2019 Fall Newsletter | Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
-Helen Keller
A Message from our Executive Director
When Our Paths Cross
Often in life, our paths may cross with others that will leave impressions that impact us in some way. In this case, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue crossed paths with Flat Broke Farm Animal Rescue in a time of need. Both our organizations are non-profits here in Sonoma County and represent the under served wildlife and farm animals.

None of us will ever forget the terrifying fires from October 2017 and all the pain, suffering and loss it caused both humans and animals. We were called upon to rescue and house many farm animals and other types of animals we don’t usually work with, nor have the experience and housing required to meet the needs of these animals. We still want to help; we are just physically not able to.

When I called Erica Rushing, Executive Director of Flat Broke Farm Animal Rescue, I was pretty desperate for help with a rather large and growing flock of sheep that we had been keeping in one of our pastures that was used to exercise the wolf dogs and rotate our own PEEP farm animals in and out of. To get right to the point, after explaining our situation on the phone to Erica, she loaded up her emergency rescue trailer and was in that pasture within an hour of talking to us.
Erica, Founder and Executive Director of Flat Broke Farm, with a rescued goat.
When she arrived, she expertly loaded all the sheep and transported them to various places she had picked out for them before coming over to get them. She was also a wealth of knowledge that she freely and articulately shared with me about these animals’ needs. I knew right away that I had found the right person to help and I was so very grateful standing there listening to her.

This was not the first time we had met though. We often get called upon to take in a variety of animals that are not really wildlife and she gets the same kinds of calls about rescuing animals that are not really farm animals. So, we help each other. One thing I knew about Erica was that she cared deeply about the animals she served and was very hardworking, passionate, honest and quite intelligent.
She came in to our wildlife hospital one day with a Virginia Opossum that had caught its left paw in a rat trap. She was trying to trap the rats that were getting into the expensive feed she used for her rescued farm animals and did not want to use poison, as it could harm other animals, including wildlife. This was the third patient she had brought in with this injury. I was quite alarmed after examining the animal and knowing this was not the first one. I knew I had to talk to Erica to find out what was going on. As I sat across from her at the intake desk, I am sure I was not looking or sounding that nice, as hard as I tried to be professional when explaining how the opossum would need to be euthanized because of the injuries it had sustained.

The thing that took me by surprise was the look of pain and weariness I saw in her eyes. It actually hurt to see that much in one place. I found myself remembering very well that kind of anguish, as it was part of my own journey building Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.

Sometimes we need to rescue each other. I asked her to please tell me what was going on. I knew she did not have to bring us the injured opossum, especially taking the chance of being judged, criticized, or looked down upon. Those are some of the main reasons many people never bring us animals in the same situations. I knew she loved opossums, as her first experiences as a child were caring for wildlife with her mother.
A foggy morning at Flat Broke Farm's new location in Cotati, CA.
The following is Erica’s account of what happened to the opossum and why. She was hesitant to share her story because she was worried about what people would think. I thought: since when do we have to be afraid of being honest. Why can’t we just understand when we need to help each other and do something about it, instead of judging each other from a distance?

Erica started by telling me about the horrible rat problems she “inherited” from the new property purchased two years ago for the operations of Flat Broke Farm. The property is located in Cotati and is on about 4 acres. There are 6 very large barns on the property, built back in 1950. The prior owners were sheep farmers and in the past 40 years of shearing those sheep, they saved all the wool in most of the barns. They also saved every scrap of old wood and other “building” materials in one of the barns. Needless to say, during these 40 years and the years the property was unoccupied, the rat population thrived.

When Erica and her husband purchased the property and began moving Flat Broke Farm’s operations in from another rented property in Penngrove, they had their hands full. This was also around the timeline of the fires and Flat Broke Farm had a very large population of rescued animals from chickens to horses and everything in-between. She never used the word “no” to anyone who asked her for help. Another important fact to mention is Flat Broke Farm has a contract with our local Animal Services of Sonoma County to take all the surrendered farm animals as the County has no means to support those animals in need. In addition, the County is not able to financially supplement her for these much needed services.

