Earlier this year, the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue implemented a new Predator Exclusion and Educational Barnyard program, or PEEP. The program took approximately three years to develop and was the brainchild of Doris Duncan, Executive Director, who wanted a way to educate people on how they can keep their livestock and pets safe from predators, without injuring or killing wildlife.
“I always knew we needed to do something to help wildlife not get poisoned and shot,” says Duncan. “Animals don’t have the luxury of going to Safeway like we do – they have to forage and hunt. It was really the last straw when I went to remove a bloody coyote hanging on a fence that had been killed by a trap that strangles an animal as it goes through it. I got there just minutes too late, as its body was still warm. I was crying as I removed it and knew I had to do something. It’s easy to persecute and condemn people for doing these things, but I realized I had to come from a place of compassion, come from a place of love. People are just frustrated because they don’t know what to do about their chickens getting eaten and they don’t know how bad an animal suffers by being poisoned or trapped. That’s when this barnyard idea hit me where we could show people that these techniques really work and don’t cost too much.”
The PEEP program attempts to provide an interactive and educational program to teach people how they can diffuse conflicts between domestic and wild animals. The center provides a physical learning lab where people can learn and actually see examples of ways to protect their livestock and pets from natural predators in ways that do not harm wildlife. To that end, they built a barn, a night corral, a free range chicken set up, a catio, a beehive and provide fencing examples to show people ways to predator proof their own enclosures.
They also planted a large fruit and vegetable garden to show predator proofing techniques against garden pests and ways to attract pollinators.
In the process of building the PEEP program, Duncan realized that it was a perfect opportunity to introduce younger children to the center who would normally not be old enough to volunteer and work with the wildlife. With this program the children can learn valuable skills in working with and caring for animals in a safe environment with the center’s domesticated animal ambassadors.
“Imagine that you have a child and they didn’t want to go to soccer practice or they didn’t want to take piano lessons after school, they wanted to work with animals,” says Duncan. “This place is a one-stop destination for all animal lovers. We have domestic animals, barnyard animals and wildlife and these children are flocking in here learning how to take care of animals, and they’re learning a lot of other really amazing life skills that they can use later for anything.”
The center has worked with children and their parents as young as five-years-old, up to 17. Each junior volunteer has his or her own lesson plan and specific day and time they visit where they not only care for the animals, but also learn responsibility and leadership, as well as first hand experience with everything from pollination, to gardening, to animal enrichment. The wildlife rescue attempts to make the program an engaging experience for each child.
“It’s neat to see a child come in who’s shy and their Mom has to walk them in,” says Duncan, “and a month later the car barely stops and the kids come barreling out, running into the place by themselves with a big smile on their face. They can’t wait to get here and clean up poop! When they get a little bit better at taking care of the farm animals they can go into the wildlife kitchen and prepare diets for the coyotes and raccoons and all the other little animals and they can go into the hospital and see what’s happening in there – it’s pretty exciting.”
The PEEP program – the only one of its kind in the U.S. – was honored with a Gold Resolution Award in 2016 by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. It was also recently selected to be showcased at the 2017 Celebration of Service in San Francisco in October with Dr. Jane Goodall and her team from Roots & Shoots, an organization she founded “to empower and encourage youth of all ages to pursue their passion, mobilize their peers and become the leaders our world needs to ensure a better future for people, animals and the environment.”
For more information on the PEEP program, visit scwildliferescue.org. Individuals who are having trouble with predation of their livestock or pets are welcome to visit the barnyard to learn techniques that can help. They can also schedule a consultation with the center’s wildlife exclusion service to have an expert visit their site and find ways to stop wild animals from sneaking into their coop or barn.