Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator or Care Provider

What is a Wildlife Rehabilitator?

A wildlife rehabilitator is a person 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. Care Providers assist rehabilitators, but do not keep animals in their homes.

Steps to Becoming a Rehabilitator

Wildlife Rescue League offers informal conversations about how to start your journey to obtain one of three Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) permitted wildlife permits: 1) care provider (Category IV), 2) apprentice (Category I) and 3) rehabilitator (Category II). Care Providers must be age 16 or older and apprentices and rehabilitators must be 18 years or older. All permittees must be Virginia residents. Two other VDWR permits include Wildlife Hospitals (Category IV) and Student/Interns (Category V). If you’re interested in one of these permits, please reach out directly to VDWR for more information.

VDWR is responsible for the permit process and the best source of information regarding these licenses. Please look at their website to learn all about the Virginia program for wildlife rehabilitation. For further information on permit requirements and next steps, WRL is happy to answer questions about VDWR permit process and next steps. You can contact us at rehabchair@wildliferescueleague.org.

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Learn about Wildlife Rehabilitation

Read the articles on this website about wildlife rehabilitation. 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/or birds. Rehabilitation of migratory birds or waterfowl also requires a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Authority.

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Ensure you meet the physical requirements to rehabilitate wildlife in your home

Read the VDWR Permit Conditions and learn what is required in terms of setting up your wildlife room. This is one of the key determiners for whether you are ready to be an apprentice or whether you need to instead set your sights on a care provider permit until you have the right facilities available to you be a permitted apprentice. Please take this important step before you reach out to a potential rehabilitator sponsor (next step) as the personal and time commitment from the rehabilitator for a care provider versus an apprentice is very significant.

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Evaluate your current lifestyle

Before you reach out to a potential sponsor, think about your current lifestyle. Do you work full- time in an office environment? If yes, then you should consider a care provider permit or look for a sponsor who supports wildlife that are self-sufficient during the day (e.g., turtles). Are you home-based and/or could you bring in baby wildlife to your work cubicle? Are you retired and free to rehab all day and night? Do you go to Florida with your RV for a couple of months a year? Be self-aware of how much time you can dedicate to wildlife if you do get a permit. Is it evenings and weekends? You’re a good fit for care provider. Is it 24/7? You’re a great fit for an apprentice.

Answers to these questions will influence what will and won’t work for you, as well as shape your expectations of timing (i.e.., years or decades) for your journey to become a wildlife rehabilitator.

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Find a Sponsor for your Permit

To obtain a Cat I apprentice permit, you must be sponsored by an actively licensed VDWR Cat II or III rehabilitator or wildlife center. This permit requires a home inspection by VDWR to ensure you have the appropriate facilities, caging and other considerations for keeping wildlife in your home or other facility. To obtain a Cat IV permit, you be sponsored by a Cat I, II or III permittee, although it is not required. There is no home inspection for a Cat IV permittee since you don’t take wildlife into your premises; you work with wildlife at the home or facility of a Cat I, II or III permittee.

Wherever you live in Virginia, you can look for a licensed rehabilitator near you at Virginia DWR or nationally at National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. Be respectful of the rehabilitator as they are volunteers and prioritize their time for the care and feeding of wildlife.

If you’re in the Northern Virginia area, WRL will assist you in contacting the local rehabilitators to see if there is a match between your interests and their needs. If you are interested, please contact the chair of our WRL Rehabilitator Committee at rehabchair@wildliferescueleague.org.

FYI, if you want to care for birds, look for a rehabilitator sponsor who has a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) permit for migratory birds.

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Complete 6 Hours of Continuing Education

The VDWR application requires proof of six hours of continuing education prior to application. There are lots of related educational programs available on the internet, through our Virginia wildlife centers and from the many rehabilitators who offer seminars. Be sure to get continuing education certificates when you complete each course.

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Apply for a State Permit

Once you have a commitment from a permitted rehabilitator to sponsor you, you can download the application from the VDWR website. Sponsoring rehabilitators must sign your apprentice application. Care provider applications must list the sponsor, if applicable, but sponsor signatures are not required at this time.

After filing for a Cat I permit, the VDWR CPO (Conservation Police Officer) will perform an in- home visit, and if approved, you may begin caring for healthy and orphaned animals in your home.

To be an apprentice for birds, you must be added as a sub-permittee on your VDWR sponsor’s Federal permit. When you apply for your rehabilitator’s permit, you should also apply for your own permit from (USFWS).

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Ongoing Continuing Education

Six hours of continuing education in wildlife rehabilitation is required each year for permit renewal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do rehabilitators get paid?
No, rehabilitators may not charge for their services. They may, however, accept donations if they are incorporated as a non-profit organization with a Federal tax-exempt status. Many organizations such as WRL, local animal rescue, local businesses, etc. also donate supplies, caging, food, and other items to their local wildlife rehabilitators.
How long does it take to become a licensed rehabilitator?
It takes a minimum of two years of apprenticeship to gain enough hands-on experience and knowledge to become a licensed rehabilitator. The sponsoring rehabilitator is responsible for determining when the apprentice is ready to be on his/her own, so the time may vary depending on how much time you personally put into your apprentice. FYI, a care provider does not take wildlife home, but the apprentice can take healthy, non-injured or sick wildlife home at the discretion of their sponsor.
Are there costs involved in becoming a rehabilitator?
Anyone who is or has been a rehabilitator will counsel a prospective applicant that you need to be willing to spend your own money before you embark on this journey. As mentioned above, there are sources of funding for a rehabilitator, but it’s rare if there are not out-of-pocket costs for the apprentice and rehabilitator. Start-up and yearly costs differ depending on the species you care for and the volumes that you take in each year. Please discuss this question further with your sponsor before you commit yourself to an apprenticeship, so you enter your journey with realistic expectations.
What are the requirements for caging and facilities?

Please read the VDWR Permit Conditions for specifics on caging and facilities. Short answer is that you need a space in your home dedicated to the care of wildlife with a) a door, b) away from the main living area, and c) the understanding that your family and pets will not access this space. The size of the space will vary depending on the type of animals you rehabilitate and your caging requirements. Your sponsor will advise you on the specifics, so you are ready for the home inspection by the game warden. Any outdoor caging may also need to be in place for your inspection.

Interested in becoming a Wildlife Rehabilitator or Caregiver?

Check out the Department of Wildlife Resources website for more information.

If you are from the Northern Virginia area and surrounding counties, contact us at rehabchair@wildliferescueleague.org to learn more about how to become a local wildlife permitted care provider, apprentice, or caregiver.

Wildlife Rescue League - Viriginia
Wildlife Helpline 703-440-0800
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