Wildlife Rescue: Volunteers are lifeblood for Rescue and Rehabilitation Centres

Wildlife is such an important part of our gardening experience that we need to do everything we can to not only provide them with the basic necessities of food, water and good habitat to raise their young, there are times we also need to protect them and even save them from dangerous situations that threaten their lives. While we, as Woodland/Wildlife gardeners, can provide assistance in some ways, we often need professionals to provide care for the most sick and injured we come across in our gardens.

This article is part of a series on Wildlife Rescuers/Rehabilitators and the important part they play in saving our woodland friends, whether these little friends are an injured bird, a sick fox, fawn, raccoon, snake, turtle, squirrel, even a mouse.

If you require the assistance of a wildlife expert, please take a moment to check out the resources provided throughout the article, but especially at the end of this article to get help from a caring wildlife rescuer/rehabilitator. And, if possible, consider donating to your local wildlife center.

It’s important to note that Humane Societies and Animal Control locations are not geared for wildlife and will likely put the animals down if you take them there or call them for assistance. While Humane Societies may provide homeowners with a list of rehabilitators (as seen by the links at the end of this article) they are not the first stop in your road to rescue wildlife in need.

Jennifer Howard, a wildlife rescue and rehab volunteer, works with an injured hawk at the Procyon Wildlife Center in Beeton Ontario.

New beginnings and broken hearts: A wildlife rescuer’s story

All photos courtesy Jennifer Howard

It all began seven years ago with a young raccoon curled up on her neighbour’s front lawn.

The little raccoon’s death was the first time her heart would be left broken, but as a dedicated, volunteer wildlife rescuer and rehabilitator, it certainly wasn’t going to be her last.

“A raccoon curled up in the middle of the day, unafraid, most likely has distemper,” explains Jennifer Howard. “It has a bad headache and doesn’t know what to do. It’s so sad.”

At that time, Howard spent most of her time capturing local wildlife on film as a wildlife photographer, but the encounter with the sick raccoon and the volunteers at Procyon Wildlife Centre in Beeton, north of Toronto, changed her life’s direction and set her on a road leading to some of her most memorable experiences, rewards and satisfaction as a volunteer wildlife rescuer and rehabilitator.

This same dedication and commitment to helping local wildlife is what drives the estimated countless thousands of volunteer wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and around the world.

Although paid positions in the United States average about $50,000 annually and can go up to $80,000+, there are countless volunteers who work for little to no pay just for the joy of helping wildlife.

“Your releases make everything worthwhile. That special day they go home, run free. Some back home after sickness or injury and those little orphans seeing the world for the first time. Exploring, sniffing around, romping with each other in excitement. That is what we wait for and work so hard for. That makes it all worthwhile.”

— Jennifer Howard

Wildlife Centres count on volunteers and donations

In Ontario, for example, the government does not fund wildlife centres and most are heavily dependent on volunteers. Ontario Wildlife Rescue, an umbrella group for the province’s approximately 50 wildlife centres, urges everyone who can donate time or funds to help the wildlife centres to step forward.

“If you are able to donate even a few hours a week, it can make a big difference. There are a lot of ways you can help out at a wildlife centre. Do you have a skill or a trade? Do you have a car? Can you help with administration, animal care, maintenance or fund raising? There are lots of jobs necessary to keep a wildlife centre running, so volunteer,” the website urges readers. Just some of the jobs listed include: In-centre volunteers, drivers, public relations, foster parents, building and maintenance.

The Ontario groups are just an example of what similar centres around the world face in their quest to help wildlife.

What is the point of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation?

Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation plays a critically important part in preserving and monitoring the health of our local wildlife and are often the ones on the front lines that are able to provide the initial early warning signals that a local animal species is at risk from disease such as mange or rabies. Obviously, they also provide care for injured animals that are able to be eventually re-released to live their lives in the wild.

Young volunteers are on the rise

The good news is that young people have recognized the important work these groups do and are offering to help the movement.

In the U.K. alone, there are an estimated 4,800 people volunteering with wildlife rehabilitation and a new base of younger volunteers has emerged with 66% of volunteers under 35, and 34% under 25-years-old.

Jennifer assists with Scout, a rescued fox, at the wildlife center.

“But even the ones you lose you still helped. Even though you have bad days, you just have to enter into one animal’s room, you look at it, it looks at you. Right there, you know you need to keep going, to save the lives you can, which way outweigh the numbers you can’t. It changes your life forever. And animals are the best therapy a human can ever have.”

