Many of the rescuers who bring injured or orphaned animals to WildCare ask to see what goes on behind the front desk. For our patients’ safety and welfare, our license from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife does not permit visitors into the Wildlife Hospital.
But trained volunteers work behind the scenes and hands-on with our wildlife patients every time they come in for their four-hour shifts!
Training starts with an orientation that explains volunteers’ work, physical requirements and commitment. After the orientation, volunteers who are ready to commit sign up for a series of four training classes. These classes (a full 10 hours of instruction!) cover all the basics they will need to know to safely provide the support our medical staff needs to keep our wild patients clean, comfortable and fed. With over 3,500 patients from over 200 different species to accommodate, training is essential!
Starting a shift
Once a volunteer has completed the training series, the real fun begins! New volunteers start their hospital shifts at the end of March, just in time for WildCare’s “Baby Season.” We admit around 80% of our patients in the months between March and October, and most of those patients are orphaned babies needing care. Each volunteer commits to one four-hour volunteer shift per week from the beginning of the Training Series to through November. Of course many volunteers continue volunteering throughout the winter, but the nine-month commitment is the minimum we require.
WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital is informally divided into two sections, the Birdroom and the Clinic. The Birdroom is where all the songbirds are housed, and during the summer it can be incredibly busy. Each tiny orphaned baby songbird needs to be fed every 30 – 45 minutes from dawn to dusk, and our volunteers do most of that feeding.
A Birdroom shift is always a whirlwind of tiny mouths cheeping and peeping to be fed, and a four-hour shift can really fly by (pun intended.) Birdroom volunteers concentrate on feeding the songbirds because they need to be fed so frequently, but during their shifts the volunteers are also responsible for cleaning the birds’ cages, washing and sanitizing dishes, making songbird mash (a nutritious combination of ground-up insects, vitamins and other ingredients) and many other tasks, all necessary for the healthy development of these tiny babies.
All the wildlife patients other than the songbirds are admitted to the Clinic. These patients include the mammals, the water birds (like pelicans, cormorants and egrets), the raptors (hawks and owls), and the reptiles and amphibians.
Although many of our patients need medical care to heal injuries and resolve illnesses, often the best treatment for a wild patient is good old-fashioned care and feeding. Clinic volunteers make sure that all the patients have clean cages and bedding, fresh water and an appropriate diet. That sounds simple, but for such a wide array of species, it can be a real challenge!
Clinic volunteers do a lot of dishes, and sanitize them to make sure diseases don’t spread. The animals’ laundry is handled the same way. Cage-cleaning, mopping and sweeping are also part of the job. Since many of our patients are carnivores, food preparation in the wildlife kitchen can be a novel experience — for instance, an opportunistic omnivore like an opossum’s dinner can include fish, a frozen mouse, some vegetables and a bit of fruit, all mixed together with fruit-flavored yogurt. Yummy!
Learning to handle the patients, prepare medications, bottle-feed wild babies, and help the medical staff is also included in a shift.
And of course every volunteer is encouraged to participate in releasing our wildlife patients when they’re ready to go. Watching a now-healthy patient run or fly back to its wild home is the best part of volunteering at WildCare!
Nature Guides and special projects
Our wonderful Terwilliger Nature Guide program is another incredibly fulfilling volunteer opportunity at WildCare. Orientations for Nature Guides are held in late August, and training starts in early September. Trained Nature Guides share their love of nature (and all the wonderful natural history they’ll learn in extensive training classes) with eager school children on gentle nature hikes. Guides commit to two three-hour weekday hikes per month during the school year.
Of course a a hospital shift or the Nature Guide program may be too much of a commitment for some schedules— you must complete training to participate in either of these programs. But we also need volunteers to help us with data entry, events and other projects. Contact Kelle Kacmarcik, our Director of Volunteer Services for more information at 415-453-1000 x21 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions? Please contact Kelle Kacmarcik at 415-453-1000 x21 or email@example.com.