March 08, 2017IMLAY CITY — It's tough. It's smelly. It's costly. It's challenging. But it's also rewarding in ways that can't easily be explained.
Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator isn't for wimps. It takes dedication and commitment, and depending on the species, quite a bit of time.
It's not for amateurs, either. Learning the ins and outs of taking an ailing wild animal and making it well enough to be released into the wild is both a requirement and a precursor to success.
These things and more were discussed at last Wednesday's meeting of the Imlay Conversation Salon, where seasoned wildlife rehabilitator Holly Hadac was the featured speaker.
With about 25 people in attendance, Hadac, licensed by the Michgan Department of Natural Resources, shared and bared all in her 'Wildlife Rehabilitation—the good, the bad and the ugly' talk at the Ruth Hughes Library.
Hadac stressed the importance of going through the proper channels to help keep wild animals wild.
"Wild animals are not pets," Hadac told the crowd. "They need to identify with their own species, not humans."
Hadac outlined the requirements to become a licensed rehabilitator. The list is a long one, which may be why there's currently a shortage in the state.
Requirements include a mandatory basic skills class, inspections of facilities, ongoing education every five years, filing an annual report, five year license renewal and strict adherence to rules and regulations outlined by the DNR.
Licensed wildlife rehabilitator Holly Hadac expresses dismay at photo of domesticated bird cuddling baby rabbit. While these 'cute' photos may be popular on the internet, Hadac says they're dangerous to wildlife, which have little chance of surviving in the wild or as 'pets.' photo by Catherine Minolli.
While good intentions are helpful, Hadac says going through the proper channels is necessary if the goal is to rehabilitate wildlife.
"Unlicensed rehabilitators are actually dangerous to wildlife," she said. "They have a bad attitude about the DNR, but they also don't have the proper training or connections with a veterinarian. They're not subject to inspections, and they can do more harm than good."
Making the choice to get involved in wildlife rehabilitation is a big one, she added.
She said potential rehabilitators should consider their working limits—what they would do in case of an emergency and they had to leave the animal, vacation time and finding volunteer help.
The right kind of space and enclosure depending on the species is also a consideration, as is limiting human and domesticated animal contact with the injured wildlife. Release sites must also be established. Proper cleanup and disinfection of the rehabilitation enclosures is also required.
A laundry list of supplies is also necessary for successful rehabilitation. Hadac keeps antibiotics, vitamins, anti-inflammatories, special formulas, pedialyte, IV bags, gloves, tubes, syringes and more on hand. She also uses stacks of newspapers and old sheets and towels.
"You have to think in terms of what works best for your family," she said.
"You have to consider finances, allergies, space, phone call limits, and that you'll be tied up during the busy season—which is March through August."
She also stresses that rehabilitators are responsible for knowing the laws and guidelines, and for meeting the minimum standards.
Hadac has rehabilitated beavers, squirrels, raccoons, opossom, fawns, wolves, coyotes, muskrats, rabbits, and more. She said muskrats were more challenging than coyotes, as their aggressive nature makes rehabilitation challenging.
These days her main focus is on large mammals, like fawns and coyotes, and she's also involved in the SEMCRP (Southeastern Michigan Coyote Research Project).
Last year Hadac spent $4,378 in rehabilitation costs logging some 2,900 miles in the process, which she said is par for the course.
Despite the cost and commitment, Hadac said she's committed to rehabilitating, respecting and understanding wildlife and to passing all that and more along to others.
She was inspired by an article that appeared in the now defunct Rochester Observer & Eccentric, which appeared on the front page some 20 years ago.
"There was a lady holding a baby possum and a story about wildlife rehabilitation," Hadac said. "I kept that article and started taking injured animals to her.
"In 2007 or '08, there I was on the front page of the Oakland Press, holding a baby possum."
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.