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It's a Wild Ride in South Florida

Riding shotgun in the Wildlife Care Center ambulance

The Humane Society of the United States / SPCA Wildlife Care Center

  • The Wildlife Care Center's ambulance fleet goes on hundreds of calls a month.

  • Ambulance driver Chester Lewis picks up a duck likely hit by a car.

  • Lewis gently puts the injured duck into the ambulance.

 by Laura Gottlieb

We jump into the ambulance and load up the GPS. Two calls have already come in today, and Chester Lewis is ready for a rescue. Born in St. Thomas, Chester has been working at the Wildlife Care Center for three years. He has always been an animal lover, but until he came to the center, he said he never knew how many other people also loved animals.

With a career that started in animal care, Chester is now a full-time ambulance driver. The Wildlife Care Center—operated in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States—operates two rescue and one release ambulance. These ambulances travel nearly 7,000 miles monthly, rescuing and releasing injured animals. From Miami-Dade to Palm Beach county, these drivers see all parts of South Florida. These dedicated employees put themselves into interesting, and sometime dangerous situations—all for the rescue of animals. 

On the Road

Our first stop was a home in Fort Lauderdale. We pull up to a small house, with a “Beware of Dog” sign stationed out front. 

“I never take chances,” says Chester as he calls back to base, asking them to contact the homeowner to let them know we are out front. The front door slowly opens and a man steps outside, carrying a small box. Inside of the box is a boat-tailed grackle, struggling to stand and move. “He seems to have head trauma.  You can see that his eyes are swollen,” states Chester. 

Chester carefully transports the injured bird to a small crate, places the crate inside the ambulance, and covers it with a towel to lessen the stress on the bird. He records the time, calls back to base, and we are off for a second rescue. 

As we begin the drive out to Plantation for a “duck call,” Chester tells me about why he does what he does. 

A Higher Calling

“There is a whole world around us, and we are just one piece of the bigger picture. But all of us working together can create something powerful to protect this world. It is up to us  at the Wildlife Care Center to educate people because individuals can’t change their actions until they change the way they think. 

“By educating people about the environment and the wildlife around us, we can help create the balance that needs to exist in this world.” 

We pull into Plantation Heritage Park, looking for an injured duck. Chester grabs a crate and net from the ambulance and we begin canvassing the area, trying to locate the patient. He spots him by the side of the road. 

“I think he’s been hit by a car.” Chester preps the net, carefully walks over to the duck, and swoops him up. “He may have just been clipped, but we’ll take him back to the hospital and let the vets evaluate him.” Chester transfers the duck to the crate and we load him into the ambulance, ready for the ride back to the WCC.   

I am amazed by Chester’s calm and comforting attitude. But then again, he has seen it all: From the most wonderful rescues to the most devastating injuries, Chester has been a part of hundreds of calls. 

“I try not to take it home with me,” says Chester. “I love what I do and I have seen the vets do amazing life-saving work, but there are tough days too. I want the Wildlife Care Center to be the first place people call for animal rescue, I want us to be superheroes.” 

Our Heroes

Chester is a superhero, as are the other WCC ambulance drivers. Every day, they answer the calls from the public, racing out to save injured animals: From high atop the trees to reach injured birds, to deep into the canals to remove ducks stuck in drains, the ambulance drivers go to great lengths to give injured, orphaned or displaced animals another chance of survival. 

Thanks to community support, our ambulances can provide this miraculous service. Every dollar, every donation allows us to rescue one more animal, to provide another surgery, to save one more life. We count on the generous donations of our supports to keep our life-saving services active and equipped 365 days a year. Will you help us by making a donation today?  

Laura Gottlieb is director of development for the SPCA Wildlife Care Center. The center is operated in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States and is located South Florida.

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