Taking care of 60-plus orphaned raccoons a labour of love for Saskatoon woman
Woman rehabilitates and cares for baby raccoons until they can fend for themselves
Not many people can say they are taking care of more than 60 orphans, but Hayley Hesseln and her team of volunteers are doing just that for a nursery of raccoons.
Hesseln is the owner of Bandit Ranch Rehab in Saskatoon.
"I am now the only raccoon rehabber in the province," Hesseln said between feedings. "There used to be a couple of others, but because I'm the only one, I'm getting them all."
Hesseln began helping another person with orphaned raccoons back in 2012 and her love affair with the animals is still growing.
Back then they would get six to eight raccoons each season, but the need to care for orphans until they are big enough to be released back into the wild is growing.
"They are very smart and tend to be a little bit of a nuisance because they can get into things," Hesseln said.
"People tend to think of quick solutions. So, most often they shoot or trap and relocate the mothers. Then they find out she had a litter."
Hesseln gets most of her orphans through the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan (WLRSO) which runs a hotline in the province.
Hesseln begins getting the baby raccoons in spring as newborns.
"They fit in the palm of my hand and are just over 100 grams when they are born." she said.
They have to be fed seven times a day to start before being weaned and fed fewer meals as they grow throughout the summer. She gives them specially-formulated raccoon milk from Arizona that comes in 20-gallon pails.
The babies start out in rubber bins with heating pads where they are bottle fed. As they are weaned they start on solid food like eggs, chicken and fruit.
When they are off bottles entirely, they go into her backyard where she has three large pens built for them.
"I've got places to climb, places to nest. They have hammocks."
Once they need more space the raccoons are moved to a friend's place in the country, where there is a giant pen where they can hunt for grubs and mice.
They are released at the end of September. They weigh about six to eight pounds by this point and are quite wild.
Hesseln, who also has a full-time job as an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, can then take a break
"You have no idea how much I love winter," she laughed.
They like each other's company
Hesseln said the little critters don't tend to be noisy.
A few have escaped a couple of times, but she said they like to be together so they end up coming back.
One year four raccoons dug out of their enclosure in her backyard.
When she went to look for them she could hear purring, just like cats.
"I looked up and there they were sleeping in the neighbour's tree."
In the evening they came down and went straight back to the cage where she was able to capture them.
Hesseln said she couldn't care for that many baby raccoons without plenty of help.
She has a dedicated army of volunteers that help feed and take care of the animals. She is also helped financially by donations from people all over the world.
Hesseln said when she started a few years ago she estimated her costs were more than $3,000 per year.
Now a grocery store supplies her with fruit and a group called Farm Loop Resources helps her with chicken.
Hesseln once got a call from a frantic woman who said a raccoon had fallen through her ceiling.
The woman was living on Spadina near the river. It turned out a family of raccoons were living in her walls.
She had been advised to play music and leave lights on to get rid of them..
They did move out, except for one little guy who fell through a ceiling tile, Hesseln said.
When she arrived at the house she found the raccoon, about the size of a small watermelon, curled up in a ball on the floor.
She tried to find his family but Spadina is a bust road.
"He just wanted to follow me around," she said. "So I brought him home and we rehabbed him."
Not good pets
Despite being adorable as babies, raccoons don't make good pets, she said.
"When they are little they are so cuddly and cute and just want to sit on you," she said.
"But once they reach sexual maturity they have other things on their mind."
Hesseln still has a blast taking care of the little ones.
"I love the little guys," she said.