I have had the incredibly good fortune to have worked with some amazing organizations over the years. One of the most rewarding experiences was volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in New Hampshire.
One of our most memorable patients was a porcupine named Spike. As a rule, you don’t name wild animals in rehab. In a way it diminishes their wildness. But we thought Spike was going to be a forever resident, meaning we did not think he would ever recover from his injuries sufficiently to be safely released back into the wild, but that he could have a good quality of life in captivity. Spike’s mother had been killed (most likely by a fisher) and Spike wandered onto the porch of a house. The dog that lived there came face to face with him, saw him as a threat, and bit him in the head.
When Spike arrived on our doorstep he was about the size of a grapefruit with severe head injuries and neurological damage. As he grew, his physical wounds healed, but it was clear that not everything was well with this little guy. He seemed to not really know what being a porcupine was all about. He didn’t know how to climb trees. He didn’t know what to eat. He didn’t know how to use his defenses. These were all factors that led us to believe he would be a lifer at the center (Eventually we helped Spike to learn all of these skills.)
When you work closely with animals, you begin to realize that we’re far more alike than we are different. Just like humans, other animals have likes and dislikes, emotions, positive and negative reactions, things that annoy them, favorite things, etc. For Spike, if there was one thing he REALLY did not like, it was the wind. I’m not just talking about your average, run-of-the-mill pet peeve. I mean Spike REALLY, REALLY hated the wind! I’m fairly certain he thought it was personally attacking him every time it appeared.
Most porcupines (the kind that know how to be wild porcupines, that is), will give a series of threats before attacking any perceived danger. They’ll puff up their quills to look much bigger and false charge before ever whacking you with that quill-covered tail. (The idea that porcupines “throw” quills is a complete myth, by the way.) Once they feel they have no option, they’ll whack you with their tale leaving countless quills embedded in your skin/clothing.
Spike, on the other hand, didn’t quite have this whacking motion down. In stead, he would begin what looked like a normal whack of the tail…but then just keep going…round and round. He twirled. Every time the wind came, he just twirled. It was a bit disconcerting at first…just another sign that Spike really didn’t know how to be a porcupine. But eventually he did learn how to use his tail, and in the meantime, it provided endless hours of good laughs. (Seriously, if you’ve never seen a porcupine twirl, you really haven’t lived!)
The greater lesson though, for me, anyway, was in the twirling. By the time Spike had finished his twirling, he was just too darn tired to be mad at the wind anymore. He’d just climb back inside his den and go to sleep. We could all take a lesson from Spike. So many of the things in life that we let get under our skin just aren’t worth a real attack. Whether it’s a person, an event, an opinion…whatever the case may be, perhaps we could all stand to be a bit more like Spike. Rather than launching into a tirade or mounting a full-scale attack, we should all just learn that life could be better, if only we could just…twirl.
So the next time something really gets to you, take a moment. Pause. Hold off on the real attack. Try twirling. And when you’re done, see how you feel. Like Spike, you just might find that you’re not so mad at the wind anymore!
After learning all the necessary skills to be a wild porcupine, Spike was released in the midst of several hundred acres of protected forest in the Spring of 2005.
NOTE: If you believe you have found an injured or orphaned animal, PLEASE contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Remember, it against the law to keep wild animals in your home. If an animal absolutely needs to be moved prior to contacting a rehabber (has been hit by a car and is in the middle of the road, for example), please use the utmost caution if an expert is not available to handle the animal. ALWAYS wear gloves and handle the animal as little as possible. Get a box with holes or a laundry basket to put over the animal to keep it in one place. Remember that injured animals are scared and may not recognize that you are trying to help. No matter how helpless or cute they look, they are still WILD ANIMALS.
The following is a list of resources for finding local wildlife rehabilitators: