June 2015 Newsletter

 June 2015

What's New

Don't forget the deadline for summer registration is June 22! We are offering classes on the Human-Animal Bond, Exotic Animal Management & Conservation, Primate Behavior & Enrichment and more!  



Animal Adoptions

For this deformed bottlenose dolphin, life was looking pretty dark until a family of sperm whales adopted her into their family. She has an S-shaped deformity and was stuck on her own until the pack of whales, not usually known for interacting with other species, adopted her as one of their own. In 2011, researchers observed the dolphin travelling with the family of whales for eight days. The unlikely friends would forage and play together; both adults and calves interacted with the dolphin. The dolphin would rub its body against the whales affectionately, and they would sometimes return the favor. Scientists believe this bond could stem from a desire either for protection against predators or for simple interaction with other animals.

Although a bond of this type between the dolphin and whales is quite rare, animals often interact with other species and are even know to adopt their young. One of the most famous cases is that of Koko the gorilla and her pet cat, All Ball. Koko is famous for being able to speak sign language. She loves kittens and was given a pet cat by her owners for her birthday. Koko adored the cat and would play with it by chasing it, holding it and petting it. She was very gentle and loving towards her pet and would even try to nurse the kitten. When All Ball passed away, Koko was silent for about ten minutes before she began whimpering and then signed, “Sleep Cat.” The bond these two animals had was very deep despite their vast differences. This relationship illustrates the compassion and bonding animals share with one another, a relationship easy to overlook.

Video of Koko and All Ball

Scientists have long been baffled by adoption. For humans, there are great costs involved and no opportunity to pass on genes. Therefore, it seems to be completely altruistic. This makes it particularly interesting when it’s observed in other animals. Seals at Ano Nuevo Island exhibit several patterns of adoption. Adoption is extremely common in this species; the vast majority of foster parents are female. This could be due to the need to nurse. Most of the adoptive parents had lost their own pups. Scientists speculate that adoptive parents are better able to reproduce later in life. Alternatively, after giving birth mothers are ready to provide care and are willing to take care of other pups if they have lost their own. Some females who still have their own young adopt other pups too, indicating that there is an altruistic nature to adoption.

Many other examples of adoption between species are well known. This includes a dog who nursed a baby squirrel as part of her own litter, a mother hen that adopted a litter of abandoned puppies, a raccoon who generously adopted a tabby kitten, a pit bull adopting three baby turkeys, and a cow adopting a baby leopard. Adoption may be mutually beneficial, benefiting both species that participate. The benefits can be as simple as a desire for companionship. Other benefits include gaining additional food or security. However, some animals do seem to adopt simply out of empathy for others. Capacity for empathy leads animals to adopt others to relieve pain, hunger, or loneliness in themselves or in the infants. 

As a matter of fact, a Chinese zoo recently saw an incredibly altruistic and motherly form of adoption when a dog filled in as a mother for both a panther cub and a wolf pup. The two orphaned animals were taken in by the dog who even nursed them so that they would grow strong with all the nutrients they need. The two panther cub and wolf pup, about half the dog's size when taken in, would both grow to be much bigger than their mother later in life. Don't miss this beautiful video of the dog with her two adopted pups.

While we cannot get into the heads of adoptive animals and see what they are thinking, we can make guesses as to why they adopt young of different species. There are several scientific hypotheses to account for this form of adoption, but ultimately adoption between species can be taken as a sign of altruism and empathy. Animals are more caring and compassionate than we often give them credit for. Humans might adopt a viewpoint, adopt an attitude or adopt a new policy - but only animals seem to adopt one another.




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Enriching Their Lives - DIY Fun for Dogs

Welcome to the first of our series on DIY enrichment devices! (You can access the second one, on Cats, here.) Enrichment is an important part of life for many captive animals from mice to penguins. It is used to enhance the animal’s behavioral, physical, social, cognitive, and psychological well being through fun and challenging activities. This article will focus on enrichment for your pet dog, but stay tuned! Our coming newsletters will feature enrichment devices for other pets such as cats and hamsters.

Enrichment Devices for dogs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This green plastic ball is a great example. Here’s how it works: The ball hangs from a chain and is filled with delicious dog treats. The dog must figure out a way to manipulate the device to get the treats out. The food can come through the holes, but not easily. The dog must play with the toy, scratching and batting at it, to retrieve the food inside. This type of play presents a friendly challenge that lets the dog think about how to solve the problem. It allows them to work for their food as they might in the wild, while providing a chance to play and have fun. 

Creating an enrichment device for your dog is much kinder than simply buying them treats. You can easily do this yourself if you’re willing to get a little creative! An enrichment device can be almost anything your dog can play with or manipulate. Start with something that makes eating more fun. Wild animals are not meant to eat out of a food bowl, so let them find their food in a more natural way. One of the best enrichment devices can simply make eating more of a challenge for both the mind and body, as they would with the green plastic ball. Victoria Stilwell’s video explains the ways that these types of devices can benefit dogs.

