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Master Naturalists: Wildlife rescue orientation for K-9 campers

By Paul and Mary Meredith
July 5, 2012 at 2:05 a.m.

A K-9 Camp counselor, in blue, poses as a tree with branches (arms) extended, while her camper  practices placing a rescued bird and nest safely back in the tree. Campers learned basic wild animal rescue rules and techniques as a part of a four-day program at the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center.

For the last three weeks, we have been working on youth education, which is part of the Master Naturalist mission: education, outreach, and service focused on management of natural resources and natural areas. We've been helping 10- through 15-year-olds learn safe, smart and humane animal rescue basics at the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center's K-9 summer camps programs.

K-9 campers

Campers at each of the six camp sessions, from June to mid-July, spend four and a half days training a shelter dog to follow basic commands and work through an agility course in hopes of increasing the dog's chances for adoption.

Campers can also work a family dog if it can get along and is up-to-date on immunizations. Before the late-morning Thursday "graduation" (with parents watching campers and dogs going through their paces), we spent time showing campers the rescue basics: safety, what to rescue, what not to rescue, proper tools and equipment, building a rescue kit, and a variety of other rescue subjects.

Hands-on experiences are best

Campers had the best time and learned more by getting hands-on experience in preparing a rescue kit, and calming a rescue animal by covering it with a soft cloth. They prepared and used a rescue "box" to humanely immobilize a bird or mammal for transport to a licensed rehabilitator.

They learned how important that is to animal survival. We learned as well. We found out Sally Kuecker, executive director of the center, was at one time a licensed mammal rehabilitator. She was a great help in impressing campers with the need to follow safe procedures and legal requirements in helping a parent or responsible adult successfully rescue a threatened animal.

Campers also learned that rescue often means leaving foundling animals where found because their mothers will care for them. Mother squirrels, rabbits and others often do this when their nests are disturbed or damaged during our high spring winds. And blown-down bird nests are not necessarily a reason to get a bird to a rehab person.

Campers learned how to - with adult supervision - safely handle baby birds, put them back in a downed nest and place the nest in a good location in a tree or large bush near where the nest was found. Mother birds will find the nest and continue to care for the babies till they fledge (get feathers), learn to fly and can care for themselves.

Campers found that a mother bird will not abandon a touched bird because it has human smell. Birds, in fact, have very little if any sense of smell.

Counselors were helpers

Trained, older young adults act as counselors for K-9 sessions. They were good sports, posing as volunteer trees with branches (arms) out so campers could replace a nest and downed bird safely in the tree. Campers found that they could even build an acceptable substitute nest from plastic fruit trays, paper towels and toilet tissues and tape it up, replacing the destroyed nest. We had a great time.

Sources: events, Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center /wild/rehab, source for locating licensed rehabilitators in Texas counties, a source for Texas Master Naturalist advanced training in assisting rehabilitators, Second Chance Wildlife Center, Inc.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at



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