A Class in Oil Coated Bird Washing

A Houston nonprofit agency is hoping to get a very important call soon. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center wants to head to Louisiana to help clean animals coated with oil. In the meantime, they plan to hold a special class for volunteers who’d like to help. Bill Stamps has the story.


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“This particular Brown Pelican is an adult.”

Sharon Schmalz is the director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation and education center located on Old Katy Road. They take in all sorts of animals that have been found by humans and need help getting back on their feet. But during an oil spill, they specialize in washing the animals and taking care of them until they can be released. Many people don’t know that Hurricane Katrina caused a number of oil spills and Schmalz and crew were there to help out.

“After Katrina, we were working with oiled pelicans, oiled rails, oiled dogs and oiled cats, we had some possums and raccoons and of course we had an alligator.”

While they occasionally find four-legged animals coated with oil, most of their time is spent cleaning the ones that can fly.

“In one of the spills we did in Mississippi one year, we did have an owl that flew down. And after Hurricane Ike we had another raptor that was an Osprey that got into oil and we did have to wash him, so you never know what’s going to end up in the oil.”

The Wildlife Rehab center relies on lots of volunteers. So when it comes to helping wash the oil off birds they offer a one-time class for volunteers that’s hands on and goes over everything they’ll need to know.

“We talk about the effects of oil on wildlife, the effects of oil on humans. The safety aspects, the veterinarian talks about some of handling the animals and then in the afternoon we have people handling the ducks, they gavage feed them, they actually put fluids in them and then they’ll wash them.”

If you’re wondering why you need to take a class in order to wash birds, she says handling distressed animals and washing them free of oil isn’t as simple as you might think.

“These are animals that are wild animals. They’re scared. They can hurt somebody, so we want to make sure that we take care of the people too, cause if we can’t take care of the people, we can’t take care of the animals.”

Sharon Balke is a volunteer who’s been trained in oil washing. She donates her time at the rehab center for one simple reason. It makes her happy.

“This is my passion. This isn’t a hobby or anything. I love this. This is my passion.”

A date for the next class for volunteers hasn’t been set yet. Schmalz says if you leave your name on their website, they’ll notify you by email when it is. In the meantime, she and her crew are still hoping to get called down to Louisiana to help clean birds there. As volunteer Sharon Balke put it, helping animals is what they love to do.

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