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Volunteers Coming to Animals' Rescue

Wildlife: Rehabbers for a local nonprofit group often tailor their lifestyles to care for injured squirrels, rabbits, opossums and birds.


The baby opossum, no bigger than a softball, curled its tiny pink hands around the fingers of Anna Reams as she explained how the creature landed in the middle of a busy street and into her care.

The young animal probably fell from its mother's back as they crossed the road, a common misadventure for wildlife in the suburbs, she said.

"A lot of times the mothers are hit while carrying the baby," Reams said.

A nearby homeowner rescued the animal and a local vet referred them to Reams, one of 12 volunteers, known as "rehabbers." Reams works with Wildlife Care of Ventura County, a nonprofit group that has cared for the area's injured and orphaned wildlife for eight years.

Last month marked the beginning of the group's busiest season. From February through August, dozens of newborn squirrels, rabbits, opossums and hummingbirds make their debut in backyards, where they are confronted with the cruel realities of modern life.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 5, 2000 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 8 Zones Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Wildlife care--An article Thursday on the work of Wildlife Care of Ventura County contained an incorrect phone number. The Wildlife Care hotline is 667-4878.

Speeding cars and predatory cats are hazards for many small wildlife, while tree-trimming humans and windy days often separate them from their nests. In some cases, the animal's own curiosity can send it plummeting from a tree branch, causing a serious head injury or broken wing.

The injured animals sometimes are diagnosed by a local veterinarian, but often they are taken directly to the home of a rehabber, who is licensed by the state Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to nurse them back to health and return them to the wild.

Reams is the group's expert in the care of opossums, one of the most misunderstood mammals, she said. The shy and sensitive creatures are resistant to disease, do not dig holes and eat many garden pests.

"People think they're giant rats," she said. "And they're really very timid. A lot of times the stress of capture is what kills them."

Reams, like many volunteers, has tailored her lifestyle to care for injured wildlife. She said she bought her house in Simi Valley two years ago, because the place had a backyard large enough to house recovering crows in aviaries and raccoons and opossums in cages.


Other volunteers have rearranged their work schedules to prepare special meals for the creatures and hand-feed them inside their small, blanket-lined cages.

The recovery process can take months. A malnourished young crow with broken feathers, for example, needs a full year to recuperate, Reams said. And a squirrel with a head injury needs weeks indoors before it is well again, said volunteer and squirrel specialist Sharron Baird, 52, of Thousand Oaks.

This season, Baird has arranged her schedule as executive director of the Conejo Free Clinic to care for a newborn squirrel who suffered a broken jaw when a tree trimmer separated it from its nest. She uses small syringes to hand feed it mashed mangoes, pecans and a special, rehydrating fluid.

Pat Katz of Camarillo, who specializes in rabbits, is working split shifts at GTE so she can shuttle back and forth to feed a salad of kale, shredded carrots, spinach and parsley to a 2-week-old black-tailed jack rabbit.

The county's Wildlife Care group formed when Santa Barbara County's network became overburdened. It had been receiving 800 animals a year from Ventura County and finally stopped accepting them.

The group's veterinary costs and medical supplies are donated by the Conejo Valley Veterinary Clinic in Thousand Oaks, but Wildlife Care must raise about $8,000 each year to cover the cost of medical supplies, food, cages and aviaries.

The 12 volunteers collectively spend about $5,000 of their own money to care for the animals, Baird said.


But for most volunteers, the satisfaction of releasing the animals far outweighs the sacrifice of time and money.

As a child, Reams tried unsuccessfully to nurse injured birds and squirrels that her cat had dragged to her doorstep. Now, she has the training to heal most of those animals so they can return to the wild.

"Back then, everything died," she said. "Now, I can actually do something, and almost everything lives. That's an almost indescribable feeling."


To report injured or orphaned wildlife call the Wildlife Care hotline at (800) 667-4878.

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