By Chris Robinson
FOR THE FIRST time since opening in 1995, Second Chance Wildlife Center near Gaithersburg, MD was so overburdened with animals needing care it was forced to deny new arrivals late last month.
The respite allowed the center to release about 120 animals back to the wild and reopen a week later. Second Chance Executive Director Christine Montuori is optimistic they won’t have to close again this summer.
However, she warns that the closure reflects a broader dilemma created by increased development, a particularly active spring and a decline in wildlife rehabilitators.
‘‘Whenever a rehabilitator gives it up, the slack has to be taken up some place,” Montuori said.
There are 70 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Maryland and Second Chance is one of the largest in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, said Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Second Chance, which is operated 365 days a year from a 2,600-sq.-ft. farmhouse nestled in a wooded, 10-acre plot, can care for as many as 1,000 animals a month, Montuori said. She estimated they were currently housing about 600 animals.
Peditto said that while his department handles rare and threatened animals as well as wildlife emergencies that threaten human safety, the rehabilitators offer care for general wildlife that is largely not provided by other local or state agencies. Still, Peditto said the number of licensed rehabilitators has remained stable and factors such as suburban sprawl must be considered.
‘‘At the same time, we would certainly welcome new volunteers into the apprentice program to become master rehabilitators,” Peditto said.
Montuori, who said she has been a rehabilitator for 20 years and currently is employed full time with Second Chance, encouraged anyone with the interest, time and dedication to investigate rehabilitation. Additional government funding also could lighten the financial disincentive many potential rehabilitators face, she said.
‘‘The idea is if it’s a wild animal, let nature take its course,” Montuori said. ‘‘That kind of mentality lasts until you are the one that finds that injured baby squirrel, or sees the animal hit by a car and is still struggling, then all of that ‘nature takes its course’ thing goes out the window.”
JC Crist, president and chief executive officer of the Montgomery County Humane Society, said that the situation is a wakeup call every spring.
‘‘I think we need to come up with a plan,” he said. ‘‘We, collectively as a community, with a plan so we don’t hit critical mass and God’s creatures don’t suffer.” –The Gazette