State wildlife officials temporarily closed Sacramento County’s only wildlife rehabilitation facility to treat thousands of sick and injured animals a year after most of its employees left their jobs Wednesday.
Officials from the Fish and Wildlife Department hung banners Wednesday evening at the entrance to the museum Wildlife Welfare Association In McClellan Park, people who bring wildlife to the facility are required to move the animals there Saving wildlife in the country of gold in Auburn.
A former employee told The Sacramento Bee that she and other employees quit due to a hostile work environment as well as concerns about poor wildlife care. A recent government inspection found problems including unsanitary conditions for birds and squirrels, although inspectors did not report any outbreaks of disease, abuse, death or other egregious violations that would lead to the facility’s permit being revoked.
Heather Berry, who oversees 83 nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation centers in California, said officials from Fish and Wildlife took 23 animals from the McClellan Park facility on Wednesday, mostly birds like pigeons and pigeons, and moved them to a rehabilitation center in Auburn.
There is no set date for when the Sacramento facility will reopen.
Wildlife Care is a nonprofit that has been “rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals for over 40 years,” According to 2020 tax filing. Founded in 1975 by, among others, well-known area conservation activist Ivy Yu, the organization operates with a budget of approximately $240,000 annually, funded mostly by grants and donations.
The center receives about 7,000 injured or sick wildlife annually, mostly birds and small mammals such as squirrels, although it occasionally receives wolves, coyotes and birds.
Perry said the decision to temporarily close the center was due in large part to concerns from remaining staff and volunteers that people would disembark the animals over the upcoming Labor Day holiday. She said more people during the holiday would be outside and likely encounter stressed and injured animals. And the Sacramento heatwave is putting additional pressure on wildlife.
“It was very clear that they were understaffed and couldn’t sort their food intakes very well,” Berry said. “And with the strike, that seems to be the bigger problem: the animals that come in injured or sick, now don’t have a staff that has the ability to triage effectively. And so the animals don’t necessarily get medical treatment as quickly as they should.”
Tensions lead to withdrawal
Tensions with staff and management have been simmering for months, union council president Theresa Belawski said, and this was not the first step.
“We had something similar a few months ago,” Pelosky said. “And these were the few people who remained, still indignant.”
She said four employees quit on Wednesday, leaving only three employees and a group of volunteers, including her, to pick up the slack. Bilawsky said the employees who quit were frustrated that the new manager “actually… makes sure the animals are properly cared for” and that employees didn’t care about the new rules.
“I will not advocate for poor animal welfare,” she said. “And if people leave because they don’t like it they have to do their job, so be it. That is the best thing that can happen.”
But Rachel Hirota, a veterinary student at the University of California, Davis, said she quit this summer due to her meticulous management and belittling by association board members who failed to provide proper “training or confidence.”
She and her fellow staff members were also disturbed by what she described as substandard animal care, such as not giving the birds proper food, she said.
“We were providing substandard care at the time,” she said. “This is what you are being asked (to do), even if you have other experience. You are constantly deteriorating.”
The Bee provided the photos, taken by other employees, and said they depict the infestation of flies and larvae at the facility.
Berry said various government inspections of the facility in recent months have not shown any serious problems, such as mass animal deaths, but that a July inspection Berry conducted found some problems that indicated they needed to be fixed immediately.
Inspectors found “fly larvae” on a trash that could cover inside the building near the baby bird nursery area and evidence of possible rodent infestation, according to The Bee Inspection Report obtained through the California Public Records Act. The report also noted the existence of potentially unsanitary conditions for birds and squirrels due to the accumulation of feces and food waste.
Perry with Fish and Wildlife said subsequent inspections did not reveal anything too egregious, although it was clear that the facility needed help in organizing better protocols, “to be able to properly care for wildlife”.
“They’re the only ones in the Sacramento area, and it would put an undue burden on some of the other facilities if they closed because they take in several thousand animals a year,” Berry said. “So we would like to do what I call a ‘compliance coach’ with them to get them back on track.”
She said she plans to meet with staff and her new manager next week to come up with a plan to reopen as soon as possible.
Bilawsky, the chairman, took charge of the unrest.
“Hi, this is Ali,” she said. I am the head of the organization. And I’m not okay with our lack of interest in animals. And that’s the bottom line that what was happening was that animal welfare was not up to the standard we should be. This is a good change. Because we tested people who actually joined.”
The Bee’s Dale Kasler contributed to this story.
This story was originally published August 31, 2022 8:22 pm.