Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Behind the Scenes at the Wildlife Medical Clinic

Pet Column for the week of April 12, 2004

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ann Marie Falk
Information Specialist

The not-for-profit Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana is entirely funded by private donations. One of the biggest fund-raising events is the 3rd Annual Doodle for Wildlife being help April 17 at the Highdive in Champaign from 6 to 9 p.m.

Dozens of celebrities were sent a piece of paper and a marker. They were asked to doodle something and send it back. These doodles--including ones from Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, Simon Cowell, Big Bird, Elmo, James Earl Jones, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and about 50 others--will be auctioned off.

"It's very interesting to see what we get back. Some celebrities send really cool doodles and others send their best attempt! Signed publicity photos, T-shirts, hats, books, and sports cards are also donated. Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, from Animal Planet's Animal ER will be performing. It will be a fun night for all!" says Christine Wilmes, a veterinary student manager of the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

Tickets are available for $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Come for food, doodles, music, and funand to support a worthy cause! Or simply make a donation help pay for food, housing, and medical supplies for the wildlife patients. To make a donation, contact the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicines Development Office at 217/333-2762.

Three-part mission. The mission of the Wildlife Medical Clinic is three-fold. The first goal is to take care of their patients and provide a service to the community. The clinic is also a wonderful learning opportunity for the veterinary students who volunteer to staff it. Finally the clinic hopes to promote a message of conservation and to educate the community about wildlife issues.

The patients. The Wildlife Medical Clinic treats about 1500 injured, ill, or orphaned patients a year. Variety is the word that best describes their patients. Mammalian patients range from common critters like rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons to coyote, fox, and deer. Birds of all feathers pass through the clinic doors: robins, sparrows, and other songbirds; swans, geese, and other waterfowl; and hawks, owls, and other raptors. They even see turtles, lizards, and frogs.

"There are several ways that working with wildlife differs from working with pet birds and dogs," explains Christine Wilmes, the 3rd year student manager of the Wildlife Medical Clinic. "Unfortunately when wild animals are sick enough to be caught, it's a sign that they are severely debilitated. Despite our best medical efforts many of our patients die."

The clinic posted a record survival rate of 60 percent in 2003. Its typical survival rate is closer to the national average of groups that rescue wildlife, around 30 to 40 percent.

"Another difference is that we must completely restore our patients' health to allow release back into the wild. A dog with a severe fracture can limp around and enjoy life as a house pet, but a fox needs to be fully functional, not just comfortable, to fight off predators and hunt for food," comments Wilmes.

The volunteers. Medical director for the Wildlife Medical Clinic is Dr. Julia Whittington, the exotics veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Two student co-managers, a 2nd and 3rd year veterinary student, manage the clinic. Their duties include organizing about 90 volunteers (mostly veterinary students), helping volunteers with care of their patients, holding patient rounds each week, and taking care of patients during vacations. Along with the medical director and volunteers, they are also responsible for fundraising to keep the clinic running.

"Our student volunteers keep the clinic running and allow us to help so many animals. There are 10 teams consisting of 2 or 3 team leaders and 8 volunteers who work together on assigned cases. The students plan the course of treatment and take care of all aspects of the case while the animal is at the clinic. This often means coming in 4 or 5 times a day to administer medication. Students do a great job and devote a lot of time to the clinic and our patients," notes Wilmes.

The public. "We have four 'public relations' birds who are permanent residents of the clinic. They all came in as patients and are unreleasable. Federal permits allow us to keep Odin, a red-tailed hawk; Nokomis, a great horned owl; Penelope, an eastern screech owl; and Pistol, our American kestrel. These birds attend the 50-plus talks the clinic gives at schools, nursing homes, scout meetings, fairs, and other public events," says Wilmes.

To learn more about the Wildlife Medical Clinic and the Doodle for Wildlife, visit the Web site at