• Painted turtle

    Painted turtles, such as this one, can live to be 100 years old and are the only turtle species not currently on Ontario's endangered species list. Click on the image to see more photos from the Rideau Wildlife Sanctuary. (Photos: Kayla Hannaford)

After a long Canadian winter, nothing screams spring like longer days, warmer temperatures, melting snow and, for the staff at the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, baby animals - lots of them!

For months the Rideau Valley Animal Sanctuary has been preparing for the influx of animals it will receive this spring and summer. From organizing this year’s volunteers and interns to building new rehabilitation rooms, the sanctuary is finally ready for all that the season may bring.

Based in North Gower, Ontario, the non-profit organization rehabilitates injured, sick and orphaned wild mammals and turtles, releasing them back into their natural habitat once they are well again. The sanctuary is the only licensed rehabilitator of its kind in the Ottawa and Rideau Valley region, taking in about 500 animals annually.

“We mostly rehabilitate small mammals,” says Linda Laurus, manager of the Rideau Valley Animal Sanctuary. “The most common are raccoons and squirrels, but we also get rabbits, turtles, chipmunks, groundhogs, skunks, fox, fawns, mice, weasels, mink and flying squirrels.”

Staff at the sanctuary ask that people call with inquiries about orphaned animals before taking any action — in many cases the animal doesn’t actually need saving at all. When it comes to baby animals, the sanctuary helps people determine over the phone if the animal has indeed been orphaned, and if so, what the next steps should be.

In the best case scenario, baby animals should be reunited with their mother; she knows how to care for them best. For squirrels and other animals, a “unification box” can be created which will help keep the animal safe and will promote a reunion between the animal and its mother.

The number of animals the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary takes in every year depends on the donations it receives. This year, the sanctuary is still $7,000 short of the $100,000 it needs to fund the season.

“The sanctuary is run 100 per cent on donations,” says Heather Badenoch, a board member with the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. “We are not government funded, so we rely solely on donations from people who love animals. Every bit is a huge help.”

Signs an animal needs your help

Squirrels A squirrel might need your help if it is cold to the touch, if there are bugs on it, if it is bruised, if it is dehydrated (look for wrinkled skin) or if it is listless or comatose.

Rabbits People often find burrows of baby rabbits and believe that they have been abandoned when they have not — mother rabbits only visit the burrow twice a day, around dusk and dawn. If you suspect a burrow of young rabbits has been abandoned, simply arrange some small twigs over the burrow in a pattern that you will recognize and come back the next day. If the twigs have been disturbed, it likely means that mom has returned to care for her young.

Chipmunk, groundhog or skunk If you find a baby chipmunk, groundhog or skunk, it will almost definitely need rescuing. These animals are kept in an underground burrow where mom keeps close tabs on them. They are not allowed out of the burrow until they are old enough, so finding one alone almost surely means it needs rescuing.

For more wildlife tips or to make a donation, visit http://www.rideauwildlife.org or call 613-258-9480. Donations can also be made by sending a cheque to P.O. Box 266, North Gower, Ontario, K0A 2T0.

For wildlife updates and more pictures from the sanctuary visit the Rideau Valley Sanctuary's Facebook page or connect via Twitter (@rideauwildlife)

All but one of the turtles at the sanctuary are recovering from a fractured shell injury. Most of them are brought to the sanctuary after being hit by cars while laying their eggs in June. To repair a fractured shell, wire is attached to the shell with a mixture of superglue and baking soda. Depending on the location of the fracture sometimes another type of adhesive called “epoxy” is used.

It’s feeding time for the turtles at the sanctuary! On the menu for today: chicken, fish and worms.

Kass Harder, an animal care assistant, drops pieces of chicken for the sanctuary’s snapping turtle. Though he is well on his way to recovery, last summer this snapping turtle was hit by a boat and suffered severe shell damage. When he was first admitted, some pieces of his shell were completely broken off. The injury was so bad that you could see the skin and tissue underneath his shell.

Heather Badenoch, a board member with the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, checks on one of the painted turtles. Each animal has a tracking sheet that lists its food preferences and monitors feeding, medication, weight and how the animal is healing.

Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary began rehabilitating turtles in 2011. Seven out of eight Ontario turtle species are at risk of extinction due to habitat destruction, shoreline erosion, pollution, boats, fishing and human activity. It is estimated that less than one per cent of turtle eggs will survive to adulthood.

Infant squirrels are kept in cages like this one when they first arrive at the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. Half of the cage is kept on a heating pad to ensure the baby is comfortable.

Staff members at the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary have spent many hours preparing for the large influx of animals they receive each spring. Pictured above is the squirrel nursery, which is ready and waiting for squirrels in need.

Though the current inhabitant of this cage is a toy squirrel, the cage will soon be home to larger and more active baby squirrels.

Harder demonstrates how to create a “unification box” to reunite a baby with its mother. To make one of these boxes, use a shoebox that is high enough so that the baby cannot climb out. Cover the bottom of the box with a blanket or an old shirt, but do not cover the baby. Keep the infant squirrel warm by filling a waterbottle with warm water and wraping the bottle in a towel.

Make sure to brace the waterbottle on the side of the box with tape so that it won’t roll onto the baby. If there are no predators, put the box at the base of the tree out of direct sunlight — if the mother is around and the baby is not injured, most often she will come get her baby. If she has not come by nighttime, bring the baby indoors to keep it warm and safe and try again the next day.