In the United States, many of us live in homes with back yards or some form of land to call our own. What happens on that land sometimes is that animals will come forth and decide to seek refuge or another animal will make then their prey, and you are left to dispose of the poor animals remains. In this case, a family discovered an animal in their back yard and had no idea what it was. They thought the animal was dead until it suddenly started moving, it was at that moment that the family realized the animal needed their help or else it would in fact die.
What Is It?
The very first question the family asked was what kind of animal was it. They looked it up and found that lying right next to their feet was a debilitated woodchuck. Here we see the poor little guy just laying there unconscious, next to a rock by the side of the back yard porch. The family surrounded it to try and figure out what was wrong, when the poor animal suddenly started to move slightly.
The woodchuck has a terrible number of head injuries that could be seen from the top of its head. When it lay there motionless, the family thought it was dead because of the blood atop its head. It was not uncommon for animals to get into some form of altercation regarding territory, or just plain location on the food chain. The poor animal didn’t stand a chance next to the much larger animals surrounding the rural house.
One of the family members figured the animal really was dead because it was so still and the injuries seemed so severe, so they got a shovel and began the process of removing the creature. Alas, much to the luck of the little animal (it would have otherwise been buried alive), it started moving around and wiggling so that everyone in the family stopped what they were doing and paused to look at the small guy.
The family figured out the little woodchuck was a female, and that despite having some pretty serious injuries to her head, she was indeed alive. The family immediately called their local wildlife expert, Molly Ryan, to come out and help see the what could be done to save the poor woodchuck. The family was very much relying on her help to bring the animal back to health.
Woodchucks are known to roam around the northern and central United States, as well as Canada. Woodchucks are sometimes named groundhogs, when in fact they are a rodent and relative of squirrels, so they belong to the marmot family. Woodchucks are known for being very good diggers, which is similar to their other compatriots, squirrels and groundhogs – it is all in the family!
Once Molly Ryan came to see the injured animal, she knew exactly what it was – a woodchuck. Molly is a professional wildlife rehabilitation expert and has taken care of woodchucks before. When she saw the animal and talked to the family that found it, she took the injured little one to her clinic to run some tests and see what can be done to help save her life.
Ryan took care of the woodchuck and ran a plethora of tests for several days, during which time she understood why the family thought the animal was dead. The woodchuck had been in the yard for what she thought was days, and was hurt by the strong sun, the head wound she was bleeding from and in overall bad condition. The fact that the woodchuck was so weak it stopped moving is an indication as to her level of exhaustion.
Molly named the woodchuck Coco, for no real apparent reason, but we love the name for her. So, Coco was suffering from what looks like heat exposure and a small head wound. “The first thing I had to do was get her stabilized on fluids … to rehydrate her and get her body temp back to normal.” Ryan made sure Coco was comfortable while she was recovering. Just look at her lying in a bed all tucked in.
The head injury that Coco had was a result of scavengers who were in the area and saw the helpless woodchuck laying in the sun without the ability to move from her weak state. The scavengers came down and started pecking on her poor little head while she was defenseless. As Ryan said, “While Coco was in the 90 °F heat of that yard, birds had started to come down and peck at her head.” Horrible!
Little By Little
Ryan went on to say, “So, once she was stabilized, I started looking at the wound on her head … every step of the painful cleaning and poking with needles, she was sweet as could be.” Coco was a sport about being poked and prodded because she knew she was in good hands, she was getting fluids and rest and was out of the horrible sun.
Coco was in bad shape all around. While she looks pretty plump, Coco was in fact underweight for the expected body type of a woodchuck. The weight loss that Coco experienced also contributed to her weak state. The combination of her heat stroke, head injury and weight loss are a trifecta that this Woodchuck didn’t need. It took Ryan’s clinic a few weeks to get Coco back on the right track for healing.
Ryan continued to look after Coco throughout the weeks in her care, but she started noticing that Coco wasn’t recovering as she should be, at least not in the proper timing. “I noticed she held her eyes at half-mast or sometimes not open at all,” Coco’s walking was also troublesome as she was walking in unusual patterns, unlike how a woodchuck should be walking.
An Added Trouble
The reason why Coco was walking so strange and her eye was the way it was, was due to the fact that the rehab team found out that she was blind. “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.” This is the turning point of the rehab team’s goals.
No Wild for Coco
Because Coco was blind, putting her back in her natural habitat, which is what the rehab team does after successful rehabilitation, was not an option. In the wild, Coco would be killed in a very short span of time. Either way, Coco had already made a new friend with the hairless cat in a home and was enjoying being an indoor animal.
Coco was placed in a bed right next to Ryan’s in her home, next to where the cat also slept. However, Coco, despite being blind and still recovering, she managed to find her way into Ryan’s own bed and made herself comfortable in there. Ryan didn’t have the heart to move her, but found it hilarious that even blind, she had the wherewithal to find her way up to a more comfortable spot.
“She would snuggle up right by me and make sure part of her body was touching me all night,” Ryan explained. “There is nothing that makes getting out of bed harder than having to leave a gently snoring round fluffball of snuggling woodchuck.” Sounds like the way we are when our dog is with us in our bed, getting up is a nightmare!
Coco and the Family
Coco quickly won the hearts of everyone in Ryan’s family, making her spot among the rest of her household very known. Coco the woodchuck loved her new life as an indoor woodchuck (despite the fact that they are naturally outdoor creatures). Ryan is still very much aware that Coco is a wild animal and makes sure to keep herself aware of any change in her behavior.
“Coco isn’t domesticated, but rather acclimated,” Ryan explained on her social media page. “She still has the wild instinct and I have to always remember that to help keep her happy!” Coco also get some incredible treats to help through her hibernation preparations. Yes, Coco does hibernate! That must be strange for a family that doesn’t.
On her hibernation patterns and behavior, 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.” Ryan said that Coco’s favorite treat before and after hibernation are Oreo cookies! See! Woodchucks are just like us!
Although Coco’s life seems like absolute cake, and trust us, it is, the blind woodchuck has one job, and that is to teach people about wild animals and how to treat them. Whether at home or in the wild, wild animals are not domesticated like cats or dogs, and need special care. Especially Coco, who is blind. Ryan said, “We all could learn a thing or two from this chuck about accepting our limitations and challenging them.” Yes, we could.