Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network is entering its busiest time of year, which would be challenging enough even if there wasn’t a pandemic limiting the number of volunteers that can work with the nonprofit.
That time of year is what the network’s executive director Ariana Katovich called “spring baby season,” which at its height will see the center receive between 30 and 40 newborn animals in need of rescue and rehabilitation in one day.
When all is said and done, the SBWCN will receive as much as two-thirds of the animals it intakes this year during spring baby season, so social distancing and home quarantining from the coronavirus outbreak has decreased staff at a time when it needs all the hands it can get.
“It couldn’t have hit at a worse time,” Ms. Katovich told the News-Press.
While the nonprofit prefers to have between three and four staff members at its Goleta location to tend to animals, the center as of late has been averaging two per shift. The reasons for volunteers staying away are myriad. Some are of an older age and at risk of being greatly impacted by COVID-19, some are focusing on caring for their older and younger family members amid the health crisis, and others simply don’t feel comfortable showing up at the center in person.
This has left those who do feel comfortable going onsite to work there overtime. However, to lighten onsite staff’s workload, some animal care staff members with the requisite experience are performing home care by bottle feeding baby animals and keeping them at their houses. Because many of the new intakes are babies, performing home care is, to a certain extent, a doable proposition.
“We are dividing labor that way, like it does make sense to do some home care when we have our little infants,” Ms. Katovich said.
She added that because the SBWCN started out as an animal home care program in which volunteers kept animals in their kitchens and bathtubs, sending animals home with care staff is the nonprofit “going back to our roots as much as we can.”
Still, baby animals are a handful to take care of so a majority of them have to be cared for onsite with the resources available there. About 70% of the animals are birds, ranging from ducks, to hummingbirds, to western grebes. Requiring feeding every 20 to 30 minutes from dawn until dusk, baby birds are messy creatures to care for as they are constantly consuming food and not long after that, defecating. Laundering linens in bird enclosures and cleaning the enclosures themselves is almost an around-the-clock activity at the wildlife care center.
In addition to the challenge of handling spring baby season with a somewhat shorter staff, it currently isn’t possible to bolster that staff with new recruits who feel comfortable working at the center. Because social distancing requirements preclude giving new recruits the hands-on training necessary to care for animals onsite or at home, the SBWCN is doing the next best thing by conducting online training via the video app Zoom. According to Ms. Katovich, the network will immediately start bringing new recruits on board for personal training once the coronavirus crisis has subsided.
“We are, you know, kind of building a list of people who want to volunteer so that when we can bring people to the center and things have been lifted, we can just kind of jump right in,” she said.
Operating completely on donations, the SBWCN is greatly concerned with the economic impacts the coronavirus has brought on. Not only is spring baby season a very busy time for the nonprofit, but a very expensive one as well, costing about $400,000, according to Ms. Katovich. On top of its normal operating costs, it is seeking to raise a further $2.5 million through a capital campaign for the construction of an onsite animal hospital with x-ray, surgery, blood testing, and anesthesia capabilities. At the present, animals brought to the SBWCN requiring any of these services must be taken to off-site veterinary facilities. For instance, birds covered in oil have to be taken all the way to San Pedro. Despite the coronavirus situation somewhat slowing the momentum the nonprofit had in getting its hospital’s permit from the County of Santa Barbara, Ms. Katovich and her fellow network workers are hopeful the permit and the necessary funds will be in place by the end of spring baby season.
Though the coronavirus may have cut into SBWCN’’s onsite volunteer pool, its intake remains high as individuals who have found injured and orphaned animals continue to roll through its front gate. Network hospital manager Elaine Ibarra was encouraged that this is still happening despite the outbreak.
“People are still coming. I thought it would drop off a lot more than it has,” she said.
Ms. Katovich was similarly pleased with this.
“Even amidst everything that’s going on, people still care and are still wanting to take care of wildlife,” she said. “All of this is going on in the world and it’s stuff that we can’t really control, but when you see an injured animal or an orphaned animal that needs help, that’s something you can do, and we make that possible by operating.”