You can use your own ideas, but to start, here’s our recommended DIY toy: the tennis ball challenge. To create this toy, you will need one tennis ball, several dog treats and a knife. Simply cut a flap in the ball, put treats inside, and give it to your dog! This will allow the dog to play with the ball, chewing it and batting it around until he gets the reward of the treats inside. It can provide hours of entertainment and is extremely easy and cheap for you!

If you want to get a little more creative, find a few more tennis balls and a muffin tray. Put a treat in some or all of the holes and place the tennis balls on top. Your dog must push or grab the tennis balls off to discover the hidden treats. If you only place treats in some of the holes, the dog will have to search to find where the treats are. 

If your dog tears through these challenges too fast, or often rips and destroys toys, try using PVC pipes, available at hardware stores. To make your toy, cut them to the desired size, put the ends on and drill some holes in the sides. Next, fill the pipes with treats or even peanut butter. Now your dog will have a real challenge and a toy he cannot easily chew through. One note of caution, however. Be sure to consider safety first when building enrichment devices. Parts than crack or break may create sharp edges or parts than can be swallowed or serve as choking hazards. Talk you your veterinarian about any new toys or devices you’d like to create and ask her to preview items for safety.

In addition to these ideas, Animal Farm Foundation has some great ways you can make your own home versions of some tried and true dog enrichment devices. Check it out and have fun! 



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Wildlife Rehabilitation Starter Kit

We hope you’ve been keeping up with our series of articles on Wildlife Rehabilitation. If not, never fear! You can access the previous ones here:


Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get started with your career in wildlife rehabilitation. We’ve given you the background info and now we’re giving you the resources you need to make that dream come true. ABI put together an exclusive list of Wildlife Rehabilitation Internships to check out as well as a State-by-State Compilation of the Requirements for becoming a licensed rehabilitator.

As you know, internships and volunteer positions are some of the best ways to get started in your career. Wildlife rehabilitators often learn from a mentoring relationship with someone who is more experienced. Hands-on learning is the best method to gain knowledge about animal care while figuring out which parts of the job you like best and which animals you enjoy working with most. This list of internships should give you a head start on your job search and a life of rescuing and nursing injured animals.

Once you have completed your internship, you can begin looking to get your wildlife rehabilitation permit. Permit requirements vary state by state due to the diverse collection of animals that are native to each state and the needs of those animals. Most states do require a mentoring relationship with a more experienced rehabilitator and at least one year of experience. This permit will allow you to care for a variety of animals. However, be aware that some species require additional federal permits and that most permits must be periodically renewed and require end of the year paperwork to stay active. 

More sources for info on state permit requirements can be found here:


With these resources, you have the tools to get the experience and qualifications you need to get your license and begin saving animals’ lives every day. You are ready to begin your career knowing you will truly make a difference in the wildlife of your area.




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Meet Toni O'Neil - Professional Wildlife Rehabilitator

Interested in taking care of sick and injured animals, nursing them back to health and releasing them into the wild? Looking for a career where you can make a difference in the environment and wildlife around you? Then tune in to our exclusive interview with Toni O’Neil, ABI’s own expert Wildlife Rehabilitator. Toni O’Neil is the founder of Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, a wildlife facility specializing in rehabilitation care and treatment of small mammals, songbirds, waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, and reptiles. As Director of Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, Toni provides wildlife education programs for local residents and school children on top of the countless hours she spends working with injured wildlife. In addition to teaching for ABI, Ms. O’Neil is active in many conferences, such as the annual Wildlife Rehabilitators of North Carolina (WRNC) Symposium, and Second Chance Wildlife Rescue classes. She also serves as Vice President to the Wildlife Rehabilitators of North Carolina.

Possumwood Acres Homepage

How did such an accomplished woman get her start in her long, successful career? Her love and compassion for animals has been life-long. Toni O’Neil told us that she “always liked animals and birds ever since I was little. I was that nerdy kid in the neighborhood that whenever anyone found an injured animal, they would bring it to me. I would nurse the animals back to health and put them back outside.” Toni recounted that she always enjoyed reading about animals and went camping all the time. However, she didn’t always know she would be a wildlife rehabilitator. Her early goal in life was to be a park ranger because she wanted to teach people about wildlife and nature. This goal changed when the government put a freeze on hiring, preventing Toni from getting a job as a park ranger. Instead, she moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and began volunteering at the Carolina Raptor Center, where she worked for 13 years.

