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Enjoy Magazine

Born To Be Wild

03/19/2013 03:23PM ● By Sandie Tillery


story: Sandie Tillery

It’s birthing season in the wild wood… kits and pups, chicks and cygnets… babies crying, mothers nursing, fathers hunting. It is also the beginning of the busy season for Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, when they receive calls from concerned humans who have found injured and orphaned wildlife. Danger lurks in many guises for these young creatures, including well-intentioned humans who need to understand that wild animals are best kept wild.

Recently I visited with Marianne Dickison, coordinator for the center, who had just returned with her daughter after helping to retrieve a small deer, roadkill that SHASCOM (9-1-1 dispatch center) had called about. The meat is used to feed wildlife that is being rehabilitated by local volunteers. Some of the fresh meat Ashley carved off was given to a raven that Dickison later successfully released back into its original habitat. As we talked, I began to realize how many mistaken notions I had stored away about what to do if I come across wildlife that seems to need help.

I didn’t know… • Baby birds cannot digest milk-soaked bread, as I was taught by my well-meaning parents. It gives birds diarrhea and will kill them. Dickison challenged rhetorically, “Do birds have nipples? No, their babies don’t drink milk.” • Wild birds think people are predators. They may appear docile and comfortable, but are really terrified when handled. • The test for rabies in wild mammals can only be done when they are euthanized. A scratch you receive while playing with a cute coyote pup might result in its untimely death. • When animals reach sexual maturity, lovable babies morph into aggressive and dangerous adults. • Birds need room to fly, deer need space to run. Caging wildlife is not better than letting them live in the wild. • Most animal parents leave their young in a quiet, hidden spot while they hunt for food. The parent will return unless it is injured or killed.

As Dickison shared the story of Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, I realized that I didn’t know a lot about how to care for wildlife. Most of us don’t. That is why our first response should always be to call the experts when we come upon critters in crisis.

The center exists to help return injured and orphaned wildlife back to their homes and families. Dickison calls it initially a triage hospital for wildlife. The volunteers must complete training, understand the psychology of their charges and respect the “wildness” of each one. According to Karlene Stoker, a volunteer and public relations coordinator, 1,468 mammals, reptiles and birds were cared for in 2007 by volunteers who know not to coo and coddle, but to nurture and train them for eventual release back into the wild. More than 25,000 hours of volunteer time were devoted to rehabilitation of wildlife at the center that year.

The rescue center is not a petting zoo for the public or a wildlife refuge. Some critters that cannot be released back into the wild due to a variety of handicaps, and have the right temperaments, have been trained as education animals and are cared for by trained volunteers with permits to keep wildlife in captivity. The “ed animal” program, offered to schools and other groups for a small donation, gives the center an opportunity to teach our community about native wildlife, habitats and how we can best care for and support our environment.

From mid-April through August, the reception area welcomes visitors to learn about the center’s mission, collect literature, talk with wildlife experts and center volunteers, and drop off wildlife that needs attention. Off-limits to the public, in the rooms and pens beyond, more than 100 critters may be found in various stages of rehabilitation. During the off-season, volunteers with extensive training and permitted facilities are on call to care for wildlife with close scrutiny from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Protection Division, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

Licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, the center works closely with both agencies and other local animal control authorities. Under the umbrella of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, the center networks with other rehabilitation centers nationwide. provides information about the center, inspiring and heart-wrenching stories of wildlife rescues, photos, slide shows, links to information about how to care for specific species and other resources.

If you find a wild critter that needs attention, call the center hotline at (530) 365-WILD (365-9453).