Author(s): Patricia Thompson
Thank you for your interest in wildlife rehabilitation, a demanding but also very rewarding profession. It is a time consuming and expensive occupation and you could be donating personal time and resources. One must be very dedicated and professional to be a successful wildlife rehabilitator. The purpose of wildlife rehabilitation is to release physically and psychologically healthy wildlife back to the wild, or relieve their suffering through euthanasia. First and foremost, the animals must be considered over personal gain, emotions, or difficulties of the job.
All native wild birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are protected by Federal and/or Washington State laws and rules (RCWs and WACs). Therefore, wild animals may not be held in captivity without the proper permits. You must be permitted by the state of Washington before practicing wildlife rehabilitation on your own and comply with all Washington state wildlife rehabilitation rules (WAC 220-450-060 through WAC 220-450-200). Permitting ensures high standards of practice in animal welfare and that all persons engaged in wildlife rehabilitation are trained, qualified, and provide humane care and housing for wildlife in their custody. Individuals must meet several requirements to earn this permit. Those who work with native migratory birds must also have a US Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Rehabilitation Permit. It is the permittee’s responsibility to comply with all federal laws and regulations as well as state laws.
Before making the decision to become a wildlife rehabilitator, ask yourself this most important question:
Am I willing and able to provide humane, legal, and proper care while keeping the patient wild at all times and refrain from allowing my emotions to determine my actions even when it comes to end of life decisions?
All wildlife rehabilitators must avoid becoming one who maintains their self-image through wildlife rehabilitation and views him- or herself as a "savior,” “friend,” or "trusted companion" of wild animals. Those who pursue wildlife rehabilitation for these reasons, or just to “be around wild animals,” usually do more harm than good. These are wild animals who deserve to be recognized and treated as such. Wildlife in the care of individuals pursuing wildlife rehabilitation for the wrong reasons often become habituated, tamed, or are captive for too long and have a poor to no chance of surviving in the wild. This style of rehabilitator also gives the public the wrong impression of normal wildlife behavior and the sometimes dangerous nature of wild animals. They are not pets and never will be nor should be.
Wildlife rehabilitation permits require the completion of 1,000 hours of volunteering, working, and/or training in wildlife rehabilitation at a permitted wildlife rehabilitation facility. This is equivalent to about six months of full time or two and a half years of one day/week, such as volunteering every Saturday. You will also be required to list a sponsoring permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator on your permit application, submit at least one letter of recommendation from a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, and a formal agreement with a licensed veterinarian willing to provide consultation and medical services.
After attaining your permit, you must continue your education. Thirty hours of Continuing Education are required for permit renewal every three years. Good rehabilitators continue developing their skills no matter what their level of expertise. State, national, and international professional wildlife rehabilitation organizations as well as fellow rehabilitators provide opportunities for continued education and increased skill. Washington Wildlife Rehabilitation Association (WWRA), National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA), and International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) publish newsletters and journals, put on conferences, or provide in-person and on-line courses. Joining these organizations is essential for rehabilitators to stay current and connected.
WDFW Wildlife Rehabilitation Permits must be renewed every three years. You must complete and submit a Permit Renewal Application one month prior to the expiration date and submit all required Annual Reports and Ledgers to qualify for your Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit renewal.
A wildlife rehabilitation permit does not authorize a person to be a veterinarian, wildlife biologist, wildlife officer, public-health official, or Wildlife Control Operator (someone who, for example, removes raccoons or squirrels from peoples’ homes). Nevertheless, rehabilitators aid and support all these professions and you must prepare for a complex role within the professional wildlife community.
The following presents an overview of wildlife rehabilitation requirements, and an introduction to the WDFW Wildlife Rehabilitation Exam.