Keep Wildlife Wild

October 14, 2021

A raccoon was among the fifty-three animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a red-bellied woodpecker, a yellow-crowned night-heron, a painted bunting, a long-billed dowitcher, a mother opossum and her six joeys and a peninsula cooter.

The Dangers of Keeping Wildlife as Pets

An officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) brought the young raccoon to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The officer reported a family had been raising the raccoon in their home for the past four months. An ‘incident’ occurred with the raccoon and the husband/father called FWC to surrender the raccoon. 

Hospital staff gathered information from the officer in order to report the situation to the Collier County Health Department.

When there is a risk of exposure to rabies due to a member of the public handling a high-risk rabies vector species (raccoon, bat, skunk) without utilizing personal protective equipment (gloves, towel), the Collier County Department of Health assesses the risk and determines the appropriate course of action. In this situation, the health department determined there was extreme risk of exposure since multiple family members had handled the raccoon during the four-month period. To diagnose rabies in animals, samples are taken from two areas of the brain; therefore, the raccoon had to be euthanized. 

This was a heart breaking situation because the family had good intentions yet, by not seeking professional care for the baby raccoon, they put the health and safety of their entire family at risk and it ultimately cost the raccoon its life.

Please, if you find an orphaned animal, call the wildlife hospital before taking action – hospital staff can provide information that will ensure your safety and the safety of the animal. If immediate action is required, take precautions before handling the animal – utilize protective equipment such as towels, gloves, safety glasses, etc. needed to keep yourself safe. 

Never attempt to care for a wild animal. It is illegal to possess injured, sick or orphaned wildlife without appropriate state and federal permits. These laws are in place to ensure wild animals receive care from professionals who understand their specific nutritional, medical and husbandry requirements.

The odds of an animal making a full recovery rise exponentially if the animal receives professional medical attention from a wildlife veterinarian and licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Our goal is to assist injured, sick and orphaned animals so, when healthy, they can be returned to the wild. For more information on wildlife permits and licenses, please visit FWC permit section.

Recent Releases

Two eastern cottontails and three grey squirrels were released last week while several releases were postponed due to inclement weather. 

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at and learn more about the opportunities to get involved. If you are unable to give your time as a volunteer, consider becoming a member or donate. No matter how you choose to become involved, be assured your support allows the Conservancy to continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is the Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239-262-2273 or see