I am always impressed by the devoted animal caretakers in our midst. For a while now I have been volunteering with Jonathan Howard at the Ark Wildlife Care and Sanctuary out in Hilliard and I continue to meet other wildlife rehabilitators who rescue and rehab wildlife under Jonathan’s umbrella permit. First, there was Samantha Burns, the founder of Bebette’s Bunny Rescue, and then I met Elizabeth Musser who runs a Possum Patrol. And now I’ve met Kristen Littles, the founder of Tows and Tails. What a story to be found here!
Kristen and her husband Beau run A1A Towing but from what I can see much of their earnings go to their operation that raises orphaned and injured animals. Kristen began after Hurricane Irma (2017) when a number of displaced squirrels ended up in her care. Since then she has rehabilitated and released as many as 60 raccoons a year and a myriad of other small animals besides. Tows and Tails is now a licensed sanctuary for unreleasable wildlife, raccoons in particular. All was going well until 2021 when the parvovirus decimated her charges leading to the death of a number of them. One lucky survivor, Crystal, still lives with her today.
Crystal was found as an infant, hand-reared and healthy but when parvo hit the rehab group Crystal ended up with a neurological condition leaving her quadriplegic, unable to move her front paws and hind legs which are stiffly frozen. Now two years later Crystal is a star. Although she is mostly paralyzed, able to only move her head and tail and wiggle her body, she is living a full life. Fully grown now, she only weighs about five pounds, not nearly the size of the rest of her kin that grow to be 15 to 20 pounds or more. But what she lacks in size and physical ability she surpasses in spirit.
Kristen carries Crystal nearly everywhere she goes, to the beach, on car rides, to pet-friendly restaurants – the works. Crystal is calm, but alert and always seems to enjoy these outings and the many humans that meet her. At night she sleeps in bed with Kristen and Beau. Although she can’t move much she is totally housebroken and wakes them by wiggling around when she needs to be lifted onto her pee-pad. Kristen uses this little raccoon to teach others about the wonders of raccoons, not just the “trash pandas” as many think of them. It is not only local people who have been inspired by Crystal. Crystal now has over 400,000 TikTok and 60,000 Instagram followers and a growing presence on Facebook. “Accept or Reject” is a favorite with her followers. Kristen puts a bib on Crystal and presents her with various food items that Crystal responds to with vigor—she loves or hates these and makes it clear. One recent post showed Kristen opening a package a fan sent her from Australia, and trying out Vegemite with Crystal, for a resounding “Reject.”
The goal of Tows and Tails is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured or baby raccoons that they must hand raise. Most are successfully set free. But besides Crystal, there are now seven other non-releasable raccoons, with various medical problems preventing their release to the wild. For instance, one is blind, a few have the neurological condition of cerebellar hypoplasia, and another has a collapsed lung; all will be in Kristen and Beau’s care as long as they live. They are living in style with a large outdoor pen and indoor access to the spare bedroom in their home.
These raccoons are not the only animals in the Littles’ household. Upon my arrival for this story, I was greeted by their giant doberman mix dog Tumba who happily leaned on me when I sat on the sofa. A much older dog, heartworm positive and recently adopted, was living his best life on a rug nearby. Two pigs, a handful of goats and lots of chickens roamed their yard, and wildflowers, not lawns, surrounded their property.
It is people like Kristen and Beau Littles who help make the world a kinder place for all those creatures that have been displaced by our growing human population. This work is done for love, not money, and the dedication of the Littles and all the other rehabbers I have met is remarkable. Thanks to them all, some of our wildlife can be saved from human destruction. Now, if only more habitat can be saved as well to support our wild neighbors. One can always hope.
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]