Justin Beaver: he’s photogenic, and sometimes makes a mess of things, yet he’s loveable nonetheless. Yes, Justin Beaver.
“JB” for short is a rescued beaver who lives in Brigette Brouillard’s house. Brouillard, the director of Second Chances Wildlife Center in Louisville, Kentucky, was one of the featured licensed wildlife rehabilitators on the recent Nat Geo WILD series Bandit Patrol. JB, along with a few other animals unable to return to the wild, is covered under a USDA license to serve educational purposes.
We spoke with Brouillard about her animal rehab work, and how she patiently sweeps up chunks of her home’s drywall and door frames, masterfully carved by beaver teeth.
Besides JB, what other wildlife do you care for?
At the center we take in any native mammal to Kentucky, to rehab it in hopes of releasing it back into the wild. Nine times out of ten, they can be rehabilitated and released, but sometimes there’s an animal that can’t be rehabilitated, and we’ll keep those guys. Those animals will go into schools, state parks, etc. to teach children and adults about animals and the environment.
Why did you decide to be on TV, on the Nat Geo WILD series Bandit Patrol?
It’s a great venue to expose more people to the importance of wildlife. It lets people know there’s a thing called wildlife rehabilitation, and people know that if they come across an animal, there is a place they can take them. It’s not about me being on TV at all.
I think it did serve its purpose, based on the feedback I’ve received. But, here’s the downside. I had this guy call the other day about a bat. He cut a corner off a baggie to give it water. I was like “please stop, you’re going to drown it.” There was another person who wanted to keep an orphaned bat. She thought she knew how because she saw me do it on Bandit Patrol. Finally, after hours of back and forth, she let us come get it. You need a license to do this.
How many animals does Second Chances Wildlife Center care for?
We take in about 250 animals per year. During peak baby season, we might have 40 or 50 animals at once. It depends on the species. Some are bigger than others, so they might hog up more cage space than others.
Who cares for all those animals?
Our animal care team are all volunteers. Most work full-time jobs. We have about 35 now. Hopefully during the summer, we’ll end up with three college interns. It’s a huge benefit to us, and will earn college credit for them.
How is the center funded?
Donations. It’s tough. Our average donation is about $20. A raccoon is going to cost $300 to $350 to rehabilitate. If someone brings us four baby raccoons, it will cost over $1,000. So I spend a lot of time trying to raise funds so we can continue to do this. It’s not my favorite part but it’s a necessity. JB’s new outdoor enclosure will all be funded by donations.
How many of your animals are educational animals?
I have four here at home. Besides JB the beaver, I also have two skunks and an armadillo named Arnie. Then we have a few other educational animals at the center: two opossums, a flying squirrel, a raccoon, and a groundhog.
One skunk, Pumpkin, was obese and ill when he came. He had been kept in a small dog crate, and had worms. He’s doing better and has lost three pounds, but is still skittish. The other skunk, Benny is tiny—he’s only 3.5 pounds, and has three legs. Children really like him, and they feel so sorry for him that he only has three legs. It puts more of a concrete definition on what we do. Sometimes you can’t see why they couldn’t make it in the wild, so it’s harder for people to understand.
Where do you take the educational animals?
I did an after-school club at Montessori school, called the Second Chances Wildlife Club. It met every Tuesday for six weeks. Each week I brought a different animal. It’s early childhood, age 3 to 5. We also teach regular classes on Kentucky wildlife. The curriculum passes state requirements.
The education part is very important to me. Even more important than the rehab part, actually.
What do people think about animals that isn’t correct?
That they all have rabies, that they serve no purpose here. Beavers and bats are the most important animals we rehab, because they’re keystone species. That means if you remove them, the environment changes. Bats, in particular, are struggling, especially with white nose syndrome. Some of them are endangered species. We have 15 that we’re over-wintering. There’s not that many people who will help these animals.
Our work is also a humanitarian effort. Most people who find injured animals want to take them somewhere to help. But vets, animal control, humane society… they usually won’t even pick up injured wildlife. So rehabilitators give people an outlet so they don’t illegally take animals into their homes. There are dangers to taking in a wild animal—it could have a parasite, or a disease.
Back to JB, why did you name him Justin Beaver?
I totally pulled it out of the air. A runner up was Juan Carlos, because I thought it’d be funny to say. But I knew it had to be Justin Beaver. I call him JB… I only call him Justin Beaver when he’s in trouble -- “Justin Beaver!!”.
How did JB come into your care?
He was orphaned, a stray little beaver somebody found and brought to me. He hasn’t been around other beavers, so that’s why he’ll stay with me.
Beavers are unusual in that they stay with their parents for two years. They’re raised the first year, then they help raise the new young the second year. Sometimes they have to be kicked out, like “you’re ready for college, go out on your own.”
People often don’t tolerate beavers, they’ll shoot them, because they can quickly damage their trees and affect waterways. There are solutions to that, but it’s going to take more effort than just shooting the beaver. (Watch Beavers Ingeniously Build Dams).