— Jennifer Howard

Respect: Key to helping wildlife

Rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife has more than its share of heartbreak. In fact, heartbreak can be a weekly even a daily experience, but it’s always tempered by the knowledge that, when the time comes to put the animal down, the sick or injured little life the rehabilitator rescued was not alone, left to die in freezing temperatures or in severe pain. It doesn’t matter if it was a deer fawn, a young fox, raccoon, bird or even a mouse – all wildlife get treated with the utmost of respect.

Jennifer will never forget the little raccoon that lost its life, but in turn, set her on a path to become a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator.

“This little raccoon was so young it just broke my heart. One of the many,” she admits.

The wildlife centre where Jennifer works is similar to the thousands of centres spread across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries around the world.

Toronto Wildlife Centre handles up to 30,000 calls a year

Some are large, like the Toronto Wildlife Centre whose skilled wildlife rehabilitation staff provide supportive care to thousands of animals a year representing more than 270 different species, including many listed as species-at-risk.

The Toronto Centre states that it is the busiest Wildlife Hotline service of its kind in Canada and handles approximately 30,000 calls per year. The Toronto Centre currently includes three expert rescue staff and even have two rescue vehicles. “Providing medical care for wildlife requires skill and innovation: repairing a crushed turtle shell, diagnosing lead poisoning in a loon and stitching a fox’s wounds is just a day in the life of Toronto Wildlife Centre’s expert veterinary team.”

Hope For Wildlife raised the awareness of wildlife rescue and rehabilitators

Hope for Wildlife, a rehabilitation centre in Seaforth, Nova Scotia Canada since 1997, has gained a huge following from its successful television show that went a long way to raise the awareness of the work wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators face every day. The documentary series has aired in more than 100 countries. Even with a successful television show, however, Hope for Wildlife has to work hard to keep up with its wildlife needs. At last count, Hope For Wildlife takes in more that 4,500 wild animals into their care each year.

“Since 1997, we have rescued, rehabilitated, and released over 50,000 injured and orphaned wild animals representing over 250 species,” their website states.

Take a few minutes to check out Hope For Wildlife’s story.

In the United States, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association acts as an umbrella group and a voice for the profession providing a job board for wildlife rehabilitators, as well as events such as seminars, workshops and symposiums. Their site also includes a helpful link to wildlife rehabilitators across the United States.

Its stated purposes are:

  • To foster continued improvement of the profession of wildlife rehabilitation through the development of high standards of ethics and conduct

  • To encourage networking and to disseminate knowledge

  • To engender cooperation among public and private agencies and individuals in support of our mission

  • To foster respect for wildlife and natural ecosystems

While the Toronto Wildlife Centre and other major metropolis centres benefit from a larger donor base, most are tiny organizations relying on a handful of volunteers to get them through from one week to another on donations from the public and, if they are lucky, some local businesses.

Jennifer Howard with a rescued fox prior to taking it back to the wildlife center for care.

Jennifer Howard with a rescued fox prior to taking it back to the wildlife center for care.

“At Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre, we take everything in from tiny baby mice to white tail deer fawns,” Jennifer explains. “As a rehabilitation centre you do everything in your power to save each and every life. But that is not always possible. But even the ones you lose you still helped. Even though you have bad days, you just have to enter into one animal’s room, you look at it, it looks back at you. Right there, you know you need to keep going – to save the lives you can – which far outweigh the numbers you can’t save. It changes your life forever. And animals are the best therapy a human can ever have.”

Jennifer says that at the wildlife centre where she works they “are all volunteers and it’s hard work,” she adds. As a phone volunteer, she and other volunteers work from home one, six-hour shift a week, “taking messages and admitting the animals after checking to make sure we can. Sometimes we are full. But we will always take emergencies.”

How do wildlife rescuers deal with animals dying?

“I had to teach myself that when an animal I rescued didn’t make it in spite of everything the rehabbers and or veterinarians did, I still saved that animal from any more suffering, from starving or freezing to death, from pain or worse,” Jennifer says.

“It takes some practice. I’ll tell you, when you lose an animal, to deal with it in these terms. But becoming part of a rehabilitation team you learn you must or it can literally eat you up. And trust me, some hit you way harder than others. And it’s tough. And we do shed tears. But you need to remember, they were not alone, they were warm and comfortable and pain free, and with loving caring people. That’s what gets you through your losses.”

According to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association based in Minnesota: “Wildlife rehabilitation is the treatment and temporary care of injured, diseased, and displaced indigenous animals, and the subsequent release of healthy animals to appropriate habitats in the wild. As such, wildlife rehabilitation is generally done to help an injured animal. However, through wildlife rehabilitation, individuals make an impact far beyond that one animal.”

