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WildCare rehabilitates injured wildlife and fosters stewardship in Bay Area children

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LOOK, KIDS WildCare's motto of 'You take care of what you love' is one that education program manage Eileen Jones hopes to pass on to local youth. - TONY RUSSELL
  • Tony Russell
  • LOOK, KIDS WildCare's motto of 'You take care of what you love' is one that education program manage Eileen Jones hopes to pass on to local youth.

Cross a bamboo-lined creek, enter a tiny courtyard, and you've left downtown San Rafael and arrived at WildCare animal sanctuary. There's a musky scent of animals and roomy enclosures of weathered wood, which house all sorts of critters, including Vladimir the vulture, one of the "ambassadors" WildCare brings to schools.

WildCare has been a wildlife resource since the 1970s, and was founded under Bay Area environmentalist Elizabeth Terwilliger's motto, "You take care of what you love." Terwilliger was an environmental educator who developed the sanctuary's multisensory educational approach and philosophy.

WildCare executive director Karen Wilson keeps the organization humming with activity and energy. Among numerous activities and pursuits, the sanctuary partners with other nonprofits like the Humane Society, consults with the EPA on issues around pesticide regulation, and has also weighed in on contentious white deer and elk issues in West Marin. The organization's annual $2.5 million budget is spread across multiple programs, but lately the fundraising efforts have been targeted at a new WildCare facility to be located at the end of Smith Ranch Road in San Rafael.

As WildCare prepares a migration to new facilities, Wilson says that no matter how much the animal sanctuary expands, she is intent on maintaining "the quirky family feel" that's evident the minute you walk into this sylvan sanctuary for animals in distress.

They do it all here: guided nature walks for kids; ambassador programs that take animals into the schools; free bilingual family adventures on the weekends; and WildCare Solutions, a service that offers assistance with humane pest control and fields phone calls around the clock from places as far away as Egypt.

Just off the courtyard is the main building, a rabbit warren of spaces that accommodates an animal hospital and office space for staff. Melanie Piazza, the director of animal care, has been with WildCare for 13 years and has an extensive background treating animals. She's not a veterinarian, but WildCare enlists volunteer local vets whenever surgery is necessary in the hospital. Animals who come here are either euthanized, if they can't recover and live independently, or become animal ambassadors.

Piazza's private life comes to a screeching halt during the warm months, which coincide with animals' breeding seasons. It's no big secret that humans and animals often live in close proximity to one another in the North Bay, and there's always another injury to address where animal-human interactions are concerned.

Someone may cut off a tree limb that houses a bird or squirrel nest; ducks may be caught in carelessly discarded fishing lines; an animal may have been shot with a BB gun. WildCare has seen it all, but most of the organization's patients suffer from injuries caused by domestic cats.

"Outdoor cats wreak havoc on local wildlife," Piazza says. She loves cats but keeps hers in a "cat-i-o," a screened-in enclosure.

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