Elizabeth runs her rehab facility out of her home on her family’s 63 acre farm in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Depending upon the age and species of the animal, the animal is either housed in the intake room, the porch, or outdoors in the large habitat.
The intake room is where the babies and severely injured animals reside. This temperature-controlled, quiet room is a perfect environment for animals who need a high level of care. The babies are housed in small carriers with soft bedding and a stuffed animal with a beating heart to simulate their mother’s presence. Severely injured animals, who have to be confined to a small space while they recover, also reside here. If multiple species are present, predators and prey are housed in separate rooms.
Once the animals have graduated from the intake room, they live on the porch in large cages. These large cages, several of which have two levels, allow them the freedom to move around and play while still protecting them from the outdoor environment. Here, the babies are exposed to a hybrid of soft and natural bedding – they have towels and hammocks to sleep in, but also experience pine shavings and leaves. In these cages, the babies are introduced to solid foods – applesauce, scrambled eggs, yogurt, etc. – and must master the basics of eating and drinking on their own before they are put into the outdoor habitat. The animals are also vaccinated against common diseases such as rabies, canine distemper, feline rhinotracheitis, calici and panleukopenia virus and dewormed during this stage.
When the animals have outgrown the large cages, they are placed in the outdoor habitat. This 16′ long x 12′ wide x 8′ high enclosure, built by Elizabeth and Dustin, is perfect for juvenile animals who are learning how to survive out in the wild. With a corner covered with fabric tarp, several logs and old kennels, the habitat exposes the animals to the weather while still giving them plenty of places to hide. A custom-made hammock (by Elizabeth’s sister, Heather) hangs underneath the covered portion of the habitat so the raccoons always have a safe, dry place to sleep during the day. In addition to branches and logs to climb on, there is also a rope hammock for the raccoons to practice their aerial skills. For the first couple of weeks the animals are in the outdoor habitat, wellness exams (physical look-over of each animal, including eyes, nose, mouth, and ears) are done on each animal daily. As the animals begin to “wild up,” these wellness exams taper down to just once a week, when they also get their weekly dose of de-wormer.
Before the animals are released into the wild, they must meet certain criteria:
- Be healthy and parasite-free; completed all rounds of vaccines.
- Been housed outdoors for a reasonable period of time.
- Be able to hunt and kill live prey and recognize their natural foods.
- Be able to compete with their littermates for food.
- Be at least four months old and weigh no less than 6 pounds (for raccoons), with permanant canine teeth developed.
If the animal meets all the appropriate release criteria, then they are emancipated from their life in captivity! Elizabeth has several release sites in north Georgia, all of which are set-up as “soft release” sites where the animals have access to a feeding station, fresh water, and shelter as they transition back into the wild.