The broken vase
Imagine in a land not so far away, there was a woman with the vision to merge what she loved with what is important. She willingly made the choice to listen to her calling and became both federal and state wildlife agency approved as a professional wildlife custodian. She recognized that within her soul she must sacrifice self in order to help those innocent beings which through no fault of their own have been traumatized. Since 2001, the American Heritage Wildlife Foundation founder has willingly sacrificed personal health, family, friends, and even simple activities which enrich life and create joy. The hope was that this society would see the need and join her in making this dream a reality.
Operating a nonprofit is the same as operating any type of business. Responsibilities include public relations, human resources, marketing, awareness, and fundraising with the extra pressure to do more with less. Pressure to offer more outreach and educational opportunities. Pressure to respond to EVERY need. The very life of a living being is dependent upon expeditious and appropriate responses. The information gleaned off the world wide web from perhaps less than credible sources should never be the only option for caring citizens. A do-it-yourself project should not be synonymous for the level of experience (and legal permission) required to accomplish the complicated task of successfully rehabilitating (not simply keep alive and raising) and returning to the wild any animal which is expected to survive long term.
Wildlife rehabilitation is a traumatic field. When AHWF began 60 % of patients were human cause. Currently over 90 % of ALL patients admitted are due to HUMAN causes. We have an obligation to mitigate the damage we have caused to a native population which has been struggling maintain viable populations.
Which is a primary reason why children are not allowed to get involved with the daily hands-on labor of animal care. No matter what the cognitive mind says trauma is an occupational hazard. There is fatigue. There is moral injury because the patients (rightfully so) hate you. There is chronic emotional stress. 80% of professionals leave after only 3 years! National surveys report a 19 % turnover rate of volunteers. The primary reason is because the workload is too great for so few people. Basically, one out of every five people will quit. 60 % of nonprofit leaders feel used up by the end of the work day. 100% of all NPO leaders polled has felt or feels burned out these past three years.
This community has demonstrated the absolute need for this unique nonprofit! For more than twenty years, every year, there has been an increase in the number of telephone calls from citizens seeking help for a wild animal or inquiring about human wild animal situations. No other agency fills the gap relating to this specialized niche. The early years average was 100 phone calls and not even 3 dozen admitted patient cases. Every year there has been an exponential outcry to do more. By 2014 the demand was too great for the handful of citizens who had been assisting. In 2015, the hiring of seasonal interns began. By 2019, more than 400 telephone calls were made to AHWF. Over 4,000 volunteer hours were recorded from a only a handful of volunteers who provided social media posts, downloadable informative pdf’s on the webpage, and over three dozen outreach events and activities, 6 additional were slated but not possible, and nearly 100 patient cases (an additional 30 could have been accepted had we the trained personnel to respond).
The past three years, we have been struggling to find balance. The pandemic really struck and even shook the foundation core of many. We need to find the reset button. We want to maintain the mission of AHWF. The mission to conserve the native wildlife through rehabilitation of the injured and orphaned local wildlife and community education. There has been the expectation the founder should work 18 – 20 hours each day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, as well as be present in multiple locations simultaneously is not sustainable nor realistic. This Winter, the quote from the Dalai Lama resonated with the founder - “Never ruin your present for a past with no future.”
JUST like a VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) cannot function and respond when emergency arises, neither can a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Imagine your shed is on fire. You need a team of experienced professionals. You place the call. ……….. No one answers the telephone. No one has signed up for training. No one has been willing to support community. This is not a ‘google-able’ activity. Your shed burns to the ground.
Just as society expects a response when a fire arises, there is also the expectation for ‘someone’ to rise to the challenge when a wild animal situation arises. A wild animal is a living being which deserves respect and to not be treated like a do-it-yourself project by an untrained citizen. A wild animal is not the same as a domestic pet. One tender heart cannot carry the burden of supporting an entire society in need.
