The Egyptian Daily | Animal rehabilitation in the midst of a pandemic

Like nonprofits around the world, wildlife rehabilitation clinics have had to make major adjustments because of COVID-19.

Some of these adjustments include fewer volunteers at the facilities, having to operate with less funding, and caring for many more animals in need than in the past.

TreeHouse Wildlife Center, located in Dow, IL, has seen cases where an animal will all be brought in after being illegally held by ignorant people. These people usually take young animals from their mothers and keep or sell them as pets.

The TreeHouse Wildlife Center is licensed to care for Illinois native species, which does not include apex predators such as wolves and bears.

TreeHouse Wildlife Center fundraising coordinator Kelly Vandersand said in previous years they never had more than 900 animals as patients and in June they had 1,100 animals. The numbers continued to rise over the summer and they already number 1,200 animals.

“It’s another impact of COVID. There are a lot more people in the woods. They have little to do and one of them is to be outside doing outdoor activities so people aren’t as distracted by life and they’re outside, seeing more animals and bringing them in,” Vandersand said.

With some of the people who would normally help raise financial supports focusing more on the human suffering due to COVID-19, TreeHouse had to find other ways to fundraise.

Usually, the TreeHouse Wildlife Center holds an annual baby shower where people will donate items requested by the clinic, but could not this year with new rules and regulations. Instead, they had a drive-in baby shower where they were still able to fundraise while social distancing.

“We actually collected more this year,” Vandersand said. She said it could be because people were bored and looking for ways to get out of the house.

In October they also usually have Owl Fest which is one of their biggest fundraisers averaging $8,000 over the past few years. It is a two-day event that draws crowds of up to 2,000 people.

Losing that fundraising amount would be very difficult for the clinic, so they came up with Owl-O-Ween.

To make up for lost revenue with Owl Fest, TreeHouse Wildlife is partnering with the health department to host a walk through trick or treat.

According to Vandersand, the TreeHouse Wildlife Center had an agreement with Beverly Farms, an organization that provides housing for people with disabilities, to train their residents to become permanent resident care specialists who would help care for the animals.

With new public safety rules and regulations, the clinic will not be eligible for additional support from Beverly Farms for the foreseeable future.

Prior to COVID-19, the TreeHouse Wildlife Center was also working on the construction of a new multipurpose waterfowl and migratory bird clinic that would include an outdoor classroom, an educational classroom and a community building that could accommodate approximately 50 people for more on-site programming. .

With that, Vandersand said they were looking for investors just as COVID-19 hit and they were unable to do so at the moment due to the fact that it would take between 500,000 and 1 million dollars to complete the project.

Even though the pandemic has put many events and construction projects on hold, many people have supported local wildlife rehabilitation clinics throughout the pandemic.

“During COVID-19 we said hello while you’re home look through the bottom layer of meat in your freezer and donate it – we had so many meat donations we had to buy two more freezers “, said Vandersand.

She said donations were important at the start of COVID-19 when funding was lost.

Although they have applied for federal grants and may have received federal funds, it is still expensive to run rehabilitation and discharge facilities, which is why they must continue to seek donor support, Vandersand said.

COVID-19 has also caused many changes at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic (WRC) in High Rapids, MO. Similar to the TreeHouse Wildlife Center, the WRC depends on volunteers and donors to keep day-to-day operations afloat.

For this reason, the reduction in the number of volunteers allowed to be in the building at one time as well as the number of volunteers allowed to welcome animals into the safety of their homes was a huge change for the WRC.

Special precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of animals and volunteers. This includes requiring volunteers to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and have their temperature taken before entering the clinic. Before leaving, volunteers wipe down all heavily touched surfaces with bleach.

It appears that even though stay-at-home orders have reduced the number of road fatalities in recent months, the WRC has faced an increase in numbers, especially of skunks.

According to WRC volunteer Dee Martin, she said: “I think we have a total of 40 skunks this year,” said Dee Martin. “We don’t usually take that many, but some rehab centers aren’t taking that much this year, so our homes are just overcrowded.”

Even when stay-at-home orders were first introduced in March, the clinic had very supportive volunteers who opened their homes to orphaned WRC residents.

Many animals come to clinics because of unfortunate human-related events. One of the most influential events is when animals are hit by cars. Aside from white-tailed deer, opossums are a species you’re most likely to see on the side of the road.

“Possums are usually cases where mom got knocked down on the road,” Martin said.

If a possum is hit by a car, many people don’t know how to check the pocket of the dead marsupial to see if there are any joeys.

For the lucky ones, they are found by someone who checks if the mother survived the impact of the accident. The volunteers will try to save the mother opossum, but will not always succeed. Once the joeys are orphaned, they are then cared for by humans until they weigh around 2 pounds and can be released back into the wild.

As the pandemic is also affecting many other organizations that rely on donors and fundraising, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic will not be hosting in-person fundraising events this year. Instead, they still plan to conduct their annual holiday mail where they will ask for year-end donations.

Martin said the volunteers think that with everything going on right now, it would be difficult to ask families to donate more money. Although fundraising may not be an option at this time, some donors have continued to support the clinic throughout the pandemic.

“We will do everything we can to survive and we will survive,” Martin said.

Photo Editor Leah Sutton can be reached at [email protected]

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Benjamin M. Yerger