We are continuing our series of posts that will profile the authors and artists featured in our latest volume, Trust. Learn more about the Trust volume here. Click this link to order Trust and previous volumes.
by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
Relationships of trust between human beings and other animals was a theme we wanted to explore in Whole Terrain’s Trust volume, so when we connected with wildlife rehabilitator Deborah Galle, we were thrilled to include her story in the volume. In “Reflections of a Wildlife Rehabilitator,” Galle shares her intuitive understanding of the experience of a wounded neonate cottontail rabbit deposited at her rehabilitation center by concerned citizens. She also describes the clinical and relational process she undertakes as she assesses the rabbit’s injuries, attempting to build a bond of trust that does not extend to imprinting or comfort around people. She cares for each animal as an individual, working with each one to meet its needs and, hopefully, release it back into the wild. We wanted to learn more about what it takes to become a wildlife rehabilitator, and the importance of trust in this line of work.
Whole Terrain: What drew you to animal rehabilitation?
Deborah Galle: I have always had a special connection to animals — pets and wildlife. After working in retail management for years and a 10-year career in corporate communications and benefits, I decided to attempt to follow my heart. I enrolled in a veterinary assistant certificate program. While attending the courses, I met a wildlife rehabilitator who introduced me to the world of rehabilitation and became my mentor.
WT: What critters do you have under your care right now?
DG: It is the spring season and wildlife rehabilitators are busy! I currently have eight rabbits from three different litters. I have already released three rabbits from another litter.
Releasing domestic and exotic pets into the wild is detrimental to our environment and to the animals on so many levels. Non-indigenous animals should never be released into the wild. They bring different diseases, compete for habitat and food, often have no natural predator to manage their population, and they eradicate the indigenous species that belong there (think pythons in Florida).
WT: In your piece for Whole Terrain, you mention a different kind of intuitive awareness you have to have in order to do animal rehabilitation well. Can you tell us about how or when you noticed you had that?
DG: My family and friends often referred to me as Doctor Doolittle growing up. If there was an animal in the vicinity, it was near me. I gravitated to them because I felt a connection. When I was about twelve years old I could whistle and call a pair of wild swans. They would fly in and swoosh into the water, stopping at my feet. I think animals recognized that I would never harm them. I could sit and watch them for hours.
In my apartment complex, the squirrels and birds often visit me on my terrace. They find safety hiding amidst the foliage and I do not disturb them.
When I began to rehabilitate wildlife, I worked with raccoons, flyers, squirrels, skunks, and rabbits, and loved them all. As a wildlife rehabilitator, I believe it is best to specialize — at least when you are first on your own. I selected rabbits. I have domestic rabbits and I understand them. My release rate for wild cottontails was highly successful — 75-80% released. The average release rate is 40-50%.
After I volunteered for a local wildlife sanctuary, the director sent me an email, the partial content of which is below:
These animals have to ‘feel the love’ in order to survive and thrive. Caring for wildlife is a meditative and spiritual journey that can only be truly learned over time by those with a pure heart. It’s about getting in touch with your abilities as a healer and learning from the wild animals’ perspective. I have seen it over and over again here, animals that defy the odds and survive due to focused healing. It is a rare trait that only a handful of our interns have truly mastered. I think you have these abilities, I can tell by the way Henry responds to your touch.
She expressed exactly how I felt with the animals but I never actually articulated those traits in myself. Once she spoke those words, I recognized myself.
WT: To bring in Whole Terrain’s tagline, in what ways do you see animal rehabilitation as a “reflective environmental practice”?
DG: Tapping into the quote above, getting in touch with one’s abilities and learning from the wild animal’s perspective requires an openness of spirit on the part of the individual attempting to heal. The clinical aspects are real and necessary, but if the body and the spirit are not working in unison to achieve survival and a second chance, the animal will not heal. The intentions of the healer must be pure.
WT: In addition to the intuitive aspects of wildlife rehabilitation, what sort of training do you have to do in order to become an animal rehabilitator, and how can people get involved?
DG: In the state of Connecticut (other states have their own protocols): submit a completed application form to the Connecticut State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Wildlife Division, volunteer with a state-appointed rehabilitator for a minimum of 40 hours, complete and submit a Wildlife Rehabilitation Statement of Apprenticeship form, signed by the applicant and the sponsor, to account for the hours the applicant has spent with the state-appointed rehabilitator, obtain a statement of veterinary support which affirms that you have a veterinarian willing to advise and assist you and submit it with your completed application, attend the DEEP and Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitation Association training class, and pass the DEEP certification exam.
There are many ways to become involved in the preservation of wildlife and the conservation of natural resources. Interested individuals are welcome to join the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (CWRA) and to learn about wildlife at our very informative semi-annual seminars. Volunteers willing to assist rehabilitators are always welcome. However, in order for the greatest chance of wildlife being successfully reintroduced into the wild, most wildlife being rehabilitated needs to have only a single caregiver. Therefore, volunteering can involve cage cleaning, food prep, and sometimes transport.
WT: In what ways are you learning to trust lately, with regards to your environmental practice?
DG: I learn every day and with every animal I encounter. Every animal is an individual with a unique personality. Each animal has its own special needs based on the level of trauma, exposure to human beings, and clinical injuries. Those who cross my path enhance my abilities as a healer as long as I am open to learning from that animal’s perspective.
I am also aware that patients in my care — although mighty in spirit — do not always overcome the clinical injuries affecting them. The will to live is not enough. I allow myself to peacefully release the animal’s spirit. My mantra is that I will fight alongside them for as long as they are willing and strong enough to do so. If they can no longer work towards achieving the common goal of a second chance in the wild, I cognitively allow the animal the space to cross over, knowing they died feeling warmth, quiet, and the healing energy of the caregiver.
Bio: Deborah Galle serves on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, and is a Connecticut State Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator for orphaned and injured baby mammals and non-migratory birds. She specializes in nurturing orphaned, injured, and ill rabbits until they can be released back into the wild. Deborah is a communications professional skilled in analysis, branding, and implementing communications for diverse industries. In addition, she has 20 years of nonprofit experience as an event chair and co-chairperson for various organizations, including the Montefiore Medical Center. Deborah is also a wildlife blogger, formerly posting her content on the Patch. An avid nature photographer, Deborah takes wildlife photographs as a way to capture a moment in time — reflections of the animal’s spirit through her lens. Deborah resides in Greenwich, Connecticut.
This video appears with an article about Deborah Galle in the Greenwich Free Press from July 24, 2015.