Wildlife rehabilitation is the rescue, rehabilitation and release of native wildlife—and it is not for wimps! It is a profession recognized by state and national organizations.
First there is the permit. It is against the law in California, and most states, to keep any wildlife over 48 hours. They must be turned over to a permitted rehabilitator. But what does it take to get a permit? 200 hours of working under a permitted rehabilitator with the species you plan on doing. Having regulation sized cages for all stages under your care. You have to take at least one yearly class on different aspects of rehabilitation which include things like fluid therapy, wound management, euthanasia, etc. You need a complete understanding of the species you will be working with including natural history, diet, caging, development and release criteria. You have to have to make sure that you are compliant with all codes in your city to have the species you will be working with. You must have an evacuation plan and a veterinarian who will work with you. After you put all that together you can apply to the Department of Fish and Game and hope that you will be approved.
Then there are the hours. Many of the infant wildlife eat every couple of hours, around the clock at first. You thought you gave up those 2am feedings when your kids grew up? Add to the feeding schedule the preparation of formula, washing feeding utensils, laundry and cage cleaning. This doesn’t include any wound management and medications that might need to be given.
Add to that the expense. There are no paychecks from the county or state for this. You rely on donations from the good hearted people who bring you the orphaned or injured animals. But this never covers the cost of formula, syringes, nipples, bedding, cages and solid food that these animals will start as they grow.
Then there is the thanks, or lack of it. You have spent sleepless nights feeding and medicating that baby squirrel, keeping it warm and seeing to its every need. The time comes for release and they bound out into the tree without ever so much as a look back or a thank you!
Lastly, there is the heartache. It is hard enough to have to make the decision for euthanasia when a squirrel comes in so badly injured there will be no recovery but it is even worse when that decision has to be made after working with a squirrel for weeks and accepting that release will not be an option. The Department of Fish and Game does not allow rehabilitators to keep wildlife that cannot be released. There are no pets. They can be educational animals used to make presentations to the public but special permits are required for those.
So, why do I do it? Twenty years ago, while taking out cypress trees from my back yard, the tree trimmers handed me three tiny, naked, rather ugly little things. They were 5 day old tree squirrels. I didn’t even know there were squirrels in the area! What to do? This is before the internet so it was off to the library to read everything I could find on squirrels. In spite of all the wrong things I did, they grew and prospered and were successfully released. Thinking this was an incredible once in a lifetime experience I thought that was that. Then friends and neighbors would bring me ill or orphaned squirrels and I was hooked. I quickly discovered that a permit was required and first joined a group where I worked under their permit and then went on to get my own. The sleepless nights, the scratched hands and the empty bank account are all well worth it when a group is released back into the wild and sometimes, just sometimes, there is a backward glance and locking of eyes with a look that says “Thank you, I know that you cared and my joy of freedom is due to you.”
Squirrelmender Wildlife Rehabilitation
State permit, small mammals
One day your life will flash before your eyes, make sure it is worth watching.