North Grafton, Mass. — A bad economy that drove wildlife rehabilitators to scale back their intake and brutal weather events helped push the annual caseload at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic up by 12 percent in 2011.
Dr. Florina Tseng, director of the wildlife clinic at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says a total of 2,049 wild animals were treated at the clinic this year, compared to the usual 1,700 or so.
New England faced a hard winter in 2011, she says, which brought in more owls, who were likely hit by cars while searching roadways for prey. A tropical storm event brought in a record number of squirrels—220 in total—many of which were tossed out of trees by high winds.
"I think our ER just ended up getting all squirrels one day," she says.
The economy didn't help either, she says. While there is still the same number of wildlife rehabilitators on the books in Massachusetts, Tseng says there are fewer actively taking cases. In Massachusetts, rehabilitators are not allowed to charge for their services and depend on donations and foundation funding, she adds.
The wildlife clinic at Tufts faces its own challenges because it is the only clinic at the university that doesn't have paying clients, Tseng says.
"We run at a deficit," she says, explaining that a large percentage of the clinic's funding comes from the university.
Donations from Good Samaritans who brought animals into the clinic totaled $15,000 in 2011, but Tufts spokesperson Thomas Keppeler says that's a drop in the bucket compared to the total budget of the clinic.
For 2011, the clinic had a budget of about $500,000. Total philanthropic support totaled $125,000—including individual donations, he says. So while as much as 25 percent of the budget is made up of individual, foundation and corporate donations, the remainder comes from Tufts, he says.
Given the fact that more than 2,000 patients—staying an average of 42 days at the clinic—racked up costs of $150 to $200 each, it's no surprise the clinic runs at a deficit.
But in wildlife medicine, Tseng says operating at a loss is not uncommon.
"I think that most of the time, veterinarians just do this out of the goodness of their hearts and their concern for the individual animal," she says "The people bringing the animal in are not obligated to (donate)."