Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care: Saving one creature at a time | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care: Saving one creature at a time

Toree Warfield
Toree’s Stories

A day spent working with wild animals is never going to be dull — just ask Tom and Cheryl Millham, operators of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care for the past 38 years and, as Cheryl would say, it all started with a photo.

In the March 1978 issue of Woman's Day magazine, Cheryl saw a photo of a woman holding a baby raccoon, along with a story about the organization, Wildlife Rescue, based in Los Altos, California.

Wildlife Rescue was about to hold a seminar, teaching local citizens how to care for orphaned or injured wild animals and birds. Cheryl was intrigued enough by the story to convince her husband and daughter, and friend, B.J. to join her in attending the seminar.

Upon returning to Tahoe, the group got busy making calls and plans to start their own wildlife rescue operation out of their home at South Lake Tahoe, calling themselves Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC).

Since then, LTWC has cared for thousands of injured and orphaned wildlife in order to — Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release. Not all animals can ultimately be released back into the wild, such as a bald eagle currently under care at the facility.

A little more than a year ago, the center got a call from rangers near Emerald Bay with a report of a bald eagle on the ground. As Ranger Oriol, from D.L. Bliss State Park, approached the eagle with a towel in hand, the bird escaped into the water.

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Ranger Oriol was able to perform a water rescue, covered the bird with the towel and drove with it to meet Tom and Cheryl Millham at a midway point, where the bird was hooded, secured and driven back to the care facility.

The bird's wing was badly injured so the resident vet, Dr. Kevin Willitts of Alpine Animal Hospital, was summoned.

The female eagle required surgery and daily dressing changes, which meant hooding her, removing her from the cage — at which point, Cheryl would clean the cage — while the men tended to the wound.

She wasn't eating well, so Cheryl consulted with someone who had seen the bird at Taylor Creek, eating kokanee salmon. Cheryl realized the bird had a discerning palate, so she defrosted some kokanee salmon they had in the freezer and solved the eating problem.

The eagle got stronger but it was determined that the wing would never heal well enough for her to be returned to the wild so the decision was made to house her at the facility permanently. She will serve as an educational tool and as an ambassador to represent all the past and future creatures helped at LTWC.

More recently, an ailing male golden eagle was found near Woodfords and brought to the facility. Dr. Willitts determined that this eagle was suffering from secondary poisoning, which means he ate an animal that had been poisoned.

Unfortunately, when misinformed people put out poison to kill rodents or other pests, the poisoned animals don't die right away—and, incidentally, die a terrible death—living long enough to potentially be eaten by predators, including this male golden eagle.

The bird's liver was severely damaged, so they began a regimen of milk thistle to treat this. Periodic blood tests are taken to measure the progress and, as the bird becomes stronger, he is taken for tethered flight several times a week at Lake Tahoe Golf Course. Healing this bird could potentially takes years.

Given that there are two long-term eagles at the facility, this poses a problem as there are currently only two eagle-appropriate cages available.

Fortunately, a plan is in the works and it only requires money. Thanks to a large bequest made two years ago in the will of a deceased South Lake Tahoe resident to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a property has been purchased, and the process of turning it into the new center has begun.

The property, located at the corner of Al Tahoe Boulevard and Pioneer Trail in South Lake Tahoe, is a 27-acre parcel including a caretaker's house with hospital area, walk-in freezer and refrigerator, food-prep area and maintenance garage, with plenty of room to house additional cages and habitats.

The desired move-in date is spring 2018 but more funds are needed and there is still much work to be done. Visit the website ltwc.org to donate and to learn more.

Annually, training seminars are offered for those interested in becoming volunteers. An Open House will be held this year on July 30, when interested parties can tour the facility and meet Emma, the resident bald eagle.

There are many ways to give: Memberships, sponsorships, one-time donations, bequests, vehicle donations or buy LTWC merchandise online.

LTWC is a recognized nonprofit organization and all donations are tax deductible. It's easy to become a part of the solution, saving injured or orphaned wildlife, one creature at a time.

Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. Visti saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.