Crystal McClung To the Rescue: Malabar Animal Compound is Veritable Noah’s Ark
By Space Coast Daily // May 1, 2019
Florence Nightingale of hapless critters
BREVARD COUNTY • MALABAR, FLORIDA – Folks who rescue animals usually fall into two categories, those who give their hearts to rehabilitate abused or abandoned domestic animals and those who direct their effort towards saving injured wildlife.
Crystal McClung does both.
Her Malabar compound is a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals, from chihuahuas to caracaras, from pit bulls to gopher tortoises.
Grounded flying squirrels, banged-up bald eagles, water-logged baby skunks and coyotes that encountered cars is all in a year’s work for McClung, who takes in approximately 250 animal patients every year.
McClung turned to animals in need in 1998, when she first received her state permit to rehabilitate wildlife, a process that at the time required volunteering 1,000 hours at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, a home inspection, letters of recommendation and, oh, yes, a rabies vaccination, all for the opportunity to direct considerable physical, emotional and financial resources to help mangled-up creatures without expecting any shape or form of payment.
There are not many like McClung in the state, because helping wildlife in your own home consumes your time, house and finances. Add abused dogs to the mix and the task seems overwhelming, but McClung thinks it is well worth the effort.
McClung’s transformation into a Florence Nightingale of hapless critters began when she found a baby grackle that she instinctively tried to help.
“I always loved animals,” she said.
She took the bird the bird to Florida Wildlife Hospital, where it did not take much encouragement for her to sign up as a volunteer, and so the journey began.
These days, she shares her house and yard with 28 baby raccoons awaiting release, one fox, two gopher tortoises, and that just for starters. Streams of raccoons, squirrels, possums and other species owe their lives to her.
Her “success stories” are many. Miss Penny the possum was found still alive in her dead mother’s pouch. Miraculously, the tiny possum had survived the rest of her family’s catastrophic encounter with a car, but her vicissitudes were not over.
“When she was found, the vultures had already eaten one of her ears and part of her tail,” said McClung.
Miss Penny’s severe injuries negated her return to the wildlife, but McClung patched her up, loved her and eventually rehomed her to live out the couple of years that is a possum’s typical lifespan at the home of a fellow rehabilitator.
Hopeless Canine Cases
From shelters McClung will also save old, sick and unadoptable dogs like 14-year-old Fern, the pit bull someone found almost drowned in a canal in Lake Washington.
“Someone had turned her loose because she was old, blind and had a bunch of mammary tumors, and she had just fallen into the ditch and couldn’t get out,” said McClung, who rescued Fern from the shelter where a passing Good Samaritan took her.
“She was probably a hot dog at some point and looked she had been sewn up back together.”
Her old life now behind her, Fern is now enjoying her golden years, thanks to McClung, who after nursing her back to health, set up an account at the vet’s office so Fern’s new foster family can take care of her needs for as long as she lives.
China the chihuahua, one of McClung’s current charges, was so badly kicked by her owner’s boyfriend that an eye had to be removed. She now trusts McClung but that is about of the extent of interaction she wants with any human.
“I got bitten every day for three months with her, but she is happy here now,” said McClung, who formally adopted China.
She will only take hopeless canine cases like Fern and China because she knows her resources are already stretched as thin as possible.
“I haven’t taken in a dog that didn’t cost me at least $1,000 to treat,” she said.
To keep the animals fed and with medications, McClung must work three jobs. At age 40, after a career in accounting, she entered the Police Academy and now works for the Sheriff’s Office. She also helps at the front desk at Malabar Country Vet and does the books for All-Star Equipment.
Donations are always gratefully accepted, and they’re tax-deductible since McClung’s rescue facility is listed as a 501(c)(3) charity.
It’s always a tough go for McClung because the animals often need long-term care. Orphaned baby raccoons, for example, require a good part of a year before they can make it on their own. They need to be fed every four to five hours, so when McClung goes to work, she takes the babies to a “sitter.”
In other situations, such as with birds of prey, McClung will stabilize the creature before delivering it to facilities such as Busch Wildlife Center in Jupiter and Creature Safe Place in Ft. Pierce, which have the large flight cages needed for these raptors.
If she had her druthers, she would focus her efforts on possums, her favorite animal.
“They are one of the most amazing creatures once you get to know them,” she said.
“They’re one of the sweetest. I can pick up an adult and it will show its 52 teeth to me, but it won’t bit. They also eat snakes because they’re immune to snake venom and they don’t carry rabies. They do a good job in the landscape.”
McClung does her fair share of these short-lived marsupials who often run afoul of cars and humans. She has mended every kind of possum injury, from gunshot wounds to broken jaws, cracked noses and bulging eye sockets.
Most of the time she is successful, but there are the cases when the injuries are so severe that euthanasia is the only humane recourse.
She hopes to retire from her job with the Sheriff’s Office in July, but she worries how she will make ends meet to care for the animals, acknowledging that she may need to take another job to supplement her retirement income. The animals come first.
“The animals keep you grounded, no matter how bad a day you’ve had,” said McClung. “This is what I was put here to do.”
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