PAWS Magazine


Issue 53, Winter 2002


A day in the life of a wildlife center

The PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center operation is seven days a week year-round. In the spring and summer, the days start early and go on well past dark. Staff, working 10-hour shifts, start at 7 a.m. and don’t finish caring for patients until after 10 at night. Long summer hours give way to shorter winter days when there are fewer patients. Most of the 5,000 animals received each year will come to the center between April and September, with occasional large influxes from oil spills, or winter storms during the colder months.

Each morning begins with a flurry of activity. Staff check the condition of patients and prepare and administer morning medications. Food is prepared—during the busiest months for as many as 45 species and more than 200 birds and mammals.

The morning volunteer shift meeting pulls all the caregivers together for an up-to-the-minute briefing on the morning’s work—what’s new, what patients are under care, priorities. Duties are assigned and the team moves into high gear to cover a myriad of tasks, from the mundane and dirty—laundry, dishes, garbage and cleaning—to the detailed and demanding—exams, blood sampling, bandaging and medicating.

The care management team meets next for medical rounds to discuss cases, schedule surgery and reassess patients, and decide next-step care as patients move along a path to release. At the front desk, the first intakes of the day are arriving. Brought in by caring members of the public, a seemingly endless stream of damaged wildlife will come through the front door—orphaned baby mammals and baby birds fallen from the nest, wildlife hit by vehicles and with broken limbs from collisions with windows and wires, and animals suffering from disease or poison.

Rehabilitation staff, working with a wildlife veterinarian, will examine each wild animal to determine treatment options. Rehabilitation may be short and simple—a little rest, proper food, quiet housing, and the wild animal may soon be on its way–or may involve months of treatment for a broken wing or leg, lead poisoning or cat attack wounds. Treatment may include several stages of care—stabilization, diagnostic tests, surgery, antibiotic and other drug therapy, and post-operative care and pre-release conditioning. Special diets are needed for baby mammals, insectivorous birds, carnivorous mammals, seedeaters, and wildlife whose diets are primarily vegetation or fish.

The brutal reality of wildlife rehabilitation sometimes means animals brought to the center are too badly damaged to respond to care. Sometimes our treatment will be humane euthanasia, the gift of a peaceful release from pain and suffering.

Midday a new shift of volunteers meet and are brought up to date on the day’s care needs. Cages are cleaned and dishes washed. Baby birds are fed up to four times each daylight hour; baby mammals every two to four hours. The laundry equipment runs 12 hours a day. Supplies are ordered and received, counted, stored away. More wildlife is received. Two telephone lines are constantly ringing—people with questions about injured wildlife or wanting answers to human-wildlife conflict questions. Potential volunteers are recruited and interviewed, new ones are trained.

Sites are assessed for release potential; animals are assessed for release. Blood and weights are taken, bands checked. Animals are carefully placed in transport cages and sent on a last trip, on their way to freedom. More food is prepared. More animals are fed.

The third volunteer shift comes in. Another meeting, another update. More food is prepared. Medications are given, surgery is performed. More laundry. Sets of x-rays are taken, dishes done, and cages and flights are cleaned, animals received, phones answered, animals rescued and transported, information shared. Cages are prepared for the night. Last bottles of formula warmed and babies fed. Another family of baby mammals comes through the front door, a heron with a broken wing, a raccoon hit by a car, a robin with cat-claw punctures.

The last animal is made stable for the night. The kitchen is cleaned, as are examination and surgery rooms. Cages and outdoor holdings are secure. Heat lamps and heating pads are on. Tools are cleaned and put away. Frozen fish is thawing for the next morning, and surgical instruments are autoclaved. A weary team changes at the lockers, "good nights" are said, and thanks are given for hard work well done. Lights are turned out. Doors are locked. And tomorrow it will all start again.

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