For the Love of Wildlife: Behind the Scenes at Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

April 22, 2022

By Alison Whitey, Director of Advancement and Communications


For the Love of Wildlife


With the advent of spring comes a dramatic increase in the number of injured and orphaned animals being brought to Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.  After all, wildlife is on the move once again.  


Aspen Valley has been caring for wildlife for almost 50 years.  It started as the passion of one woman – Audrey Tourney – a high school teacher from Parry Sound, Ontario who was well known for her love of animals.  Since she first took in an orphaned raccoon, Audrey has nursed many more animals back to health as they were brought to her doorstep in increasing numbers over the years. Today, her legacy has been expanded upon by a dedicated group of staff and volunteers.


Located on 460 acres of pristine habitat in Rosseau, Ontario, Aspen Valley’s primary goal is to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. Once rehabilitated, these animals are released back into the wild to give them a second chance.  In 2021, the Sanctuary took in over 1,100 animals – many orphaned and in need of around-the-clock care and feeding.


Aspen Valley’s year-round staff consists of three full-time and two part-time employees. It’s a small team with a big responsibility – one that requires a lot of heart, a great deal of support from the community, and a small army of volunteers to boot.  In fact, well over 100 volunteers work alongside the sanctuary’s skeleton staff each year. 


In the spring and summer months, when animal admissions are at their highest, 16 full-time volunteers live at the Sanctuary for a minimum of four consecutive weeks.  Many of these volunteers come from around the world and are responsible for funding their own transportation to the Sanctuary from abroad.  We have even been fortunate to have full-time volunteers join us from the University of Guelph in the past. 


What’s a Day in the Life of a Full-Time Volunteer at Aspen Valley?


The species that we get the most calls about in the spring is the raccoon.  In a single season, Aspen Valley can take in as many as 200 raccoon babies (kits).  Many kits are sadly orphaned due to homeowners trapping nursing moms and not realizing that they had babies, leaving these animals orphaned and in desperate need of our lifesaving assistance.





With many raccoons in care at any given time, some full-time volunteers are partnered up and assigned to a room of orphaned raccoons.  They begin each day at 7:00 a.m. feeding these adorable kits with the youngest orphans being fed up to seven times each day. As they grow, feedings become fewer and farther between, until the kits are close to weaning in the summer months.


Between feedings, volunteers are tasked with cleaning, preparing increasingly bigger enclosures, and getting ready for the next round of feedings. It is worth noting that two or three volunteers are paired up to feed and care for the same group of raccoons. This ensures quality of care, time for sleep, and provides valuable time to experience working with other species such as deer, moose, beavers, and otters to name but a few.   




Species such as deer fawns and moose calves are assigned no more than two volunteer caregivers to look after them. This ensures consistent quality care and a reduction in the likelihood of these animals becoming accustomed to and approaching human beings after being released back into the wild.


It is vital for volunteers to know the species in their care.  All are provided with hands-on training in addition to being tasked with reading up on the species to which they have been assigned.  This prepares each volunteer to care for the animal as closely as possible to the manner in which they would be cared for by their mother in the wild.


For instance, while deer fawn and moose calves are both cervids (mammals of the deer family), they are cared for in very different fashions.  In the wild, adult deer leave their fawns lying quietly alone for most of the day, returning only to feed them.  Newborn fawns have no scent and are born with a natural camouflage to hide them when they are lying down, so their mothers are intentional in staying away, not wanting to draw attention.  Volunteers caring for orphaned fawns are encouraged to interact with the fawns in a similar fashion. Moose calves, on the other hand, stay close to their mothers until they are at least 1.5 years of age.  They need bonding from their moms in the wild, and subsequently they require bonding from a caregiver while at the sanctuary.




Coyotes are an example of a species that we really don’t want to become accustomed to people. Contact with these animals is limited to one handler managing all their needs, with as little interaction as possible. This sets the stage for a successful release back into the wild, where they would prefer to stay away from human interaction.


In addition to the day-to-day caring for injured and orphaned wildlife at Aspen Valley, our full-time volunteers will find themselves assisting staff with intake, triage, and the first aid care of animals as they arrive at the sanctuary.


What is the Intake Process?


Seasoned staff guide and oversee volunteers who may participate in the intake, initial exam, and treatment process.


Many orphans coming into the sanctuary have been away from their moms for a while and are incredibly emaciated. Consequently, their internal health is compromised, and their organs may be shutting down.  At intake, this requires a very careful procedure of getting nutrients back into their body while avoiding what is known as refeeding syndrome – when food is introduced too quickly after a period of malnourishment – leading to complications and even death of the animal.


Other animals might be treated for head trauma or started on a course of antibiotics to treat infection, such as mange. Wounds are cleaned and splints are used to support and protect injured bones, ligaments, and tendons. These are but a few of the ways in which animals are treated upon intake.


It is important to note that raccoons are immediately entered into a vaccine protocol which includes vaccination against parvovirus, a highly contagious disease.


Sadly, severely compromised or injured animals who will never be fit enough to return to the wild are euthanized. This is a difficult yet humane decision that needs to be made by all rehabbers.


When are Veterinarians Called Upon for Assistance?


While the trained staff at Aspen Valley provide most of the care, there are instances when the sanctuary does call upon veterinarians experienced in the field of wildlife rehabilitation.


For example, a broken leg that needs casting or pinning would require veterinary care.  The arrival of a compromised moose needing bloodwork and intravenous fluids would also be grounds for a call to the vet.


Additionally, we rely on veterinarians to assist in the care of our permanent wildlife residents.  Aspen Valley has various animals permanently in our care, including a moose, coyotes, bears, and a wolf pack.  Sadly, the majority of these animals came to Aspen Valley as a direct result of human interference.  Many were born or raised in captivity and were later seized by authorities, who then approached Aspen Valley to provide them with a forever home.


In these situations, we partner with our wildlife veterinarians to perform annual checkups and meet a variety of species-specific needs.  For instance, Ella, our moose, gets her hooves trimmed every six months.


Veterinarians have also been called upon to spay some of our permanent residents.  If an animal is born in captivity, then it must spend the rest of its life within an enclosure. As a true sanctuary, we do not allow our permanent residents to breed for that very reason.  


Why Volunteer or Work at a Wildlife Sanctuary?


There are many reasons one might wish to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary, despite the physically and emotionally difficult nature of this field. To journey alongside an orphaned animal, from eyes closed to release back into the wild, is a powerful thing. From incubator, to Rubbermaid container, to outdoor enclosures, the world you are opening up for these animals gets bigger and bigger as they develop and recover. Friendships formed through long hours, life lessons, and sorrow turned to joy are some of the motivations that make this type of work so fulfilling.


If you are interested in learning more about the sanctuary, its efforts, and volunteer positions, please visit Together, let’s Keep Wildlife Wild!


Note from FVC


Please note that FVC is not affiliated with Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and is not directly endorsing the volunteer positions described in this piece. Please be diligent and ensure you are aware of all position details should you choose to apply.