Finding a dead animal in the yard is always sad, and then, of course, there’s the unpleasant task of having to dispose of it. But when what one family took for a corpse started to move, they quickly realized that the creature was still alive. And it was in desperate need of help…
It was a scorching hot day when the family came across the woodchuck passed out in their yard. They didn’t know how she got there or what had happened to her. Whatever the truth, though, she had some nasty-looking head injuries, so they assumed that the poor animal was dead.
Consequently, one family member got a shovel and went about the necessary business of removing the animal. However, they must have got quite a surprise when they lifted the creature up… and it started wiggling.
Yes, somehow, despite her injuries, the woodchuck was still alive. In the hope that they could save the poor creature’s life, the family rang Molly Ryan, a local wildlife expert. Surely, with all her experience, there was a chance that she could help the wounded woodchuck.
Woodchucks are widely spread across northern and central parts of the U.S. and Canada. Although they’re sometimes called groundhogs, they’re actually a rodent relative of the squirrel and therefore belong to the marmot family. They’re also known as accomplished diggers.
Of course, Ryan probably knew that. After all, she’s a professionally licensed wildlife rehabilitator with previous knowledge of woodchuck care under her belt. So, as soon as Ryan got to the patient, she brought the woodchuck in to see what she could do.
And while examining her, Ryan realized just how the family could have easily mistaken the woodchuck for dead. After all, the creature had potentially been lying in their yard for days in the beating sun and was in bad shape.
The woodchuck, whom Ryan named Coco, was suffering from heat exposure. “The first thing I had to do was get her stabilized on fluids,” Ryan explained to The Dodo in January 2017. “[That was] to rehydrate her and get her body temp back to normal.”
But Coco’s time spent helpless in the yard had presented another danger to her life: scavengers. “While Coco was in the 90 °F heat of that yard, birds had started to come down and peck at her head,” said Ryan. As a result, her injuries needed treating.
“So, once she was stabilized, I started looking at the wound on her head,” Ryan continued. And despite how much pain she was in, Coco was as good as gold. “Every step of the painful cleaning and poking with needles, she was sweet as could be,” said Ryan.
The heat exhaustion and head injury weren’t Coco’s only problems, either. Although it may not look like it, Coco was significantly underweight. Indeed, it took several weeks of medical care and feeding to get her back on the road to recovery.
It was while Ryan was caring for Coco that she suspected that something was troubling the recovering woodchuck. “I noticed she held her eyes at half-mast or sometimes not open at all,” the rehabber said. Additionally, Coco’s walking patterns were unusual.
“She would start walking, and then start walking a bigger and bigger circle, until she was in a straight line again. I had a hunch so took her to the vet to verify: yes, Coco was blind.” Consequently, the woodchuck’s rehab goal was changed.
Ryan’s usual goal is to get animals well for the purpose of releasing them back to where they came from. However, with Coco’s disability, she would be exposed to predators; it would have been just too dangerous. In any event, Coco had already settled in.
As a result of having to be carefully monitored during her recovery, Coco was kept in a bed right next to Ryan’s. But Coco had decided that her rescuer’s bed looked even more comfy. Yes, despite her blindness, the cheeky woodchuck had no trouble finding her way under the covers!
“She would snuggle up right by me and make sure part of her body was touching me all night,” Ryan told The Dodo. “There is nothing that makes getting out of bed harder than having to leave a gently snoring round fluffball of snuggling woodchuck.”
And so Coco became a part of the family. Without the worry of having to avoid being on the menu, the little woodchuck adapted well to life indoors. But her closeness to Coco notwithstanding, Ryan said she’s still aware that the creature is a wild animal.
“Coco isn’t domesticated, but rather acclimated,” the woodchuck’s rescuer explained on her social media account. “She still has the wild instinct and I have to always remember that to help keep her happy!” Coco also has the benefit of treats to help her hibernate.
Continuing, Ryan said, “Yes, Coco still hibernates but for a shorter time period. She also sometimes only goes to sleep for a few weeks at a time, which is called torpor, then wakes up like nothing happened.” Admittedly, she has to fill up on her favorite Oreo cookies first.
Coco even has a job: she’s earning her keep educating people about how to treat wild animals. In fact, Ryan thinks of the blind woodchuck as something of an inspiration. “We all could learn a thing or two from this chuck about accepting our limitations and challenging them,” she concluded.