Like many young girls, I was convinced that when I grew up, I was going to be a veterinarian.

I was always an animal lover, taking care of my dog and cats, even dressing up Spot “the Wonder Dog” in my dolls’ clothes, popping him in the basket on the front of my bicycle and taking him everywhere with me. It was only when I went away to college and took a Zoology class in which I was required to dissect a cat, that I realized perhaps animal medicine was not for me.

Luckily, there are many people who have that same compassion for animals, but are also medically equipped to help them, when needed.

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), on Sanibel Island, is a teaching hospital and visitor education center dedicated to saving wildlife through state-of-the-art veterinary care, research, education and conservation medicine. Each year, they care for approximately 3,500 wildlife patients, including more than 200 species of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife in their veterinary hospital, which is one of the nation’s leading rehabilitation facilities for native and migratory wildlife.

They have presentations and tours each day they’re open, so on the day I visited, I timed it so that I would have about a half hour to first explore in the Visitor Education Center. That’s where they have interactive exhibits and videos that demonstrate how they rescue, admit, diagnose, treat, rehabilitate and (fingers crossed) release their animal patients.

At 11 a.m., Denny, one of the CROW volunteers, gathered a group of us together in an adjacent room and talked about the work that went on at the facility. Given his lighthearted sense of humor, it was really like an educational comedy show, but he did give us a lot of information. After his presentation ended, Rachel came into the room accompanied by Bashful, an opossum who appears to feel right at home in a roomful of people.

Rachel, who began her relationship with CROW as a student, led us outside for the tour and gave us all a headset with our own personal volume control. As we made our way around the property and to the hospital, she was able to communicate with all of us without yelling.

The hospital building was built in 2008 with donated funds and is a state-of-the art facility. Through a large window, we were able to watch a baby tern being tube-fed and a cormorant receiving a nice lunch of fish. CROW has its own licensed veterinarians on-site and the hospital offers critical care such as pain management, surgery and radiography, while also providing for long-term rehabilitation.

Rachel explained that the ultimate goal, of course, was for all the animal patients to return back to their native habitats. She said that CROW receives an average of three to four thousand patients per year, and they are cared for by a paid staff of only 20 people, but the facility also has more than 200 active volunteers and students.

If I lived a little closer to Sanibel, this would be just the kind of place where I would want to volunteer. I may not be able to help in a veterinary capacity, but I could certainly offer lots of love and compassion to the injured animals. After all, when you don’t feel well, it’s nice to get a hug—even if you’re an opossum named Bashful.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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