QC resident makes wildlife rehabilitation her life’s work

 

As an animal enthusiast from birth, native New Yorker Regina Whitman packed her bags and made her dream of an animal rehabilitation center a reality in the desert almost 25 years ago.

Ms. Whitman founded and licensed Desert Cry Wildlife Inc., as a nonprofit organization in Queen Creek at 34462 N. Lazy Loop Road. She has more than 40 years of experience as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

“Desert Cry Wildlife, Inc., is a facility founded for the rescue and rehabilitation of native wild animals with the goal of returning them to the wild,” says the Desert Cry website mission statement at desertcry.org. “When an animal cannot be released, due to permanent disability, it is afforded life-long care.”

During an interview, Ms. Whitman talked about her upbringing in New York and how at an early age she was surrounded by animals. That love and lifestyle encouraged her to go to school to become a licensed veterinarian technician, completing her state exams and becoming a registered VT.

Additionally, she spent years learning the basics of animal rehabilitation care as part of a wildlife volunteer organization and then volunteered further time at the Bronx Zoo.

Ms. Whitman also spent time traveling across different parts of the world like Hawaii, Germany and Amsterdam learning about all types of animals.

In 1991, Ms. Whitman fulfilled another life-long dream of embarking on a whale-watching tour in Mexico. The trip altered her perspective on life.

“The experience was just something I can’t describe, like an awakening,” said Ms. Whitman. “I thought I had my direction, but just being out there with these 40-ton animals that would come up and let us pet them and bring their babies to us. The experience was incredible. So I was changed. More and more I just wanted to be outside with the animals.”

After returning, she suffered a job-ending injury and decided it was the best time of any to make her dream of creating a self-sufficient, independent wildlife rehabilitation center a reality.

Ms. Whitman loved the desert during her travels and was especially fond of the Sonoran Desert and the heat. In 1993, she came to Queen Creek in search of land and bought the first place she found — a home on a large property facing the San Tan Mountains.

“It’s been 24 years and this place was nothing but dirt and fox tails,” said Ms. Whitman. “I literally trimmed the creosote bushes to make a hedge. These were species of animals I’d never dealt with and none of this is paid. I’ve had to raise donations on my own and it took me years and years to raise money to finally file for my nonprofit.”

Desert Cry got its name from a song called “A Cry in the Forest” from Dan Fogelberg. Ms. Whitman admired the singer/songwriter’s environmental involvement and his song moved her and gave inspiration for her organization.

Each day starts and ends in a similar fashion for Ms. Whitman. Besides the occasional surgery or suture, which is all made possible by her veterinary training, she spends each day feeding the animals, cleaning the grounds and making sure all of the animals are cool and well taken care of.

Her passion is apparent as she cares and interacts with each animal, knowing their names and even seeing familiar faces of animals she once tended to.

In addition to the 30 cats, seven dogs, five domestic rabbits, five goats and five chickens she keeps as pets, she cares mostly for small animals like desert hares, jackrabbits, squirrels, skunks, quail and roadrunners.

She also has five permanent desert tortoises. If she can’t help take in other animals, she does her best to find someone who can.

“I have rescued, raised, rehabilitated and healed thousands of animals,” said Ms. Whitman. “Last year alone, I did 150-plus animals. It’s not a lot for a rescue, but it’s a lot for one person.”

Ms. Whitman’s most memorable animal was an antelope jackrabbit she affectionately named Chewy. Standing on his hind legs, Chewy measured almost 3 feet tall from the tops of his ears to his feet and is one of the largest species of jackrabbit.

Chewy was brought to Desert Cry alongside his two siblings at about a day old. Ms. Whitman knew the siblings wouldn’t survive and Chewy would never be able to be released, so he became her house hare.

“He passed away years ago, but lived to be almost 12 years old,” said Ms. Whitman. “There were times he even lived in the house with me and to this day people still remember him and identify with me through him.”

While Ms. Whitman does most of the animal care on her own, she relies heavily on donations and volunteer work. Zoey Sullivan, a 13-year old from Gilbert, decided helping out at Desert Cry for the summer was a good way to spend her time off from school.

“My dad [found and] showed me the website and I saw it and thought it was something that could get me out of the house,” said Zoey. “It’s fun. You get to work with animals and in my opinion I enjoy it and I think other people would enjoy it too.”

Desert Cry is one of the only wildlife rehabilitation centers in Pinal County that offers full-service assistance for the animals it takes in. Paul and Gloria Halesworth, founders of Wild Wing, Inc. in Ahwatukee, have worked closely with Ms. Whitman the last 15 years and are both familiar with the amount of dedication and work it takes to run a nonprofit rehabilitation center.

“[Regina] is extremely dedicated,” said Mr. Halesworth. “We’ve known her close to 15 years and she is very good at what she does. She really does know mammals very well, especially the small ones. She’s got a good heart and does very positive things for the area.”

Desert Cry is licensed by the Arizona State Game and Fish Department, but does not receive any government funding, according to desertcry.org.

For more information on Ms. Whitman and how to donate or volunteer, visit her website. All monetary donations are tax deductible and the organization also accepts gift cards to Wal-mart, Sprouts, Home Depot or any other place that sells produce or food for the animals.

Editor’s note: Jamie Morris is a freelance writer for the Queen Creek Independent newspaper.

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