R.I.’s Only Wildlife Clinic Needs Veterinarian to Keep Operating
Clinic's full-time, volunteer vet of 30 years retired in January
May 2, 2022
SAUNDERSTOWN, R.I. — The state’s only wildlife clinic is in danger of closing for good unless the organization can find the money to hire a full-time veterinarian.
The Wildlife Clinic of Rhode Island has provided medical assistance for free to injured or sick wildlife since 1993, operating primarily out of its clinic on Tower Hill Road. But in January Dr. Chi Chan, the clinic’s full-time, volunteer veterinarian of 30 years, retired.
“The dilemma that we face is if I cannot find the funds to pay for a full-time veterinarian to solely care for the injured and orphaned wildlife in Rhode Island, the organization cannot continue to operate,” said Kristin Fletcher, the clinic’s executive director.
The clinic is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and does not request payment from members of the public who bring animals to the clinic, instead relying on donations to cover the associated overhead, as well as food and medical supplies. The organization has seven paid staff, but almost everyone else involved, including the recently retired Chan and Fletcher, operates as a volunteer. The organization has operating expenses of about $185,000 annually, and raises all of its funds through private donations, fundraising events and grants.
Fletcher is realistic, as she doesn’t expect the clinic to find another full-time volunteer veterinarian. It takes eight years of higher education before a veterinarian can obtain a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. The median pay for veterinarians in the United States is $100,370, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The clinic just doesn’t have the money to hire a full-time veterinarian at the market salary, with donations varying from year to year. While 2020 was a high year for donations, with close to a quarter-million dollars in contributions, tax returns in 2016, 2017 and 2018 show annual donations rarely exceeding $160,000. Hiring a full-time veterinarian is crucial to keeping the various state licenses the clinic uses to operate. Hiring more veterinary technicians would allow the clinic to treat more animals, but without a vet, it could not keep its licenses.
Although the clinic is a nonprofit, it is not immune to price fluctuations from inflation or supply chain shortages. According to Fletcher, the clinic spent $20,000 on worms alone in 2021, to feed birds, bats and other critters.
Springtime is the busiest season, according to Fletcher, when much of the state’s wildlife is busy producing babies. In 2021, the clinic treated more than 6,000 animals, primarily rabbits, squirrels and songbirds.
Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, introduced a joint resolution (H8155) earlier this year that would allocate $100,000 from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) budget to fund a new veterinarian at the clinic for at least one year.
DEM’s legislative liaison, Ryan Mulcahey, described the clinic as a great partner that fills gaps in DEM’s service as a state agency.
“They provide expertise we don’t have, or additional capacity beyond what we have at our disposal,” Mulcahey said. “That’s a great organization that does a lot of great work.”
The clinic has been making do with a part-time veterinarian since January, who they hope to make the new full-time veterinarian when funding is obtained, according to Fletcher.
The resolution was held for further study.
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