With no paid staff available, Erica began clean up while taking care of all these rescued farm animals. She has a small crew of volunteers, most who have physical limitations themselves. One very precious volunteer is 80 years old and in a wheel chair. She comes once a week to sing to the animals and keep them company. Flat Broke Farms’ insurance carrier only allows her to have up to 5 volunteers at one time on the property. These kinds of restrictions have a significant impact on the amount of “hard labor” that can be done with the facility maintenance issues. (I can relate to that as being one of the most difficult challenges to retaining good volunteers.)

In the first year, they filled 32, 40-yard dumpsters with old wool that was infested with rat feces and urine. Rats of all sizes were running everywhere while Erica worked with a few brave volunteers. As you can imagine, this is a very serious and hazardous working condition situation, but it would be prohibitively expensive to hire a company that specializes in hazardous cleanup. We have not even talked about the expense of dumpsters and disposal yet.

This past year, Erica has spent a large portion of her time patrolling for rats as the population continues to grow. Her main reason for this is to protect the “living” animals she has in her care. The rats are a threat to them and I don’t think anyone could stomach the true stories and graphic pictures I have seen from rats trying to predate on some of her rescued animals and what they do to each other in the traps.
Erica with Don King, Flat Broke Farm's resident therapy rooster.
After I talked with Erica when she brought us the injured opossum, I made an appointment for July 27 th to do a site visit to Flat Broke Farm. In the meantime, I recommended Eric from Rat Exclusion to help her. I went to see Erica later that month. This is when she showed me the horrific situation and I saw with my own eyes how bad it was. I could see rats of all sizes running between buildings, under floor mats where they had tunneled; over her desk in her barn office and that is just what I saw in one hour. She reported rats weighing between 7 and 9 pounds. Even Eric, the owner of Rat Exclusion, said the issues there were very challenging.

