Dec 29, 2012

History of Wildlife Rehabilitation Part II

According to Jay Holcomb, current director of International Bird Rescue, the major oil spills off California's coast in 1969 and 1971 were significant milestones in the history of wildlife rehabilitation in the United States. 
What happened was, these spills brought like-minded people together - people who were concerned about wildlife and interested in learning how to care for the animals.
As urban sprawl encroached deeper into wild habitats, more and more people were coming into contact with wildlife and finding animals in distress. The Save The Whales campaign marked a significant shift in consciousness that influenced wildlife rehabilitation - instead of seeing wild animals remain in captivity after their convalescence, the public wanted them set free.

After the 1971 Standard Oil Spill,
a small group of kindred spirits who had worked together during the spillincluding Gary Bogue, Paul Maxwell and Alice Berkner, joined forces to establish an association for those interested in caring for wildlife - a resource for rehabilitators to share their knowledge and receive information on current techniques.

You see, at that time, there were no standards for the rehabilitation of wildlife - most practiced in isolation, with techniques based mostly on trial and error. So, in 1972, the Bay Area Wildlife Rehabilitation Council was formed.

According to Paul Maxwell, former executive director for the Louise A. Boyd Natural Science Museum, i
t was an informal but serious group of organizations focused on advancing the emerging field of wildlife rehabilitation.

At about the same times as the council was forming,
 the Louise A. Boyd Natural Science Museum in San Rafael was experiencing growing pangs. Much like the Alexander Lindsey Museum, they were admitting more and more wild patients each year, including seals and sea lions. Animal curator for the museum, Lloyd Smalley, soon realized their wild patients, especially the marine mammals, needed more than what the museum could provide.

After leaving the museum in 1973, Smalley joined up with
Paul Maxwell, and Patricia Ariagoni, who had been on the museum's Board of Trustees for seven years. Together, these three paved the way for the establishment of a marine mammal facility in the Marin Headlands. The California Marine Mammal Center, later named The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), opened its doors officially 1975.

The facility was established at a former Nike Missile site.

With very little funding, it was the dedication of the Center's volunteers that helped keep the program running - offering up their own cars as rescue vehicles, and adding change to an old coffee can set aside for gas money.

Peigin Barrett 
began volunteering in 1978. In a recent phone conversation, Peigin recalled the early days and the hardships they had to overcome.
The organization was basically penniless, but everyone rallied together to keep it going. Each weekend we'd  sell donated items at the local flea market so we could get by, and we did.

Pen and ink drawing by Peigin Barrett.
Prints were sold to raise money for repairs and improvements.
In 1982, Peigin became the chief executive, but at great personal sacrifice. To make ends meet she held two other jobs - at a bookstore in the evenings, and as caregiver to a retired general on the weekends. 

Through the tough times, it was love, she said, that got her through - the love that the people had for the animals.

It wasn't a cutesy type of love, it was a fire of love, and I was lit on fire - that kept me going.

The passion of this early group was the magnet that, over time, brought more people and more funds. Inspired by the Center's work, Charlie Stone and a few others from McPhail's Building Supply and Ghilotti Brothers chipped in to build the first seal pen enclosures.

By 1984, the Center was "in the black" for the first time.

A recent image of The Marine Mammal Center.
Today, TMMC is considered one of the largest marine mammal rehabilitation programs in the world. Keep watch HERE for a book on the center's history, The Marine Mammal Center, How It All Began, by Patricia Arrigoni!

After graduating high school in 1969, Jay Holcomb started working at the Marin Humane Society (MHS). The shelter received its share of injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals. Having a strong interest in wildlife, and some experience in hand-rearing orphans as a teen, Holcomb started caring for some species at his home (which was common practice in those days), others were transferred to the 
Boyd Natural Science Museum which was then under a new name - the Marin Museum of Natural Science.

In 1975, while maintaining his full-time job at MHS, Holcomb started working at the Museum's wildlife center every Sunday. There, his passion for wildlife grew, exponentially, as did his skills as a rehabilitator. A few years later he was hired full-time.

Interested in networking with other rehabilitators, Holcomb started attending meetings held by the newly formed 
Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. Through these get-togethers, he became acquainted with other Bay Area wildlife enthusiasts, including Alice Berkner...

History of Wildlife Rehabilitation Part III

Dec 28, 2012

Perceiving Jizz

One of our lead responders, Deanna Barth, experienced a breakthrough moment this week - she experienced an awareness - a heightened perception, common among great birders. It's the ability to recognize, accurately identify, and discern the condition of a living thing based on its jizz.

First written about in 1922 by ornithologist Thomas A. Coward in Bird Haunts and Nature Memories, jizz is a term used to describe the essence of a living thing - the "impression" of an organism. Not its color, shape, size, or carriage, but all of those things and more, including an animal's state of health, which is what rescuers key on. As Coward put it, it is character rather than characteristics, the tout ensemble of the subject.

