Wildlife rehabilitation: Giving Connecticut’s vulnerable creatures a second chance

Rescued baby squirrels play with each other in a temporary home before being released back into the wild.
Rescued baby squirrels play with each other in a temporary home before being released back into the wild.

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In response to a pair of baby squirrels who were rescued on Puritan Road in Trumbull over Easter weekend, Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitator Allison Matula has issued some tips for residents who might need help when interacting with animals and their respective habitats.

“Spring will soon be here and, with warmer weather approaching, our thoughts turn to spending more time outdoors; whether it is fixing up the house, cleaning up brush or possibly cutting down a tree that didn’t make it through the winter,” Matula said. “Before we get out the rakes, shovels and saws, let’s take a minute to think about some other neighborhood residents who will also be emerging with their families, our local wildlife.”

The state-licensed rehabilitator added that these situations happen all the time. For example, a resident could be cutting their lawn and accidentally disturbed a rabbit’s nest in the bushes.

Even worse, homeowners might have to deal with vulnerable creatures who have fallen out of their nest or have been left by their mother, like the incident on Puritan Road.

“What do you do? If you pick it up will the mother abandon it? Do you feed or give it water? Who should you call to help them?” Matula rhetorically asked.  

The best method of assisting wildlife is contacting a locating a local rehabber, according to Matula.  

The two most common ways are through a local animal control shelter or nature center and the  Connecticut DEEP Wildlife Division.

“Many rehabbers have working relationships with multiple sites that can provide their contact information to the caller,” Matula explained. “Since many rehabbers have full-time jobs, and are possibly unavailable during the day when most calls come in, please leave a name, phone number and as much information as possible so the rehabber can understand the situation and return the call. If one rehabber cannot take the animal, we do network to find the best possible scenario.”

As for contacting DEEP, the rehabilitator said that when DEEP receives a call regarding wildlife needing assistance, an email notification is sent out statewide to all rehabbers.

“This system enables us to reply and contact the caller immediately if we are able to assist,” she said. “The DEEP may also provide the caller with a few phone numbers of rehabbers in your area who work with either birds or mammals.

“If you do not reach one rehabber immediately, please do not get discouraged, you may need to make more than one phone call; your efforts could help save the animals life and are very much appreciated,” she added.

The DEEP Wildlife Division number is 860-424-3011.


Matula provides authorized care to sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife so ultimately they can be returned back to their natural habitat.

Currently there are over 200 volunteer licensed rehabbers located throughout Connecticut who are properly trained to care for a variety of wildlife.

A state license is required and issued by the DEEP after completing a series of qualifications comprised of; classroom training, a state exam, mentoring under an experienced licensed rehabber, and establishing a relationship with a local veterinarian in case additional medical assistance is required. There are also workshops and seminars offered throughout the year to keep us current and expand knowledge and skills.

There are a range of licenses granted by the state and a rehabber can hold more than one.

“My license allows for the rehabilitation of small mammals, such as squirrels, woodchucks, opossums and rabbits; as well as non-native and game birds, reptiles and amphibians. Additional training and qualifications are required to obtain a license for the care of animals classified by the state as rabies vector species (RVS) which are skunk, raccoon and fox,” Matula explained.

“There is different authorization for the rehabilitation of deer fawns and a federal license is required to care for migratory birds and raptors,” she added.

The state of Connecticut prohibits volunteer rehabilitators from caring for bobcats, black bear, coyote and adult deer.

The job can be pretty daunting, according to Matula.

“Although rehabilitators are qualified individuals and authorized to temporarily care for and release wildlife we are not reimbursed or compensated for our supplies or services by the state or any other agency,” she said. “The operating expenses can become quite high between the cost of food, medicine, caging and transport, not to mention time.

“To offset these expenses rehabbers can accept donations that may be offered by those who bring the animal to them and is truly appreciated,” she added. “Each animal received into rehab is cared for and released according to specific guidelines.”

Scenarios and suggested actions

One of the most familiar situations Matula and other wildlife rehabilitators witness in the field is an animal that looks too young to be without its mother, which forces residents to decide whether or not to rescue the isolated creature.  

“This is not a decision that the caller or finder needs to make alone,” she said. “The rehabber will ask a series of questions regarding what you are observing or have witnessed and can guide you through the process of either reuniting the animal with its mother or prepare to bring it to a rehabber.”

For instance, if a nestling bird — a baby that does not have its feathers yet — fell out of its nest; will the mother abandon it if someone picks it up and puts it back?  

The answer is no, according to Matula.

“Adult birds do not have a strong sense of smell and will not reject it,” she said. “They will, however, reject a baby that is cold; this applies to mammal babies as well so it is important to act quickly if you feel the animal is injured or orphaned.

“Also, please keep curious pets and children a safe distance away from the wildlife,” Matula added. “The following are basic steps, which can be applied to both birds and mammals, to help you get the animal safely to the right person for the best chance of survival.”

Another tip that wildlife guides like to give callers over the phone is preparing a small cardboard box, shoebox, or animal carrier and line with a fleece, flannel or cotton shirt for a vulnerable or abandoned animal.

“This will prevent the animal from sliding around while providing warmth and security,” Matula explained. “Also, if none are present, poke some holes in the container for ventilation.”

She advises keeping children and pets away from wildlife and wearing a pair of gloves when gently place the animal into a container.

“Keeping the animal in a stress-free environment until you can arrange meeting with a rehabilitator will increase the chances for survival,” Matula said.

For transportation, residents may be asked to help transport the animal to the rehabber if it is safe to do so.

This flexibility will allow time for the rehabber to prepare an area for the animal’s arrival and have all the necessary fluids and heating elements ready for them.

“During transport, please do not speak loudly or play music around the animal,” Matula advised. “Some animals, such as bunnies, stress very easily and sudden movements or loud noises can be fatal.

“The most crucial thing you can do while the animal is in your care is not to feed or give it any fluids unless instructed to do so,” she added. “Force feeding or giving water too quickly, or improperly, could go into their lungs, ultimately leading to death.”

For more information on wildlife rehabilitation in Connecticut, what to do if you found an animal, and the do’s and don’ts of reuniting animals with its mother, please visit: www.wildlifehotline.org or www.cwrawildlife.org