Shelters and wildlife

These days shelters don't just receive domestic animals like dogs, cats and bunnies. Sometimes they also receive exotic pets, farm animals and wildlife. There are rescue groups which will help place domestic pets, exotic pets and farm animals but what should you do with wildlife?

Wildlife falls under the jurisdiction of Fish & Game and Fish & Wildlife. It's illegal to keep or place wildlife as pets. Wildlife must be turned over to your local Fish & Game department or licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Trained wildlife rehabilitators take in and care for ill, injured and orphaned wildlife for release back to the wild.

The best thing to do if your shelter or group receives a wildlife call or animal is to refer it to the closest licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Don't take the animal into your shelter. It's better for you, the public and the animal.

Should you take in wildlife, you risk exposing shelter personnel, the public and other animals to zoological diseases, parasites, bites and scratches. Besides rabies, round worms from a skunk or raccoon can kill domestic pets and humans. The eggs are microscopic and cannot be killed with standard cleaning solutions. Some water fowl can injure or even kill an untrained handler instantly with a beak into the eye and brain.

If you refer the call, the animal gets proper care faster, as the rehabilitator doesn't have to drive and pick it up. For example a baby hummingbird can die within an hour or two if not fed. Some wildlife die from being fed, handled or caged improperly at shelters. Most wildlife which the public finds don't even need help and should have been left alone. The rehabilitator can inform the public of this on the phone before they "kidnap" a healthy baby from its mother.

By referring the call, the rehabilitator can also get the animal's history and location from the finder for release purposes. It's mandatory to have all finder information for some species of wildlife. The rehabber may also possibly receive a donation from the finder to help offset their expenses. Rehabilitators are not paid but are generally non-profit volunteer organizations. As their expenses are high, they are more apt to accept an animal from the public than a shelter especially if their facility is at maximum capacity.

It's also illegal to hold wildlife over 48 hours, with fines up to $100,000 per animal if you euthanize. Only wild animals which are dying may be euthanized legally. If the animal is endangered, you may need prior written approval from Fish & Game before you euthanize it. Sometimes it's difficult for untrained shelter personnel to identify endangered wildlife or even differentiate it from domestic or exotic pets. Rehabbers are trained in all the different species, as well as local regulations, so let them sort it out for you.

How to set up a wildlife referral system

Contact your state Fish & Game or similar department to get a list of the licensed rehabilitators in your area. It should include their specialty and all contact information. It's best to have someone contact the rehabilitators to make sure they will take the calls or come and pick up the animals if needed. Some only take small birds, some only one species, some take rabies vector species (RVS - skunk, fox, bat, raccoon), some do not. They may also have a preferred protocol or direct phone numbers for shelters.

After you have a list of licensed rehabilitators who are willing to take the calls and animals, make several copies of the list for your shelter. Make sure all employees know that you will be referring all wildlife calls and animals to rehabbers.  Have the list near the phones. Make the list accessible to the public in the shelter. If you have it on your website, you might not even have to take the phone call which makes things even easier for you. Here is an on-line list of rehabbers for the US to get you started Find a wildlife rehabilitator

Nuisance wildlife

Some public shelters currently accept trapped nuisance wildlife. In some states the animals may be relocated and released based on species. In other states all healthy trapped nuisance wildlife must be euthanized legally and humanely. Ill, injured or orphaned trapped animals may be referred to the rehabilitators. Some rehabbers will take nuisance wildlife calls. They can educate the public about how to deter wildlife from their property. They even have free educational flyers for shelters. They can sometimes help remove an animal trapped in a home. Shelters do not legally have to take in trapped nuisance wildlife or send their officers out on wildlife calls. They may refuse all wildlife, as wildlife is not under city but state and federal jurisdiction. Check with your state wildlife regulations as all states differ.

Setting up a wildlife referral program will save your shelter money, time, effort and space. It'll reduce liability and improve public and shelter safety. It will improve morale and help your shelter's image as a life saving organization. It will also help save wildlife. Please refer the wildlife.

If you need help setting up a wildlife referral system, please contact Mary Cummins at  Mary Cummins helped Los Angeles City set up their wildlife referral program. She is a Fish & Game licensed wildlife rehabilitator and educator besides a humane nuisance wildlife control expert.

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Copyright 2003 Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.