The trials and tribulations of a wildlife centre

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To care for wild animals in Ontario requires quite stringent rules and policies that must be satisfied by the MNR prior to getting certification. Once a wildlife centre opens, there is a serious responsibility to ensure we do the right thing for the animals we care for. This includes providing the appropriate diets for all species, having trained people who are able to provide professional care and having proper facilities in terms of materials, space, ventilation, temperature, etc.

Looking after wildlife is not easy nor is it inexpensive and to top it all off, there is no funding.

Wild At Heart is able to provide the excellent services it does only because we do sometimes receive donations and we have passionate people who care about animals who are willing to donate their time. Having the right menu ingredients for different species is expensive (the food we require for one summer is thousands of dollars). We have various buildings that were often constructed with donated materials and built by volunteers… we pay taxes, utilities just like everyone else.

I have been a veterinarian for over 38 years and I have treated wildlife for 37 of those years. I am a volunteer and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars helping wildlife. Why would I and so many other volunteers do this? Because we care about animals and we care about the environment. Animals are a critical part of ecosystems and healthy ecosystems are a critical necessity to the health of the world and the people in it. Besides, as part of a moral society, we owe a service to the animals we have often hurt or injured because of roads, construction, farms and global warming. Animals are sentient beings. They have feelings and are capable of feeling pain and suffering. We need to do what we can to help.

I have seen a lot of great comments and Thank You’s on our Facebook and when we give presentations to schools and others. But I have also seen a couple of negative comments having to do with an animal dying in our care or that we are full and cannot take more young raccoons or birds and that we sometimes have to humanely euthanize animals.

As far as I know there is not a wildlife centre,, veterinary hospital or human hospital that does not experience death. In the case of wild animals, we often do not have the diagnostics that other hospitals have in order to get blood results, x rays, ECG, MRI, etc. Wildlife centres cannot afford this equipment. Although with experience, we can get pretty good with picking up on medical issues and proper treatments. I have taken the time to get educated in various areas that are important to wildlife: courses for turtles, raptors and specialized techniques. Treating wild animals is not just like treating domestic animals and requires special efforts and training even after veterinary school. The other thing that often happens is that people can bring animals to us when they are sick or have been fed the wrong foods although they may not look sick at that moment. Baby wild animals can pass away very quickly often with very little in the way of symptoms. We cannot be successful in all cases. Just as the person who takes the time to bring in an animal, the people who volunteer are also very upset when we cannot save every animal. All we can do is give it our best effort , which often is enough.

Death is a common occurrence when you deal with injured, orphaned and sick wild animals but it is never easy for the people who devote countless hours in efforts to save every animal they can. Baby animals need to be fed, cleaned and stimulated to urinate and defecate every 2 – 4 hours. Now multiply this by 150 animals needing care at one time and you get an idea of the amount of time caretakers spend with every animal at Wild At Heart.

As a wildlife centre, we cannot save every animal and we cannot take in every animal that needs to be cared for.  As I mentioned, we have to supply appropriate housing and care for every animal we admit. For example, we have 46 raccoons and when they are 12 weeks of age, we will need over 1500 sq. ft. in outdoor housing. We have a bit less than that available for raccoons. We cannot take in any more raccoons otherwise we would be contravening the MNR requirements and we would not be able to provide what the raccoons need for a successful release. Just like every other wildlife centre that I know of in Ontario, we are all full and cannot take any more raccoons – we are also full now with respect to baby songbirds for the same reasons. We must now make the difficult decision of humanely euthanizing some animals at this time of year. This is not an easy decision but the other choice would be to let them die a slow death in the wild. Sometimes, there is no easy way to tell a person who shows up with an animal that we are not able to care for it. Often the person at the door also feels very bad about telling this to a person and may not do it as well as an experienced person. We do not have a designated person to do this although if people phone in first, I always try and call them to alert them. After I talk to the people involved, they generally understand that we can only do our best.

I would like to conclude by letting everyone know that we always welcome volunteers who would like to help in this fantastic voyage. By getting this first hand experience, it will go a long way to develop understanding of what we do and why we do it.


Dr. Rod Jouppi


Wild At Heart