Island Tales
C.R.O.W.'s Own "Dr. Doolittle" ©
- Libby Boren McMillan

If you get the chance to hear C.R.O.W. veterinarian PJ Deitschel speak - in person or on one of her many television appearances - don’t miss the opportunity. Deitschel’s engaging enthusiasm is equaled by her knowledge. How many vets, after all, treat nearly 200 species per year? The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (C.R.O.W.) on Sanibel is a perfect match for this energetic doctor and the wild animals that need her.

"I had been a wildlife rehabilitator for many years but I felt vets didn’t understand wildlife; you can’t treat a wild animal like it’s a dog or cat," she explains. She went back to school and completed the veterinarian program at Colorado State University. "I felt I could serve wildlife better as a vet."

Deitschel came to C.R.O.W. in 1996 as senior vet student and was awarded the first annual internship at the facility. It did not take long to realize that C.R.O.W. was a perfect place to practice her philosophy.

Much of her job is as a "wildlife detective." The patients at C.R.O.W. fill out no medical history forms when they arrive and "you can bet there are a lot of mysteries," she says. "It’s the nature of wildlife rehab. The animal’s history is a mystery, there are no health records, and the injury itself is often unknown. And some of the species, we don’t know much about."

In addition, her patients can’t communicate with words and they can be dangerous when frightened or in pain. "We had a female bobcat for seven months," recalls Deitschel. "She was paralyzed from the neck down, but when we released her, she was completely cured."

The bobcat was likely a victim of the number-one cause of wildlife injuries - cars. Fishing-line entanglement is the second biggest problem; a tour of the facility includes a giant jar that holds the mess of lines and hooks extracted from injured animals. The third major category of C.R.O.W. patient is orphans - their mothers hit by cars or nests destroyed.

Deitschel practiced for a while in South Africa, where she worked for a foundation that invested in projects to benefit wildlife and indigenous people. The best part of the job, she says, was six months at a rehab center there also known as C.R.O.W., the Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, where she worked with baby blue vervet monkeys. "They’re considered vermin but they’re very smart. Unfortunately, they’re hit by cars, they’re orphaned...many of the same problems you might see here."

C.R.O.W. veterinarian PJ Deitschel

When the vet position at C.R.O.W. opened, Deitschel returned to Sanibel. She now spends her days healing up to 3,000 patients per year from Sanibel, Captiva, and throughout Lee County. They include everything from otters to hawks and - with the recent addition of rehab facilities for sea turtles - loggerheads.

Her message is simple: Have respect for all life. "It’s their home, too," she says of Sanibel and Captiva’s wildlife. "Accept personal responsibility for their care and their safety. This responsibility is a lesson for all life but certainly on this island, where living with wildlife is a way of life."

* Orignially published in Times of the Islands - 1/02
© Libby Boren McMillan - Legal Rights Apply
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