Wildlife rehabilitation is a lifestyle and a 24 hour job. The busiest time is spring and summer when you may be feeding baby birds every 20 minutes or bottle feeding infant mammals every couple of hours around the clock, and working an average of 70 hours/week, depending on your number of animals. Attending to the needs of animals in your care is your primary concentration.
We recommend starting with one or two common or straightforward species, or those with which you are familiar. You will need to learn natural history, rehabilitation requirements, proper caging, and appropriate diets. Set realistic goals; consider your time and financial commitments before expanding to other species. You may also choose to specialize in only one or two species in which you are most interested; however, you will still need to take the General Wildlife Rehabilitation Exam for all species.
As you become known in your community you may experience increased communication with the public, humane societies, veterinary clinics, animal control, nature centers, pet stores, and WDFW personnel regarding a wide variety of wildlife-related issues.
Networking with other rehabilitators can ease some of the responsibility. In addition to information and equipment sharing, this network is necessary when it is in an animal’s best interest to be transferred to another facility, such as to place single orphans with conspecifics, or when an animal is in need of a larger space.
Wildlife rehabilitation is a volunteer activity that can often cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per year depending on the number and species of animals served. The WDFW does NOT pay for wildlife rehabilitation nor is it responsible for any costs incurred by a licensed rehabilitator. By Washington State law, Wildlife rehabilitators cannot charge for their services. Establishing a not-for-profit organization with an IRS 501 (c) 3 designation (tax exemption) helps with wildlife rehabilitation-associated costs. Some expenses you will incur are:
- constructing appropriate caging and enclosures for each species
- handling and capture equipment
- large equipment (incubators, autoclave, etc)
- appropriate diets
- comfort and enrichment supplies
- veterinary advice and treatment services
- volunteer and employee inoculations
- increased use of personal vehicles, telephone, and household utilities
- reference materials, magazine and journal subscriptions covering natural history, ecology, and animal care techniques
- membership in both international and national wildlife rehabilitation organizations
- continuing education
Many wildlife rehabilitators network with local stores for goods and services and seek donations of used gear from human hospitals which frequently discard equipment. Wildlife Rehabilitators may fund raise and seek monetary donations. Also, the WDFW offers Grants to Wildlife Rehabilitators.
Releasing the animal
Wildlife rehabilitators must remain professional when it comes to emotional involvement with their patients. Rehabilitation and release should only be undertaken when the animal has a reasonable chance for survival in the wild. To ensure the highest success rate possible, rehabilitators must consider all release criteria.
Animals’ release survival needs vary depending on the time of the year, age, sex, natural habitat association, and breeding condition. These considerations are as important to its long-term survival as is proper medical management of the animal’s injury/illness. It is usually best to release the animal where it was found.
Death and euthanasia
Euthanizing an animal is never emotionally easy. While your goal is to rehabilitate and release the animals that come into your care, you can expect that possibly one half of admitted animals die or must be euthanized. As with all rehabilitation efforts, euthanasia must be performed in the most humane way possible. As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you need the ability to put your personal emotions and beliefs aside and look rationally and responsibly at the quality of life for the animal. Euthanasia is one of the hardest tasks a rehabilitator must perform and is another reason the WDFW advises volunteering with an experienced wildlife rehabilitator.
An animal must be euthanized if:
- It is unable to recover from injuries or illness;
- It has a terminal illness;
- It is imprinted on humans;
- It is tamed due to improper care during the rehabilitation process
By accepting a Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit, your name, address and phone number are made public on our Wildlife Rehabilitator Referral List posted on our website. The public will be delivering wildlife to your facility. One of the most time consuming activities for a wildlife rehabilitator is answering telephone calls and other inquiries. Much of your time will be spent trying to convince people not to interfere with wildlife. It is essential that you are knowledgeable about rehabilitation activities on a variety of wild animals or know to whom to refer the caller. Make sure you and your staff have a good understanding of wildlife identification, life histories, behavior, and habitat requirements, as well as regulations and laws pertaining to wildlife rehabilitation. Do not give callers information on caring for wild animals. It is unlawful for them to possess a protected (native wild) animal. Knowing how to refer calls to the appropriate public agency and organizations associated with wildlife activities will be very beneficial to you as a wildlife rehabilitator.
Animals in rehabilitation may not be housed in areas where they are subject to public viewing, display or exhibit.
Wildlife rehabilitators are neither trained nor licensed to diagnose and treat animal diseases. Permitees are not allowed to practice veterinary medicine, unless they hold a current Washington Veterinary Medical License. As a condition of their permit, wildlife rehabilitators must establish and maintain a good working relationship with a cooperating veterinarian (Principal Veterinarian). Medical or surgical treatments, drug prescription and administration, injections, vaccinations, and anesthesia must occur only under the direction and supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Veterinarians are not required to have a wildlife rehabilitation permit to consult with or provide advice on care and treatment of wild animals undergoing rehabilitation. Veterinarians may treat wild animals for initial short-term care in their clinic without possessing a wildlife rehabilitation permit. Veterinarians that retain wild animals as a wildlife rehabilitator are required to have a wildlife rehabilitation permit.
Negotiating a good working relationship with your Principal Veterinarian will help to avoid conflicts and clarify expectations. You as the wildlife rehabilitator are responsible for negotiating an agreement with a licensed Veterinarian who will serve as your medical consultant. It is extremely important that you and your Principal Veterinarian are compatible.
- Contract with Principal Veterinarian (Form available soon)