Call of the Wild: Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has been helping wildlife for more than 40 years

LTWC spends nearly $ 30,000 a year on food.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California – A hedgehog waddles behind some volunteers doing their feeding round. Squirrels and ground squirrels whiz up and down trees while birds squeal in the background. An eagle missing part of one of its wings jumps around while its driver watches.

This is a typical day in Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release orphaned and injured wildlife.

They are currently rehabilitating several black bears, a bobcat, hedgehog, birds of prey and many other of Lake Tahoe’s natural wildlife.

LTWC is located in a quiet corner of Al Tahoe Boulevard and the Pioneer Trail in South Lake Tahoe. It is tucked into the woods, so apart from a sign on Al Tahoe, it would be easy to miss, which is perfect for those animals who need a quiet place to recover.

But this surreal property was not always the place where wildlife went to heal. In fact, for most of LTWC’s existence, the animals were all housed in a rather small building in the middle of a residential area.

The beginning

The idea for LTWC was planted in March 1978, after Cheryl Millham saw a photo of a woman holding a raccoon in an issue of Woman’s Day magazine.

According to the LTWC website, “The woman, Jinny Collins, was one of the founders of Wildlife Rescue, a wildlife rehabilitation organization in Los Altos, California.”

The article reported that Wildlife Rescue was preparing to hold a training seminar to teach local citizens how to care for orphaned and injured wild birds and animals. Then in April 1978, Millham called Collins and signed up for the class.

Millham went with her husband Tom, their daughter Connie and their friend BJ to the training seminar.

“When they returned to South Lake Tahoe, they began contacting units that would come into contact with orphaned and injured wildlife, informing them of their plan to breed and rehabilitate these animals, and asking for their help,” the LTWC said. Homepage.

For about 37 years, the couple operated out of their home and backyard on a 0.75-acre property on Cherry Hills Circle.

Denise Upton is the Animal Care Director for LTWC. She started in 1995 as a volunteer and has been with the site ever since. She remembers working at the Cherry Hills site.

“We basically figured out a way to take almost everything,” Upton said. “I was just looking at an old newsletter and we had 14 bears at one time. I do not know where we put them. We had small enclosures, but we were the only bear weaning in California for many many years, so we just had to take what they had. “

The LTWC has permits to consume almost any of Lake Tahoe’s wildlife except adult deer, mountain lions or moose, but even though they were the only ones that could care for bears, there are nearly 100 other rehabilitation facilities in California, so if they ran out of space, they would contact one of the other facilities to take care of the animals.

In addition to limiting how many animals they could take in, the small space also made it more difficult to rehabilitate the animals.

Since one of their main goals is to release the animals, they want to simulate their natural environment as much as possible.

“The old place did not have outdoor enclosures, so it was really difficult to get the animals used to the outdoor areas and the sounds and the whole thing and even the weather. We want them to be able to thrive, “Upton said.

Also, being so close to predators was stressful for the prey. Upton remembers a baby beaver they once cared for and who wanted a meltdown every time he was put out in the pen. They quickly discovered that it was because he could smell the bears from their enclosure when he was outside.

Despite these difficulties, they took care of more than 24,000 injured or displaced animals and birds in their time at the old site, and more than 14,000 of these animals have been successfully returned to the wild.

Still, in 2012, Millhams realized it was time to move and expand.

The new location

Although the idea of ​​moving came in 2012, it was not until 2014 that the perfect location was found. The 27-acre plot on the corner of Al Tahoe and the Pioneer Trail is owned by the Springmeyer Family Partnership. A relationship with the Springmeyer family, in addition to a donation from Barbara Hartoonian’s estate, enabled the Millhams to make their dreams come true.

In July 2015, LTWC finally broke ground on their new home.

The larger space has allowed them to spread the animals out and given them more space. Upton said this has definitely helped the animals recover better.

“It has definitely improved our game,” Upton said. They currently have a release rate of 63%, which is a state they are proud of.

As of April 2022, the eight enclosures they have built, with four more on the way. They have a large flying area for the birds they retrain, and each enclosure also has outdoor space for the animals to get some fresh air.

In theory, the buildings are animal-specific, but in reality, the facility is meant to be flexible.

‘Nothing we do here is black and white. Right now we have mice, squirrels and hedgehogs in the otter / beaver building, ”said Upton.

Upton said it’s about being flexible.

They also recently broke into the main building, which will house an animal hospital, staff offices and an apartment if staff have to look after animals overnight or if they have trainees outside the area. The building is expected to open in the spring of 2023.

They have also recently completed the construction of an outdoor learning center, which will allow them to hold classes during the summer. The main building will also house a multi-room for teaching in the winter.

