March 17th here in the District of Columbia was a typical cool, spring day: overcast and gray, with rain threatening. The temperature was a crisp 50 degrees Fahrenheit, where just the week before it had been sunny and in the seventies. Everyone had emerged from our winter COVID cocoons to get outside and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather while it lasted… everyone including our friend the American Toad, a District of Columbia “species of greatest conservation need,” who presumably emerged from his underground burrow where he’d spent the winter.
But then, as every native Washingtonian has learned to expect, the temperatures dropped again. Too late for our friend the American Toad who had already set about the important business of finding a mate. Unlike his human counterparts who continued to greet one another under the balm of patio heaters at local watering holes, this springtime trick caught him in a lurch, and so he got cold. Too cold. And soon he wasn’t feeling well at all, his immune system working overtime, and a bacterial skin infection setting in.
Luckily, a kind citizen just happened to be out for a walk in Rock Creek Park that day, and quite literally almost stumbled across our toady friend sitting immobile on the path. In accordance with the latest CDC guidelines, our good Samaritan happened to be wearing two face masks that day. She removed one, and used it as an improvised “toad gurney” to carry the tiny patient out from the park. And then, concerned, she called DC Animal Care and Control, who ultimately brought the toad in to the City Wildlife rehabilitation center for assessment.
Once delivered to City Wildlife, our veterinarian performed a thorough physical examination, whereupon she discovered that he was an American Toad, and one with a pretty serious bacterial skin infection. She started him on a course of antibiotics, and then our animal care staff prepared a perfect habitat for his convalescent stay here at the center: dirt substrate to burrow in, a shallow pool to soak in, a log to hide under (or, as we discovered was his favorite, to sit on top of), all under the warm glow of a heat lamp.
Soon he was trilling happily in his aquarium. And in turn, as he warmed up and the antibiotics started to get ahead of his infection, he became feistier, as befits an adult, male American Toad. He fussed when we moved him to clean his environment, which was as minimally as possible per our “Patient Bill of Rights,” our rules for keeping our wild patients as wild as possible during their stay at the center.
The day finally came for the American Toad to leave us. This time he was taken by carrier rather than facemask (which henceforth here at the center shall be known as “toad gurneys”) to a nearby park for release. We snapped one last photo of him in all his glory, wild and free again, before he hopped away.