ;-)

  10. JoJo's Jelly says:

    No, but I have used the coincidence, shamelessly, to my advantage many times!

  11. Ken says:

    By the logic presented, if you find an injured person on or near the road, and you take it upon yourself to help them, then you should assume financial responsibility for any medical bills the injured incur. Where’s the illogic? Our systems of financial responsibility for human medical care? Our systems of financial responsibility for veterinary medical care? The human desire to help others even when it costs oneself? Certain groups insistence of receiving payment for their services (kindness)?

  12. Joe says:

    Derek – you forgat to mention if you see a dead animal on the side of a busy road you should move it further into the field or bush – or you will have a bunch of predators added to the roadkill category

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