SOUTHLAKETAHOE - Injured wild animals can be trained in everything from feeding to proper behavior while at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. But it's the managers who have learned the most during the past 30 years.
"We should be learning from them," said Tom Millham, LTWC secretary and founder.
"They can teach us how to coexist, be adaptive and respect the environment," added Tom's wife, Cheryl, who is LTWC executive director. "There's a whole nation of animals out there that doesn't need us, but we can learn from them."
In April 1978, the Millhams were running Bender's Marina on the South Shore and often saw injured or mistreated wildlife. What started as a rescue of an injured fawn from Lake Tahoe has turned into a 30-year educational journey.
"One day while Tom was working, an injured fawn was driven into the lake by a loose dog. Tom went in and helped rescue it. We had always been getting wildlife, mostly birds, and our first location was there at the marina, but we weren't having much success," Cheryl said.
"I saw an ad in Women's Day magazine offering wildlife rehabilitation training and asked Tom if we could go, and we did," Cheryl said.
"After we got back, we started holding training sessions with the help of the Humane Society; we saw a need and filled it," Tom added.
And fill a need they did. Throughout the 30 years, more than 19,800 animals have been treated, with more than 12,600 released back to the wild. The success rate, meaning animals released back to the wild, averages more than 63 percent, almost two out of three. The national average is around 30 percent.
"We offer 24/7 service and have fantastic volunteers and veterinarians that make it possible," Cheryl said.
Coyotes, deer, otters, kangaroo mice, raccoons, squirrels, bears and plenty of birds are among the animals treated over the years.
"I'd have to say the river otters are my favorite. They are always playing and enjoying life to the max, something we could all learn from them," Tom said.
Cheryl prefers Steller's jays. "Most people don't like them for the racket they stir, but they are the most intelligent, incredible birds, especially when they're young," she said.
"We have to remember we're on their land. We're the only incorporated city located inside a national forest in the United States. We can do better - keeping our trash and homes secure and not feeding wildlife, and educating the public," Cheryl said. "We need to take better care. It's not the animals that need to learn - we do."