WING IT

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Lauren Cavagnolo

One afternoon, over the course of a couple of hours, four WING IT volunteers fielded multiple calls from the public with questions about wildlife, orchestrated pickups of various animals from different veterinary hospitals, fed bunnies, birds, a raccoon and a flying squirrel and discussed the best way to tell whether or not a mother bunny had returned to the nest to feed her babies.

It was a chaotic and thrilling two hours, to say the least.

“It’s real typical for what we do and the time of year. I’ve already been on the phone a couple of hours today,” said Kim Doner, one of WING IT’s organizers. “We attempted to fix a duck problem that we still need to resolve. I’ve talked to vets today; I’ve talked to three other rehabbers today… and been emailing and everything else.”

WING IT, which stands for Wildlife In Need Group In Tulsa, has been together officially for about a year. However, many of the volunteers have been rehabbing and caring for wildlife much longer than that.

The group has since been taken on as a nonprofit extension of the Tulsa Audubon Society and is now working on attracting dedicated volunteers, educating the public about wildlife and raising donations.

At the time we spoke, there were roughly 140 animals in the care of about 10 active volunteers. Of course, the number of wildlife changes daily based on intake and release. The homes of the volunteers have become a revolving door of orphaned and injured wildlife, mostly birds and small mammals.

While there are larger wildlife rehab facilities in Oklahoma that receive funding and grants, they tend to be overwhelmed, Doner said. In addition, people are not always willing to make the drive two or three hours to get animals to the facilities.

And there are advantages to having people in town dedicated to caring for Tulsa’s injured and needy wildlife.

“We are able to spend more quality time with an animal,” said volunteer Kathy Locker. “I can pick up on the slightest changes in an animal’s health, which may take a center longer because of the multiple staff members and volunteers who handle them.

“Also, one ‘mom’ is a lot less stressful to a baby. We have the luxury of evaluating each animal separately and holding them back if need be instead of keeping everyone on the same schedule.”

Dr. Welch, DVM at Forest Trails Animal Hospital, agrees that having a group in town like WING IT is vital.

“The problem is when [people] bring [animals] here, I can put them back together and things like that, but if you don’t have someone to take them, then I’m dead in the water,” Welch said.

And that is where WING IT steps in, taking in wildlife that have been stabilized but are not yet ready for release.

Forest Trails is one of three animal hospitals in the area that works with WING IT. Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists and South Memorial Animal Hospital also accept injured wildlife from the public and coordinate with the group.

“I can’t do what I do unless they do what they do,” Welch said. “But the goal is for them to be the primary and me be the helper instead of me being the primary and them being the helper.”

Welch said during baby season, his staff can spend up to two hours a day answering calls about wildlife.

“That’s probably the reason that more vets don’t do this sort of thing,” he said. “And this is all free. Not only is it free, but we now have a responsibility to do something with [the animals]. If it weren’t for the volunteers I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

VOLUNTEERING WITH WING IT

“We will warn you, rehabbing wildlife is a contagious situation,” Doner said. “You drag everyone in your life into it.”

And she’s right: several of her neighbors are now involved in wildlife rehab, one even has an 8x10x12 pen for rehabbing raccoons.

Though having an outdoor pen for wildlife is not necessary.

“People often believe they need a lot of room at home or that the commitment is to create your own zoo. These are misconceptions.”

Most of the baby animals taken in by the group need a small box or cage for the duration of their care. Depending on the animal, it can be released in as little as a few days or stay as long as a few weeks.

“We are super appreciative of those who are serious about learning and applying skills to truly help the wild babies,” Doner said. “For people who are interested, just contact us. Some people will try it and say oh, this isn’t what we had in mind; this is much harder and more demanding. If a volunteer would call and say I can drive, I would be sending them to two different vets right now and having them run a loop.”

When it comes to training volunteers, oftentimes the group has to ‘wing it.’ Because they never know what the day will bring, the group can’t plan to train volunteers on a certain species until they have that animal in their care.

“What happens is you might end up with 12 of one animal that afternoon, and you’re trying to feed it, heat it, stabilize it, medicate it and show someone else who is scared and nervous and unsure of proper procedure,” Doner said. “It’s not for the faint of heart or people who want an easy thing.”

The group also advises new volunteers to get a state license through the Tulsa County Game Warden.

“It’s not hard or complex, just necessary,” Doner said.

And like any nonprofit, if someone does not have the time to volunteer, donations are always appreciated.

“The people who do this are from all walks of life, and some of them are pretty strapped but very willing to spend a ton of time with the animals,” Doner said. “So donations are wonderful to ensure everyone wins.”

MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS OF WILDLIFE REHAB

One big issue the group faces is public perception that baby wildlife are cute and can be turned into pets. Though people are acting with the best of intentions, it usually does not end well.

“People think ‘Oh this is cute. It will be a pet of mine,’ or ‘I can rehab it.’ And then when the animal starts failing, they realize ‘Oh no, I don’t want to watch it die, here take it,’” Locker said. “And then we have to deal with something that’s dying.”

Much of the public also assumes that the volunteers get paid for their work. Though they are now a nonprofit and are working on fundraising, the group currently receives no funding or grants. All of the money for supplies and food comes from the volunteers’ own pockets.

“To be given a hatchling owl and have it raised up to release is about $300 in mice. And it comes out of the rehabber’s pocket. Which is why we got started with WING IT as a nonprofit, so that people can contribute if they would like,” Doner said. “It’s always a considerate thing to do when you are asking someone to take an animal for you.”

One scenario that has played itself out repeatedly is the rescue of baby animals that don’t really need to be rescued, much to the frustration of the group and area veterinarians.

“A lot of these babies that come in here don’t need rescue,” Welch said. “They are baby bunnies, and baby bunnies aren’t going to outrun you, they are just going to sit there. Leave them, they’ll hop away later on or mom will come take care of them.”

And when it comes to baby birds, it is OK to put them back in the nest, Doner said.

“You can touch them; you can touch mammals, and you can touch birds,” Doner said. “It’s not the scent; it’s the drive of the mother, and she will overcome any fears to feed and come back and take care of her babies.”

If you find an animal and have any question about its needs, call WING IT and ask before taking the animal to a veterinarian. The group has a shared cell phone, and a volunteer is always on call to answer questions.

One Response to “WING IT”

  1. cathy says:

    I think it’s great what they do but, as someone who has attempted several times to get into training, I can tell you nothing ever seems to come of the promises to be in touch. they must not need volunteers too badly.

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