wildlife rehabilitation center aims to fill void for injured creatures | News, Sports, Jobs

ALBURTIS, Pa. – They arrive in baskets and cardboard boxes, bleeding from near-miss accidents with lawn mowers or torn from the mouths of neighborhood cats. It’s birthing season in the Lehigh Valley, and that means a constant stream of injured baby rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and songbirds will show up at Melissa and Michael Descant’s doorstep.

Michael, a second generation veterinarian, and Melissa, a veterinarian technician, have been patching up wild animals for years. But until recently, under Pennsylvania Game Commission guidelines, they were required to transport recovering animals to a licensed wildlife management facility, in most cases within 48 hours.

“The problem was that there was no wildlife re-education center nearby” said Melissa Descant. “Whichever direction we went, it took about an hour to drive. Sometimes that hour’s drive was enough to stress the animal and it would die, even after having successfully undergone surgery. “

The couple decided to remedy the situation by opening their own facility last week, the Cricket Wildlife Center. After months of construction and red tape, they turned their four-acre Alburtis property into a sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals.

During its first week of operation, the association has taken in 15 animals and has already released its first patients, four juvenile rabbits, into the wild.

“It was a great feeling. I tried to take a picture but they took off like a blow when we opened the cage ”, said Melissa Descant.

It is illegal to keep or care for injured wildlife in a home. According to the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators, there are no licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Lehigh or Northampton counties. The closest centers are the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Stroudsburg, Monroe County and the AARK Wildlife Rehabilitaion & Education Center in Chalfont, Bucks County.

Schuylkill County has a facility, the Red Creek Wildlife Center, Inc. in Schuylkill Haven, and there is a bat rehabilitation center, Pennsylvania Bat Rescue in Rockland Township, Berks County, not far from Operation Descants.

The center is named after Cricket, a 40-pound serval, a wildcat native to Africa, which the couple rescued in 2012 while Michael Descant attended veterinary school in Tennessee. Servals are legal pets in this state. Cricket owners returned him because he used to eat rubber household items and had intestinal blockages that required expensive surgery.

Pennsylvania has strict rules on owning exotic cats like servals, so when it was time to return home, the Descants had to complete an extensive licensing process to bring in Cricket, including permission from state and local authorities and documentation of at least two years experience with the breed.

Fortunately, they had been caring for him in Tennessee for so long, and Michael Descant had taken courses in exotic feline medicine. The couple spent an entire summer building a 400-foot enclosure for Cricket, complete with a heated hut and an elevated track that winds through their wooded property and allows it to sneak and scare the family’s chickens through a fencing.

“Getting him to come here was a headache, but he reminds us that with determination you can accomplish almost anything” said Melissa Descant.

Work is a family affair, said Melissa Descant. Their children, Maggie, 7, and Nikolai, 5, are used to people knocking on doors at all hours of the day with an injured animal in their arms.

“My daughter especially, she loves it. She wants to be a veterinarian like her father and grandfather. She can see everything, she can help. There have been times when we have to go to the clinic at 11 at night, and they are happy to accompany us.

One recent afternoon, Nikolai helped her mother walk around the center, carrying a young chicken as her mother scanned the incubators containing baby possums and a garter snake that had been lacerated by a cat.

The wildlife center is still under construction. While the couple built a barn with pens for different species, they are still working to raise $ 30,000 to set up the specialized pens required by law to keep animals classified as vectors of rabies in Pennsylvania – raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bats and groundhogs. Cricket Wildlife can still accept these animals, but must transfer them to another rehabilitation center.

Rabbits are the most common animal brought to the center, followed by squirrels and birds. Cat attacks are the main cause of their injuries. Michael Descant works at the Lehigh County Humane Society Veterinary Clinic, which helps reduce the number of stray cats by providing low-cost spay and neuter surgeries on cats captured by volunteer trappers.

Over the past two years, Humane Society vets have performed more than 2,000 surgeries as part of its trap, neutral, comeback program, CEO Hal Warner said.

This time of year brings an increase in calls for fawns and young songbirds that people find in their backyards. In most cases, the animal’s mother is nearby and the babies are fine, said Melissa Descant, and the owner just needs to be reassured that he is doing the right thing by leaving them alone.

“If anyone is worried they can definitely call and we’ll talk to them” she said.

If a fawn appears injured, the researcher can bring it to the center. The exception is deer found in parts of Berks County where a quarantine is in place to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease.

The center cannot accept migratory birds, due to federal laws. Most of Pennsylvania’s wildlife is managed by the state hunting commission, but migratory birds are overseen by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Descants do not charge a fee for treating injured animals, but accept donations. They recently created a Facebook page for Cricket Wildlife Center and are working on a website. Between taking care of the injured critters and filling out the piles of paperwork needed to start their nonprofit, there isn’t much extra time available, said Melissa Descant.

“It’s hard work, but it’s something that is really needed in this area. We just want to spread the word and let the community know that we are there for them.

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