In our work of helping animals, we operate with a firm conviction that everyone can change. If we are honest in our desire to do good, we have to hold to that theory of action. Fortunately, we’ve seen it again and again, and been witness to the most inspiring examples of personal transformation. One of the most moving involves a longtime colleague, Dave Pauli.
As the senior adviser for wildlife response and policy at the Humane Society of the United States, Dave Pauli encourages folks to do the most humane thing possible for animals when people find themselves in conflict with them or when they are in need or distress.
But that wasn’t always so.
Dave started trapping wild animals for money as a boy and continued doing so in adulthood. Then he met an orphaned beaver he called Bucky.
In a new book, “Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World,” by Jennifer Skiff, chairperson of the HSUS Maine state council and author of The Divinity of Dogs, Dave shares his story of transformation.
In this edited excerpt from “Rescuing Ladybugs,” Pauli describes how Bucky changed his life for good.
I cannot say with accuracy how many beavers I trapped, but it was several hundred, almost exclusively caught in large body-grip traps. I was fairly efficient at it and learned to trap the whole colony by using their biological and behavioral traits against them by setting the traps underwater, near the entry to their lodge. Unlike the animals I caught in live traps, when I came to collect the beavers, they were already dead, having drowned. That gave me a comforting detachment.
All this changed when I became the executive director of the Benton-Franklin Humane Society. My personal transformation came on a warm spring day when a family brought in an apple-sized bundle of fur their kids had found by the river. It was an unweaned beaver kit. He was in bad shape. I’d been rehabbing orphaned raccoons and squirrels for years and knew what to do.
His first feeding was 1 cc, only one-fifth of what I knew he needed four to five times a day. The feeding was our moment of connection. He knew I was not his mama but somehow sensed I was trying to help. The next feeding climbed to 3 ccs, and the next to 5 ccs, and we were on our way. He survived his first 24 hours with me, and that was a good outcome.
I had the intelligent and extremely communicative Bucky under my care for almost three months, until he was old enough and fat enough to be transferred to a large wildlife rehab facility. Bucky taught me more about beavers than I had learned from trapping them for decades. He taught me that he was an individual. He could be a gentleman, he could be grumpy, and he would rather have sweet potatoes than carrots.
Despite our connection, I assumed my life would go on as before. But I was wrong. On the next beaver damage call, I set a body-grip trap but felt uneasy as I drove away. When I came back in the morning, I removed what was the last beaver I ever lethally trapped. She was a young yearling, just a little bit bigger than what I expected Bucky might be, and she was beautiful. But she was dead, and I had killed her.
I could not stop at the landowner’s house to show him my success. Not only because I was ashamed but because I was crying. I’d just taken the easiest path to solving a beaver conflict, and one that asked nothing of the landowner. She was the last beaver I would kill.
Today when I get a call about a wildlife “conflict,” I talk excitedly with the property owner about what a unique opportunity they might have to educate their kids and neighbors. For example, with a raccoon in a chimney with babies, I suggest we set up a camera and watch the mom climbing up and down the chimney and the babies growing up and finally moving out. Then we can cap the chimney and prevent future problems without negatively impacting the raccoon family. You’re left with pictures and a great story for your holiday letter.
From the book “Rescuing Ladybugs.” Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Skiff. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
To learn more, go to WildNeighbors.org and search by animal for comprehensive information on how to humanely resolve conflicts with wildlife.