Here's Deanna's story of what happened:

Today, I experienced something amazing - a moment when I "just knew" there was something wrong with an animal even though I couldn't say exactly what it was. Rebecca and Duane talk about this in their wildlife rescue training classes, but I hadn't experienced it until today. 
I was on my way to check for injured pelicans on 
Old Fisherman's Wharf when I briefly glanced over at the beach 
near the entrance to the pier. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a gull in the sand, and in a flash I knew something was wrong.

I walked closer and could see other gulls perched on rocks nearby, but this one was resting alone, facing away from the water, and it just had a "look" about it. Something just wasn't right.

I had fish fillets and a bed sheet in case I found a pelican that needed to be captured, so I went back to my vehicle for Fritos and a net, instead.

I walked down onto the little beach where the bird was, and tossed a handful of crumbled Fritos. The gull slowly stood up on one leg and hobbled towards me, holding its left foot out. Pitiful.

I routinely see gulls with leg injuries, and if they seem like they've adapted to the impairment and are otherwise thriving, I leave them be. I'm not sure if there was something else going on besides the leg injury, but this particular gull did not appear to be doing well. He baited-in quickly and was easy to capture. I drove him to the SPCA for Monterey County Wildlife Center for care.

Next month, it will be two years since I met Duane and Rebecca and started volunteering  with WildRescue, and I finally feel like some of the things you just can't teach - the things one has to learn by doing (over and over) - are happening.

Dec 22, 2012

The Gift

By Rebecca Dmytryk

Yesterday's press release from Fish and Game regarding the two mountain lion cubs killed by wardens in Half Moon Bay on December 1st, HERE, sparked more criticism and outrage from citizens.

What people need to realize is that for a first responder, be it a sheriff, firefighter, or game warden, their number one priority is public safety. The wardens did what they believed had to be done to protect the public.

Right or wrong, there is a greater issue here.

At this time, California does not allow rehabilitation of mountain lions - they must either be killed or placed into captivity - even though successful rehabilitation is possible and has been conducted elsewhere in the country.

This is where we need to focus our energy - on developing rehabilitation guidelines, and, eventually, constructing a facility specifically for the rehabilitation and re-wilding of cougars.

This work must be done so when something like this happens again, when there are sub-adult cubs that need a little more time to grow up before they're on their own, there will be a suitable place for them to receive the care they need, and then one day, when they're ready, we can give them the greatest gift of all - their freedom.

PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr. John Huckabee does an excellent job at describing the feeling of losing a wild animal to captivity in The Gift I Cannot Give, HERE. Enjoy.

Dec 20, 2012

Owl Snagged On Barbed Wire Fence

Photo courtesy Wildlife Center Silicon Valley

Early Wednesday afternoon, we received an emergency call about an owl caught on a barbed wire fence near Santa Teresa County Park, south of San Jose, CA.

Just minutes after sending out an alert to our volunteer responders, we received a callback from Valerie Baldwin. Valerie has been involved in wildlife rehabilitation for more than 25 years and specializes in raptors. She currently volunteers with the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV) and is part of their Raptor Team. 

Before heading out the door, Valerie thought to put in a call to her friend Lee Pauser, who lives near the park and could be on scene more quickly than she.

Lee has been involved with Audubon's Cavity Nester's Recovery Program since 2002 after retiring from IBM. He monitors and maintains hundreds of bird nest boxes along trails in Southern Santa Clara County and works with WCSV on wild-fostering and renesting healthy cavity nesters during 'baby season'. Lee had just finished installing a few new nest boxes when Valerie called.

Meanwhile, Andy, who initially spotted the owl along the Calero Creek Trail, was willing to go back to the location and keep watch until a rescuer arrived. He brought along his daughter, Rhianna, who ended up being a great help during the rescue.

Andy and daughter, Rhianna. Rhianna helped support the bird with a tree branch.

The owl was snagged on a barb. It probably happened in flight, as the bird was flying over the fence. It was hooked on the patagium - the membrane of skin that extends from a bird's shoulder to its wrist. To keep weight off the wing, Rhianna held a branch up to the owl's feet so it could stand.

Lee takes a closer look while Rhianna keep weight off the wing.
Once on scene, Lee quickly assessed the situation and, with the help of Andy, Rhiana, and Omar, a cyclist who stopped to help, they attempted to free the bird from the barb, but no luck. It was really embedded. The only way to free the bird was to cut the wire.

Once freed, the owl was placed into a cardboard box and immediately transported to the 

It took quite a bit of effort, but the barb was finally extracted. Once the wound were cleaned, veterinarians examined the wing and, thankfully, there were no broken bones. According to Rehabilitation Supervisor, Ashley Kinney, the owl was rescued just in time! 

