Animal control and care at the Coulee Region Humane Society shelter isn’t limited to domestic pets. It also takes in and cares for wildlife.
CRHS animal control supervisor Kathy KasaKaitas talked about the animal shelter’s work to rehabilitate sick, injured or orphaned wildlife at the Oct. 11 meeting of the Friends of the Black River.
Since starting at the Onalaska shelter as its animal control supervisor, KasaKaitas has expanded its wildlife program particularly in avian rehabilitation.
“We are the only animal control agency that handles and rehabilitates,” said KasaKaitas. “Most animal control agencies only deal with domestic and will refer people to nuisance wildlife people. We get a lot of calls for injured or orphaned wildlife. We get a ton of baby squirrels.”
In addition to squirrels, some of the other mammals CRHS has treated are fox, raccoon and opossum. Bird species receiving care from the rehabilitation center include waterfowl such as ducklings and mergansers, as well as birds of prey such as owls, hawks, falcons and eagles.
She emphasized the injured animals are wild and can pose a hazard. The animals should be recognized as wild creatures.
“We can’t save them all, but we do our best,” said KasaKaitas. “The ultimate goal is to heal and then release the animals back to where they were found; it’s not to make them pets.”
KasaKaitas uses her education background to instruct the public about proper animal treatment and care, stressing when to assist a wild animal and when to leave it alone. She pointed out a baby mammal’s best chance for survival is with its mother.
Mother animals will often leave their young behind in a nest or hidden while she feeds or roams, putting distance between her and her offspring to draw predators away from the baby.
To become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, the candidate must take two years of training that includes 100 hours of hands-on instruction with a licensed rehabilitator. Rehabilitator trainees must pass a test with an 80 percent score to be licensed by the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The license designates the specific species the rehabilitator can treat and the license must include the name of the veterinarian the rehabilitator will work with. Rehabilitators must also continue their education, especially if they want to be certified for other species.
KasaKaitas is licensed to treat waterfowl and mammals and is allowed to only treat those animals in which she has been certified.
“If we can’t treat it, we have to send it to another center,” said KasaKaitas. “We have to transfer it to someone who specializes in the species.
Wildlife rehabilitation services must also be a nonprofit or connected to one.
The humane society will also get calls for wildlife removal.
“We get calls from people who complain about raccoons in their yards,” said KasaKaitas. “They’ve built in the raccoons’ backyard. I want to tell them (homeowners) to enjoy the raccoons.”
The CRHS is licensed to over-winter bats and to monitor diseases such as West Nile Virus and mange in wild animals.
Continuing to expand the center, KasaKaitas is currently overseeing building some raptor mews and flight cages for on-site rehabilitation.
La Crosse County Animal Control’s Wildlife Rehabilitation program is not funded by municipal contracts, but relies on donations from local supporters.