How Andrew Wight saves the pesky city critters stuck in sticky situations.
As the mainstream narrative goes, firefighters rescue cats stuck in trees. But when a raccoon gets stuck on a roof, or a gaggle of geese can’t make it across the street, who do you call?
Andrew Wight is the lead rescuer at the Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC), the guy who saves the day when pesky critters finagle themselves into precarious situations. He rolls around the city in an animal ambulance, helping ducks, geese, squirrels, and other wildlife get unstuck on roofs, trees, and city skyscrapers.
With high season approaching, Wight tells Torontoist more about life as an animal rescue hero.
Torontoist: Can you tell us what a typical day looks like as a wildlife rescuer?
Toronto Wildlife is a wildlife hospital, as well as having an animal ambulance service. I’m the ambulance driver. When our hotline determines that an animal is a high risk to the public, or that the situation the animal has gotten itself into is high risk, we get dispatched out. There are some days where we have calls from the day before so we already know what we’re doing, or we just go into our day blind and whatever comes up, comes up. And I’ll tell you every day is different, no situation ever repeats itself.
How many animals would you say you rescue per day?
It totally fluctuates from winter slow season, where we might have a call a day, to summer and spring when babies are getting into trouble and we’re out all day long. Sometimes it’s families too: we might go out and rescue a mother duck and her 12 ducklings off the highway, and that’s 13 animals in one rescue. We do about a half dozen rescues per day during our busy season.
What kinds of animals do you rescue the most? A lot of ducks?
We do see a lot of ducks and geese with their little ones in the spring. But we deal with everything—foxes, coyotes, swans, teeny little birds, squirrels, raccoons. Anything you can think of that exists in the city, we’re working with.
What made you want to come into this role?
I think it’s a passion for animals and wildlife. You know, I would say humans have a huge impact on the issues these animals are finding themselves in. It’s a very unique thing we’ve created here at Toronto Wildlife, being able to correct some of the things that humans have caused and that are hurting the wildlife. It’s rewarding for us to go out and turn them around.
How do humans affect these situations?
The majority of it is indirectly, by doing things like driving cars or building skyscrapers that have glass or reflections on them, or rooftop gardens—which are beautiful and great for sustainability, but now they’re drawing geese and ducks to have their babies there. Then you have 12 ducklings on an 80-floor rooftop condo BBQ area. That’s not going to be a good ending for the little ones falling that far.
What is the most challenging part of wildlife rescue in Toronto?
I think it’s the problem solving. Every situation is so different, and there’s not a handbook for this type of thing. Going out there, asking how we are going to resolve this, what tools we need to use, how we are going to keep the animal calm in that situation and help get it out of whatever it’s in?
How different does wildlife look in the city compared to a few hours north of here?
It’s the number of animals here. Toronto is a metropolis, and the city has a huge wildlife population, especially with our beautiful greenbelt systems. There’s a huge number of animals, but because there are so many humans too, there is a lot of coming across each other that doesn’t end so well—usually more so for the animal than the human.
How does the rescue work? You rescue an animal and then it simply goes on its way?
After we’ve contained an animal and taken the danger away, we’ll transport it back to our hospital. That system would be very similar to a human going to the hospital. The animal is admitted, it’s fully assessed, and then the doctor and medical staff decide on course of treatment and rehabilitation. Once it’s better, we’ll do re-acclimatizing depending on what time of year it is, depending on whether there’s sun and heat and rain and wind. And once we feel that they’re back to being a wild animal, then it gets released. The rewarding thing about my job is that not only do I get to rescue so many of the animals that come in here, but I also get to do the release. You’ve taken this animal out of a dangerous situation and you’ve turned them around, and you get to set them free.
What would be one of the trickiest rescues you’ve done?
Not everyone likes raccoons, but it’s breeding season, of course, and there are all sorts of mothers having their young ones. We got a call about a raccoon that had tried to go into a roof, and it had gotten stuck into a hole. The hole had actually been repaired because the owners didn’t realize the raccoon was living in the roof. So they put a new roof on, and the raccoon had managed to dig a hole to go back inside, but her hips were so wide—from all the food reserves she had in her, I suspect—that she got stuck. She was hanging upside down with her rear end sticking up to the sky for some time. The owners managed to call us, and we raced down there and were able to pull her out. Not just anyone can go pull a raccoon out of a hole.
It had only been there for an hour or two, but it had stopped fighting the situation, so had we not come down, the raccoon would eventually have died in that position—which, even if you don’t like raccoons, is not a nice thing and not okay.
What’s something people might not think about when they hear the term “wildlife rescuer”? What’s the most surprising part of your job?
People don’t know we exist, which is a surprising thing. I think what’s most surprising, though, is how resilient the animals are in the situations they get themselves in. I always think: What if I was stuck in that hole or trapped on this skyscraper? How would I deal with it? What if my arm was broken? There’s no way I could ever handle it as well as these wild animals do. It’s incredible to see what they go through. We could all easily just walk by them and they wouldn’t complain about it. Not that they’re looking for help, but in the end, the help does give them another chance at life.