By Amber Carvalho, Animal Care Assistant

When introducing ourselves to someone, more often than not, we get asked the question, “So, what do you do?” As staff members at the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, we give answers like, “I’m an Animal Care Director at the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.” But what is it that people really get out of our responses? Just one word—wildlife. Our answers are then followed by the typical response, “Wow cool, you get to hang out with animals all day!”

In a sense, yes this is true, we are surrounded by animals all day, but I would never use the term “hang out” to describe it. People who have never worked with wildlife assume our job is all rainbows and butterflies with cute fuzzy animals to cuddle and care for, but that could not be further from the truth. Working at a wildlife rescue is just that—wild.

As February is coming to an end, we see spring, aka “baby season,” looming in the distance, which means baby raccoons, opossums, foxes, and skunks everywhere.  Such a season also means an increase in general wildlife to our center, not just babies. As other wildlife rehabilitators will know, this is the beginning of the busiest time of year. Some would say it’s even crazier than the shopping malls during the holidays!  With such a small staff here at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, we all try to be in many places at once. Usually it feels like we don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish everything. Wild animals, baby or not, are in no way cooperative. They are extremely messy and they will bite, scratch, talon, spray, poop, or urinate on you. A typical morning caring for the animals in the hospital can take hours. There are medications to be drawn and administered, diets to be prepared, patients to be tube or force fed, cages and kennels to be cleaned, charts to be written on, items to be restocked, wounds to be dressed, laundry and dishes to be done, floors to be swept and mopped, fecal and blood tests to be run, and hospital boards to be updated. Yet, while this is all going on, people are walking into the center awaiting instruction, phones are ringing, animals are being brought in, and trash is piling up.

As a wildlife rescue nonprofit our top priority is animal care; what kind of rescue and rehabilitation center would we be if it weren’t? However, there are a few other things that top our priority list. One of the most important is our volunteers. We would not be able to keep our doors open and help so many animals without these wonderful people. Volunteers do so much for us, from scrubbing poop out of den houses to sacrificing the peace and serenity of their own home for fostering baby animals. There is no way we could run our center without their time, effort, and dedication.

But just like at every wildlife center, volunteers need to be given tasks and coordinated in order for the center to run properly and efficiently. Since opening our doors on Mecham Road in 2006 we have grown incredibly, not just in the number of animals we see every year, but also in the number of volunteers. Lately, because we have such a small staff and so much going on, it has become more difficult to help our volunteers and organize volunteer schedules. We want our volunteers to feel like they have been taught well and are able to complete their given tasks, and we want them to feel appreciated, and that their skills and time are being utilized to the best of our ability. It seems that with our work load we have been unable to meet the needs of our volunteers whom we so greatly rely on. We are one of the only Wildlife Rescues that does not have a full-time volunteer coordinator, and unfortunately we do not have the funds to hire such a person.

What else is it that keeps us so busy? Well, along with animal care and volunteer coordinating, there are things that people tend to forget to consider. For instance, this newsletter you are currently reading; our staff dedicates a great deal of time to produce such a document for your reading pleasure. Also, we have brochures to make and print, two websites to update, emails to respond to, tours to give, fundraisers to organize, records to update, bills to pay, t-shirts to sell, projects to build, the public to educate, donation thank you letters to write, advertising to do, etc. Out of breath yet?

You may be asking yourself, "If it’s so stressful why do they do it?" The answer is simple: because the work, although hard and stressful, is extremely rewarding. There is no better feeling than knowing that everything you did that day, regardless of the stress and exhaustion, helped an animal in need; that you contributed to giving that animal a real chance at surviving in the wild where it belongs. We do it for them: the fox with the missing leg, the hawk with the broken wing, the baby raccoon who lost its mother, the mountain lion cubs who were tortured and abused. If we did not help, who would? It is our responsibility as wildlife rehabilitators and animals lovers in general to do our part in saving the amazing creatures that reside in our county. Not a single one of our staff members would tell you they dislike their job; everything we do is just part of the trials and tribulations of being a wildlife rehabilitator.

Trials and Tribulations of a Wildlife Rehabilitator