On July 30 th , I had a phone meeting with Erica. I knew I needed the best help I could find to solve this problem. Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue operates 3 businesses out of our non-profit. A Wildlife Exclusion Service (AWES), Barn Owl Maintenance Program (BOMP) and Predator Exclusion Education Program (PEEP). All of these businesses have a component that helps with these kinds of problems. While we normally charge for these services, Flat Broke Farm did not have the financial means to pay for this project. We pulled the best of our staff with the experience and knowledge it would take to come up with a plan that hopefully would work. We also needed help to provide quick protection for some of the rescued chickens that were getting predated on by the rats.
On August 6 th , I made another appointment with Erica and came back with a team of our most qualified staff and support from some specialized volunteers. Here is the staff that met with Erica and what their roles were. Volunteers Hector and Israel would be constructing specially designed protective caging for the smaller rescued farm animals in an effort to provide immediate protection for them from rat predation.
Doris Duncan, Executive Director of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, is in charge of facilitating this project and making sure that our efforts will be successful. She will also approve any recommendations from other team members. We will also rely on Erica to approve any recommendations made to address this situation.
Dr. Dan Famini, Vet of Record with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and our Lead Vet at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, will be attending as a consultant. Dr. Famini has extensive knowledge and experience with chicken health and husbandry. He will be consulting on current practices and potential improvements.
Hector and Israel – Hector and Israel will be joining us as our main building consultants and foremen to make sure that all recommendations proposed are cost effective and will result in the successful elimination of as many rodents as possible.
Michael McGuire, Wildlife Exclusion Director, will be there as a consultant. He will be consulting on improving and facilitating future rat exclusions in the animal holding areas.
Kelsey James, Support Coordinator, will be there as an administrative assistant and will be documenting all meetings as well as following up on the results of each meeting.
At a cost of $1,845, Hector and Israel built portable predator proof chicken cages that the chickens in quarantine could stay in without worry that the rats could get to them. Erica had already spent almost $4,000 on plastic kennels, metal cages and rodent “proof” feeders that the rats chewed right through and more money on other things that had been previously recommended, but failed to work. During my visits and talks with Erica, I had made some similar recommendations on what I thought were good ideas for rat exclusion and she had either tried them already and they did not work, or some of the practices were working, but ineffective because of the large population of rats.
Flat Broke Farm's famous Freedom the pig shown here generously sharing her breakfast with best friends Robin Hood, Loretta and Lynn. Who said pigs were hogs?
On September 4 th , I made another appointment with Erica who had come up with a very detailed “plan of action” for us that we reviewed together at the farm. She had figured out the most efficient way to get the “1 st  Phase” of work done for the Rat Exclusion and Clean Up - along with the costs. One of Flat Broke Farm’s biggest issues is financial support, just like a lot of us small non-profits that do valuable work in Sonoma County. I talked to my board about this project and they immediately approved a check in the amount of $4,400 to be sent to help defray some of the costs for dumpsters, disposal fees and a metal shipping container to store her emergency response and readiness equipment in.
On October 1 st  and 2 nd  a team of us from Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue will be going to Flat Broke Farm to start clearing out and loading debris into dumpsters that rats have been using to hide and breed in. We have cleared all of our exclusion appointments and recruited other staff to cover for us while we go tend to this emergency project. We will be sure to wear full HAZWOPER PPE to protect the volunteers and staff involved.
As we speak, Erica is on a tractor loading manure into a huge container that will be taken away by the end of today so more debris containers can be delivered by next week. This is just the beginning of the cleanup efforts. We are hoping to get Flat Broke Farm’s rodent issues in check so they can focus on rescuing and caring for our local farm animals, instead of using all their valuable time patrolling for rats that have caused so much trouble for them.
Erica, Executive Director of Flat Broke Farm, moving manure into a 40 yard dumpster.
This is not the end of our story. We need financial help now to cover the costs for this rat infestation cleanup and install permanent solutions that will keep Flat Broke Farm poison free and be able to operate as the professional charity it was meant to be. That was one of the most promising opportunities that I noticed, their potential to grow and their ability to really make a difference in our Community. We plan to stay involved with them until this has becomes a reality and this can only happen with our Community’s help.
If you are inspired by this story or the efforts everyone involved have committed to, please donate to either Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue or Flat Broke Farm. Make sure to designate your donation to Rat Infestation Clean Up. You have our promise that every penny you send will be spent on this project.
It is stories like this that inspired us to create PEEP & AWES. You have to be able to gain a person’s trust that you really do care about their situation and want to help, instead of being judgmental and accusatory. Rescuing and saving animals depends on these valuable qualities to make a difference.
Thank you,
Doris Duncan
Executive Director
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
If you would like to donate directly to Flat Broke Farms:
Upcoming Events
North Bay Discovery Day - October 26th

Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue is excited to be in attendance at North Bay Science and Discovery Day. The event was created to inspire children to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics studies and careers. The event intends to use exciting hands-on activities with some of the seemingly ordinary things that surround us but hold the secret of scientific understanding and success in modern life.

Saturday Tours at SCWR

Observe several native and non-native species including coyotes, fox, mountain lions, skunk, opossum and raccoons! We begin the tour with a presentation about our organization and how the center facilities and animal enclosures were built.

Tours are held on Saturdays at 2 PM from October through April. The suggested donation for the tour is $25 for adults and $10 for children 4-12 years of age. Children 3 year of age and younger are free.

Community Spotlight
Expeditionary Learning Students -
Lawrence Jones Middle School

The students in the Expeditionary Learning Program at Lawrence Jones Middle School raised $1,178 for Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue! To raise these funds t he students were first asked to vote between three nonprofit groups and they selected Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. The next step for them was to raise the funds. The students got straight to work running bake sales at Oliver's Market in Cotati. The funds they raised during the bake sale was then used to participate in the Human Race where the remaining funds for SCWR were raised!

