In the fall of 2002, Dane County Humane Society Kennel Manager Dave Madden and Animal Services Officer Pat Comfert approached Executive Director Pam McCloud Smith with the idea to house and rehabilitate injured wild animals.
Back then, wildlife in need of medical care were taken to the Emergency Clinic for Animals, now Madison Veterinary Specialists. However, that facility had limited space, and DCHS was not yet allowed to house wildlife in its building.
DCHS already had a barn, built in 1999, to lodge horses, livestock and feral cats. Pam designated one stall of the barn for wildlife rehabilitation, and Dave and Pat took responsibility for taking care of and treating patients. Thus began the Wildlife Center at DCHS and its gradual expansion into what it has become today.
By 2012, 10 years after the Wildlife Center opened, the facility had experienced a 65-percent increase in wildlife intake. Patients went from being housed in a single stall to expanding into the entire barn space. With over 1,500 wildlife admitted each year, the barn was no longer large enough to treat the large volume of animals coming in.
Soon, plans were underway to construct a separate facility for the wildlife center. A new horse and livestock barn opened in 2016, and the old barn was remodeled to treat and house wildlife. The remodel included a songbird room, new concrete floors, plumbing for outdoor sinks and indoor restrooms, a large kitchen and food prep area, and a new furnace and air conditioner system to improve temperature control.
The Wildlife Center at DCHS is now the third largest facility of its kind in the state of Wisconsin. More than 3,800 wild patients are admitted annually, representing more than 100 species of native birds, reptiles and amphibians. In almost 20 years, nearly 30,000 creatures have been treated.
These talented people provide top-notch medical care to wildlife, and they are qualified to perform a variety of diagnostic and surgical services. They are designated wildlife rehabilitation sponsors who help train the next generation of professionals, including interns, apprentices, and University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinary students.
In addition, The Wildlife Center has up to 200 volunteers during the peak season, and they are truly the backbone of the operation. Volunteers not only care for patients, but also answer questions from the public, assist with fundraising and even raise worms and other food used to feed the wildlife. Some are even dedicated to helping transport and rescue injured wildlife, and they bring them back to the Wildlife Center for examinations.
There is no fee to bring an animal to the Wildlife Center, which receives no state or federal funding. Its money comes solely from fundraising. With the average cost to care for each animal at about $100, donations are critical to continuing to provide these animals with care.
The Wildlife Center, which will mark its 20-year anniversary in 2022, remains a significant part of DCHS, thanks to its staff, volunteers and generous donors. They are all passionate about the creatures they help bring back to good health so they may be returned to their natural habitats.