Imlay grad creates rehab center for area wildlife

ATTICA — Erica Zuhlke has always felt an affinity for animals.

From a young age, the 2012 Imlay City High School grad was drawn to the furred and the feathered. Throughout her high school years, she worked at a veterinary clinic—a job she kept while undergoing the Veterinary Technician Program at Macomb Community College. She earned her Associate’s degree in 2015.

Zuhlke’s now taking those skills to a new level as founder of Critter Crossing Rehabilitation, a wildlife rehabilitation facility at her Attica home. It wasn’t a big stretch, she says, to move from caring for domestic animals into the realm of rehabbing wildlife.

“I love opportunities to learn new things, and while working in general cat/dog practice I was inspired to dive into the work of wildlife rehabilitation as we received many phone calls about injured or orphaned wildlife,” she recalls.

Erica Zuhlke, founder of Critter Crossing Rehabilitation, feeds a baby groundhog found alone in the middle of a road.

 

Though she wasn’t then equipped to help with those calls, Zuhlke had experience raising orphaned puppies and kittens, and decided to find out more.

“I knew my way around sleepless nights for the sake of animals and figured I’d just help out here and there after becoming licensed for wildlife rehabilitation,” she says.

Diving In

Zuhlke enrolled in a comprehensive, state mandated two-day course offered by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. From there, she was mentored in the field by licensed rehabilitators.
She constructed an enclosure for animals at her home, which was inspected by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and was granted a license.

Critter Crossing Rehabilitation began as a shed in Zuhlke’s yard. To meet demand, the “facility” has grown.

“Various enclosures have sprouted over the last three years,” Zuhlke says. “Critter Crossing has grown so much since 2018 that I’m essentially running out of space to keep up with the needs and demands of local wildlife and the individuals that find them.”
She’s hoping to find a piece of land where she can construct a “purpose-built” wildlife rehab facility and include both volunteer and paid staff. As with most ‘labors of love,’ money is an issue.

“It’s difficult to fundraise a large sum of money at once, especially when you have concurrent costs for animal care and feedstuffs,” Zuhlke notes.

Pushing Ahead

The obstacles—while substantial—don’t outweigh the delight Zuhlke feels knowing she’s making a difference with nature.

“My greatest joy is being able to let animals go back into the wild and knowing they may not have had that chance if not for intervention,” she says.

“My motto has always been to give back from what we take. We take so much from these animals every day,” Zuhlke continues. “It’s our job to care about them and get them back out there.”

Zuhlke says there are not enough hours in a day to field all of the calls she gets, and the global pandemic has made it difficult to get help.

“I wish I could clone myself about ten times to keep up,” she says. “It’s definitely a struggle and COVID has made it difficult to solidify a volunteer base in better timing.”

Right now, along with securing volunteers and raising funds, finding release sites for raccoons is at the top of Zuhlke’s needs list.

“Raccoons are the hardest animals for me to find placement for when it comes time to release in the late summer,” Zuhlke says.

New Insights

It’s a misconception to view raccoons, opossoms, squirrels, groundhogs and the like as “nuisance animals,” Zuhlke says. It’s more important to learn to coexist.

“These animals were here before us, and now many of them—especially the ‘nuisance animals’—have actually capitalized from industrialization and development,” she says. “The trick is to secure our chicken coops, block access points where we don’t want animals living, keep our trash in sturdy cans or cages. Prevention is key.”

Zuhlke says many of the injured and orphaned animals she rehabs have been made so by humans.

“If a human caused the issue, then a human is going to fix it. It seems only fair,” she says.

Keeping it Wild

The bottom line, Zuhlke adds, is to keep animals in the wild.

“It’s not our job to get in the way of nature,” she says. “Intercepting a meal from a hawk—like a rabbit—is not a healthy intervention,” she says. “Collecting babies from a hit-by-car opossum is. Our top priority is keeping animals in the wild unless they are obviously injured or orphaned.”

Critter Crossing is a registered nonprofit rehab facility specializing in small mammals and area wildlife education. For help with injured wildlife, text or call 810-441-6934.

To donate funds, mail checks to Critter Crossing Rehabilitation, P.O. Box 233, Dryden, MI 48428. Donations may also be made via www.facebook.com/crittercrossingrehab or www.paypal.me/crittercrossing.

For information on volunteer opportunities, visit www.crittercrossingrehab.com or text 810- 441-6934.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.