Volunteer as a Wildlife Rehabilitator or Caregiver

Each year thousands of sick, injured and orphaned animals get a second chance at life, thanks to Virginia’s wildlife rehabilitators. Most of these animals are injured as a result, either directly or indirectly, of human actions. The number of animals in need of help is overwhelming, and more dedicated people are needed to care for them until they can be returned to the wild. If you love animals and want to join a network of volunteers deeply committed to preserving Virginia’s native wildlife, read further about becoming a licensed rehabilitator.

What is a Wildlife Rehabilitator?
A wildlife rehabilitator is a volunteer who is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia (and in some cases by the Federal Government as well) to rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife in order to release them back into the wild. In Virginia, most wildlife rehabilitators work from their own homes. They do not receive payment for their services. Caregivers assist rehabilitators, but do not keep animals in their homes.

Steps to Becoming a Rehabilitator

1. Do Some Research: Visit the Wildlife Rescue League’s (WRL) website and read about wildlife rehabilitation, or come to a WRL quarterly meeting. Visit a wildlife or nature center to learn more about Virginia’s native wildlife. This will help you decide what species you are best suited to care for. In Virginia rehabilitators are licensed to care for reptiles, mammals and birds.
2. Find a Sponsor: To become a licensed rehabilitator in Virginia you must complete a two-year apprenticeship, during which you may care for healthy orphaned animals in your home. Your sponsor will instruct you on initial caging requirements and facilities. If you need assistance in finding a sponsor or want to talk about becoming a rehabilitator, call WRL at 703-391-8625 or email: volcoord@wildliferescueleague.org
3. Apply for a State Permit: To receive an application, call the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at 804-367-1076 or http://www.dgif.state.va.us/forms/PERM/PERM-044.pdf. After filing for a permit, the game warden will perform an in-home visit, and if approved, you may begin caring for healthy orphaned animals in your home. Apprentice rehabilitators may accept animals only from their sponsors, and not the general public. To rehabilitate birds, you must also apply for a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service after completion of the apprenticeship.
4. Enroll in Six Hours of Continuing Education in Wildlife Rehabilitation Each Year: Classes are available through WRL, the Wildlife Center of Virginia and other sources. They usually take place on weekends.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do rehabilitators get paid? No, rehabilitators may not charge for their services. They may, however, accept donations. Some rehabilitators establish nonprofit organizations to provide tax relief for their rehabilitation-related expenses and donations. WRL also helps rehabilitators with donations of basic supplies.

How long does it take to become a licensed rehabilitator? It takes two years of apprenticeship to become a licensed rehabilitator, but you will be eligible to care for healthy orphaned animals in your home as soon as you become an apprentice.

Are there costs involved in becoming a rehabilitator? There are some start-up costs, depending on what kind and how many animals you plan to rehabilitate. These costs may be minimal for an apprentice taking a single nest of baby birds, or large for a full-time rehabilitator needing outdoor housing for many raccoons. WRL can provide basic supplies such as caging, some medicines and some food.

What are the requirements for caging and facilities? You must have a place in your home that is free from domestic animals and most human traffic. The size of the space will vary depending on the type of animals you rehabilitate. Caging will also vary depending on species. Your sponsor will instruct you in the specifics, and the game warden will inspect your facility before final approval.

Is rehabilitation a full-time activity? No, you can take as many or as few animals as you are able. Although full-time rehabilitators are always in demand, even taking a few animals each season can be a significant contribution.

What if I want to help but can’t keep animals in my home? Consider becoming a licensed caregiver and helping a rehabilitator in his or her home.

Contact WRL for more information at volcoord@wildliferescueleague.org or complete our ONLINE VOLUNTEER FORM.