Located a short drive to the east of Cornell’s main campus, on Hungerford Hill, the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital is a hidden treasure, providing lifesaving medical care for native wild animals. The hospital provides this valuable service free of charge to residents of surrounding communities and across New York state.
The majority of patients are rescued by kind-hearted people who find an injured animal and transport it to the hospital for emergency care. About 70 percent of patients are avian species, 25 percent are mammals, and 5 percent are reptiles and amphibians.
“We are unique in that we are essentially an emergency hospital where patients present as needed around the clock, without prior appointments,” says Sara Childs-Sanford DVM ’99, assistant professor of zoological medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine, and chief of service of the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital.
“Every patient starts off in a terrible predicament and is so lucky to have been found and rescued by a kind human.” —Sara Childs-Sanford DVM ’99
Meet a recent patient, an albino porcupine
This young female porcupine was found in Massena, NY in mid-September. It is suspected that her frequent raiding of a local apple orchard led her to be caught in a leg-hold trap. Hospital staff treated the infection that had spread throughout her system and performed surgery to amputate her injured leg. “She bounced back quickly and displayed her love for apples even during her hospital stay!” Sara says.
Learn more about the Wildlife Hospital or make an online gift.
Lucky to be found
Sara explains that most patient injuries result from unfortunate encounters with humans, their cars, their cats, their windows, the toxins they put in the environment, or their fishing lines.
Every patient delivered to the door of the facility is hospitalized. The animals’ length of stay depends on the extent of their injuries or health challenges. Some stay for only a day or two, while others stay for weeks. When the animal is well enough, it is transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, who prepares it for eventual release back into the wild.
“The Wildlife Hospital has become one of my favorite places at Cornell. I have had the opportunity to work closely with the hospital staff on species I would otherwise not have been exposed to and see the difference we make in their lives.” —Lesley Chiu DVM ’21, fourth-year clinical rotation student
The hospital also treats animals suffering from a wide range of infectious diseases. “Cornell has recently been instrumental in identifying new wildlife diseases through clinical cases that have presented to the Wildlife Hospital,” Sara says.
To learn more about these diseases, the hospital is expanding its wildlife health research program. According to Sara, this research will advance the field of wildlife medicine and, hopefully, improve treatment protocols and patient outcomes.
Meet a recent patient, a Great Horned Owl
This adult male Great Horned Owl arrived at the hospital emaciated and heavily parasitized, with a severe infection in his left eye. With supportive care the owl gradually gained strength, and his eye, which could not be saved, was removed. After conditioning and flight testing in a rehabilitation setting, he was released back into his heavily wooded home territory near Spencer, NY.
So many happy endings
Sara, who has been chief of service of the Wildlife Hospital since 2016, reports that the number of animals treated at the hospital is on the rise. Last year set a new record, with about 1,750 animals admitted for care. During the busy season, from late spring through mid-fall, the hospital typically treats about 300 patients each month.
“We have grown tremendously over the last few years, now admitting more than twice as many patients annually than we did just a few years ago,” Sara says. “Not only are we helping more animals in need, but we are also performing a greater service for our local community and the state,” she adds.
Sara says the opportunity to serve both her patients and her community is the most rewarding part of her work. “I love everything about what I am currently doing—the amazing animals and people that I work with; the ability to be a clinician, a teacher, and a researcher; and probably most of all, the service aspect of what we do,” she adds.
Meet a recent patient, a Tundra Swan
This adult Tundra Swan was found tangled in fishing line in a large mud puddle at the north end of Cayuga Lake. The fisherman who found him transported the swan in his boat to shore and brought him to a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator, who then brought the swan to the Wildlife Hospital. The wounds on his legs and wings were successfully treated, and he was released back onto Cayuga Lake in February 2021.
Any-species veterinary education
The hospital treats any native wildlife species except adult deer and bear. The facility also does not accept rabies-vector species, which include raccoons, bats, and skunks.
Cornell veterinary students have several opportunities to engage with the hospital, as volunteers, rotation students, and workers. In non-pandemic times, the hospital welcomes about 75 first- through third-year students each year, on a volunteer basis, to assist with patient treatments.
Fourth-year veterinary students can elect to spend two weeks or more at the wildlife hospital, as part of their Clinical Rotation. The Wildlife Hospital is a new rotation option that was recently incorporated into the CVM curriculum.
“The Wildlife Hospital was a key reason I chose to attend veterinary school at Cornell. Working there has been a pivotal component of my education, both as a means to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom and to provide a valuable foundation for pursuing a career in wildlife medicine.” — Kate Slyngstad ’22, student worker
The hospital also hires several student workers every year. “They provide support at afternoon treatment times, assist with hospital maintenance, and play a crucial role in handling emergency phone calls and patient admissions outside of normal business hours,” Sara says.
“We are dedicated to teaching,” she adds. “Not only do our students learn about wildlife species and diseases, they also gain valuable hands-on experience and develop clinical skills applicable to any species or practice setting.”
Sara recalls the admiration she had for the faculty and their knowledge, dedication, and love for their profession, when she was a student at CVM. “I am so grateful to be here at Cornell, and I hope I can similarly inspire the students I work with,” she says.
A community of animal lovers
The hospital is named in honor of Janet Swanson, an animal lover and wife of Cornellian John Swanson ’61, BME ’62, MME ’63. Janet’s 2008 gift to the College of Veterinary Medicine supported renovation of the hospitalfacilities and provided funding for general operating expenses.
Over the past 13 years, more than 1,000 donors have stepped up to support the work of the hospital. Community donations support patient care, upgrades to facilities and equipment, wildlife research projects, and student education—including specialty training of graduate veterinarians in wildlife medicine.
“Donations are so important to support daily operations of the hospital and the care of our patients,” Sara says.