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Insuring Care: CROW launches new campaign to ‘insure’ care of its patients

By Staff | Jul 21, 2011

Rehab specialist Zac Johnson and veterinarian intern Jessica Brugler care for a Great Blue Heron that is dehydrated at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. CROW treats more than 200 different species of wildlife at its 4,800-square-foot clinic. Since it opened its doors, CROW has operated on private donations, contributions, grants, memberships, profits from gift shop sales and fundraising events. To continue "insuring care," CROW has launched a new campaign called Wild Animal Insurance Fund.

Clinic For the Rehabilitation of Wildlife sees more than 4,000 patients in its 4,800-square-foot hospital each year. Within the spacious, state-of-the-art facility, CROW staff and volunteers work efficiently and effectively around the clock caring for the more than 200 different types of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife patients.

“It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around that,” CROW Clinic Director Dr. Amber McNamara said about treating the variety of patients she sees on a daily basis.

To continue “insuring” quality care to its patients, CROW has launched a pilot campaign – the Wild Animal Insurance Fund. Since none of its patients carry insurance – they are, after all, wildlife – CROW is initiating a “health insurance program” toward which donors may pledge monthly “premium payments” dedicated to a species of their choice.

“CROW patients routinely leave the hospital without paying their bills,” noted Claudia Burns, a volunteer who envisioned the campaign. “We have yet to receive a thank-you note from any of them,” Burns added with a laugh.

It’s hard to imagine – as one of today’s leading national wildlife rehabilitation clinics – CROW began in the late 1960s with one woman and an injured royal tern. Sanibel resident Shirley Walter took the bird home for proper care and treatment of its injuries with the help from the late veterinarian Dr. Phyllis Douglas. Two decades later CROW had expanded into a clinic building and increased demand for services led to the inception of Volunteer Emergency Rescue and Transport, also known as VERT.

Paul Paglia, volunteer and VERT driver for more than three years is getting ready to take the gopher turtle outside to keep a familiarity with the wild.

The current clinic, built in 2009, features two modern examination rooms used to diagnose and treat a number of diseases and injuries; several smaller rooms provide additional spaces that can be closed off from one another to increase privacy, keep halls quiet and decrease animal stress.

“We maintain a low-stress environment,” explained Dr. Amber about her patients that are recovering from any number of illnesses or traumatic injuries or for the littlest of patients that need a healthy start to life.

With five incubators for the infant patients and dedicated rooms for baby Virginia Opossums, baby raccoons and baby rabbits, including ample counter space for tiny babies that might need an aquarium, CROW is able to focus on releasing a robust animal into its natural habitat. There is a private, outdoor porch that is temperature controlled used to minimize stress of pre-release rabbits.

“In the old hospital, some species were mixed together in the same room,” explained CROW’s Executive Director Steve Greenstein. “There were a lot more towels in front of these cages,” he continued about attempts to provide that low-stress environment.

Instead of adjustable patient beds with pillows and blankets, CROW has a total of 68 multifunctional indoor cages, plus eight rabbit hutches and a 6-foot by 5-foot by 7-foot walk-in cage. There are seven bathtubs, each with a dedicated heat lamp and privacy curtain, to allow ample time for bathing or soaking patients ranging from freshwater turtles, tortoises and sea turtles to a multitude of water birds. A reptile room features a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment with three pools to accommodate injured sea turtles.

Student intern Morgan Duckwald is mixing medicine for baby possums.

“It is a 24/7 operation that takes $1 million a year to run,” said Burns.

Since its inception, CROW has relied on private donations, contributions, grants, memberships, profits from gift shop sales and fundraising events to pay its bills. The annual overhead includes:

• Food for its 200 different species of patients

• Medical supplies

• Electricity and water for the clinic, student housing, outdoor cages with pools, along with 800 to 1,000-gallon sea turtle tanks, which much be cleaned and re-filled regularly.

• Appliances, such as washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, microwaves

• Maintenance, repair and replacement of the appliances

• The Healing Winds Visitors Education Center operations

• Cleaning supplies and equipment

• Telephone and cable service

• Office supplies

• Personnel payroll, payroll taxes and benefits for its small paid staff

• Continuing education for medical staff

• Reimbursement of volunteer drivers expenses, such as gas and tolls

“CROW is about its mission,” which states “saving wildlife through compassion, care and education,” said Greenstein. “But you must pay the bills at the end of the day.”

In addition to its dedication to the care and rehabilitation for native and migratory wildlife, CROW operates educational fellowship and externship programs for undergraduate students, and internships for veterinarian graduates. Additionally, CROW educates members of the public through presentations, exhibits and live video footage at the Healing Winds Visitors Education Center. CROW also relies on its more than 250 volunteers, who help staff and students care for the wildlife patients, assisting with daily feeding and cleaning duties, patient transport through VERT, rescue and more.

To help generate cash flow to cover expenses, CROW has launched this creative campaign which it announced during the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce July business lunch.

“This is Claudia’s wonderful concept,” said Greenstein. “Donors can set up monthly contributions, like paying monthly insurance premiums, and the money is tied to a particular species. It’s another type of revenue.”

Donations may be made via the web site, www.crowclinic.org‘>www.crowclinic.org, in the monthly giving category; each donor will receive a certificate through return e-mail and will automatically become a member of CROW.

“We have had a busy season,” noted Dr. Amber. “There has been a heavy patient load and it’s expensive to provide proper care, but we want to do right by the animals.”