Thank you to all of the Expeditionary Learning students for your hard work and eagerness to help your local wildlife!
BOMP Corner
Barn Owl Box Install at La Chertosa's
Le Gemelle Vineyard

Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue’s Barn Owl Maintenance Program visited La Chertosa Le Gemelle Vineyard in Sonoma County and installed 5 of our barn owl boxes in August. The vineyard stands at around 60 acres with a designated 5 acre wild bird habitat in the center affectionately named, “The Bird Nest”. In addition to the barn owl boxes, The Bird Nest will be home to a small wetlands area with perches and water sources to encourage wild bird habitation. Sam Sebastiani, the vineyards owner, has a long history in his work as a conservationist that includes being awarded Private Conservationist of the Year Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for his work at Viansa Winery in 2003. Cheers to  La Chertosa Old World Wines for the amazing work they do! 

If you're interested in installing or maintaining a Barn Owl Box on your property, visit our coalition website here for more information!
Animal Care Spotlight
Two Wildlife Rescues, One Tiny Bobcat
On August 31, 2019, WildCare in Marin County received a bobcat kitten in care from a hiker exploring the Big Trees Trail in Novato. After getting as much information as possible from the finder, the animal care team attempted to reunite the kitten with its mother, unsure of the reason the bobcat had been left behind. After the attempt was unsuccessful, the tiny bobcat’s future was now in the hands of the staff at WildCare. 

Upon initial exam, the female bobcat weighed 150 grams, about the size of an orange, and felt cold on contact. When born, bobcats typically weigh between 280 and 330 grams. The infant was young enough that she had not opened her eyes and her teeth had not come in; at most she was only a few days old. When handling such young animals, one of the biggest challenges rehabilitators face is making sure that the animal does not become imprinted on their human caregivers. This was showing to be a particularly hard problem to overcome since this bobcat would need multiple bottle feedings a day until old enough to wean completely to a diet of solid foods. Knowing that Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue had a resident bobcat as an education ambassador, WildCare reached out to see if they could pick up some of her den straw so that the kitten could have the scent of another bobcat with her in the enclosure. They continued to care for the bobcat while limiting interactions with humans as much as possible to avoid habituation. After two weeks in their care, WildCare contacted SCWR to request a transfer of care so that the bobcat could continue her rehabilitation while seeing and smelling another bobcat, giving her the best chance at survival when released back into the wild.
That is where the bobcat’s journey at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue began. The bobcat kitten spends her evenings in an isolated area at the center to minimize her contact with humans as much as possible. There, an enclosure has been set up with redwood branches (to mimic her natural habitat), blankets and a stuffed animal for company. Every day when the animal care team arrives, they conduct a quick evaluation of the bobcat and bottle-feed her, keeping their contact with her as brief as possible and never talking. After her morning exam, she is placed in a carrier adjacent to the enclosure of our resident bobcat, BOCA. Though kept separate, this gives her the unique opportunity to see, smell and hear another bobcat. After our arrival, BOCA quickly approaches, very interested in the young bobcat and they start vocalizing to each other. Before we leave, a small offering of mice is left to begin weaning her from formula to solid food. From there, BOCA looks after her while teaching her species specific activity, vocalizatio ns and behavior with staff who come by only a couple times a day to feed her. In the evening, she’s transferred her back to her enclosure, bottle-fed one more time, given additional mice and left safe and warm for the rest of the night.

Thanks to a strong network of community supported wildlife rescues in Northern California, this bobcat has been given a rare opportunity to interact with another bobcat while in care, increasing the chances of successful rehabilitation and release. At her most recent exam, the kitten weighed in at 594 grams and had begun eating most of the solid food offered to her.
If you would like to donate to this bobcat’s care, click here, and leave the memo “Tiny Bobcat” on the donation page. If you would like to continue to follow her story, please follow us on Instagram or Facebook for future updates. 
Support Your Local Wildlife!
Donate Today!
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization that relies on donations from the public to rehabilitate the 1,000+ animals we receive each year. We do not receive any government funding. Our annual operating budget is $950,000, which means it costs almost $2,600 per day to keep our doors open.  Any donation helps!
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