Helen Laughlin feeds a robin chick

Helen dreams of building an animal rehab center

Hobbie beamed as he proudly presented Helen Laughlin—his human—with the baby bird he’d just caught. Helen shook her head; for the fourth time that spring, one of her cats had gifted her with an injured bird.

“Goodness! I should have the wildlife rehabilitator on speed dial,” she thought.

Once the baby bird was in good hands, Helen made two significant decisions: 1) Her cats would not be allowed outside during springtime, when baby birds were learning to fly; and 2) she would become licensed in wildlife rehabilitation.

Now, as Georgetown’s only licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Helen aids hundreds of sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals each year.

When did you begin rehabilitating wild animals?

I began learning how to be a rehabilitator in 2006 and got my license in 2009. It takes two years to get a license through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and it requires recommendation from licensed rehabilitators or veterinarians who have worked with you. Dr. Webster, who owns Koy Animal Clinic, sponsored me for my rehabilitator’s license. Additionally, since I treat birds, I’m licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.

Helen Laughlin feeds a cottontail bunny

Say I encounter a sick, injured, or orphaned wild animal. What are the most important things to keep in mind?

There are so many variables, but the first thing is that if you find an animal that’s cold, it needs to be warmed. Second: Never, ever feed baby wild animals cow’s milk; they can’t digest it, and it can kill them. And third: Call a rehabilitator.

What are the most common causes of injury in the wild animals you treat?

I estimate that about eighty percent of the animals I get, I get because of something humans and their cats and dogs have done.

Like what?

Like cut down the tree or mow over the nest. I have a lot of wild animals that are orphans because their mothers have been hit by cars. Or little fledgling birds that people pick up because they [think the birds] need help, but they don’t. On our All Things Wild website, we have a whole section called “Help! I Found an Animal” that tells you what to do.

What’s your favorite type of wild animal to work with?

I’d have to say baby blue jays, which are very intelligent and have their own personalities, or opossums. Opossums are wonderful, wonderful animals. They’re very much misunderstood. First, they do not carry rabies or most diseases; they’re pretty much disease-free. Second, they’re like little sanitation engineers; they eat vermin, cockroaches, poisonous snakes, and all those things that we don’t want around. They have a lot of teeth and are very scary looking, but basically they’re just sweethearts.

How many wild animals do you typically treat each year?

In 2013, I rehabilitated 38 squirrels, 29 opossums, 3 skunks, 14 cottontails, and 464 birds. I also took in 3 fawns and turned them over to other rehabilitators. So 551 animals just in 2013 . . . all at my house. [laughs] That’s why we want to build a facility.

Is it common for rehabilitators to work from their home?

Unfortunately, yes. But that’s why we started our rehabilitation organization—All Things Wild Rehab, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit—because we’re all working in our utility rooms or our back patios. Our goal is to build a facility with veterinary services dedicated to rehabilitating wild animals. We hope we’ll be able to get our utility rooms back for their intended use, which is housing washers and dryers and not cages of animals, stacks of newspaper, bottles of medication, and jars of formula.

For more information on wildlife rehabilitation, visit All Things Wild Rehabilitation’s website or call the organization’s hotline at 512-897-0806. You can also find a list of local rehabilitators on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

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