What does this job mean to you?
Ashley: Wildlife rehabilitation is my way of giving back to the natural world. As an animal lover, this job can be both a dream and heartbreaking all at the same time. Imagine you can work with your favorite creatures, but they are coming to you broken, hurt, and sometimes irreparable. They’re out of their element. Stressed. Scared. But! You have the chance to make it all better. To tend to them, try to save them, to put them out of their misery when needed, to educate more folks on how they can live harmoniously with our wild neighbors, and to work with incredible people that have the same goal and passion. While it can be incredibly hard at times, there is still nothing I would rather be doing. I say it all the time, but the people I work with (staff and volunteers) give me faith in humanity.
Connie: I have wanted to work with wildlife since volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation facility while in college, and I feel extremely fortunate to work with a team of dedicated volunteers and staff! I like to say that this job reignited my passion for veterinary medicine, since I had been feeling fatigued and burnt out for a number of years.
McKenzie: Beyond “hands-on” animal care, I get to work with a great crew of volunteers who perform the important work that keeps the hospital running. Being involved in their training and growth is so rewarding, especially the more technical aspects of animal care such as proper handling, natural history, and anatomy. I could keep talking forever about why I love my job, but the last piece I’ll touch on is spreading public awareness. Nearly every animal in care represents an interaction with humans gone terribly wrong; outdoor cat attacks, window strikes, and car collisions are the three most common reasons for intake at our wildlife hospital. I see wildlife rehabilitation as a way of mitigating some of the harmful impacts of human presence in the landscape. Hopefully, through my conversations with the good samaritans who find these animals, I can shed some light on the issue that caused them to need our help in the first place. If I do my job right, I can send people on their way with some actions they can take to stop the next animal from becoming hurt in the first place.
Nikki: I’ve held a deep compassion for wildlife and community my entire life. Being able to bridge the gap between animal husbandry, wildlife education, and volunteer management is extremely rewarding! I love watching and being able to help volunteers reach their potential and master new skills. Being surrounded by so many inspiring and motivated folks is truly energizing.
Steph: At the risk of being overly dramatic, I have always felt that this job is a moral imperative. Even when I made my living in other jobs (I was a preschool teacher for a while) I was volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation. The idea that so many animals suffer unnecessarily because of the direct and indirect actions of people demands a response. For me, it isn’t enough to try not to do harm myself, and as a society we need to learn better and do more. That’s true of many things, but this is the place I’ve found where my skills and passion can make a difference. So, this is more than a job to me, which has its costs, but I’m very grateful to be in a position to make a difference for people and animals in a very concrete way.
How did you get to where you are today?
Ashley: I knew fairly early on in life that I wanted to do something to help animals, but wasn’t quite sure what exactly. I learned about wildlife rehabilitation through a Google search my senior year of high school, and essentially never looked back. I tried, but college wasn’t the right path for me—so I decided to go the route of gaining experience to find my way into the field. I worked multiple jobs to save money so that I could participate in immersive wildlife rehabilitation internships, sometimes leaving home for 3+ months to work 40+ hours a week just for the training that was provided, so that I could one day professionally do this work. I knew I was taking a gamble when I set out on this journey, but it has so, so paid off. It took a few years but I found a wonderful team that took a chance on me, and that continues to teach me and help me grow as a rehabber and person every day.
Graham: I went to school for ecology, but discovered I had a quiet life-long fascination with birds. When I was really young I loved dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist. Then I learned how boring it is to study rocks. The question became: study extinct theropods, or work with extent theropods? I knew I wanted to gain hands-on experience after my undergraduate degree and started volunteering at the WCC. Now my job is a part of conservation and preservation; instead of digging up extinct animals, I work to keep any more from dying off.
McKenzie: I first came to Portland Audubon as a volunteer in 2013, and it was a few years before I landed a job in 2016. Prior to that, I received my undergraduate degree in environmental science, and had been volunteering and working in animal care for 10+ years. My favorite part of my job is the variety! As rehabbers, we make treatment plans tailored not only to each animal’s medical needs but also their needs as a species – and we see a vast array of species at Portland Audubon. A beaver with a broken leg is going to need a wildly different course of treatment than a Cooper’s Hawk with a broken leg, and that Cooper’s Hawk is going to have different needs than a Barn Owl with the same injury, and so on and so on. The wide array of species we get to work with is a fun challenge that I never get tired of.