Is that JB I hear now…? (Through the phone, I can hear something that sounds like a baby whining/fussing in the background)
I was just putting him back in his kennel, and he didn’t want to go at first. He’s been out and had breakfast. I just gave him a piece of pear, so he’s ready to go back to bed for a few hours. Now Arnie the armadillo would like to visit him, but JB would rather go back to sleep.
Does JB make different sounds? What do they mean?
There’s an “I’m desperate to go to the bathtub sound.” Beavers need water to go to the bathroom. And that’s where he also drinks his water—they can’t really drink from bowls.
He has a pouting sound like you heard, if he’s not happy about something. He has the going to sleep one, which is really cute. That sound he’s making will get quieter and quieter until he falls asleep. He has a sleep blanket that he sucks on like a little baby with a pacifier in its mouth. (I say awwww….)
I know—it’s so cute.
Do you have him potty trained?
I would say I’m the one who’s been trained (laughing). I’m to the point where I understand the variation of his vocalizations.
I’ve seen in the videos how JB builds dams in your house with household items.
Yes, he gathers items from around the house, like magazines, bathmats, and cookbooks. He typically builds dams in front of doors, including the one outside my daughter’s bedroom. I’m not sure why. He dammed the dishwasher once—that make sense to me because there’s water in it.
What’s the funniest thing he has grabbed to use for building materials?
It’s a toss-up between my laptop and the rug. He tried to get the 8’ x 10’ rug by my front door the other day. There was furniture sitting on it, so it didn’t really work. Sometimes he’ll turn shoes parallel to the door, and will block it that way. It’s amazing to watch the progress, the evolution of his building. I’m not teaching him how to build a dam, he’s just learning on his own.
Has JB done any damage to your house?
I have like five or six hundred dollars of damage on my house due to him. He chews on the walls and the baseboards… I’ll have to replace a door when he gets his new home outside. I tell him no, but he does it anyway. He can’t help it, it’s what he needs to do. (Beavers Have Vanilla-Scented Butts and More Odd Facts).
Why do you keep him indoors?
JB is only here in the house temporarily. We need to build an outdoor enclosure that will include his own pond. We are working on raising money for that. He was just three months old and drinking out of a baby bottle when he came to me, so he needed to stay with me.
Tell me about Arnie the Armadillo.
Arnie is fascinating. I’m smitten with him, and it’s a miracle he’s alive. He was found with three brothers, they were orphaned at three months old, and another rehabber brought him to me because he wasn’t like the others and was injured. He needed help. One morning I found him in a coma, completely unresponsive. I had to do CPR on him. And was like “how does one do CPR on an armadillo?” They’ve got those long noses…
He wasn’t maintaining his body temperature so I had to lie with him that night to help keep him warm. It turns out he has a blood disorder. His really needed a blood transfusion, but there aren’t armadillos around to get blood from. I had to contact a vet in Argentina to find out what the blood count should be—there isn’t much research available on armadillos. Dietary changes and vitamin supplements, the most important one being vitamin K, are what helped him. I’ve done so much research to help Arnie. We do invest a lot of time, energy and finances in all the animals, but especially the educational ones. He’s been through a lot in his short life—he was born just last May. He has stressed me out like no other animal has stressed me out.
What’s it like to have an armadillo in your house?
He likes to steal things, like my socks. He’ll take towels, tissue paper—he even took a curtain. He thinks these things are good nesting material. He finds something on the floor, and he’ll start scooting backwards with it between his front and back legs. In the wild, he would gather moss or leaves for his nest. Even when wild animals are in captivity, their instincts are still there. That’s why I’m a big advocate for wild animals not being pets. (Learn about Armadillos).
Aside from the educational animals, what’s the most common animal in your care?
Squirrels, mostly babies. Sometimes squirrels come in because of people doing tree work, and the babies fall from the tree. If they call me soon enough, I can educate them on how to reunite mom and babies. Most of the time it works. That saves room at our center for other babies. It works with other animals too, if mom is still in the area. Opossums are different because mom might have 12 babies on her back and doesn’t know she’s lost one.
Do you have a favorite animal?
I love the skunks. They’re stubborn and they make you work to gain their trust. They all look different, have different patterns... I do like the bats too. I’d probably be happy only rehabbing skunks and bats.
What makes you want to save animals like raccoons and skunks and bats, when many people wouldn’t care?
I look at them in a different light than most people. I realize they’re vulnerable too. Whether you like adult raccoons or not, if you hear a baby crying for mom, we should have enough compassion to help them.
They all have different personalities, even with opossums, I know which ones are crankier than others.
Is it hard not to get attached to the animals that will be released?
Yes, they look forward to the caregivers coming in to the center, and will make noises when they see you. They recognize us. Even in the bat room, they start talking when I come in.
There was one bat that was really hard to release. He used to come running to me and crawl and snuggle up on my neck. Then, when he realized he had wings, he’d fly to me and sit on me. People don’t realize a bat can be that way. (See How Baby Bats Learn to Speak Dialects).
That bat never had a name, because I always anticipated releasing him. I personally don’t think it’s appropriate to name the animals that will be released, because you shouldn’t make them look more domesticated than they should be.