To keep giving despite depletion. To keep experiencing empathy repeatedly. The intensity of the level of suffering seen multiple times daily. To reflect that most do not care to see the signals. A highly empathetic sensitive person is highly feeling and needs time to recharge. Exhaustion cynicism as well as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, sleep disruption, lack of self-care, gastrointestinal issues, autoimmune disorders, physical ailments, disassociation from gatherings are symptoms of the disease Burnout. The term Burnout is a fairly new term which is defined as the process of prolonged stress, frustration, exhaustion of physical and emotional stress. Literally there is no glucose in the muscles. Distressing to all aspects of being: psychological, behavioral, social, and spiritual. We all understand the term five alarm fire to be descriptive of a devastating catastrophic event. Some experts have broken burnout into 12 different stages. Now imagine the psyche of a human being who is suffering from a 12-alarm fire. The process starts small with feelings to prove yourself, to keep working harder, to neglect self for the needs of others, to blame others, to focus on work more, to deny problems because of work. The burnout continues and there is withdrawal from family and friends, experiencing behavior changes, depersonalization of self, feeling empty, feeling lost and exhausted. Until a complete and comprehensive burnout occurs – a full burnout. There is a complete level of mental and physical collapse. This is a fire which has been burning for a long time and been ignored but the fire continued to consume everything. No spark of that person exists. The cure is a sabbatical. Sabbaticals provide an opportunity to manage professional burnout. Sabbaticals allow the sufferer to return to the rejuvenated mentally and physically and fully recovered from their moral injury, empathetic distress, and vicarious trauma disorders. Please understand the decision to rest is brutal. The sense of duty to the animals is what has driven the founder for over two decades just the same as her heart beat, but the focus and strength of conviction cannot sustain a weakened body, mind and spirit.
The outcry and demand has confirmed this region should have a qualified experienced professionally authorized wildlife rehabilitation facility. Currently during the busy ‘baby season’ it is not uncommon to receive 100 telephone calls each month from May through September. The level of financial support has been rising, thanks to kind hearted supporters who contribute both small and large amounts monthly as well as generous contributions being given at assorted fundraising events and for AHWF merchandise such as the children’s books, the book of memoirs, the online shopping programs and merchandise including clothing and mini-flashlights. Conversely however the human support has decreased these past few years. AHWF has been operating at a code black level. The demand is too great and the resources too few. These past several years we no sooner start the spring season only to refuse admittance of new patients within a few short weeks. This is heart breaking and soul crushing but if we were to accept every wild animal from every single telephone call, the result would not be successful releases.
We need people to give time and talent. A few years ago, AHWF wanted to expand our abilities. We wanted to enlarge the existing parcel to increase our educational outreach and we wanted to provide necessary rehabilitative care for orphaned black bear cubs. At that time, we had two land options plus the state wildlife agency commissioners willingness to approve a permit IF we could build the necessary enclosure(s). By the time we raised the money necessary, the company which was to build the enclosure had closed, the land owner was not in a position to allow building and the other land option was no longer available, plus the state wildlife commissioners changed their minds and refuse to issue any new game mammal permits.
The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, so too does it take a community to support a society. American Heritage Wildlife Foundation is exclusively community supported. There are no federal, state or county funds supporting this mission. There are no paid staff responding to the calls, emails, social media and online promotions, event planning and coordination, membership and supporter updates, nature walk maintenance and trail guiding, library lecture presentations, grant writing, website revisions, writing blogs, acknowledging contributions, continuing education and networking with other professionals, as well as providing quality care for the patients.
Your north Idaho community supported wildlife rehabilitator needs people willing to become trained in order to accomplish all the tasks necessary to keep Idaho wild. In order to accomplish this, we need your support on two fronts. We must have sufficient financial support, as well as staff available to guarantee public presence. Now is the time to connect with neighbors and friends; now is the time to come together and create a legacy for future generations. Now is the time to make the vision a reality and construct the first inland pacific northwest nature center.
Why is a Wildlife Rehabilitation / Nature Center facility is important. These organizations provide answers to general public questions, they dispel common myths and misinterpretations about wild animals and provide professional assistance within a specialized niche. Unique and rewarding adult volunteer opportunities are provided as well as guidance for preventative and humane solutions regarding human and wild animal conflict situations. Diverse educational opportunities teaching about the native neighbors (all the wild animals sharing the ecosystem) are also given. No other organization fills the gap between public and wild animal. Federal and State wildlife agencies enforce legal aspects. Domestic animal shelters have no experience with wild animals. Veterinary clinics provide medical services for domestic pets and livestock. Nature Centers also enable the general public a location to recreate outdoors in a safe natural environment with interpretive tools and face to face guidance.
Other communities across the nation have embraced the mission of their local wildlife rehabber. They saw the need and responded and after a few years of working together as a team built wild animal hospitals, rehabilitation infirmaries, large wild animal enclosures, and financial stability in such a capacity as to allow hiring paid staff members. This community has a few superheroes over the past two decades who supported to the best of their ability, sadly they are too few. If this community expects a professional organization to respond and provide professional services for wild animals in need, this community needs to get together and help mitigate the damage we all have caused. WE have a responsibility to participate and stand for what is good and right. As Katharine Hepburn so eloquently phrased “There is a lot of lead butt in the world. You are a doer. You are a worker. You make yourself into someone who matters and you do this with your heart and your brain and your skin and your energy. You show up for others and your word is your bond. I am really tired of victims of ambition, particularly when there are people who need our help in serious times of peril.” Get the lead OUT! Join forces with AHWF and let us build a legacy together.