2016-02-18 / Front Page

WILD Hearts

Volunteers’ love of animals keeps California Wildlife Center relevant
By Sylvie Belmond


ON THE MEND—At top, California Wildlife Center volunteer Donna Mahan checks on a raptor that is being rehabilitated. Above, a sea lion is nursed back to health and, at right, a hawk awaits its return to the wild. The center cares for some 4,000 animals each year at its Las Virgenes Road facility. ON THE MEND—At top, California Wildlife Center volunteer Donna Mahan checks on a raptor that is being rehabilitated. Above, a sea lion is nursed back to health and, at right, a hawk awaits its return to the wild. The center cares for some 4,000 animals each year at its Las Virgenes Road facility. Whether she is preparing a meal for an injured possum, checking on an orphaned duckling or tending to the sick raptors in the California Wildlife Center’s intensive care unit, Donna Mahan knows exactly what must be done to keep her feathered and furry patients comfortable and safe.

Mahan is one of over 100 volunteers who assist the eight full-time employees at the center. Each year, the rehabilitation facility on Malibu Canyon Road just south of Calabasas cares for more than 4,000 sick, injured and orphaned birds, mammals and sea creatures, a number that is growing.

“Our goal is to reintroduce them into the wild where they can flourish,” says Mahan, a Westlake Village resident as she cautiously peeks inside the covered crates containing a variety of injured critters.


Photos by SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers Photos by SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers An owl with an wounded eye stares back, dismissing the interruption. Next to it, a lethargic turkey vulture appears dead, but when Mahan turns the bird over she notices the scavenger has no apparent wounds. It is alive, but clearly in some kind of distress. The bird’s chart indicates possible lead poisoning, says Mahan, a stock broker assistant who has been volunteering at the wildlife center for eight years.

“I’ve always been a wildlife lover. I like the intensive care unit because you never know what’s going to come through the front door and what’s wrong with it,” said Mahan as she took The Acorn on a tour of the 2-acre facility.

Located on land provided by California State Parks, the complex includes a veterinary hospital, intensive care unit, baby care unit, mammal rehabilitation center and a variety of abodes for wildlife of all kinds.

The barking sounds of 10 hungry California sea lion pups echo from a nearby enclosure as volunteers Leslie Lentz and Rachel Reiner prepare the late afternoon meals for their rowdy patients.

“I do it for the love of animals,” said Lentz, a Chatsworth resident who began donating her time to the center eight years ago.

California Wildlife Center has cared for more than 40,000 animals since it opened its doors in 1998.

“I think working here is a privilege. Anything that you do here is in service to the animals,“ said Diana Mullen, a Malibu resident who specializes in bird rehabilitation.

Volunteers must attend an orientation class, make a six-month commitment, and provide at least 16 hours of service a month working a minimum of one, four-hour shift per week.

New volunteers start by doing the laundry and dishes and cleaning cages. They also learn to prepare meals, but they do not handle the animals without supervision.

“You have to pay your dues. You start up on the simple stuff and work your way up,” Mahan said.

With spring coming, the center anticipates an influx of orphaned birds and animals. The juveniles will keep volunteers and staff busy as they need recurrent feedings.

Jennifer Brent, who became executive director for the wildlife center Jan. 20, said unpaid helpers contributed about 13,000 hours to the care of animals.

“The caliber of people who work here—including staff and volunteers—is just extraordinary,” Brent said.

Brent, a former commissioner for the Department of Animal Services in L.A., was also executive director of the Encino-based Jason Debus Heigl foundation for three years.

“I had been working with companion animals for quite some time, and I was really interested in expanding my horizons. This (working at the wildlife center) is a really unique opportunity that was presented to see a different part of animal welfare,” she said.

California Wildlife Center’s relies on private donations and grants to fund its $1.4 million annual budget. A board of directors helps to coordinate fundraisers and activities and develop a vision for the nonprofit.

“Our biggest fundraiser is the Wild Brunch which occurs annually. We are (also) quite fortunate to receive grants from some great organizations that enable us to do what we do—the City of Malibu, the Ahmanson Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, California Community Foundation, City of Agoura Hills, City of Calabasas,“ Brent said.

In coming months, she said she will work to increase the organization’s public outreach to educate people about the plight of wildlife and to expand the center’s operations to rescue and rehabilitate more animals.

The center’s website is www.cawildlife.org.

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