Photo courtesy Wildlife Center Silicon Valley

With luck, the owl will recover quickly so it can be returned home soon. It's the start of breeding season for great horned owls. They don't build their own nests, but take previously used nests of other species, so, they have to get an early start on things. By now, many have paired up and are looking for suitable sites.

UPDATE: 12-21-12

According to WCSV, the owl's condition is still Guarded, but the wing is looking much better and the swelling is down. They will begin the owl on
 physical therapy to prevent its wing from 'freezing'.

UPDATE: 1-4-13

We received word today from WCSV that the GHOW is doing amazingly well. The dime-sized wound on his patagium is healing and they are starting to wean him off pain medications and wound treatment. Apparently, the owl is very feisty!

UPDATE: 2-12-13

Yesterday, after 8 weeks in care at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley, the GHOW was finally strong enough to be moved outside to the hospital's 50' aviary where it will build up flight strength for its release in a couple of weeks.

According to caregivers, they have to don helmets and goggles when they enter the enclosure, as the owl is very feisty and wants out badly!

Many, many thanks to the wildlife rehabilitation staff at WCSV and to the Adobe Animal Hospital for mending this beautiful bird!

Dec 18, 2012

Fortunate Red-Tailed Hawk

Late yesterday, we were referred a call from the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter about a large raptor on the deck of a beachfront home in Aptos, CA. Apparently, the bird had struck the glass windbreak, and it appeared stunned and confused.

One our local responders, Marsha, was very quick to respond.

Although the bird appeared alert when she arrived, and its wings seemed undamaged, it was immediately transported to Native Animal Rescue for evaluation.

With nothing more than a slight abrasion on the tip of its elbow, the following day it was returned to the bluff and released.


This bird was really lucky to have survived an impact with glass. Many do not. Please, click HERE to learn more about the hazards of glass panes, and find out what you can do to make your home or office safer for birds.

Dec 14, 2012

Campaign for Change

WildRescue's director, Rebecca Dmytryk, was quick to launch an appeal to the California Department of Fish and Game after the fatal shooting of two mountain lion cubs by game wardens in Half Moon Bay on December 1st.

The petition, HERE, asking the Department to consider changes to its mountain lion policies, has received just over 800 signatures, so far, and support from over 35 licensed wildlife rehabilitators from around the state.

The care of young or infirm mountain lions, with their subsequent return to the wild, is currently prohibited in California. There are, however, a few states that operate successful rehabilitation programs.

The White Oak Conservation Center in Florida, for example, operates a panther rehabilitation program in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. Check out the story of one of the compound's recent graduate, HERE.

[White Oak Conservation Center]

This type of collaborative effort is what Dmytryk and others envision for California.
It's time we put rehabilitation on the table as an option, instead of just euthanasia or captivity. It's not like it's impossible, we've just got to want it badly enough - collectively, as a society, and I think we're there. We're asking officials to work with us in exploring the possibility.
Hoping to pave the way for rehabilitation of cougars in California, Dmytryk has reached out to fellow wildlife rehabilitators and mountain lion experts throughout the country, inviting them to participate in developing criteria. These guidelines will include minimum requirements for a cougar compound exclusively for the big cats.

Mountain lions undergoing rehabilitation must be kept isolated from people. In time, Dmytryk hopes to see construction of a compound on a remote piece of property.

I believe, if we build it, they will come. If we have rehabilitation guidelines, trained personnel, and the facility in place, we will be in a much better position to negotiate for mountain lion rehabilitation in the future. 

The petition can be found HERE.

Inquiries or offers of help can be made HERE.

Dec 11, 2012


Yesterday, we received a call from a woman in Santa Cruz, reporting a young raccoon with its leg caught in the crook of a tree.

Lead responder, Duane Titus, arrived on scene quickly. After a considerable amount of effort, he was able to free the animal's limb. The raccoon was transported to Native Animal Rescue for treatment.

This latest tree-snagged raccoon is the third for the year!!! Interestingly, each involved a similar species of non-native tree and 'teenage' raccoon.

Dec 7, 2012

2013 Wildlife Rescue Training Schedule

Each year, WildRescue provides training opportunities for those interested in helping wild animals found in distress. We offer basic training for the novice and new volunteers, and advanced training on specific skills for the more experienced.

Beginning in January, we'll be offering a new set of classes.

Our Wildlife Search and Rescue training has added hands-on exercises, and we have added an ancillary field workshop to give students the experience of actually looking for and capturing injured animals.

Also new for 2013, we are offering an introductory oiled bird search and rescue class. Oil-compromised birds present a unique set of challenges for first responders. Students will learn how to judge the degree of oiling and what it means for the bird's survival, and how to best plan for its capture and transport. This is highly recommended for those who might come across oiled birds in the course of their duties.

