Bluffton veterinarian develops reputation for helping injured wildlife

June 8, 2011 

The fawn had just finished licking Dr. Ben Parker's face when the veterinarian noticed diarrhea on his shirt and pants.

He finished putting the fawn back in her temporary refuge -- an indoor pen in the back of the Coastal Veterinary Clinic in Bluffton -- before futilely trying to remove the stain with water and a rag.

The deer had come a long way since the car accident two weeks ago, Parker said, which killed its pregnant mother and ultimately its sibling, who stopped feeding from a bottle used by Parker and his staff.

Parker said this fawn was feeding quite well and might be released very soon depending on its health.

Back in his office, the veterinarian talked about his reputation for taking care of wildlife.

"I enjoy it, it mixes up my practice. Ninety percent is dogs or cats, but sometimes I do have a bald eagle come in and that is pretty awesome experience for anybody," Parker said. "It is a joy and challenge and sometimes it is frustrating -- it all comes with the territory."

Unique to wild animals, Parker said, is the lack of owner oversight typically accompanying a domesticated animal, which is expected to return to home life with owner after receiving care.

"With wild animals, you don't get that from an owner," Parker said. "It is different, it's like between me and the animal, no one involved, there is no expectation either way."

He said with wild animal care there is less pressure in one way: He doesn't have to comply with the expectations of an owner.

But there's far more pressure in another way.

"Because I am going to release them on their own, I have to have a high level of confidence that what I did was good enough to ensure they survive on their own," Parker said. "While with a pet, I know the owner can take care of them."

With no owners and therefore no compensation, Parker said wild animal care can also present problems with resource depletion at the clinic. Fortunately, he said the same "good Samaritan" spirit that brings these ailing wild animals to him also leads to donations that help fund the sometimes expensive care.

Wild animals account for a small percentage of Coastal Veterinary Clinic's patients. Parker said his Hippocratic Oath to care for all animals, means he never turns away a wild animal brought to him.

Coastal Veterinary Clinic currently averages 10 wild animals a week, Parker said, which is much fewer than the 30 animals a week he was getting during the population boom in the 1990s. He said as more people moved to the Bluffton area and the construction of residential and commercial developments increased, scores of wild animals were displaced.

Parker has been practicing in the Lowcountry since 1989 after he graduated Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

He said his success rate with being able to care for and then release injured wild animals is 50 percent. Little can be done for some who come into the clinic, he said, so he tries to stabilize them and make them comfortable before they die or have to be euthanized.

"So we see a lot die that are just too far gone before they get here," Parker said. "They are sick for a long time in the wild but are just strong enough to get away from people."

Injured wild animals should be handled with extreme caution, Parker said. Big animals like deer and birds of prey should likely only be monitored, until authorities arrive to restrain and possibly sedate the animal, he said.

"People need to be careful. They should worry about beaks and talons," Parker said. "They should also worry about mammals who could have rabies and a lot of potential diseases."

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