Spring means many things at the Schuylkill Center – woodchucks and turtles come out of hibernation, flowers burst from the forest floor, buds pop open on our millions of trees, birds return to Roxborough from their winter homes, toads begin crossing Port Royal Avenue (any day now, by the way) on rainy nights to mate in the reservoir.
And baby animals begin pouring into our Wildlife Clinic. The only clinic in Philadelphia and one of a very small few in the entire region, the clinic is steeling itself for the soon-coming flood of orphaned babies, usually led by newborn squirrels, but soon followed by baby birds of all kinds, baby cottontails, and more.
The Wildlife Clinic’s staff of three can only perform their extraordinary lifesaving work through the help of an army of volunteers that assist our intrepid trio in feeding, housing, and cleaning the thousands of animals that visit the clinic annually.
And you can join the clinic team.
Two Saturdays from now, on March 21 at 2:30 p.m., clinic staff offer an information session for people interested in volunteering, sharing what the expectations are, how the shifts are managed, what kinds of care the animals need, what kinds of help you might offer. The session is at the Schuylkill Center’s visitor center off Hagy’s Mill Road, not the clinic’s building on Port Royal Avenue, which has just enough room for the animals it holds.
“There is a ton to learn here,” says Chris Strub, the site’s assistant director and coordinator of the volunteer program. “Whether you just want to come and help keep the place clean and feed the animals, or if you’d like to learn some advanced information about rehabilitation and get some animal care experience, our program is designed to take you where you want to go. We want to teach all the information we have so our volunteers and their friends and family can be better stewards of wildlife.”
Rebecca Michelin, the clinic’s director, reminds us that “all interested people are required to attend an information session to learn more about what is involved and the volunteer opportunities we have available at the clinic-- dates are on our website, www.schuylkillcenter.org, for upcoming info sessions. They then complete online training classes and a clinic orientation to become familiar with the basics of clinic care, building skills over time.
“Volunteers,” she continued, “play an essential role in providing high quality, consistent care to the hundreds of patients we receive each year. Lots of people want to work with animals, and that's great-- we are always happy to have more hands to help with the high workload. It is important for anyone who is considering volunteering at the wildlife clinic to understand that direct, hands-on contact with animals is very limited because we want the patients to learn and maintain wild behaviors, and excessive contact with humans can seriously delay their normal development.”
When I visit the clinic to volunteer, my specialty is laundry, as these animals make a mess of towels and sheets of all shapes and sizes; I’m also a great dishwasher. I’ve not yet fed baby animals-- I’m just not yet trained.
“It takes a great deal of training and practice to become competent at caring for wildlife,” continues Rebececa, a veteran with more than a decade of rehabilitation experience. “But to be a volunteer, no previous experience is required-- with dedication and patience, anyone who wants to can learn to care for wild animals in rehabilitation.”
Jo Ann Desper, a Roxborough resident, has been actively volunteering at the clinic for more than a year.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years.” And she’s been trained. “I’ve learned how to feed baby birds, squirrels, all kinds of creatures.” She’s even had the pleasure of releasing many animals back into the wild, including a trio of squirrels she placed back into the wild near that hermit's cave in Wissahickon.
“Jo Ann is a much appreciated and essential part of our volunteer team,” said Rebececa. “She not only takes special care with the animals, she also gives her time to orient new volunteers and train them on daily tasks. It's wonderful having such a compassionate person working with us to achieve our mission.”
Volunteering at the clinic “is hard work but very rewarding. It’s a way to help heal the earth – most of the animals we see are there because of some interaction with humans,” like birds currently at the clinic there because they were migrating south and struck glazed windows, unable to see the glass. “We owe it to them to get them back where they belong,” she offered.
Consider joining the clinic volunteer crew by attending the information session on Saturday, March 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the Schuylkill Center. A bunch of baby animals will soon thank you.