Three years ago an unexpected journey began when we found a small brown bird hopping around on our deck, even trying to get in our house. A conversation with a local animal sanctuary director revealed that the bird was a domestic quail, and that even if we found her owner, she was likely being raised for either eggs — or dinner. “Bring her over,” we were told, and within half an hour, the quail contained in a box, I was on my way to the sanctuary.
Izzie’s Pond, it turned out, rehabbed a lot more than quail. A set of small, soft, inquisitive baby opossums poked their noses out of a blanket to greet me as the director, Angel Durham, assessed the quail. “Do you accept new volunteers?” I asked. She did.
Over the intervening months, as my sons and I learned to muck out duck and goose pens, help care for injured animals, and feed free-range chickens, Izzie’s Pond for the first time began to rehabilitate orphaned raccoons. Once they were out of their quarantines and had begun to be vaccinated:
We laughed at the antics of Maggy May, Mimi, Blondie, Elvira, and Sophie as they discovered their world through play and exploration.
We learned that yes, there is such a thing as raccoon baby formula, and we learned how babies transition from it to the solids they eat as adults in their natural environment.
We helped build pens that would help them learn to climb and forage and nest like wild raccoons.
And, when they were ready for “soft release” — the practice of putting them in pens out in privately owned woods so that they could get used to new environs before moving on — we helped prepare them for that life, too.
All that observation of these sweet, smart critters had given me an idea, and between 2015-2016 I worked on a story in a genre I’d never written in before: children’s, for what would become a 7,000-word chapter book about a family of raccoons who encounter a family of humans near their den.
Shortly after completing the book (and obtaining Angel’s blessing for its accuracy!), I met the publisher of a brand-new children’s press in Perth, Australia. Rebecca Laffar-Smith hadn’t started just any press, though. She’d built Aulexic Publishing specifically to meet the needs of children with learning disabilities like dyslexia, and who are on the autism spectrum.
There was, I realized, synchronicity between the misunderstood animals I had written about, and the misunderstood reading population Aulexic seeks to reach. People judge those with disabilities in much the same way they judge different species and breeds of animals: rabid, bully, destructive, disruptive, diseased… the list goes on. And both have certainly faced heights of inhumane treatment in an effort to banish them from sight.
On a more positive note, however, animal care and interaction has numerous benefits for children with disabilities and neurodevelopmental issues. My hope is to inspire children who don’t feel they quite “fit in” with neurotypical culture, to make a difference in their communities through working with nonjudgmental animals.
In another twist of synchronicity, in fact, Izzie’s Pond has since moved to a 40-acre property and has begun building out its operation to create a safe haven not only for the farm and wild animals they rescue, but also for children of all walks to come and experience a balanced, sustainable ecosystem for themselves. To support this effort (and, well, because Raccoon Rescue wouldn’t exist without Izzie’s Pond!) I plan to donate a portion of proceeds to the rescue.
Raccoon Rescue really began as a way to show, through wild animals’ eyes, how humans judge other species, and future installments will continue that theme. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have partnered with Aulexic, and am looking forward to what the future holds!