They take care of the sick and the homeless |

They take care of the sick and the homeless

by Merrie Leininger

The furred and feathered of the Carson Valley have some superheroes if they every get into a jam.

The men and women of the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Inc. and Wild Animal Infirmary for Nevada of Washoe work tirelessly to mend and care for hurt and homeless animals.

Cheryl and Tom Millham of Wildlife Care started the work about 21 years ago and have been in their current location at 1485 Cherry Hill Circle, South Lake Tahoe, for 15 years.

Cheryl was always an animal lover, she said, but she got interested in wildlife care when she read a Women’s Day article in 1978. Cheryl and Tom went to a training workshop the article mentioned and got right to work. The first year the Millhams had 84 animals.

Cheryl continued to work full time managing a marina and caring for the animals until 1982. Tom still works at the post office.

In the beginning, Cheryl said, she had to have a lot of help.

“I made a lot of phone calls,” she said. She has since become the person others call, one of the few people in the county who has successfully raised the Merganser duck, which cannot be raised like other ducks.

Helping others learn how to take care of wildlife is one of the major functions of the center.

A annual spring training seminar has grown over the years to become two days long and includes about 800 people.

“All the volunteers are necessary. We could not function without these wonderful people who give up their time,” Cheryl said.

Although many of the people who take the class don’t end up volunteering, they learn how to take care of a hurt animal and will know what to do the next time they come across one, Tom said.

He said it is important to stress safety to the volunteers. People must be aware of an animal’s unique defense system if they are going to work with it.

They also try to educate people through presentations at schools, churches and civic groups.

Cheryl said there are three very important things she tries to get everyone to understand: 1) Do not pick up a baby animal unless you know its mother is dead. It is probably nearby and even baby birds that have fallen from their nest will soon be big enough to fly;

“Chances are it’ll be OK,” Cheryl said. “Mom’s taking care of it. They grow so fast, it probably will be able to fly in 48 hours.”

2) Do not take animals from Nevada to California or vice versa. It is against the law. If you find a hurt animal, you can call the Johnson Lane volunteer, Karen Kvasnicka;

3) Control your cats and dogs;

“They don’t need to be outside,” Cheryl said. “Some people think it is cute, that it’s what they do. If they are being fed, it’s not necessary.”

n Rehabilitation. Tom said the hardest thing to teach those who volunteer in the animal hospital is not to touch the animals.

“When they first come in as babies, they need lots of love and care, but once they are in the rehabilitation part, it’s hands off. That’s the hardest part for the volunteers to understand. We have to make the animals aware humans are not good,” Tom said.

They see between seven-14 baby deer a year, usually when the mother has been killed by a car. The babies are kept in the infirmary until they are old enough to be taken off the bottle. Then they go into the outside cages to be prepared for release.

The infirmary room is also where the Millhams keep animals that need constant care, or if they are on an IV.

Kevin Willetts of Alpine Animal Hospital helps take care of the serious problems.

The rest of the center consists of a large raptor cage, a small bird aviary, a large bird exercise area, a raccoon cage, two deer areas and a new otter area with three pools connected by water slides.

In 1996, the center took in a total of 914 animals; 327 were dead on arrival, died while in their possession or were euthanized; and 587 were released, transferred or stayed their permanently.

That adds up to a release rate of 64 percent. Most of the animals they recieve are birds. In 1996, they treated 758 birds and 156 mammals.

Every spring the center gets between 200-250 Stellers Jays; about 80 are babies who have fallen out of the nest.

The office is filled with casino coin buckets, used as nests for the baby birds. The center uses 20,000 mealworms to feed them every week. They also buy between 4,000-6,000 baby chicks or mice at a time to feed the raptors. The food bills can be up to $12,000 a week, Tom said.

n Local help. Karen Kvasnicka is a Wildlife Care board member and Carson Valley volunteer. Animals that are found hurt in Nevada have to be taken to her, they cannot be taken across the line into California.

The state law also prohibits certain animals to be in the care of humans: bats, coyotes, raccoons, ground squirrels and skunks.

Kvasnicka, who lives in Johnson Lane, has been with the wildlife center for 17 years, keeping animals in her home.

She has taken care of everything from cliff swallows and mallards to fawns and chipmunks. In the spring, her laundry room is lined with baby birds waiting to be weighed and fed.

She also spends a lot of time at International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council workshops and doing research on the best ways to help the animals in her care.

For those animals which needsspecial help, surgery or medication, Dr. Cameron Ross of the Carson Valley Veterinary Hospital is called in.

For help in Carson Valley, call the center at 530-577-1231, and they will put you in touch with Kvasnicka.

n Big birds. Nancy Laird of the Wild Animal Infirmary for Nevada, of Washoe Valley, was a nurse when she started taking in injured birds in 1977. A year later, her home became a chartered, nonprofit organization.

The animal hosptial and her home are still located there at 2920 Eagle St., Washoe City.

Laird said she has always been interested in animals and wanted to be a veterinarian when she was little.

“But my mother said women don’t become veterinarians, women become nurses, so I did,” she said.

When she began taking care of animals, she received very little help from veterinarians, so she got help from doctors she worked with.

Now, Gary Sargent and Rob Cocanour of Klaich Animal Hospital in Reno and optometrist Mike Fischer help her when animals come to her with serious health problems.

She said most of the problems the infirmary sees are caused by humans. Animals are shot at, hit by cars, poisoned and bit by domestic animals which are not kept behind fences or in the house.

However, funding is the biggest problem, Laird said.

Most of their money comes from individual donors, but WAIF also gets donations of materials and have received grant money to help take care of between 300-400 animals a year.

n Release. Nancee Goldwater is one of the few volunteers who works with Laird.

Goldwater acts as the Carson Valley representative and collects hurt animals here.

Mostly the infirmary takes in birds. At this time of year, many have flown the coop, but the infirmary still had quite a few hawks, a burrowing owl who had been hit by a car and barn owls. These are just a few of the examples of the birds the infirmary mostly treats – large, meat-eating birds called raptors.

They also have treated quail, ducks and some mammals, Goldwater said.

All the animals have been moved from the indoor hospital to the outdoor excerise pens to learn or relearn how to hunt.

The hawks have to be rehabilitated and released soon, because they will be feeling the urge to fly south.

Goldwater tries to involve students when she makes a release back into this area. The infirmary has a release rate that ranges between 42-50 percent.

“Hopefully, it helps turn kids around from trying to hurt them to wanting to protect them,” she said.

Laird said she got involved in the infirmary when people would call Douglas County animal control, where she works, with wild animal problems. She began to bring them to Nancy Laird and then became the Carson Valley liaison for the infirmary.

She said she also has always been interested in helping animals.

“It’s just the sense that God put us here to be caretakers and this gives me a chance to help care for them and put them back into the wild,” Goldwater said.

If anyone finds a large bird in the Carson Valley that needs a little help, they can call Goldwater at 267-2197 or call the infirmary at 702-849-0345.

Laird warned against well-meaning people who want to keep the animal and raise it themselves.

“People try to keep it and give it the wrong type of food and by the time it gets to me it has a gastro-intestinal infection,” Laird said.

Goldwater said because of Laird’s background in nursing and the extensive help from veterinarians, the animals receive much more accurate care at the infirmary.

“With Nancy’s medical background, she knows what minerals, vitamins and medicine they need,” Goldwater said.

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