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Sonoma County wildlife rescues on the increase

Katie Woolery smiles with a sense of relief knowing how important it is to appreciate the quieter days at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.

The nonprofit rehabilitation center north west of Petaluma is on the tail end of one of its busiest years ever, with an intake of approximately 1,286 animals. The sanctuary averages about 1,000 by October.

Part of the uptick is because the center moved its hotline service on-site in June, decreasing response times, said Woolery, the assistant animal care director. Staff members now receive calls from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily as opposed to the previous format, which relied on volunteers checking for messages every 30 minutes to an hour, she said.

Woolery, although, has her own theory. She believes the higher output is more about a greater level of awareness throughout Sonoma County, with residents increasingly opting for rescue services when they encounter a wild animal.

“I think the word is starting to spread a little more in the community that we exist,” Woolery said. “I’m just astounded when people are out in the middle of nowhere and they have our number for some reason. I think the community is starting to get more wildlife-friendly and realize there is somewhere to take these animals, and that’s what we really want to show people.”

The 12-acre sanctuary sits atop a hill off Mecham Road. A staff of 15 crew members and a small army of volunteers assist with a model centered on rescue, rehabilitation and release.

The center only accepts sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, Woolery said. The range of mammals is broad, with anything from raccoons, squirrels, skunks and opossums to coyotes, foxes, bobcats and mountain lions.

Raptors like hawks, eagles, owls and osprey are also treated in a separate facility on-site. However, songbirds and reptiles are taken to other specialized centers in the county, and state regulations prohibit caring for domestic animals like dogs or cats.

Recently, Wildlife Rescue has been getting calls about orphaned squirrels late in the birthing season, which usually lasts from March to October. Depending on the animal, their age and the severity of the disease or injury, hospital care can be as little as a few weeks, or as long as six months.

Typically treatment begins with rehydration, Woolery said. Specialized meals based on dietary needs, which, in some cases, resembles a salad with chopped rodents for protein, are provided.

As rehabilitation progresses, staff members test the animals to determine they can catch prey and survive without the comforts of SCWR.

Those that can are set free within a three-mile radius of where they were rescued, which is especially important for adults since they’ve already established a habitat, Woolery said.

Those that can’t survive become permanent residents, a case-by-case decision that usually happens after recovering from a catastrophic injury or an attempt by humans to habituate a wild infant.

SCWR promotes peaceful coexistence with wildlife, and uses those enclosed residents for its education outreach program, an offering designed to help the public understand and appreciate Sonoma County’s native creatures.

The center also offers an exclusion service, which provides a more humane alternative to pest control, helping permanently remove unwanted animals from walls or attics.

“We’re here. This is what we do if you have wildlife issues or you find sick, injured or orphaned wildlife,” Woolery said. “You have somewhere to take it where we can make it better.”

Executive Director Doris Duncan has launched several initiatives to encourage natural ecosystems away from the property. The most popular is the Barn Owl Maintenance Program, which provides owl boxes as a natural form of pest control for gardens and vineyards.

The nonprofit also started a predator prevention program with barnyard animals that features a live lab to teach techniques on how to protect domestic animals and livestock from wildlife.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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