As a wildlife rehabilitator, one quickly learns that educating the public is a large part of the services we provide. When people bring animals to our intake center, they are often curious about what we do and how they can help animals. There are also many misconceptions about wildlife rehabilitation in general. This month’s article will try to address these topics.
First, here is a little background information about wildlife rehabilitators in general:
- In almost all cases, wildlife rehabilitators are completely unpaid and unfunded. Many of us work at “real” jobs to earn a living (unrelated to rehab “work”). We pay for most, if not all, of the expenses of caring for the animals we take in out of our own pockets. Donations at the time an animal is dropped off with a rehabber are very much needed and appreciated. Anything helps!
- Rehabbers will generally ask the public to bring animals to them. Please be understanding of this request. Most rehabbers have many animals in their care at any given time which require frequent feedings and attention. Time spent running around in the car picking up animals is time taken away from the animals already in care.
- Rehabbers do not have unlimited resources and/or space for animals. Some can only take certain species. Most will get to the point that they are completely overwhelmed and cannot take in any more animals at times. If a rehabber refers you to other resources, it is not because they do not care about the animal. It is actually because they want the best care for that animal; that may mean it needs to go to somebody else who has more time and space to properly care for that animal.
- In Texas, as in almost any other state, wildlife rehabilitators are required to have state and/or federal permits (issued by Texas Parks & Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife), and they are also required to work within the rules and regulations set forth by those organizations. We all are required to obey those rules, at the peril of having our permits taken away if we do not follow them.
- All training and continuing education rehabbers have is obtained on our own time, at our own expense. That is also a requirement for obtaining and retaining ones permit, although once again we receive no funding or assistance to help pay for it.
- Wildlife rehabilitators have a lot of expertise and knowledge, but we are not licensed veterinarians. There are limits as to what a rehabber can realistically do, both from a medical standpoint as well as the fact that we are dealing with wild animals. Treatment that might be possible to do for a pet is not necessarily possible for wildlife, especially in the cases of adult animals (such as deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and raccoons). Sadly, sometimes helping a wild animal is not possible. While many of us are fortunate to have veterinarians who will assist us, we generally pay for these services out of pocket. Thankfully, some veterinarians will offer rehabbers discounted services.
- Please bear in mind that rehabbers are often overwhelmed, overworked, and sleep deprived. We are on call 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Animal emergencies do not take vacations, and most of us do not either. Please be understanding if we seem harried and exhausted. We generally are.
Generally, people who are seeking help for an animal they have found have a love for wildlife as well. We often get asked how people can help, or how they can get involved. We understand that not many people can make the commitment to be a hands-on rehabber, but there are many other ways you can be a friend to wildlife, as well as to wildlife rehabilitators. Here are just a few:
- Consider volunteering with a rehabber or at a rehab center. This can include helping hands-on with animals in care, answering phones, help with animal transport, help with fundraising (VITALLY IMPORTANT!), or help with administrative tasks.
- Are you handy? Offer help with building of cages, nest boxes, etc. This kind of assistance can be invaluable to both new rehabbers just getting started as well as to rehab centers in need of more caging on site. Scout projects are always welcome too!
- Do you own rural property? We are always looking for release spots for rehabilitated wildlife animals. As our county continues to be developed, finding safe release locations is becoming more of a challenge.
- Help us out if you can by donating. Direct donations can be made at www.ftwl.org. You can also support our organization through AmazonSmile and Kroger Community Rewards (details also found on our website). Many corporations offer matching donations for direct donations, payroll deductions and/or volunteer hours.
- If you have a cat or cats, please consider keeping them inside. Free-roaming cats kill or injure millions of wildlife animals every year. We get many, many songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, and even young owls and hawks that have been attacked by cats. Many of these animals have non-survivable injuries.
- Please do not use rodenticides (rat or mouse poison). Even with bait stations, these poisons often affect non-target animals such as owls, hawks, raccoons, squirrels, and foxes. Wildlife and even domestic dogs and cats can be inadvertently poisoned, either by direct ingestion or by ingesting a rat or mouse that has eaten the bait.
- Be mindful of other toxins, such as pesticides, fertilizers, etc. Many animals ingest insects, or drink from run off, and they then ingest the toxins as well. Songbirds and screech owls are particularly at risk from pesticides.
- If you do find an animal that appears injured or orphaned, PLEASE call or email a rehab facility as soon as possible! In many cases, especially with baby animals and birds, it may be possible to reunite with their parents. Time is of the essence in these cases. We have helpful flowcharts on our website (www.ftwl.org) and Facebook page that are species specific and give reuniting information. Reuniting baby animals with their natural parents can help to keep rehabbers from getting overwhelmed too quickly.
- Please do not “rehab via the internet”. There is so much misinformation out there. Many animals we get require critical care when they first come in due to improper feeding and care. Please remember that a Google search does not qualify one to be a rehabber. Animals that are dehydrated, ill, emaciated, and/or hypothermic cannot digest food or formula, so feeding them can in fact kill them. Improper feeding can cause severe gastric upset as well as a host of other issues. For any animal found, warmth is the most important thing. Hydration should only be done with warmed Pedialyte (or other electrolyte-type of drink) given with a small syringe or eye dropper.
- The fastest way to get in touch with us is by emailing our help line at [email protected]. This help line is monitored frequently, even when our center is not open. For rehabbers listed by county, help can also be found by checking https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/rehab/list, or by searching ahnow.org (put in your location, and then click on “wildlife emergency”).
- Please do not set traps to relocate wildlife animals. This often results in orphaned babies being left behind. If you have nuisance wildlife issues, please reach out to a local rehabber for advice, or call an expert company such as 911 Wildlife or Skeedaddle Humane Wildlife Removal. These companies will not harm any animals, and they will assure no babies are left behind.
- If you can help us out with volunteering, cage building, or being a release spot, please email [email protected].
These are simple things everyone can do to help wildlife animals as well as your local wildlife rehabilitator. To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Details can be found at www.ftlw.org, and then click on “How to Help”. We also have a great deal of helpful information on our website about other species of animals and how to assess if they need help or not. If you need assistance with an animal in need, please email us at [email protected]. For the time being, due to ongoing Covid concerns, our educational center remains closed.