Paola: I decided in college I wanted to work with wildlife but had no concrete plans. I just wanted to help, so I started looking into wildlife volunteering opportunities and began as a volunteer at Portland Audubon in 2015. I just wanted to absorb as much as I could during my weekly shifts! I started working at the Wildlife Care Center in 2019 and there is still always something to learn. This job is a privilege that requires us to have respect for our wildlife patients, Good Samaritans, and the multitude of volunteers that help us take care of these animals.
Steph: My mother volunteered as a home rehabilitator when I was young, and I got my start helping her warm up formula and clean cages. Once I turned 18 and could help hands on with the animals, I volunteered myself while I went to college for Wildlife Biology. After college I did some internships and continued volunteering while I looked for a job in wildlife. I didn’t actually believe I could get paid enough to make wildlife rehabilitation my career, but I also couldn’t help applying for positions I saw. I ended up getting my first wildlife rehab job, which paid just enough to survive on, and I moved across the country for it. I thought I could always change tracks or go back to school for my masters if I hit a dead end, but that dead end hasn’t actually appeared yet!
Nikki: I was animal obsessed from the start, spending my childhood gamboling through midwestern creeks in search of lizards, crayfish and snakes alike. I have wanted to be a zookeeper since my first trip to the St. Louis Zoo. I went on to study biology at the Florida State University and did my first internship during college at the Tallahassee Museum, a small native zoo, which sealed the deal for me. There I was able to work directly with everything from otters to red wolves, indigo snakes to alligators, and turkeys to great horned owls. This is also where I discovered the value in wildlife education and how a great educator can truly reach others!
What is your favorite animal to work with?
Connie: I used to think raptors were the coolest, but now I like birds with strange diets and/or specific needs! Like Cedar Waxwings, kingfishers, and herons. I am a terrible birder so seeing a bird smaller than the palm of my hand in the flesh is always exciting!
Graham: Birds. Some of them are pesky, give you attitude, and no bird wants you anywhere near them. Still, I don’t think I have handled a single bird that didn’t fill me with awe. I’ve looked over hundreds of wings since being here, and every time I’m amazed at the way these beautiful animals live. While I know all animals are equally important members of our various ecosystems, (and we desperately need more conservation efforts of insects, amphibians and marine life) I do not think anything comes close to the exceptional beauty of birds.
Paola: Large raptors are my favorite, I find them fascinating! They are incredibly strong, fast and graceful. Healthy raptor populations can even help with excessive rodent populations! It is so hard seeing the damage done to them, but it is impressive to witness their resilience too.
Steph: I started with small mammals, like squirrels, voles, moles, shrews, etc so I have a particular soft spot for them. Taking care of them feels comfortable and natural, like coming home. I have learned to love birds quite a lot as well, and I particularly love great blue herons (though only when they eat).
Nikki: I do not claim to have favorites, but I have adored working with river otters, and am proud of the work I’ve done training with owls and kestrels over the years!
Do you have any specific projects or goals for the Wildlife Care Center?
Graham: I know this is a lot of people’s goal, but modernizing, updating, and expanding the Wildlife Care Center. The more space and trained hands on-deck, the bigger an impact the center can have. It’s not just the animal care aspect; an important part of our work here is educating the public on how to properly interact with wildlife. The public deserves to have their questions answered and concerns addressed, but when we are so few, doing so much work, in such a small space, we tend to put as much of our best effort into the animal care. Sometimes it’s all we can do to get to all our patients in a day. Our capacity is limited in more ways than one, and seeing our facilities updated and our accommodations and volunteer size expanded will significantly improve the impact we have on the public, animals in care, and general conservation.
Nikki: My goal is to have all of the animals in our program learn skills that will enable them to be successful ambassadors for their species in ways that make sense to each individual animal’s needs. My other big project is training all of the Animal Ambassador volunteers to learn and master complex behavior training skills and animal husbandry—all of which take time, dedication and attention to detail!
Steph: There are many things I want to see happen, but what I want most right now is a successful capital campaign and a new Wildlife Care Center building with the facilities to truly support our work. Right now we are doing the very best work we can in a building that is so incredibly insufficient it is hard to describe the ways we are limited by it. Addressing our facility needs will be the single most impactful thing that can happen for our program right now, and the opportunities created by that will ripple into all our future efforts.
Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.
We’re building a new Wildlife Care Center and need your help! If you would like to help injured and orphaned wildlife, please consider joining our crowdfunding campaign and making a gift to make this new facility a reality. We’re doubling the square footage, adding a surgical suite, and making many more important changes to provide the best care for our patients. Learn more at ForPortlandAudubon.org
If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.