A day-in-the-life of a Canadian wildlife rehabilitator

Hope for Wildlife

For many wildlife enthusiasts, it would seem like Hope Swinimer is living the dream. The founder of Hope for Wildlife, a non-profit located in Nova Scotia, and the star of a Love Nature television series of the same name, Swinimer spends every day surrounded by wild animals.

But while rehabilitating animals might be a dream job, it comes with its fair share of challenges. “Most people don’t even know that there’s wildlife rehab because it’s a relatively new field,” explains Swinimer. “There are a lot of barriers to cross—but I like the newness of it and I love to educate.”

So what does it take to be a wildlife rehabilitator? We spoke to Swinimer to find out what an average day looks like—and just why the work of wildlife rehabilitators is so important.

How did you become a wildlife rehabilitator?

I worked at Dartmouth Vet Hospital for 20 years. I always had a keen interest in medicine, science, the science of nature, and the animals themselves.

What pushed me to actually start rehabilitating was the fact that I worked at a veterinary hospital as the hospital administrator. I soon discovered that very few people had the proper knowledge or know-how to answer people’s questions when they came across injured wildlife. So I realized there was a need. I started studying and trying to fill that need.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

If you had asked me that question 10 years ago, it would have been getting up at about 4:00 a.m., loading all the animals into work, feeding them, trying to coordinate, answer the phones—do just about everything.

Our facility has grown a lot since then, so my day is a little bit different. It’s making sure that when my feet hit the ground, everybody is in position. For example, if someone doesn’t show up for work, that means an animal isn’t going to be cared for.

We usually start by doing a complete walkabout. All of the needs of the patients are met first thing, with all of the meds being given. We clean and pick up the food bowls—seeing who ate, who didn’t, making notes of what was eaten—and check the wellbeing of all the animals. That’s the first couple of hours of every day.

Is there a highlight in your workday?

I’m the luckiest person in the world because every day is exciting and different. The highlight is that every moment is so special and so unique. You never know what’s going to come in the door—you never know if you’re going to be treating silver-haired bat one minute, a black vulture, or a bobcat the next.

What skills should a successful wildlife rehabilitator have?

You need to love people. There’s no way you can be good at this if you don’t enjoy interacting with the public—because those are the people who are going to be calling you and bringing in animals in distress. You’ve got to be willing to teach and help people to grow.

You need to have a bit of a business mind, because it’s like running a business; only it’s a charity. You have to make ends meet on a tight budget, and know how to fundraise.

You should have a bit of a science and medical background, and a strong medical team behind you. And then you’ve got to build a wonderful group of volunteers who love it as much as you—that’s what’s going to get you through each and every day.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

Dispelling some of the myths that animals are disposable and that they don’t feel pain like dogs and cats and humans do. We’ve become blind to driving by injured wildlife on the road.

I’d like to dispel myths that we’ve been brought up to believe are true like, “Don’t mess with animals; you’re messing with nature.” I think we’ve been brainwashed to think that way—we mess with nature every single day simply by driving to work, building our homes, or having children and consuming.

We’re messing up the natural flow of things, so what’s wrong with trying to rebalance that and taking responsibilities as human beings? Overcoming that way of thinking is the biggest hurdle.