Sanctuary donations help save local wildlife
By Jenn Watt
Published Feb. 22, 2018
Angie Steckle grips a great horned owl around its small feathered body, its injured talon in the hands of retired veterinarian Jennifer Coates. The nursery/ICU at Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary is busy with humans and animals, but the bird is calm. Its wide yellow eyes survey the space, acknowledging two people who have come in.
This building is where the animals most in need are kept and on this Wednesday afternoon, it’s also where many volunteers have congregated to feed them or tend to their wounds.
Margaret Cox and Christina Carere are standing elbow-to-elbow in front of two white incubators, cradling bats wrapped in cloth. With one hand holding the bats steady, they use tweezers to fish mealworms out of a dish and into the hungry mouths of their patients.
“I love animals,” said Carere, who is in her first year of volunteering at the sanctuary. She said humans do so much damage to wildlife that it seems right to spend time helping them.
The Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary has been helping hundreds of animals each year at its 45-acre property in Minden Hills. Funded through donations, founder and co-ordinator Monika Melichar said it costs about $45,000 a year to operate.
The charity’s main fundraiser is on the horizon; Go Wild for Wildlife is planned for March 10 at Pinestone and she hopes the event will bring in the money needed.
Caring for injured or orphaned wildlife falls outside of the jurisdiction of most government agencies, including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
“Wildlife doesn’t belong to anybody. … The MNR is not responsible in that sense for maintaining wildlife out there that is sick and injured,” Melichar said.
“They don’t actually do a hands-on for wildlife if they get injured or orphaned. There is ... nothing like that. A lot of the veterinarians won’t touch wildlife either.”
That leaves wildlife rehabilitation centres, which are not publicly funded and are frequently volunteer run, including Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary.
The issue came into stark relief when a deer was spotted just after Christmas in Haliburton village with an arrow protruding from its brow.
Melichar played a key role in the deer’s treatment, co-ordinating veterinarian Dr. Sherri Cox and fellow wildlife rehabilitator Howard Smith from Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary along with volunteers. The deer, now named Mirabelle, was successfully darted and tranquilized, transported to Aspen Valley and treated for its wounds. It is currently recovering and the plan is for it to be returned to the Highlands once it’s well.
The deer rescue attracted media attention beyond the borders of Haliburton County with Melichar on CHEX TV and CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning.
Those appearances have helped bring awareness to the work done at the sanctuary, particularly in distinguishing it from a government service.
“[Some people] actually think we’re part of the MNR so they have these expectations of us to perform our duty,” Melichar said.
She said they would be happy to play a greater role, but first they would need enough funding to hire staff.
“We’re a charity and we’re a volunteer-based charity. And we just all have really big hearts and want to make a difference to individual animals,” she said.
Once Coates is finished tending to the owl in the nursery/ICU, Steckle brings out Terrah the fox from her crate.
The calm of the owl now gone, Terrah is spirited and bouncy, requiring two volunteers to hold her small body still as Coates unwraps the bandages from her injured leg.
An injury on her elbow is slow to heal, especially with the amount the fox moves around and the volunteers speculate on how to best immobilize the leg as Coates washes the wound.
Steckle holds the front end of Terrah’s body while Melichar holds the back legs.
Steckle first heard about the sanctuary on the radio and came to a meet and greet event five years ago. She remembers telling Melichar at the time that caring for wildlife is her calling.
That is likely the case for all of the volunteers, who have committed to a regular schedule at the sanctuary.
For Melichar and her partner Whitebear, it is an all-consuming passion.
After studying zoology at the University of Guelph, she went on to work for the MNR and later ran a pet store in Keswick. The couple moved to Minden Hills in 2008 after falling in love with the property.
“We’ve dedicated our lives to do this for wildlife,” she said.
Whitebear does the maintenance on the property, which includes several buildings housing all sorts of creatures including porcupines, deer and possums.
The buildings are close to one another, which allows volunteers to move from one to the other, but the property also includes larger spaces for “pre-release” of the wildlife, away from humans. With a $25,000 donation from Lush Cosmetics, they are building a special enclosure for foxes to replace the one that collapsed last year under heavy snow.
Most other buildings on the property were constructed of repurposed materials, but this structure needs to be specially built.
Over the course of a year, the sanctuary will treat about 600 animals. Winter is the slow season, with about 40 currently on-site, but during the summer Melicar said there are usually more than 100 at any given time. After rehabilitation they are released into their natural habitats.
“The more people that know about us – know that we’re here – the more animals we seem to take on,” she said.
To meet that need, the sanctuary has two key events on the horizon: a meet and greet for volunteers and a fundraising gala.
For those who are seriously interested in committing at least one day a week to volunteering with the sanctuary, there is a meet and greet on March 25 from 2 to 4 p.m. Volunteer tasks could include driving animals, publicity and fundraising, administration and other odd jobs. More information is on the sanctuary’s website, but those interested need to RSVP.
The fundraising gala, Go Wild for Wildlife, is planned for Saturday, March 10 at Pinestone Resort. The evening will include a vegetarian buffet dinner, silent auction, music by Custom Blend and a live auction with Mike Jaycock as auctioneer.
Prizes up for bids include a ViaRail travel credit of $600; two tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens; a night stay and golf package at Pinestone Resort; half-day dogsledding tour with Winterdance Dogsled Tours; dinner and show (Air Supply) at Casino Rama; one-night stay at the Deerhurst Resort; and passes to Ripley’s Aquarium, ROM, Art Gallery, Toronto Zoo, Medieval Times and CNE.
Tickets are $50 per person and are available at www.woodlandswildlifesanctuary.ca, from any of the sanctuary volunteers or by calling the sanctuary at 705-286-1133.