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Wisconsin DNR Relies on Rehabilitators to Care for Wildlife

July 11, 2008

By Devin Rose, The Wisconsin State Journal

Jul. 11–Carol Infalt keeps about 75 raccoons at her rural Jefferson County home, and can even be seen in the trees teaching the babies how to climb.

Linda Bethke spent $2,000 on 4,000 mice to feed the birds of prey she cares for around Sauk City after the tough winter made it hard for birds to hunt.

Ken and Barbara Bowman kept 145 rescued bats in their Sun Prairie basement this winter.

Infalt, Bethke and the Bowmans are wildlife rehabilitators — the people officials and the public call when someone finds an injured or orphaned wild animal.

The state Department of Natural Resources relies on a network of 105 individuals and groups who take in injured and orphaned animals statewide, said Jennifer Haverty, a wildlife rehabilitation liaison for the DNR. The goal is to nurse the animals back to health and get them back to their natural habitats.

Before 2003, there was little regulation of animal lovers who wanted to take in sick or injured wildlife. But today, Haverty said wildlife rehabilitators must earn a license by passing an exam, finding a sponsor to mentor them and passing a facility inspection.

Although there is no shortage of rehabilitators, Haverty said the DNR is always encouraging more people to apply because of the large number of animals in need of care.

In addition to individuals, larger centers also provide wildlife rehabilitation. In Madison, the Four Lakes Wildlife Center, 5132 Voges Road, is part of the Dane County Humane Society. The Wildlife in Need Center in Oconomowoc claims on its Web site to have aided more than 30,000 animals since opening in 1994.

Following are three stories of area wildlife rehabilitators.

Rome’s Wildlife Haven

Carol Infalt has become famous in the village of Rome for being “the animal lady.”

As a wildlife rehabilitator and the operator of Carol’s Critter Care pet-sitting service, Infalt’s life is all about animals, whether they are as small as butterflies or as large as horses.

Infalt’s specialty, however, is her ability to rehabilitate raccoons until they can be released back into the wild.

She began taking them in after finding a raccoon, now named Andre, beside some railroad tracks a couple years ago that needed a leg amputated. Infalt, 41, has since turned her seven acres of land into a haven for these dark-eyed critters.

While some are as gentle as the family dog or cat, she said, others can be very tough.

Most of the 75 raccoons she has now are babies, and all are kept in outdoor pens at her home about 50 miles southeast of Madison. With Infalt’s help, they love to climb trees and play with toys.

Infalt’s daily chores include bottle-feeding the baby raccoons, cutting up fruits and vegetables for the older ones, cleaning all the cages and washing about eight loads of their towels and blankets.

In addition to the raccoons, Infalt keeps pigs, goats and even skunks as pets.

While the DNR doesn’t allow people to rescue and rehabilitate skunks, Infalt has a special permit allowing her to keep them as pets.

“I think they’re the neatest thing on Earth next to raccoons,” she said, adding that she’s “blessed” to not have neighbors because it’s easier to keep all the animals she does.

Infalt’s expenses for her animals can be steep, and she is grateful for the donations and supplies she receives from people around town.

“For a 20-pound bucket of raccoon formula, that’s $200 a week that I’m going through,” Infalt said.

She has gotten fruits and vegetables from farmers and also had help building animal cages. Infalt said blankets and towels are appreciated as well.

Meanwhile, Infalt will continue to take in one animal at a time. “I never know who’s going to show up at my door needing help,” she said.

Soaring Eagle Wildlife Rehabilitation

Linda Bethke has been trying to save birds since she was a kid.

When Bethke, a Sauk City native, was 7, she knocked down a pigeon nest and took it upon herself to raise the baby pigeons.

Now, Bethke, 58, and her husband, Jerry, are operators of the nonprofit Soaring Eagle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Prairie du Sac and have been helping injured and orphaned birds of all sizes for 19 years.

They have cared for 126 species of birds received from eight counties. Most of them are brought in by concerned citizens who find them.

The Bethkes have several cages and a heated shed in their backyard for the birds to stay in until they are well enough to be released into the wild.

Educational programs and donations help Bethke make the money that keeps the center going.

Since they have bird cages in three locations around Sauk City, the Bethkes are also kept busy visiting each location every day to feed the birds. Some of the songbirds they keep have to be fed every 20 minutes, 18 hours a day.

Bethke’s additional jobs as a certified nursing assistant in Baraboo and a sales clerk at a nature store make for very busy days.

And the harshness of last winter made their business tougher than usual, Bethke said.

“The hawks and owls came in starving because they couldn’t find the rodents,” she said. Bethke has spent $2,000 out of her own pocket this year to buy 4,000 mice to feed them.

Bat Conservation of Wisconsin

Soon after Ken Bowman founded Bat Conservation of Wisconsin in 1999, he and his wife, Barbara, started getting calls to rescue bats from people’s homes.

The Sun Prairie couple took a two-week trip to Arizona to learn how to handle the bats and have been dispelling negative myths, educating the public and rescuing bats ever since.

“If they’re not injured, we’ll bring them home and let them go in the backyard,” said Bowman, 57. “If they are injured, we’ll see if we can repair or bring them back to health so they can fly.”

In the winter when the bats can’t stay in the outdoor cage, they are kept in the basement of the Bowmans’ Sun Prairie home. Last winter they rescued 145 bats.

In addition to fielding phone calls asking for a bat rescuer and answering questions, the Bowmans both have outside jobs. Ken monitors research projects for a pharmaceutical company and Barbara is a research study coordinator at UW-Madison.

Although the Bowmans’ neighbors are accepting of their animal of choice, Bowman said they found it a bit strange at the beginning.

“They thought we were raising bats at first, like a bat farm,” he said.

Now, however, “they’ve all been over and seen them and they know there’s no problem.”

One of their aims is to do away with myths that portray bats as being more dangerous than they actually are.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, what they see on TV is not what’s outside,” Bowman said.

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