When residents of Lindsay, Ont., saw a raccoon who looked to be suffering from a head wound on April 12, they were concerned and called police for assistance. The result was not medical treatment or even humane euthanasia. The officer ended the raccoon’s life in a brutal and inefficient way, right there on the street. No veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator even assessed the injured animal, who was described as “docile and passive” by one observer.

This response was horrific, avoidable and potentially illegal. Some, including the non-profit Toronto Wildlife Centre, have filed animal cruelty complaints. The public outrage would be even greater if the animal beaten to death had been a dog or cat. Unfortunately, this incident was not the first of its kind and these violent eruptions reveal how poorly prepared many communities and public organizations are for responding to crises involving our animal neighbours.

The animal protection landscape in Canada is highly uneven, decentralized and labyrinthian but uniformly underfunded. For wild animals in need, provincial natural resource branches or local public animal care and control agencies may provide some basic services, but rarely therapeutic veterinary care. Non-profit wildlife rehabilitators reliant on donations and volunteer labour are more likely to deliver a patchwork of responsive and emergency care when animals like chipmunks, robins, rabbits and foxes are concerned.

Wildlife rehabilitators are geographically scattered, may only admit certain kinds of animal patients and are often operating at or above their maximum capacity. What makes this particular raccoon’s fate all the more tragic is that the Kawartha region is home to Mally’s Third Chance, a community organization that specializes in raccoon rehabilitation. Its experts could have easily examined the poor animal and properly determined how to proceed with respect and compassion, if the police officer had picked up a phone, instead of a shovel.

The reality is that we all live and work in multi-species communities. A year of community-based biodiversity data collection has found that the Western University campus in London, Ont., alone is home to more than 1,200 species, for example.

These include barn swallows who nest on buildings, Canada geese who share our park spaces and, yes, raccoons. Raccoons are smart and curious creatures, devoted parents and resilient survivors. They and all other wild animals are simply trying to raise their babies and survive in an increasingly treacherous environment marked by subdivisions, highrises and highways, along with the fires, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events that accompany climate change.

Thankfully, more people across Canada are emphasizing coexistence and empathy. They are moved by moral opposition to animal suffering, the fact that animals were on these lands long before we paved them and the need for biodiversity and healthy communities. Wild animal protection and care are crucial for public health, especially as diseases like H5N1, the latest avian flu, move among and across species. How we handle animals — individually and collectively — will fundamentally affect everyone’s future and shouldn’t be ad hoc or poorly co-ordinated.

Governments around the world are showing leadership for ethical, health and sustainability reasons and communities are challenging decision-makers to invest and create new programs and infrastructure. The Netherlands has both a national animal care hotline and animal ambulances. Colombia has a publicly funded veterinary hospital dedicated to wild animals. These initiatives are laudable and stand in stark contrast to death by shovel.

Unfortunately, we cannot rewind time and rewrite this raccoon’s story. He or she was a sentient being who felt fear and pain and experienced cruelty instead of mercy and kindness when most in need. To help prevent future violence, we urge organizational and political leaders to develop better plans and protocols, so these kinds of stories don’t have to be written.

For wild animals in need, provincial natural resource branches or local public animal care & control agencies may provide basic services, but rarely therapeutic veterinary care, write Kendra Coulter & Brendon Samuels. #DefendingAnimals #animalrights

What we really need are smart, humane and ethical policies that respect our multi-species realities in a full sense, and that includes appropriate, empathetic and organized responses for wild animal care and emergencies.

For the sake of basic decency, at the absolute minimum, surely we can start by ensuring that vulnerable, injured animals are not bludgeoned.

Note: Uses of who when referring to animals (rather than the customary that and which) reflect the authors’ commitment to language that does not position animals as inanimate objects.

Kendra Coulter is a professor in management and organizational studies at Huron University College, Western University, a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Her latest book, Defending Animals: Finding Hope on the Front Lines of Animal Protection, will be published by The MIT Press in September.

Brendon Samuels is a PhD candidate in biology at Western University, where he helps to co-ordinate the Biodiversity Inventory and advances public education about biodiversity and urban ecology.