Wildlife centers are interesting. I listened to a presentation this week from one center that has no vet on staff, and thus can’t help injured animals, but only raises healthy orphans: birds, raccoons, squirrels, etc. This center names its animals (we met Autumn, the corn snake) but this belies a tension around the issue of human-animal bonding: “We want them not to like us,” said the young woman presenting. If the goal is to return animals to the wild, then attachment should be discouraged, even with a young animal whom you’re bottle-feeding multiple times a day. (Whom, or that?) A female groundhog, raised and then released, decided to burrow under the center’s front porch, and had to be relocated because as a free animal, she posed a rabies/liability risk.

Another wildlife center in our area is bigger, and fully equipped to treat injuries. The very next day after the presentation, we happened to find a box turtle that had been hit by a car but was still alive, and ended up delivering it to the care of the wildlife hospital in a liquor box. A worker unceremoniously took the box away and I called out “Good luck!” as the turtle disappeared down the hall. I was told we could check on its status by email the next day, and when I did, I received an amazing reply that included a vet’s exam notes. Reading this clinical language inspired empathy in the way that police-report language can sometimes do: “possible skull fracture,” “full thickness carapacial fracture,” “evidence of lung trauma or contusions.” Prognosis is “guarded.”

I am grateful that there are people who can do this work, and choose to do it. I am interested in the fact that this experience engenders a feeling of concern for an individual animal that is similar to the feeling one has for a pet. I am puzzled and interested by the difference between my feeling for this turtle (for that matter, most turtles)–an I-thou feeling–and my feeling for nearly any snake–more like I-it.

On a previous visit to the wildlife hospital, we learned that it does not take in adult deer, since deer are, apparently, classified as pests–but it does help raise fawns.