Homegrown meal worms, mice snacks and a red-tailed hawk are all “a day in the life” for Minnesota Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator Linda Peck. Minnesota School of Business students in the veterinary technology degree program recently learned some of her secrets at the rural St. Cloud habitat she also calls home.
Peck, who serves up to 350 wild animals a year, was the first woman to receive a degree at the University of Massachusetts in Wildlife Management and Fishery and is also one of the first to achieve a master’s level of wildlife certification in the state of Minnesota.
“I was asked in 1982 by a conservation officer to become [a wildlife rehabilitation specialist,]” she says.
Since then, she told the vet tech students, much has changed. The DNR has imposed strict regulations for wildlife rehabilitation specialists and permits are required. The purpose, she said, is to “do the best by the animals” and put a “respectful face to wildlife rehab.”
Veterinary technology instructors Michelle Booth and Jessica Ostendorf saw the visit as invaluable to their students.
“This experience showed our students the passion, skill and stamina that it takes to work with animals, whether it is small animal, large animal, or wildlife,” explained Booth. “It takes a special someone to work day and night with these animals. Students who are interested in wildlife rehabilitation [got] an up front and personal look as to what a day in the life of a rehabber could be like.”
Ostendorf added, “They learned about additional options in the veterinary field, for those who want to do more than work with dogs and cats. They also learned the importance of client education when it comes to wild animals and what the correct steps are to help an injured or orphaned wild animal.”
“The most important thing for vet techs to learn,” Linda Peck maintains, “is that wild animals are the opposite of pets. The more you interact with them, the more they stress. And that is the number one killer of wild animals.”
The vet techs also need to understand the policy of the veterinarian they work for, Peck emphasized. Under law, vets cannot accept payment for wild animals because they aren’t owned by anyone. Therefore, a lot of vets don’t want wild animals in their clinic. Peck stressed that knowing what to say on the phone is a critical first step for assessing how the animal should be tended.
As a first-year vet tech student, Brienna Pollock was impressed by Peck’s determination and passion. “She was awesome and interesting to listen to. I think she made a great life for herself and she seems to love what she does.”
Pollock learned to have respect for the animals, too. “I was actually surprised how big the birds were up close, and I was not expecting to go into the habitats. It was a little scary because those birds have really sharp claws and can have a vise grip.”
Overall, the trip to the local rehab center was intriguing to the students, and they want to learn more. Plans are being made to return in the summer when Peck will have more mammals on site.