Jennifer’s roots in wildlife rescue actually go back before the little raccoon on her neighbour’s lawn.

A group of foxes hanging out at a playground. The foxes are harmless and will likely disappear once humans come to use the park.

Parents play key role in teaching children respect for wildlife

In fact, Jennifer can trace her love of animals back to her parents and grandparents.

“I was destined to be who I am today even way back then. And I have my parents to thank,” she explains.

“The biggest thing we were taught was respect. Always respect that animal’s space, and keep them wild. I have helped save habitat for wildlife along with species at risk. Monitoring as a team member and working with species-at-risk through a family conservation club (Six Mile Lake Conservationists Club) my sister founded, run by my three sisters and my son.”

The club has since disbanded, but during its time it did some great work for wildlife, she adds.

Before her experience with the young raccoon on her neighbour’s lawn, Jennifer “dealt with a couple other wildlife rehabs… I became good friends with a rescuer … who helped me and taught me and became my mentor, I guess you could say. Working alongside him was amazing. He helped me get swans, geese, foxes, etc. and we still get the occasion to work together. I love it,” she adds.

Jennifer has even been able to use her photography skills as a volunteer.

“I did a bit of animal care at the beginning, but … we started doing photo shoot fundraisers about 5 years ago and it took off amazingly well,” she explains.

People loved getting their pet pictures taken with Santa, and the Easter Bunny and, the year before Covid hit, a fall photo theme.

“It was a lot of fun. We had turtles, snakes, miniature horses, hamsters, dogs and cats and even just families. Just an overwhelmingly amazing response. Then Covid hit us and that was it for fundraisers, until this Christmas” when they took the photo shoot outdoors.

“I still do a bit of animal care when needed, and I’m always learning. I assist with some animals and their treatment and care, and sit in on some vet checks and surgical procedures to photograph for ourselves and our viewers to give them updates,” she explains.

Jennifer, who is also an award winning author, also puts her skills to work writing an article every month for the wildlife centre’s online newsletter. Sometimes the articles are purely educational for readers and other times she writes about and provides update on the animals the Centre is caring for at that time.

Jennifer’s dedication to helping wildlife has earned her two education awards – one from Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority in 2011, and another from Ontario Nature in 2016.

jennifer Howard with her children's book It's a Turtle's Life.

Jennifer Howard with her children's book It's a Turtle's Life available at the Toronto Zoo.

She has also written a children’s book on Ontario’s native turtles called: It’s a Shell’s Life. The book was published by the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt a Pond program in 2019 and can be ordered from from the Toronto Zoo @ [email protected]

“The books are geared to children, but I have had adults getting back to me saying they love it and learned a lot from reading it,” she says. “Part of the proceeds go back into the Adopt a Pond program to help them continue on with the good work they do with our turtles. It’s a win, win,” she adds.

Whether rescuing wildlife from dangerous situations, working to rehabilitate them or using her extensive skills to raise funds for or the profile of the Procyon Wildlife and Education Center, there is nothing that gives her and other wildlife rescuers the joy and sense of accomplishment quite like releasing one of their patients back to the wild.

“Your releases make everything worthwhile, Jennifer says. “That special day they go home, run free. Some back home after sickness or injury and those little orphans seeing the world for the first time. Exploring, sniffing around, romping with each other in excitement. That is what we wait for and work so hard for. That makes it all worthwhile.”

In conclusion

It’s impossible to tackle the world of wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators in a single article — the work they do is so far reaching and inspirational.

Today, some of their stories are beginning to be told around the world. YouTube, for example, is full of short videos of incredible rescues that warm our hearts. Many involve dogs and cats and other pets, but others simply tell the story about a local hero wandering out onto the ice to save a stranded young moose or a deer that cannot find its way back to shore across the treacherous ice.

While YouTube has brought these rescues to the masses, wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators have been saving animals for years quietly behind the scenes with no cameras rolling. In fact, they continue to carry out these rescues and incredible rehabilitations everyday.

They do it quietly, without fanfare and with only the joy they get in their hearts and the knowledge that — despite the many heartbreaks they experience — the animals are counting on them in times of need.

The following are helpful Resources for homeowners looking for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation assistance



In Canada





In the United States


• Here is an extensive state-by-state listing from the Humane Society of the United States on how to find a wildlife rehabilitator


In the United Kingdom


• The British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council includes a clickable download of UK rehabilitators


• Here is an extensive list of UK Animal Rescuers from Animal Rescuers.co.uk


Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.


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