Citizen Dane: Caring for animals makes a spirit soar
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According to Hill-Putnam, there is no feeling quite like releasing animals back into the wild once rehab is completed. In fact, some of her best days have been release days after an animal has been cared for over a lengthy period. “I don’t think the general public realizes what wonderful care these patients receive from an amazing staff who run all kinds of diagnostic tests before determining a prognosis for recovery, including blood work, X-rays, fecal analysis, and eye tests for raptors to be sure they can hunt proficiently,” she states. “We take great pains to ensure the animals do not become pets, including visual barriers on the fronts of their cages so they can’t see us, whispering in animal care areas, and wearing camouflage masks when feeding animals that imprint easily on humans like baby owls and crows.
“We have a process where we gradually lessen our contact with them by placing them in an outdoor pre-release pen to allow them to regain their strength and demonstrate all the behaviors necessary to make them successful in the wild, like catching live prey.”
Her favorite release was a large snapping turtle from the Rock River that had been run over while trying to find a good nesting site to lay her eggs. There was major damage to her carapace (top shell) and plastron (bottom shell), and Hill-Putnam wondered if she would even make it back to the center. As she explains, it was an emotional trip back to Madison. “I cried all the way, but with the help of the UW Special Species staff and students, her shell was wired back together and we were able to harvest her eggs, which we incubated and hatched, adding 11 tiny snappers the size of a quarter to Lake Kegonsa.
“Mom was with us about 10 months. When I released her, she was so happy to feel the river’s current, she was spinning around and lifting up her head, and I swear she was smiling! It was like sending your kid off to kindergarten. As many releases as I’ve done, I still get teary as I pray for a good life for each animal.”
With experiences like this, it’s not hard to understand why she keeps coming back. Working with dedicated, like-minded volunteers who share the same values creates a great atmosphere that she did not have in her previous professional life. “It seems that everyone here is a tree hugger and values all lives, domestic or wild,” she states. “I’ve seen remarkable things done by volunteers here that make me proud to be part of this organization.”
Hill-Putnam has plenty of examples to cite. There’s the volunteer who drives around her neighborhood and landfills collecting branches the humane society uses to “enrich” cages. Her car is referred to as “the branch office.” There is the volunteer who drove all the way to Oklahoma to deliver a turkey vulture to an educational program when it could not be released, and there is the building team that just completed a new flight pen for song bird patients. There also is a volunteer who, when there were several hummingbirds to care for, regularly went to Olbrich Gardens to get deep-throated red flowers for them to enjoy.
“How could anyone not be inspired by what these folks do on a daily basis?” Hill-Putnam asks. “So, the next time you hear a songbird singing his heart out just outside your window, or a flock of sandhill cranes flies overhead, or you see a nest of baby squirrels chasing each other around a tree, think of us at the WC. We provide a second chance for these creatures.”
All of this care is provided for free, but the shelter heavily depends on public donations. It does not receive any funding from state or federal agencies, but it’s fortunate to have an army of dedicated volunteers.
“It’s a heartwarming feeling to be recognized for doing something I love,” Hill-Putnam states. “It’s a lot of hours but they just fly by. The feeling you get helping orphaned and injured animals at the Wildlife Center or helping a little puppy or kitten recover from surgery is worth every second invested. I go home every day and truly feel like I did something worthwhile.”
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