“You gotta kiss him! You gotta grab him and give him a little tickle on his belly! He loves that!”
And without a second for me to protest or hesitate, I was cradling a woodchuck in my arms like an infant. If you ever plan on volunteering at the East Coast Wildlife Rehab (and you like, totally should), be warned: Sherrie Wentworth’s fearlessness is quite contagious.
I first met Wentworth, who owns and operates ECWR, at a charity event in Ormond Beach last week. She was standing outside with a rescued mallard duck asking people for donations to keep rehab running and the animals alive. Operating completely on donations and Wentworth’s own personal savings, the rehab survives on community support to keep itself sustained as the largest center in Volusia County. After five years of dedication and service, Wentworth is understandably exhausted of taking care of over 100 animals daily, and of dealing with people who are a little too cavalier about maintaining Florida’s wildlife.
One couple walked by, oohed and awed at the duck, and shrugged off Wentworth when she inquired about a donation that would keep the ducks fed. After claiming they “live out of town,” Wentworth threw her hands in the air and said “What does that have to do with anything?”
Though her passion and fire for what she does can be seen through her frustration with apathetic people, it comes alive even more when you see her in action.
I pulled into the rehab, which is also Wentworth’s house, and was immediately greeted with a smile from her, and an unusually friendly emu named Z. Now I’m not against giant birds with piercing eyes, but for most of my life I’ve only dealt with them at a comfortable distance. Z was almost immediately an arm’s length away.
Following Wentworth through the facility (which is again, her HOUSE), I got up close and personal with squirrels, skunks, owls, falcons, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and song birds, all who were there to get treated for injuries. Everything from hit and runs to getting too close to a tree branch chopper were the cause of their wounds, with human error being the consistent element to blame.
Her personal love for animals extends back into her childhood, and can be seen through her own pets, which include horses, the biggest Anatolian shepherd dog I’ve ever seen, exotic fish, snakes and a lemur named Loki. All of which, I got to play with. Ten-year-old me was in heaven, and 22-year-old me was terrified of getting bite. It was an interesting time.
The grounds of the East Coast Wildlife Rehab also include a fully functional operating center where Wentworth saves furry lives almost daily, the county’s only aviaries to house hawks, owls and eagles for rehabilitation, and a pig named Bailey and a tortoise named Teddy who are, believe it or not, best friends.
Towards the end of the tour I bent over to snap a photo of a gang of geese went I felt a presence lurking behind me. I turned around to find two giant emu eyes looking directly into my soul. A slightly loud shriek, and Wentworth yelled over “Aw, Z likes you!”
I may not be entirely comfortable with Z’s intimacy just yet, but a few more visits to ECWR might make me a little more fearless, like Sherrie Wentworth.
How to help your local wildlife
Operating solely donations and no government or federal funding, the East Coast Wildlife Rehab is in need of help for the over 100 animals it houses and prepares for rehabilitation. Whether you can spare some cash or want to spend some time helping Sherrie and the animals, I can assure you that every bit counts. The Ormond Beach Observer was the first news outlet that she felt comfortable inviting in, and in exchange for that honor, I personally plan on getting my hands (and probably my face and feet) dirty at least once a week with Sherrie and her furry gang.
Visit www.eastcoastwildliferehab.com to make a donation or call 334-2237 for more information on volunteering. All donations are tax-deductible.
Find an injured animal?
If you find an injured wild animal, call the East Coast Wildlife Rehab immediately at 334-2237.