Sanibel Rehab

by Cindy-jo Dietz

I KNOW I AM NOT ALONE when I say I have witnessed people in their cars, not paying attention, maybe even speeding down the road, when they hit an animal. In fact, I’m sure I’m also not alone in saying that I, myself, have hit an animal once or twice with my own vehicle. Unfortunately, these things happen. I still remember every time and shudder. Imagine what it must feel like to be the one injured by a car and laying on the side of the road in pain.

In the past, before the age of Google, applications and WiFi, it was pretty much impossible to find out who to call if you had injured an animal and it was still alive. I remember a time, years ago, when I found an injured shore bird. I stopped police asking for help, I asked strangers walking down the street, I called friends. It took several hours before I found out the correct number, got a hold of a live person and finally witnessed wildlife rescue arrive. When the rescue worker observed my find, he told me that a bird that does not fight when people get close is often too weak to survive the night.

Thank God those dark days are over. We now have smart phones and all sorts of information literally seconds away, no matter where we are. So, that being said, there is no longer any excuse not to help ailing wildlife. If you see an injured animal, stop to help. Rescue services are but a phone call away – rescue services like CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife), a non-profit organization out of Sanibel. With an active volunteer staff of over 900, residents can bring injured animals directly to their location or deliver them to any of the nine drop-off locations found throughout Lee and northern Collier counties, typically veterinary or other wildlife facilities.

As a non-profit teaching hospital, CROW finds itself operating on an extremely lean full-time staff of around 15. Peg Albert, the Interim Executive Director, explains that the foundation of the organization is primarily their volunteers. “They are so gifted and give such a huge part of themselves in the work they do here. We couldn’t run the facility without them. I mean that sincerely. Logistically, it would be impossible. We get in over 200 different species of indigenous wildlife, migratory birds and various other animals, treating about 4000 patients a year.”

CROW is unique in many ways. They are the only federally licensed facility between Sarasota and the Florida Keys licensed to handle sea turtles. In fact, they are currently treating a Kemps Ridley for a wound. With few facilities like CROW handling injured wildlife in general, CROW accepts animals from all over the surrounding area, leading to high numbers in their clinic and a constant need to add volunteers.

During season, CROW sees a jump in the number of volunteers for obvious reasons. More people living in the area means more volunteers. But when ‘people’ season ends, ‘baby animal’ season is just beginning. Spring is bird season and currently squirrel season is about to take off in the autumn. Baby squirrels need to be fed several times a day so volunteers are needed to come in and feed babies in the mornings and afternoons, seven days a week.

Although everyone is welcome, CROW needs more full-time residents to volunteer. With training taking time and resources, having experienced volunteers readily available year round, especially during the summer months, is crucial to the animals‘ well being and healing.
Volunteer training does not take long to complete, taking protocol from different training booklets pertaining to all the different positions available, and there are many. Volunteer Emergency Rescue Transports, or VERT, are people who in the morning pick up injured animals and bring them back to the clinic. Other positions include Baby Feeder or Gopher Tortoise Grazer. Peg says, “It sounds silly, people say ‘Really, you want me to sit here while a tortoise grazes?’But Gopher Tortoises are endangered and it’s very important that as part of their rehabilitation we ensure they have complete mobility, can sustain themselves on their own and they are eating properly. There is a lot of charting, note taking and observations to do. Like anything, there’s a bit of a learning curve, she explains.

Everyday CROW receives their fair share of difficult cases and I’m told the worst is when wildlife has been injured by people. The majority of cases involve car accident victims, but many simply have found themselves caught in monofilament line or have ingested a fish hook. Some of them come in suffering

suffering from Brevetoxicosis, which is a poisoning effect animals get from exposure to Red Tide. Peg says that they see just about everything at the clinic. I asked her what CROW suggests you do in case you find an injured animal in the middle of the night. She explains that some people are very comfortable taking an injured animal home and keeping it overnight, but not everyone is like that. For people who are not, they can bring animals to any one of the drop-off locations throughout Southwest Florida. Leave the injured aninal in a box, with a towel on the bottom so it can be comfortable and warm. Do not feed it. Do not give it water. Close the top of the box and leave it on the doorstep of the drop off clinic or at CROW on Sanibel.

So what happens when an injured animal can not be released back into the wild? Any number of things, Peg says. “If an animal has been injured to a point where it can not survive on its own, in its natural habitat, it’s suffering and we can’t do anything for it, we euthanize it. We believe it’s the more humane thing to do in cases where the end result would be the same. We don’t believe in prolonging suffering for an animal. Many times, we bring animals to different nature centers. We call around and ask if they have room. We have collaborative arrangements with other organizations throughout the state. We all try to work together.