At the Carolina Raptor Center, Toni explored the world of wildlife rehabilitation. She learned that she loved both the education side and the rehab side of the job. She told us it was “love at first sight.” She loved being able to physically help animals return to the wild. It was here that Toni learned about raptor care and interned with someone in songbird care. Next, Toni worked with infant mammals, got her state permit, and became an independent rehabilitator working from her home. When she and her husband moved to Hubert, NC she decided she needed something bigger and better and she founded the Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, the only wildlife rehabilitation facility in Onslow County.

Possumwood Acres Video

Toni would advise anybody who thinks they want to work in wildlife rehabilitation to volunteer as a first step. This helps you to find out what you don’t like and to work with what you do like. Some people don’t want to clean up animal waste or blood, but like to prep food and clean kennels. She encourages volunteers to “do all the stuff it takes to run the place.” There are simply not enough facilities offering wildlife care and rehabilitation; individuals really do make a difference. She explained, “Some of these facilities are disappearing. People need to step up and take responsibility for the wildlife around them. Education is so important.” Toni encourages those who are interested to keep up on current events, including changes in care, updates to keeping permits, and other requirements. More institutions are teaching and giving people certificates for education. Because of this, Toni told us, “ABI is a dream come true for me.”

In Toni’s opinion, “It doesn’t matter how much hard work you do, how much they poop on you or vomit on you. You have what we call the miracle moment when you actually make a difference in the life of something that had no possibility of survival and you give it a second chance.” Toni recalled her first “miracle moment” when she released her first hawk back into the wild. She threw it into the air and watched it fly off, a moment that she remembers vividly to this day. She recalled, “I have a picture of me in 1992 holding the hawk and releasing it. That was my very first one and the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m sitting here looking at the picture of me with the first hawk. I have it on my desk.” 

Toni also warns volunteers and interns that it’s hard work. Many volunteers think wildlife rehab will be like a petting zoo where they will play with the animals all day. It’s hard for a lot of beginners to handle animals that were run over by a car and are in horrible condition. One of the toughest decisions a wildlife rehabilitator has to make is whether an animal should be put down or should have a chance to be saved. Toni explained that you can’t save everything. Some things don’t have a chance or don’t want to make it. She emphasizes quality of life in animals. She warns beginners to protect themselves from the emotional component of the job and not to let it devastate them when they inevitably put something down or can’t save it. This is one of the reasons she never names animals: it leads to emotional attachment. Even without naming them, releasing them into the wild can be difficult. Toni explained, “You hope they make it, but will never know. You trust in what you’ve done. You’ve prepared them as well as you possibly could. You gave them the best chance. That’s what goes into a true wildlife rehabilitator.”

Possumwood Acres also has a focus on environmental education. They go to schools, set up displays, give presentations and teach community members about wildlife in their area. Toni explained that many people hear an owl at night, but do not know what it looks like. She teaches them how to identify the animals in their yard. Toni told ABI, “Kids don’t get a chance to be outside anymore. You can’t run through the woods or play in the creek and catch crayfish or climb a tree and see a bird’s nest. We try and have a little bit of that here where schools and families can bring kids out, volunteer and see animals up close.” In her talks, Toni emphasizes that it’s up to people to make the difference. People help protect animals, preserve their habitat, set laws that don’t allow them to be hurt, and avoid causing destruction.

Toni told ABI that the most challenging part of being a wildlife rehabilitator for her is that she wishes for more hands and more hours in the day. Finding the resources, manpower hours and food supplies to keep the place going is something she constantly works on. Toni works from 6am to 11pm, the workload intensifying in baby season. She explained that you have to balance the job with being a healthy adult. Baby season is much more labor intensive, as many infant animals must be fed every ten minutes for a minimum of fourteen hours a day. During this time, she has about 20 interns who receive training in return for helping her with the extra work.

Toni believes that the most important part of her job is to make sure Possumwood Acres will continue to be around even when she is not. She asks herself what it will take to make sure the facility stays open for years to come so that animals will continue to get the help they need. This is why she is so passionate about educating young adults in her field. She explained, “ABI really shows that people everywhere, worldwide, want to improve and care for wildlife. If people can get out and intern and travel from country to country and learn how to take care of wildlife for different species, that’s the best thing you could possibly do if you’re young and unattached.” She believes that online education is the way to go, as it is developing all the time, and that “the consistent quality where what you’re being taught is correct, up to date and cutting edge – that’s what’s really important.”

Toni’s care and selflessness towards animals are endless. Because there are no state or federal funds for wildlife rehabilitation facilities, Toni uses all of her ABI salary towards helping care for her animals. Possumwood Acres is a nonprofit organization; they ask for donations of animal care supplies and food items, apply for grants, hold yard sales, bake sales, participate in local community fundraising events, and ask for monetary donations when people drop animals off. They cannot turn anything away even if they can’t afford it. Toni has truly dedicated her entire life to the care of wildlife.



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