by Elizabeth Trickey, images by Jennifer Howard
November 7-13 is National Appreciation Week for Animal Rescue Shelters! During this week, we find a way to thank rehabilitation centres and the dedicated people who work in them, for providing animals with a second chance at life.
Every year Procyon Wildlife provides expert care and medical services to over a thousand wild critters that have been orphaned, sick, or injured. We have many volunteers who are part of the rehabilitation process. And the jobs they do are quite varied. Some answer phones from the comfort of their own homes, providing general information to the public and relaying important messages to the centre as needed. Others use their own cars to transport animals between different rehabs or to release animals in appropriate areas. The maintenance of appliances, the grounds, and buildings is a big job shared by many people. Then there are those who maintain our website and online store, organize fund-raising events, attend community events to educate the public, apply for grants, help train new people, and pick up donated items. It takes all types of volunteers to keep things running at a rehab centre!
The Ontario government has strict laws on caring for wild animals. Nobody is allowed to keep a wild animal, no matter how much it needs help or how much experience that person has had with animals, for more than 24 hours. Even veterinarians can only provide emergency care before either releasing the critter or passing it on to a licensed rehab. The only people who can provide ongoing care for wild animals are licensed by the Ministry of Natural Resources as “Wildlife Custodians”. These custodians oversee staff at designated centres for the purpose of rehabilitating, and later, releasing the critters back into the wild.
Most people who volunteer at Procyon perform the work of direct care. They just love the experience of being around wild animals (even the skunks!!). It is a great opportunity to learn about the different species firsthand. These volunteers are required to spend at least one 5-hour shift per week at the rehab. What do they do during that time? Well, it depends on the season.
A typical “day in the life” of a Procyon volunteer during the spring is extremely busy. And I mean CRAZY busy! In April, we are inundated with orphaned babies that require feedings many times throughout the day. It is one of the only times that we get to be physically close to the animals, since at this time the infants need to be bottle or tube-fed. Once the young ones are able to feed themselves, we distance ourselves so they don’t get comfortable around humans. They are wild animals, and it is important that they remain wild, with a natural fear of people for when they are released. This is probably the hardest part of the job! Harder even than all the laundry, dishes, and cleaning that must be done in order to maintain a sanitary rehab.
Throughout the summer, as the animals grow, a typical day for a volunteer is mostly cleaning and disinfecting. Goodbye to the days of handling cute babies. Hello to shovelling up their poo and washing their soiled towels! Certainly not a glamorous way to spend an afternoon!
In August and September, volunteers help in the releasing of animals. By this time, most of the critters are healthy and old enough to survive on their own. If not, they are over-wintered at the rehab, with a skeleton crew of devoted volunteers who continue to look after those still needing care.
Besides the direct care of the animals, there is a lot of other work that the volunteers do. At all times of the year, injured adults are brought to Procyon, a significant number of them hurt by being hit by cars or through dog and cat attacks. Volunteers accept these animals from the public by appointment, completing all paperwork, prepping enclosures, performing physicals on the critters and tending to any injuries. If the injuries are severe, the animals are taken to a volunteer veterinarian.
Procyon has a few local vets who offer their services free of charge. Sometimes X-rays are required or surgeries needed that are more complex than what we can offer. It would be great if more veterinarians were involved in the care of wildlife. It truly is difficult watching animals suffer from injuries that need a higher level of intervention than what we are able to provide.
One group of volunteers that really put themselves out are those who foster infant animals. In the spring when babies need so much individual attention, these people provide home-based care under the supervision of our Wildlife Custodian, approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources. Fostering is round-the-clock work with feedings every few hours. Not a job for those of us who need our beauty sleep! These volunteers are truly worthy of appreciation!
Not yet mentioned are people who help keep the rehab working by providing donations of needed supplies and money. Although rehabs must follow all Ministry expectations, they work independently of the government and receive no financial help for the work that they do. This means that all costs associated with the rehab have to come out of publicly donated money. Funds raised go to things such as rent, utilities, food, appliances, medications, the building of enclosures, cleaning supplies, tools, and so much more.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes on when running a wildlife rehab facility. And the amazing part of it is that it totally depends on the generosity of the public. Whether through donating time or money, it wouldn’t happen without a significant number of people pitching in. We live in a time when urban growth is extremely high, which destroys wildlife habitats and puts many species at risk. These animals need facilities to stand up to protect and take care of them. That is what Procyon Wildlife does.
So as National Appreciation Week for Animal Rescue Shelters approaches, please help us celebrate by sponsoring a favourite species for yourself or as gift for a fellow nature lover. You can also check out our “How You Can Help” section on our website. There are many suggestions for what you can do to show your appreciation for animal rescues. Maybe that’s why this is a week-long special event rather than an event for just one day!
Note from the Editor: Please join us in congratulating Debra Spilar and Procyon Wildlife for having been awarded the Wildlife Rehab Centre of the Year for 2021 by Ontario Wildlife Rescue.
Upon receiving the award, Debra Spilar commented that “she is so proud of her team of dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly at the Centre. It is their efforts and hard work that have led to Procyon Wildlife being named Wildlife Rehab Centre for 2021!”
If you would like to become part of the Procyon Wildlife team dedicated to caring for injured and orphaned wildlife, please click on the link below to learn more: