Editor's Note: While this column is titled Rhody Pets, it is important to note that wild animals are not pets. This story highlights the work of wildlife rehabilitation and conservation, which is an important role in protecting and caring for the animal kingdom.
Nestled in Saunderstown is one very small clinic with one very big job: Providing veterinary and rehabilitative care to every species of animal in the state. The Wildlife Clinic is operated by the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island (WRARI), a nonprofit founded in 1993 by Dr. Meredith Bird, one of the only vets at the time willing to treat injured wildlife. Since then, the tiny hub has been run by one full-time and four seasonal part-time staff members, an army of dedicated volunteers (including rehabilitators, transporters, board of directors, and veterinarians), and seen over 5,000 animals per year.
“For many people, their only close encounter with a wild animal may be when they find one injured,” explains Arianna Mouradjian, licensed rehabilitator and Director of Operations for the organization. “It is vitally important that they have resources and a place to bring that animal knowing that it will receive the best care to ensure its potential release.” The clinic intakes everything from mice to eagles, to Rabies Vector Species (RVS) like raccoons, woodchucks, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Those injured or orphaned animals are cared for in the homes of licensed rehabilitators – the training, support, and resources of which are provided by WRARI – with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild.
Since COVID, Mouradjian says, they’ve had to make changes to operations. First, fundraisers were cancelled and training had to go digital. Intake and cleaning procedures have been modified to ensure the highest measure of safety, clinic volunteers have been reduced, masks and additional PPE are mandatory, and in-home rehabilitators have found ways to limit human-to-human interaction. However, WRARI’s mission has not changed: “The care, respect, and conservation of our native species is vital in our roles as stewards of the earth and it is important, and also a component of our mission, to not only teach but live the truth that compassion is universal and we should not exploit our native wildlife without care.” That, Mouradjian continues, can mean the endangerment or even extinction of some of our animal species – “We lose a part of ourselves and our humanity when we destroy what is wild,” she says.
Thankfully, there are things we can do to help if we stumble across a wild animal in need. First, WRARI advises, we should call the clinic immediately at 401-294-6363 – before trying to rescue or handle it ourselves. “Laws, handling considerations, and transport guidelines differ depending on the animal,” Mouradjian explains. For example, baby deer are often found alone and we might think to take them in, but in reality, mother deer often leave their offspring for hours; in this case, an intervention is not necessary, and could actually cause more harm if the baby cannot be reunited successfully. Then there’s the specifics of dealing with RVS animals, which by law, must be euthanized and rabies tested if handled by bare hands to determine the risk of virus transmission. “It works best for us to guide people in real-time before they take action.”
Interested in learning more and getting involved? Visit RIWildlifeRehab.org.