Wildlife Rehab is Not a Fairy Tale

Most people, I have found, have no idea what it’s really like to be a wildlife rehabber. They can’t even imagine or put themselves in our shoes. I think a lot of people feel like we just play with cute animals all day. Disney, among others, has done a major disservice to wildlife by portraying animals as creatures that should be cuddled with. It’s not at all like that. It’s hard. So incredibly hard. I want to share with you what my last animal care shift was like so that maybe you will understand that when you call a wildlife rehabber and they ask a ton of questions or sound rude, it’s not because we’re mean or we think you’re lying, we’re not being short with you because of you. We’re exhasted in every possible sense of the word. Mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically exhausted. We are short-staffed, we are under-funded, we are constantly dealing with volunteers and interns who don’t show up, or people who lie to our faces about the wildlife they bring to us, and so many of our days go like this:

June 26, 2016

Two birds came in with fly eggs all over them. On the first, a juvenile crow, the eggs were so densely packed that we thought the bird had gotten into that spray foam insulation stuff, but when I picked up a lump and squished it… nope. THOUSANDS of eggs on this poor guy. Luckily they had not hatched, but it didn’t matter. The poor juvie was so emaciated and weak that he died during examination. The second bird, a nestling (blue jay, possibly) had two deposits of eggs on either side of his neck, some in his mouth. He was very weak when I finally finished cleaning him up and put him in the incubator with his brother (pronouns assumed, here. I have no idea). I hope he makes it but he’s got a long road ahead of him.

So many other animals were admitted, mostly birds, that often our in-house patients had to wait for their food. Plus the scheduled volunteer never showed, so that slowed us down too. At this time of the year very few of our patients are healthy orphans. Most of them are injured or sick juveniles and adults. How I miss orphan season.

A raven came in with a severely broken wing and will likely need to be euthanized, but we are consulting with other rehabbers before making that decision.

A robin was brought to us without the use of his legs. He has feeling in them, but he cannot stand.

Another raven, one that has been with us for a little while and was doing great, took a turn for the worse and had a massive seizure. That, I think was the worst of the night. It happened at the end, after we were all so emotionally drained already. This one brought me to tears. Most animals that I have seen having a seizure just, well, seize. Stiff muscles, no vocalizing. This raven, however, screamed. The entire time. SCREAMED. I will never be able to forget it. Earlier in the day he had been very feisty and bit me hard enough to leave a mark, still visible 10 hours later. After that seizure he was exhausted and just laid in my arms, his head resting in the crook of my elbow.

It was a heartbreaking day. It was an incredibly hard day. But I learned a lot, gained a little confidence here, lost a little confidence there, comforted where I could, did my best.
I am lucky that I get a few days off in between my animal care shifts. Other staff members are there all day every day. I don’t know if I could handle that. I’m grateful that for now, at least, I’m able to start off slowly. Too many days like that and I think my soul would give up.

Wildlife rehab is hard, and there is a reason the first, quite large, chapter in the MN Wildlife Rehabilitation Study Guide is all about how it’s impossibly difficult and you shouldn’t want to do this. But it is also greatly rewarding when things go right. You definitely appreciate the good days a lot more.

To make things a little easier for your local wildlife rehabber:

  1. Do not lie, stretch the truth, exaggerate, under-exaggerate or alter the facts about the animal you have found in any way. It’s very hard to properly assess an animal’s condition and create a proper treatment plan without the truth. If you heard a fawn cry once, walked away, came back five hours later and it cried again, tell us that. Don’t say it’s been crying for 5 hours.
  2. Do what we tell you to do, even if it’s hard. If we tell you not to feed the baby bird, don’t feed the baby bird, even if he gapes his mouth at you. You do not have the correct food or tools needed to properly feed him.
  3. Don’t yell at us or get indignant with us. Our mission is to care for the animal and do what’s best for them, not the human. If we tell you something you don’t like, get over it and remember we are all working toward the same goal: a healthy wild animal.
  4. Understand that wildlife rehabilitation centers are likely not receiving any state or federal funding, and rely solely on donations. For this reason we do not have the resources to have someone pick up a wild animal, and we rely on the “finders” of wildlife to bring them to us.
  5. Your pets are your responsibility. We cannot legally, ethically or practically lock up every wild animal your pet may injure. Do not expect us to take animals that are on your property just because your dog or cat might get them. Take precautions to keep your pet away from the wild animal.

If you would like to help out the rehab facility I work at, you can do so here.


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