It might have a beak, whiskers, claws, fangs or fur, but it’ll be well cared for and likely returned to the wild if it’s taken to the SPCA Monterey County Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The center, which is run under the umbrella of the greater SPCA, is a place where lives are saved and controlled chaos is a daily occurrence. The seasoned professionals there are used to it. Recently, a baby turkey with a fungal infection made it so the entire flock needed extra care. “We’re coordinating a treatment plan,” says Wildlife Center Manager Ciera Duits-Cavanaugh. “There are eight of them, so we have to grab eight turkeys, twice a day, to medicate them. Their bodies are about the size of a football. We have to clear up the infection before they are released.” The diagnosis delayed the freedom date for the noisy footballs-on-legs, but it didn’t deter Duits-Cavanaugh and her unflappable staff. They manage one of the most diverse wildlife centers in the state. “Our facility is fascinating due to the variety of species that come through the doors,” says SPCA Vice President of Marketing and Communi-cations Beth Brookhouser. “On any given day, they could see a coyote, a baby skunk, a fawn, a hummingbird. We act more like an emergency hospital. Wild animals don’t want to be near people, so if an animal is able to be caught, it’s a critical situation. We also act as a nursery for the animals who are orphaned during spring after their parents are hit by a car or killed in tree trimming. Our goal is to keep them all wild to be released.” Duits-Cavanaugh agrees. “I’m a planner, and I have a task list, and I’m very organized, but there is something about this job where you have no idea what’s gonna happen during the day. You never know when ‘XYZ’ will be injured, or orphaned. Not every day is the same.”
The center has had thousands of exciting and challenging days since officially opening in 1982. But well before that, the staff were looking after non-domesticated animals. An article from the Monterey Herald in 1945 references the care of deer, pigeons, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, a pelican, gulls, squirrels and a snake. Times have changed, but the need hasn’t. “We are the only full service wildlife rehab in Monterey County,” explains Brookhouser. “We help every animal on or above the ocean, or on land.” That turns out to be roughly 3,000 wild creatures every year, with quite the eclectic roster. “We get baby mammals, squirrels and skunks. We get the injured and orphans. We get a lot of animals that were caught by cats or dogs. Winter storms blow in pelagic sea birds, and blow nests out of trees. I didn’t realize we had beavers in the Salinas River, but we rescued one,” says Brookhouser. Duits-Cavanaugh, a zoologist, has also had her share of pleasant surprises. “I love long tailed weasels so much. (Years ago) I had asked if we ever got wild weasels and that summer we got four! We get them every couple of years. They’re usually young and caught by cats or they’re orphans. They’re cute, tiny and spunky. They can hunt animals the same size or bigger.”
On the day Carmel Magazine spoke to the Wildlife Center, more than 100 patients were in the staff’s care. “From hawks and owls to skunks and raccoons, opossums and squirrels. We have crows and scrub jays, and those turkeys,” Duits-Cavanguh says. By law, not every type of animal is allowed to be taken in. “Permitting is restrictive, but it helps. Members of the public can get emotionally charged because they want to help. It can be, ‘I am seeing a bear that was hit or is lost.’ And, people don’t want to hear you can’t help, but we are permitted through state and federal government.” The center can rehabilitate a fawn that still has its spots, but is not allowed to take in adult deer, bears, mountain lions, wild pigs or elk, which are handled by California state agencies. And then there are those special creatures who end up making the Wildlife Center their permanent home. “We have one resident hawk named Dede who was hit by a car,” Brookhouser says. “Her wing droops and she has a traumatic brain injury. She can’t fly or be released, and she is very calm around people, so we use her as an education bird. She’s not our normal patient but she is healthy and happy in captivity.”
SPCA Monterey County operates entirely from generous donations.
“I think we are one of the better funded facilities and we are so lucky to be under the SPCA umbrella,” Duits-Cavanaugh says. “We have the ability to worry a little bit less if we don’t meet ends because other departments can offset that a little bit. We are very, very fortunate with that.” Another special perk for the facility is the number of—and enthusiasm of—its dedicated volunteers, who are cherished. Beth Brookhouser illustrates it with one example. “We rely on volunteers during baby bird season. They need to be fed every 10 minutes to every hour. They sleep at night, but from 7am until 7pm, the wildlife center is a cacophony of alarm clocks going off to feed the babies. Picture 100 baby birds needing to be fed more than every half hour. Our volunteers are amazing. They prep diets, do laundry, clean cages.”
If you want to report an animal in need of care, the Monterey County SPCA website or hotline outlines what to do. “If a wildlife animal is injured or orphaned, we are always available. They can call and give us the situation and we can get them the proper resources or provide education. Call if you are ever unsure,” Duits-Cavanaugh reminds us. SPCA Monterey County agents work every mile of our vast county, and are there to serve the dozens of species of wild animals as well as the humans who want the best for them.
For more information, visit www.spcamc.org or call 831/264-5427.