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August 21, 2012

Deborah Millman's Vision for the Cape Wildlife Center

New director talks about her goals, the animals

  • Deborah Millman has big plans for the Cape Wildlife Center. Connie Summers Photography

Deborah Robbins Millman is the new director of the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Mass., one of five animal care centers across the country operated by The HSUS.

Millman has 20 years of nonprofit management experience, and a background in media and public relations. A Massachusetts native, Millman earned her bachelor's degree from Hofstra University, and she’s finishing a master's degree in political management at The George Washington University.

We caught up with Millman for a brief chat in June, which is during the busiest season for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation on Cape Cod.

Tell us about some of the animals who are recuperating today at Cape Wildlife.

We have three fisher orphans—they are a member of the weasel family—about three dozen raccoons, three skunks, a variety of songbirds, about a dozen opossums, and some herring gull chicks.

We also have three orphaned minks. Someone heard them crying in a parking lot and it turned out their mother had been hit by a car, so they came to us. We'll care for them until they are an appropriate age and size to be released. They are really fascinating to watch from afar. We don't get too close because we want to maintain their wild nature, which is essential for their survival.

"Wildlife rehabilitation and animal sheltering have the same goals—to make sure each animal's needs are met and to make sure they have a good quality of life."

In season, we have more than 100 animals in rehabilitation every day. Our goal is to ready them for successful release into the wild. Part of that process is ensuring that they retain their natural aversion to being around people; that is necessary for them to survive in the wild and avoid human/animal conflicts.

Your background is in shelters, right?

Yes. I briefly worked in public relations after college, then became a reporter for the Tampa Tribune in Florida. I worked in newspapers for many years, then went into public relations, publishing, and nonprofit and business management. I was on the board of the Humane Society of Sarasota County for six years, then I became its executive director and served for 10 years.

During my tenure, the Sarasota shelter increased its reserves, remodeled its kennels, and received Charity Navigator's highest rating.

Wildlife rehabilitation and animal sheltering have the same goals—to make sure each animal's needs are met and to make sure they have a good quality of life.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in animals. My two interests were always media and animals. It's a nice combination. I can help people understand the needs of the animal population through effective communication.

Q: What are your goals for Cape Wildlife Center?

A: I'm really enthusiastic about expanding its role as an educational resource for New England and beyond. We work with native animals, including endangered and threatened species like the New England cottontail and the fish crow. I'm striving to make us an even greater resource for scientists, naturalists, animal control officers, wildlife rehabilitators, and the public. We have the facilities for it, and we have highly skilled personnel to educate people.

Q: Have you been on a wildlife release yet?

A: I've been on several. One really great release I went on recently was a juvenile fox who we brought back to Provincetown to be released after rehabilitation. (The fox was an infant when he was frightened by a pressure washer at a local boat yard. He tried to climb a fence, and broke his tiny leg. The fox required complex surgery at Tufts University.)

When we drove through Provincetown, people noticed our Cape Wildlife Center van and were smiling and waving at us. A woman came up to us and thanked us for saving the fox. It was so good to see people enthusiastic about wildlife and the release.

"I'm striving to make us an even greater resource for scientists, naturalists, animal control officers, wildlife rehabilitators, and the public."

When we opened the carrier to release the fox, he poked his head out and ran away. It was very satisfying—he was a little animal who would not have survived without our help.

The Center released some songbirds recently. There are some opossums we'll be releasing soon. We do releases weekly. In 2011, we took in 1,700 animals. This is our busiest season, because animals are breeding and there are more people on the Cape this time of year. That means there are more wildlife/human conflicts to deal with.

Rehabilitation is challenging, but it is also deeply rewarding. I'm having a great time—and we're making a vital difference.

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