The Bear is a committed foodie and a shameless do-gooder. When not filling his paw with honey he’s extending it to help others. Today he’s applauding the work Andrea White of Tender Heart Wildlife Rehabilitation.
March kicks off the busy season for Andrea. Nesting baby squirrels might be displaced when someone cuts down a tree that doubled as their home. Rabbits, chipmunks, opossums and armadillos might be separated from their mothers when gardens and foundations are dug, or brush piles and hollowed logs removed. April through July brings even more activity when farmers brush hog pastures or cut hay.
Andrea is the owner/operator of Tender Heart Wildlife Rehabilitation and one of about 50 non-bird rehabilitators licensed to offer this service in Arkansas. Her rehab center is a building behind her Berryville home, and she takes in around 300 animals annually, the majority of them orphans. Their mothers might have fallen prey to wild or domestic animals, killed by cars and farm equipment, or they were separated when their nests were inadvertently destroyed.
It’s a strictly volunteer service, albeit one that requires a license from the Game and Fish Commission, a two-year apprenticeship, annual reports on your activities, and lots of time and money on your part. And you should have some fund-raising skills, as there is no compensation from the state. All the food, medicine, funds to build and maintain a shelter and utility costs are on you.
“I tell people that if you want to be wildlife rehabilitator, be born rich or have a lot of rich friends who will help you out,” Andrea said. “It’s expensive and time-consuming.”
So why do it? For Andrea, who for 15 years worked as an emergency room LPN, it’s a calling and obligation from a higher power. “It’s a gift from God. God gave me the ability to do this and I’m just using what he gave me. And I do it because I love the critters and nobody else will help them.”
Andrea specializes in rabbits and opossums, but her experiences and training relate to most all non-bird wildlife (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates rehabilitation of birds). Baby opossums are the most time-consuming due to their specialized diet and the fact they don’t have a suck reflex, so feeding is more of a challenge. Cost per animal varies, with rabbits taking about $5 to rehabilitate, squirrels and opossums around $30, and raccoons around $60. Baby rabbits are usually in her care for four to six weeks, squirrels and opossums for three to six months.
These aren’t pets or pets to be, something a wildlife rehabilitator has to always keep in mind. Andrea never talks to the animals or makes eye contact, and she never lets volunteers handle feeding as she doesn’t want the animals to become habituated to humans.
“If I’m investing five months in caring for an animal, I want that animal to have the best opportunity of surviving in the wild.”
Getting too close to wildlife is the biggest problem for would-be rehabilitators who are serving their two-year apprenticeships, according to Andrea. “You can’t turn them into pets. That’s the biggest issue I’ve had with apprentices. I’ve had to let them go because when I visit, they’re petting the squirrels. You have to keep them wild. You want a pet? Go get a dog or a goldfish.”
Once rehabilitated, wildlife are released to public lands or private properties with the owners’ permission. Being neither cute nor cuddly, one would think it might be hard to relocate opossums to private lands, but that’s not case, according to Andrea. Opossums are voracious eaters of ticks, so landowners welcome them. And there’s no truth to rumor that they carry rabies; an opossum’s body temperature is too cool to support the disease.
Want to Help? Here’s How.
Tender Heart is a 501(c)(3) registered charity, so all donations are tax-deductible. Most of her animals come from individuals, not wildlife officers, and many people make donations when Andrea makes a pick up. Andrea’s income comes from working one day a week as a histotechnician at Hull Dermatology in Rogers, and she does wood burnings and sells them at craft shows.
“I don’t get paid for my work at Tender Heart and I don’t want to get paid. I have no interest in the money; I do this for the animals. But it would help if organizations or philanthropists would pledge donations on an on-going basis,” she said.
Interested in Wildlife Rehabilitation? Check This Out.
Download a PDF titled: Fact Sheet: How do I Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator.
Anyone thinking of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator should spend time considering the following:
• Do you have adequate space separate from people and pets in which to house and care for wildlife?
• Do you have the money needed to buy food and supplies to care for wild animals?
• Are you prepared to see and care for animals with serious injuries or disease? Are you prepared to euthanize animals for which treatment cannot be effective?
• Can you keep from getting emotionally attached to animals in your care so that you will be able to release them when they’re ready?
• Do you have the time to care for wild animals? It may require 1 or 2 hours or more each and every day in order to provide adequate care.
• Is it legal in your town? Some towns have rules prohibiting the possession of any wildlife.
• If you currently possess a pet wild animal taken from the wild in Arkansas you cannot become a wildlife rehabilitator.