Leesa Couper walks on the wild side

By Leslie Kostal
April 19, 2012

CouperPaul Mayne, Western NewsChildren’s Dental Clinic office manager (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry) Leesa Couper uses a syringe to feed a three-week-old raccoon at the Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre.

It was a chance meeting that led Leesa Couper, an office manager in the Children’s Dental Clinic at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, to meet Brian Salt of Salthaven, a wildlife rehabilitation and education centre in Mount Brydges.

 “Brian actually came up here one day to the dental school because there was a hawk sitting on the ledge of the roof,” Couper said. Apparently it hadn’t moved for most of a day.

Fascinated watching the bird’s capture, she later connected with Salt to inquire about its release back to campus. “I’ve been volunteering since then,” Couper said with a grin. “This will be my fourth season.”

Couper is completely stuck on seeing wildlife up-close and delights in assisting with their recoveries hopefully to release them when they’re well. Among her favourites are the owls. “They are the most beautiful creatures ever,” she said. “They’re just gorgeous.”

Salthaven volunteers understand wildlife aren’t pets. Cages are covered and enhanced with materials to simulate their natural environment. “In our squirrel pen we put in branches and hang leaves from the ceiling,” she said. “You don’t handle things if you don’t have to.”

Smiling, Couper continued. “We’ve had some hummingbirds come in. To be able to see those little things up close and take care of them ... and then when it finally comes to the point where we get to release them, you feel really good about what you’ve done.”

Spring is the busiest time, usually March and April. New volunteers are selected around Easter followed by an orientation. During the summer months, there are four-hour shifts, three shifts a day, seven days a week.

“Most of our intakes are babies,” Couper said. Although she has held birds for Salt as he wraps a wing, or simply needs an extra set of hands, it takes specialized training to feed, say, bunnies every two to three hours.

“They have to be tube fed,” Couper said. “So you feed this little rubber tube all the way down their throat into their stomachs. It’s very tricky.”

Salt usually takes on two senior volunteers aiming for veterinary school, teaching them to do some of the emergency work. “But if there’s anything major or serious,” Couper said, “Brian looks after that himself. We get the opportunity to assist him which is awesome.

“You have good news stories and then you have ones that don’t turn out so well. But that’s just part of the way it works.”

Couper recalled a fawn that had to be euthanized as well as a great blue heron that had been hit by a car.  Because of the lack of manpower, almost all injured animals must be brought to the facility.

“We’ve had people drive animals down from north of Toronto,” Couper said. “I’m amazed at what people will do.”

For those creatures who attach themselves to Salthaven, some return freely the next year. “This past summer we had a mallard duck come back with her babies,” Couper said. “She came in the year before as a duckling. It was so cool.”

In the future, Salthaven will be moving from its present rented location to land donated just north of London. Fundraising is always an issue, especially now, as they’re hoping to build an improved clinic on their new property.

Some years ago, Couper had thought about veterinary technical college, but it was too difficult to get into. This is a nice way, she says, to channel that type of an interest.

“I think as volunteers we get as much, if not more, out of it than we’re putting in.”

Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you, or someone you know, has an interesting story to tell, please e-mail her at Leslie.Kostal@uwo.ca.



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