story and photos by Robin Beaudoin Ownby
(Above: Left, Harvey holding resident opposum, George Jones. At right, a baby squirrel laps up formula as he’s syringe fed.)
Wildlife rescues and rehabbers are a rare and wild breed themselves, waving off the ugly to get to the healing and release of wild animals. Memphis and the Mid-South’s facilities have been stretched thin to rescue injured and orphaned wild animals, so the introduction of Out of the Woods is a welcome presence. Rescuer/owner Sami Harvey lives and works on the property in Shelby Forest, with a lake behind, and surrounded by woods, creating an ideal space for the animals to be released. Decorated with hanging plants and a ceiling strung with twinkle lights, this space has a positive vibe.
Sami Harvey demonstrates the two-stage raccoon release cages, explaining what they eat and their surroundings, “They’re all under the building right now. They can get out of everything. They made a little hole right here. They sleep underneath the facility during the day, that’s by design.” Raccoons are her favorite to rehab, and the building is packed with two cages full of squirrels and one opossum, affectionately named George Jones, who is soon to be released. George Jones was bitten by a dog and is finishing a round of antibiotics. Harvey expects more opossums in the spring. People sometimes even check the pouches of dead opossums on the roadside and rescue their babies.
Open the doors to the building and former residents of the rescue come to visit. One adult squirrel strolls in to socialize with Harvey and the other teenage squirrels. She recognizes the squirrel and lets him explore in and around the cage with his playmates. Regarding release, she states, “They don’t go from being inside to outside overnight. Squirrels are born in the spring and the fall, and the fall babies, you have to release where you raised them and feed them over the winter, then they go on their way.” In one corner of the building, she keeps the baby squirrels, just growing hair, and feeds them one by one with a bottle of squirrel formula.
There are a few ways to become a rehabber. Harvey suggests, “You can go formal education, earn your hours through another rehabber, but really getting your hands dirty and understanding what goes into it is important. Mentally, it’s a lot of hugging baby animals and happy endings, but in reality, it’s a lot of poop and it’s a lot of death. There’s no getting around it. Not everyone will survive, no matter how much you love them. It’s messy.” Harvey volunteered with a rehab mostly dealing with raccoons for the better part of summer. “They’re like little toddlers forever. They’re just like babies.” The vet, Dr. Ralph Pope, cares for the animals in need of medical attention beyond Harvey’s scope, volunteering time and advice. “I brought him a squirrel, and he just felt it and knew which bone to set. They do die,” says Harvey. “The ugly parts of the job are watching animals die, the smells, the cage cleaning, and some long nights and busy days.”
The rescue is holding a holiday auction fundraiser in November (visit their website for details). Local artists and vendors have donated time and items to the cause. Out of the Woods is funded exclusively through donations. Harvey makes the most of every opportunity. “Every time I get a promotional email, I reply to them with an email asking for donations.” Currently, the animals are drinking Liquid Death water, donated by the company. Grove cleaning supplies donated $50 as well. Groceries are always in high demand, with all of the animals needing bedding, food, and materials.
Want to help? Contact Sami at