Wildlife Sanctuary Giving Animals a Second Chance at Life

April 18, 2013

Tucked deep in the woods in Nelson County, injured and abandoned animals are getting a second chance at life.

Since it was founded in 2004, Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary has treated thousands of animals -- all with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild.

"It's just so wonderful to finally get them gone," said founder Nathou Attinger. "You know they're a lot happier out there than in one of our cages."

The most common animals to seek refuge at the sanctuary are birds and squirrels. Attinger says the number of animals they rehab grows each year.

"Humans have really messed with the wild. I'd say 99% of the animals we get are a result of bad human interaction," Attinger said. "As there's more people who move down here, there's more animals that get hurt."

One of the newest visitors is a baby possum, left orphaned after its mom was struck by a car. And a set of baby squirrels recently made their way to the sanctuary after the tree their nest was nestled in was chopped down.

But nature can also disrupt wildlife. Spring storms are known for knocking nests from tree limbs, leaving baby animals fending for themselves on the ground.

"Everybody has a story about seeing baby birds or squirrels on the sidewalk," said wildlife rehabilitator Jessica Cole.

While many people may try to help, Cole says it's important to know the proper way to care for the animals before taking action.

"We always recommend that they set them in a safe dish near the tree where no dogs or cats will find them," said Cole. "A lot of times, if the mom is still alive, she will come down and actually take the babies back to the nest."

But when an animal is in fact orphaned, Cole says it's important to enlist the help of a rehabilitator. She says giving an animal food or water can do more harm than good and suggests placing the animal in a warm, quiet place until it can get to a rehabber. If possible, use a heating pad. Put the animal in a space where it has the option of resting both on and off the pad to prevent overheating.

A main goal of the sanctuary is to educate the community so they can work together to care for creatures in need.

"People are starting to get it, and that's a wonderful change," said Attinger. "People tell me all the time, they stop, get the turtle, carry it to the other side of the road. It's just great."

The sanctuary has purchased 20 acres in Nelson County that will allow them to expand their services. They are still in the fundraising stage but hope to make the move by spring of 2014.

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