We're also excited to announce our very first Reuniting Wildlife workshop! Wild animals stand the greatest chance of surviving as adults if they are raised by wild parents. Unfortunately, however, every 'baby season' an extraordinary number of healthy babies wind up in shelters or wildlife hospitals. 

There is a desperate need for volunteers to help get the babies back to the wild, and that's where this exclusive training comes in. This class is ideal for anyone willing to be available during spring and summer to volunteer their services.

Check out and download the flyer, HERE. To sign up for a class, click HERE.

Dec 6, 2012

Loon Rescue

This week, we received a call from a resident near Kelly Lake, just outside of Watsonville, reporting a gull-sized bird that had made its way to the family's back porch. When responders arrived, they found a loon with a large fishing hook through its neck, trailing a heavy lead weight. The loon was captured and delivered to Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz. check out the video below.

Dec 4, 2012

Mountain Lion Cubs Shot

By Rebecca Dmytryk / Wildlife Emergency Services

Sign the petition, HERE.

One of the young cubs killed December 1st.
It is our understanding that at dusk on Friday, November 30th, two sibling mountain lion cubs, between 5 and 9 months of age, were observed hiding, together, on the 800 block of Correas Street in Half Moon Bay, just a few yards away from expansive open space and wild land.

The next evening - Saturday, December 1, the pair was spotted again, together, and this time in someone's backyard. Perhaps the cubs were stranded, unable to get back across the creek due to flooding. Was the mother still alive? Was there a chance she stowed them in the vicinity and they were waiting for her return? Were they simply starving and desperate?

The cubs when they were hiding.

It is unclear what transpired next, but the cubs were shot and killed by game wardens, with public safety being cited as the main reason.

While public safety must come first, in situations involving potentially orphaned young we believe every available resource must be utilized and every non-lethal option exhausted before resorting to lethal control. 

Without a doubt, these were young of the year that were still dependent on their mother. Perhaps the mother had been killed and the cubs were struggling to survive - this would account for them being thin, as cubs stay with their mothers up to about 2 years. 

As for their described behavior, allowing humans to approach - this is not unusual for motherless, starving, or otherwise desperate young.

These weren't kittens, though, these were older cubs, and because of this we do not feel they would have been suited for life in captivity, but, we do believe they were excellent candidates for rehabilitation.

They were old enough to have an innate fear of humans, and imprinting would not have been an issue. During rehabilitation, they would have received aversion training, making them even less likely to approach humans - ever.

Unfortunately, in California, the rehabilitation of mountain lions is not allowed - the same way black bear rehabilitation was prohibited years ago, and now we have at least one center licensed for black bear. This incident highlights the need for California to have at least one facility for the rehabilitation of mountain lions under certain, very specific situations - such as this.

Please join us in an appeal, HERE, to the California Department of Fish and Game to review current policies regarding mountain lions and consider broadening them to encourage communication and collaboration between wardens and outside wildlife specialists before lethal control is used, if and whenever possible, and, additionally, to consider the possibility of licensing at least one mountain lion rehabilitation facility in California. 

Dec 3, 2012


It was pouring down rain when we received a call from a resident in Hollister, CA. The homeowner had trapped a striped skunk that had been in his yard for almost a week - neighborhood dogs had chased it through his side gate.

We advised the caller that we're prohibited from taking the skunk away, too far, but that we would be happy to come get the animal out of his yard and release it within the vicinity come nightfall. It took some convincing, but in the end he agreed.

The poor skunk had been inside the cage trap since about 1:00 AM - completely exposed to the elements. It was cold, wet and frightened. Rescuers transferred the gentle animal into a pet carrier and provided it a nice meal of gopher with sliced pear.

Hours later, under the protective cover of darkness, it was released back into its home neighborhood where it immediately scampered across the street and under a fence. It knew right where it was... home.

Dec 2, 2012

Doing Good

Deanna and Kaia Barth with their awards for their excellent service on behalf of wildlife
At last night's presentation of The Year In Rescues, 6-year old Kaia Barth was honored with an award for her significant acts of compassion and ongoing dedication to helping the environment and wildlife.

It's no surprise to hear, then, that her mom, Deanna Barth, was the recipient of this year's Purple Cape Award for her outstanding achievements in Wildlife Search and Rescue. This year, Deanna rescued more than a dozen injured pelicans and Canada geese, and traveled in excess of 1,000 miles delivering them to various wildlife hospitals for treatment. Bravo, Deanna!!!

Many thanks to Santa Clara County Parks for use of their facility for our event.

Don't miss the encore presentation of The Year In Rescues on December 15th at the Elkhorn Yacht Club in Moss Landing. The presentation will begin promptly at 5:00 PM. Guests will be treated to warm apple cider and holiday cookies.