Kidnapping and Reuniting of Kentucky Wildlife

By Ame Vanorio © 2018

Kidnapping is an unfortunate event when humans steal baby wild animals from their natural homes. Sometimes people kidnap wildlife because they think they are helping or rescuing the baby. Often humans kidnap wildlife because they want an exotic pet.

Regardless of how it happens, kidnap victims are something that every Kentucky wildlife rehabilitator must deal with.

There are lots of great memes which are a fun way to educate your public

There are lots of great memes which are a fun way to educate your public

The Phone Call

Your first point of contact is usually the phone call from the person who has found or rescued the baby. While I understand that numerous phone calls about the orphan baby fawn can be very exasperating it can also be a great moment to educate.

I will admit phoning and text frustration, however, I try to remember that this phone call is probably the most important event in that baby animals life.

It is important to ask leading questions so that you can ascertain whether there is a need for rehabilitation or can we reunite the baby with its mother.

1.      Tell me how you found the baby

2.      Describe what the baby was doing when you found them

3.      Do you hear or see a mother nearby

4.      Does the baby have visual injuries or appear to be unhealthy

Finders Calls to Wildlife Rehabbers Often Are Very Emotional

Fawns are a great example of kidnap victims. They are cute and alone and everyone assumes the worst. I get these calls a lot –

Finder -  Hi I found an orphaned baby deer and I don’t know what to do. Please help me!

Rehabber – Yes, ma’am. Can you tell me how you found the baby?

Finder – well I was taking a walk with Trixie, that’s my little dog, and we came across this poor baby all by herself. She looks like she’s starving to death and is just crying and making this sad noise.

Rehabber – ma’am where is the fawn now?

Finder – well she was so distraught that I brought her to the house, put her on the couch and tucked her in. Trixie is keeping her company.

Rehabber – can you text me a picture of the fawn, please. I need a picture to see if the fawn looks healthy.

( At this point I am rolling my eyes and making faces at my phone)

When the picture comes in of a nice healthy fawn I then explain to the caller that deer leave their babies on purpose. I give them a quick lesson on deer parenting and how this is still a very loved baby. I tell the finder to take the fawn back to where they found it (without their dog in tow) and PUT THE BABY BACK!

Sometimes people will argue this point and refuse or make excuses. I do explain the law at this point and why we have wildlife laws. If they flat out refuse,  I say in a nice non-aggressive way – Ma’am if you would like me to send an officer to your house to help you I will do that. At that point I end the call, say a quick prayer for the fawn, and try to remember what I was doing!

Some wildlife rehabbers do try to follow through and make sure the fawn gets back. That is a personal decision based on your time, energy and goals.

There are many normal reasons that wildlife babies are alone

·         Deer leave their babies because the fawn has no odor and they do this for protection

·         Juveniles, such as foxes and groundhogs, are often just exploring the outdoors as a natural part of maturing

·         Cottontails are weaned at 4 weeks ( the size of a tennis ball) and look like babies

·         Parents may just have left the baby to look for food

·         Mom could have been scared by humans and is watching and waiting for them to leave

·         Squirrels and baby birds fall out of the nest

When Do Wildlife Babies Need Intervention?

As a rehabber, you will need to know when that baby animal needs intervention. Remember that intervention does not necessarily mean you can not attempt to reunite the family.  In some cases, some short-term medical intervention may be necessary but you are still within a window of opportunity.

Cases where a quick fix will support health and you can attempt a reunion

·         Slight dehydration of less than 5%

·         Parasites – not a heavy load

·         Abrasions, scraps, shallow wounds where washing and applying ointment will help

·         Turtles with minimal cracked shells (shell not hanging or exposing muscle or organs)


Cases where the baby will need more long-term intervention

·         Dehydration of over 5 %

·         Heavy parasite load that interfering with health and causing dehydration, anemia, diarrhea

·         Serious wounds where the animal is bleeding, has exposed bone or organs or maggots

·         Possible concussion – animal has been hit by car or baby has fallen on a hard surface

·         Breathing problems

·         In shock or unconscious

·         Cold, low body temp, shivering

·         Parent is deceased – hit by a car or trapped and killed

·         Emaciated or starving

·         Reuniting failed


Working With Your Local Humane Society and Police Departments

Working with your local animal control, local and state police is very important. These are people who are out on the front lines and often get the first call. It is important for them to know how to respond effectively.

Wildlife is often a grey area. Education is very important.

I offer a free training to my animal control officers and police/sheriff departments. I have a powerpoint I made which goes over some basic wildlife parenting, how to determine if the baby is truly orphaned and steps to take.

This is a good way to get to know those departments. I also let them know what I do and don’t do. For instance, I do not do pick-ups. I cover a large area and simply do not have the time (or gas money) to do that.


Boomer, a pet surrender, started out his rehabilitation in a cage then moved to the barn and eventually the woods.

Working With Pet Surrenders and Pet Confiscations

You are likely to get calls on pet surrenders and pet confiscations. A pet surrender is when a kidnap victim has been kept as a pet for a period of time. This may be months or years. Eventually the animal “wilds up” and becomes difficult to handle.

Or that person has been “caught” by a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officer and the animal was confiscated. Your FW officer may have given the person time to place the animal with a licensed rehabber. Your officer may show up at your door or you will get a hysterical call from the person with the warning.

Having a plan for these situations is very important. Your plan may be simply that you do not take pet surrenders. Your plan may be that you accept them depending on age and how likely they will be to rehabilitate.

Pet surrenders have there own set of issues and problems. For one, they are teenage or adult animals. Sadly, they are often very very confused and stressed. They are dependent on humans for food, shelter and a sense of safety. But at the same time, their bodies are telling them “hunt”, “have sex” or “defend yourself”.

Many surrenders are raccoons which along with fawns are the most common kidnap victims. As we all know raccoons are very cute and fun when they are little. But hormones kick in and watch out!

I do take in one or two raccoon pet surrenders each year. I charge the owner for that service because they are the one responsible and it takes money and time to rehabilitate.

I am having successes on reintroducing pet raccoons to the wild and keep working on my technique. It is a long process and requires a lot of interventions.

Last Thoughts

I love wildlife rehabilitation. I love that process of raising a baby and seeing it become a wild animal ready for release. But I still recognize that I can never be as good a parent to these wildlife babies as their biological parents. Our first steps should be to ascertain whether wildlife babies need us or need to be reunited.


Ame Vanorio is the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center, a Kentucky licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility and a freelance writer. She founded the Kentucky Wildlife Rehabilitation Association to provide networking and education opportunities for rehabbers, biologists and educators.