One myth of charitable organizations is that they reflect community vision and civil society. One type of organization that smashes the myth are wildlife rescue charities. They are typically very small, not "organizations" in any sense of the word—often one person pursuing her own vision.
For some reason the Virginia Pilot in the Tidewater Virginia area offers us this week two stories about wildlife rescue organizations. One takes us in into the life of Lisa Barlow, who has rescued birds for 30 years. The article describes her as one of the 41 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Virginia Beach. She describes her work as a way of life, with a cell phone that rings constantly. Sarah Kesler, another rehabilitator, likens it to an addiction.
Only recently did neighbors complain about the noise and smells, prompting the city to require a privacy fence and daily cage cleanings. Ms. Barlow is looking to move to the country. However, the work provides no compensation. There is no Form 990 for her organization, Wildlife Response (EIN 54-1641798) because it doesn't reach the $25,000 level needed for filing.
The other article takes us to a start up, by Evelyn Flengase. This one tells us that Virginia issues about 325 permits annually. Like Ms. Barlow, the owner of Evelyn's Wildlife Refuge (EIN 65-1255243) spends a lot of her own money and doesn't have a social life. The organization doesn't have a Form 990 because it is too new, but may not reach the $25,000 level either.
Nonprofit purists will fault me for calling Evelyn Flengase the owner of this nonprofit, but there is no better way to describe this purely personal project. Ed Steinkoenig of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries described the state's attitude toward wildlife rehabbing: "It's a perceived need—by them."
The article describes "the big one" as the Wildlife Center of Virginia (EIN 54-1215402). With income approaching $2 million, this certainly qualifies as a mega-rehabber.
Articles about these organizations appear regularly. Last week's Baltimore Sun quoted Gerta Deterer of Baltimore's Wildlife Rescue (EIN 52-1885291 - look for it under its former name "Wild Bird Rescue"). A Guidestar search turns up 75 organizations with some variation on "wildlife rescue" and four organizations with that exact name around the country.
Another current story from a columnist at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune presents a story of a wildlife rescuer undergoing cancer treatment. As a side note, her organization, Wildlife Rescue Service of Florida (EIN 65-0023424), has no current Form 990 on file, but its 2000 Form 990 is the first blank Form 990 that I have encountered on Guidestar.