HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
Wildlife rehabilitation is one of many Washington Department of Wildlife programs that doesn’t receive a lot of public attention, and licensed wildlife rehabilitators even less. In fact, there are probably a number of state residents who have never heard of the department’s Wildlife Rehabilitator program. Wildlife rehabilitation is a profession licensed by the state. Its volunteer rehabilitators take care of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife. The animals are evaluated, diagnosed and treated through a program of veterinary care, medication, physical therapy, exercise and pre-release conditioning. Rehabilitators aren’t trained or licensed to diagnose and treat animal diseases and can not practice veterinary medicine, unless they hold a current Washington veterinary medical license. Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator isn’t an easy process and isn’t a cushy job. It’s a 24-hour job that is extremely demanding, consuming a large amount of time, energy and money. Spring and summer is the busiest time of the year when feeding baby birds every 20 minutes or bottle feeding infant mammals every couple of hours around the clock, and it is not uncommon for a rehabilitator to work an average of 70 hours per week. Because the WDFW doesn’t pay for wildlife rehabilitation and isn’t responsible for any cost incurred by a licensed rehabilitator, the majority of rehabilitators pay expenses out of their own pockets. Program officials stress it is essential that rehabilitators remain professional when it comes to emotional involvement with their patients. Rehabilitation and release of an animal should only be undertaken when there is a reasonable chance of survival in the wild. That can be a difficult decision to make. Putting an injured animal down is never emotionally easy. While rehabilitation and release of an animal is the primary goal, possibly half of all admitted animals die or must be euthanized. It is therefore important that rehabilitators be able to put personal beliefs and emotions aside and look rationally and responsibly at the quality of life for the animal. According to WDFW, putting an animal down is one of the hardest tasks a rehabilitator must perform and one of the reasons the department advises anyone considering volunteering to spend time with an experienced wildlife rehabilitator. Wildlife biologist Patricia Thompson, coordinator for the department’s wildlife rehabilitator program, said, “It is the time of the year when all too often, people kidnap fawns and other wildlife babies found outdoors. They often think they are saving an abandoned baby, but most of the time they are actually kidnapping a baby out from the watchful eye of a nearby and unseen mother. An uninjured fawn doesn’t need human care. It needs its mother.” Thompson also said that it’s frustrating because the WDFW has been promoting “leave a wild baby in the wild” forever. Sometimes, people just can’t help themselves when a wild baby seems helpless or abandoned; they want to help. More often than not, just leaving a young animal alone affords it the best chance to survive. However, wild animals of any age that show obvious signs of illness, injury or are just lethargic and make no effort to escape your approach may need care. A list of trained licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the department’s website. More information is also available at (360) 902-2200.