The animals

While the new building and the educational component are exciting and important, everything LTWC does is really about the animals.

During her more than 20 years with the organization, Upton has cared for a lot of animals and she has lots of thoughts and memories of the animals.

One animal that has really stuck in her mind is a little bear named Azuza. They started getting reports of a bear literally going to people on the trail and jumping up into people’s arms.

“He was like a teddy bear, he was not right. So we worked really hard and we found a location for him, “said Upton. He is currently thriving at a facility called In the Company of Wolves, where he lives happily with a three-legged bear named Woody.

She also remembers a mountain beaver found in Harrah’s parking lot. She got a call that a beaver was stuck in a drainage ditch.

When Upton showed up, she realized it was a mountain beaver, which is very different from a beaver.

“I’ve never seen a live and go figure, there’s one in the parking lot of Harrah’s,” Upton said. “It really shows that we have a lot of wildlife around us, even though it’s in Heavenly Village.”

LTWC has cared for more than 24,000 sick and injured animals.

Of all the animals Upton has cared for, she says coyotes are the hardest to retrain. They are constantly stressed and she said she had caused coyotes to dig themselves out of enclosures.

“They’re very, very difficult, and so if they’re mobile, we omit them,” Upton said.

Until recently, beavers were Upton’s favorite animal to take care of, but that was before she met Porky the Porcupine.

“It was beavers because I had bred baby beavers quite a few times until we had a hedgehog cub. They are like baby beavers with feathers and they are so freaking interesting, ”said Upton.

Porky has become too used to humans, so he is now a permanent resident of LTWC. As they leave him out of his enclosure, he walks around as if he owns the place.

He looks a lot like a dog, he just wants to follow the volunteers and staff around and constantly expects to be given peanuts, which is his favorite treat.

In addition to Porky, LTWC has several other permanent residents. They are two small owls and two kestrel, which are currently staying in Upton’s house in the winter.

The ultimate goal is to release the animals so that LTWC limits the amount of human contact with the animals.

They also have Em, the single-winged eagle. Em is taken outside every day as he walks around campus spreading his wings. Although he can not fly, he gets lots of attention and food, so he is happy.

The future

The public is not allowed in the facility because they want to limit the amount of interaction the animals have with humans. So the outdoor learning center, along with the main building, will allow them to be more “user-friendly,” as Upton says.

Upton says she dreams of one day opening a sanctuary on the property so the public can see the local wildlife.

“There’s a huge need for this,” Upton said. “I’d rather have people see a bear that can’t be let out in a closed environment than throw rice krispie treats out of their car window so they can get a picture.”

Education is an integral part of what LTWC does. Upton constantly sends calls from visitors who have not encountered that kind of wildlife before and do not know what to do. Or people bring them animals that actually did not need to be rescued.

The original location did not give animals enough space to roam, which is important for their recovery.

They are always in the process of finding out how to coexist peacefully with wildlife, so that the learning center and a possible sanctuary go a long way with that purpose.

Em, along with kestrel, are often used in educational environments as they are so comfortable around humans.

The owls are more cautious, so LTWC builds them a fence near the learning center so people can still see them.

For all the other animals that can not be seen in person, LTWC has an active Instagram account, where videos of the animals behaving naturally are posted almost daily.

There are videos of bears playing with each other, coyotes zooming around in their enclosure, and cute hedgehog nerds waddling around.

Allowing the public to interact with the animals, whether personal or external, is so important. Everything LTWC does is made possible by donations, so it’s important to let people see where their money is going.

The donations help not only for the construction of new buildings, but also for veterinary equipment, such as the new X-ray machine they could use to monitor a bobcat whose legs they were operated on. Donations are also used to buy food because wild animals eat a lot of food. In 2020 alone, they spent nearly $ 30,000 on bird and animal feed.

They recently hired Heidi Volkhardt Allstead as their first ever CEO. She looks to the future of LTWC.

“I know Denise is working on a major education program so that will be a part of it, and really increase those educational needs, and beyond that I mean just offering the best animal care we can provide,” Allstead said.

The current plant is spread over five of the 27 hectares, so they have a lot of room to expand.

“One of the things about the board will be to look at late summer, when we go into the next season, and when the building is finished, we really look at what the needs are … what other kinds of staff do we need, do we need a vet on staff, for me that’s all things we have to decide between now and next March, “Allstead said.

Currently, most of LTWC’s work is performed by volunteers, including the veterinary services.

“I’m excited to see where LTWC is heading and how amazing this facility is and the amazing staff working here and the rehabers, I’m just excited to see the level of professionalism and expertise that we have here, just increasing more and more, “Allstead said.

To learn more, visit or visit to see all their animals.

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