A huge part of what CROW does, besides taking in injured animals and rehabilitating them, is educating the public. A few animals, unable to be released, are employed through CROW’s Animal Ambassadors program. So far they have an opossum, a kestrel and a pelican. There is also Trooper, the blind raccoon, and his handler, who gives talks about how he was injuried as one of the children’s programs. CROW also hosts several other guest speakers and specialists focusing on raptors, snowy clovers, osprey and many others.

Peg explains, “We do a lot of outreach to help the public understand why it’s important to be good environmental stewards. We teach people how to coexist with the animals, and live animals of course, are always a big draw. Everyone wants to see them.”

CROW’s educational goals extend beyond the public. As a teaching hospital, CROW hosts veterinary interns, externs and fellows who participate in the care of the animals. The students work in various roles, treating and rehabilitating animals as part of their education. They offer presentations on Thursdays, talking about clinical rounds and specific cases of particular interest, explaining the treatments that their patients have undergone, using slides and pictures.

Everyone can make a huge difference in whether or not CROW receives additional patients or not. Small choices can make a big difference including not littering when you visit the beach, picking up if someone else has littered and proper disposal of fishing line and hooks. Animals don’t know the difference between litter and food and may ingest something that might not only harm them, but could possibly kill them.

Peg implores, “All we’re asking people to do is please be respectful to the animals also calling this area home. Understand that a bird who becomes entangled in monofilament line can hang itself very easily. If you’re on the beach and you see someone has littered please pick up the plastic wrapper or bag that was discarded and throw it away. It sounds very simple, but it’s critical.”

As a concerned resident you should not believe the myths about wildlife – educate yourself. “A myth I hear frequently, especially from people who have grown up here, is not to touch a baby bird. If you touch it, momma won’t come back. It’s not true,” says Peg. “Momma bird will very much come back. So what we say is, ‘if you care, leave it there.’ If in the spring you are going by a nest and you see babies, don’t get upset because you don’t see parents. Animals, particularly birds and some mammals, spend a large portion of the day foraging for food. They leave the babies in a place that they deem safe and come back to feed them. If you see babies in a nest, chances are they’re fine. Please don’t abduct them. Leave them where they are.” She continues, “On the other hand, if you see a young baby struggling, or has fallen out of its nest, call us. We are always happy to take phone calls and advise people on what to do.”

As part of their fundraising efforts CROW hosts several events every year, where donations, as always, are appreciated. CROW is a main sponsor, along with the Lee County Parks & Recreation Department, of The Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival, November 1-3. At the event, CROW will be releasing cormorants and some of their various other animals into the wild. Another fundraising event, November 10, is CROW’s Taste of the Islands, held at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel. That event features live music and samples of menu items from many local restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva. In December CROW hosts their annual Holly Ball, a dinner, dance and auction held at The Sanctuary Golf Club on Sanibel. where there will be silent auctions.

The team at CROW is very proud to have recently won first place for the Gulf Guardian Award, in the non-profit category. The award is given for excellence in environmental stewardship for organizations and businesses who help maintain and preserve the well being of the Gulf of Mexico. Peg explains, “It’s all part of the role we play in wildlife conservation medicine. It’s the one world one medicine concept. There are many diseases that animals and insects carry that are dangerous to us too. So it behooves us to care for the environment. By caring for the environment we care for ourselves. We talk a lot about the inter-relatedness and the relationship among animals, people and the environment, because it is truly one ecosystem.”

A big change this year is the introduction of a new permanent director, Steve Calabro. “We are so lucky to have him,” says Peg. “Steve is the former president of Southwest College. In addition to the many characteristics and skill sets you look for – leadership, financial capability, financial stewardship, personnel and employee development and management – he brings a compassion for wildlife and a belief and passion for our mission. He loves the students and he’ll be able to move our student program forward. “ She continues, “We want to be known throughout the country as a facility where students want to be trained. We’re proud of what we do here.”

If you are unable to come in and volunteer, CROW is always accepting donations. “The only sources of revenue we get are from our members and donors,” she explains. “It’s from the kindness of people who care about wildlife, conservation and medicine.”

If you are interested in helping CROW, either with donations or as a volunteer, call 472-3644 or stop by the facility at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Rd. on Sanibel Island.

September-October 2013

CROW sees more than
200 different indigenous
species and migratory
birds, treating approximately
4000 animals annually.
In addition to rehabilitation
services for injured and
ill wildlife, CROW also
offers educational exhibits,
lectures and programs.

Clinic for the Rehabilitation
of Wildlife
3883 Sanibel Captiva Rd.
Nov-May Tue-Sat 10am-4pm
Jun-Oct Mon-Fri 10am-4pm