History of Center for Wildlife Ethics

An unexpected encounter with three baby raccoons sparks a lifelong commitment to protecting wildlife

Who could have imagined, when neighbors cut down a dead, hollow tree in their front yard, that it would lead to the formation of a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and over two decades spent saving the lives of animals? Well, that’s how it began for Center for Wildlife Ethics in 1994, when Laura Nirenberg, the soon-to-be founding executive director, stepped in to assist three raccoon kits whose frightened mother fled following the destruction of their home.

Determined to give these amazing creatures the best possible chance at survival, Laura did all she could to learn about their proper care. She also applied for a wildlife rehabilitation license – a requirement for anyone providing care to injured or orphaned wildlife. Shortly after issuing Laura’s permit, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) – the governing agency for wildlife rehabilitators – began distributing her contact information to community members with questions about injured, orphaned and other “problematic” wild animal encounters.

The influx of calls for assistance was both surprising and disturbing given Laura’s relative inexperience as a wildlife rehabilitator. Driven by her commitment to the animals in her care and appreciation for those seeking to be better stewards for wildlife, Laura began educating herself on the needs, characteristics and behavior of Indiana’s native species.


Wildlife Orphanage is founded in 1998 and launches its wildlife assistance Hotline the following year

Each year, the volume of calls from Indiana residents seeking placement for young or injured wild animals, or assistance with wildlife encounters, increased exponentially. In 1998, in response to this obvious community need, Wildlife Orphanage, was founded.

Quickly realizing that limited human and financial resources could only be stretched so far in the face of a growing demand for the orphanage’s services, its founders began investigating the circumstances that resulted in wild animal orphaning. They found that many of the problems they encountered could be traced back to the so-called nuisance wildlife control industry – a poorly regulated, profit-driven industry rarely guided by concern for animal well-being. Further inquiry also revealed the widespread use of live-traps, erroneously and deceptively labeled “humane”, and “DIY” trap-and-relocate projects. While the property owners engaged in these practices were often well-intended, they were generally unaware of the inherent harm and high mortality risk resulting from translocating wildlife and their young. 

In response to these findings, Wildlife Orphanage launched a public awareness campaign that promoted wildlife-friendly habitat modification and the removal of food or denning sources inadvertently made available to wildlife, and stressed the importance of these and other permanent and non-violent resolutions to common human-wildlife complaints. Also in 1998, the organization’s director joined the IDNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife’s “Nuisance” Mammal Subcommittee. As a member of that body, she worked actively to advance the acceptance and availability of non-lethal yet highly effective options within the regulatory scheme for the wild animal control industry. The organization also worked to challenge the industry’s misunderstanding that the mere presence or visibility of a wild animal renders that animal a “nuisance.” The following year, emboldened by the community’s enthusiasm for its work and willingness to alter their own behaviors and attitudes about wild animals, Wildlife Orphanage implemented a wildlife assistance Hotline to provide callers with information pertaining to non-lethal, permanent, cost-effective solutions to common human conflicts with wildlife.

The education campaign and Hotline enabled the organization to expand its reach and advocate for change within the wildlife control industry. Following great persistence from Wildlife Orphanage and its supporters, IDNR promulgated and eventually adopted regulations that mandated training and testing of all licensed wild animal control operators. The regulations also prohibited the most egregious industrial practices.


Teaching the compassionate approach through wildlife education

Building upon this success, the organization began expanding its educational efforts. In 2001, following the proper licensure through IDNR, several of the organization’s directors and dedicated volunteers began offering wildlife education programs. In 2002, driven by the organization’s goal of reaching a larger audience with life-affirming solutions to common wildlife problems, two of the organization’s directors successfully satisfied the training and testing requirements to become licensed wild animal control operators in Indiana.

Wildlife Orphanage further enhanced its ambitious education campaign in 2004 when it hosted an Urban Wildlife Workshop at Red Mill Park in La Porte Indiana. Wildlife experts presenting at the workshop included Gates AAA Wildlife Control, a Toronto, Canada-based company specializing in life-affirming wild animal eviction services, and other well-known animal advocacy organizations, offered training on non-lethal animal eviction techniques that focused on maintaining wildlife family units. The program was so well-received, it served to satisfy continuing education requirements for all Indiana licensed attendees (as mandated by the recently adopted regulations).


Intrusion Solutions is born

Requests for assistance on the organization’s Hotline continued to increase as more people learned about the service. Although the recommended strategies were proven to be highly effective, the organization discovered there were still a handful of property owners who were either ill-equipped or uncomfortable implementing some of the necessary remedies without onsite assistance. This gap in needed services inspired the organization to embark on the next chapter in its journey when two of the Board members successfully completed valuable and insightful hands-on training with Gates AAA Wildlife Control. In 2004, armed with this newly acquired expertise and marketable skills, Intrusion Solutions was launched.

Through the use of one-way doors and reuniting boxes, Intrusion Solution’s service technicians were able to evict wildlife from homes, businesses and other outdoor structures while compassionately ensuring that all babies stayed united with their mother on-site. This service not only served to generate a much-needed revenue stream for the organization, but also directly resulted in a significant reduction of the number of orphaned animals in need of rehabilitation services.

The need for policy change inspires a new focus and a new name: Center for Wildlife Ethics

Despite all of the positive developments and the lives saved at Wildlife Orphanage, the founders were still troubled by the harsh reality that human-inflicted violence towards wild animals was not only condoned in our society, but also state-sanctioned. Thanks to the extraordinary level of commitment and support from board members, staff, volunteers and donors, and their shared belief that effective wildlife advocacy needed to address the entrenched systemic harm and institutional structure that enables and perpetuates the recreational killing of wildlife, Wildlife Orphanage underwent a dramatic and positive transformation. In 2007, guided by the awe-inspiring organizational support and the obvious need for additional skills to take the organization to the next level, the organization’s Director, Laura, enrolled in law school. Upon her graduation three years later, the Board of Directors restructured the organization with a renewed focus on law and policy. This shift marked the birth of the animal legal advocacy organization, Center for Wildlife Ethics (CWE).

Like its predecessor organization, CWE includes a number of different components, however, its Animal Law & Policy Institute has become the main focus. This service-arm of the organization, comprised of three skilled and committed attorneys with more than 50 years of collective experience in animal law, is dedicated to protecting wild animals in the natural environment by combating human-inflicted and state-sanctioned violence or indifference.

While her intervention on behalf of the three baby raccoons back in 1994 was well-intended, Laura now realizes that she ultimately made the wrong decision by not returning the kits back to the fallen tree where they may have been reunited with their mother after nightfall. As evidenced by numerous studies, raccoons, as well as other wild animal species, are very maternal and whenever possible, will go to great lengths to locate their infants when separated. As such, making every effort to reunite youngsters who might appear to be orphaned with their mother should be a prerequisite to admission at a rehabilitation facility. Following this simple practice, and advising others to do the same, has allowed Wildlife Orphanage, its wildlife assistance Hotline, Intrusion Solutions, and Center for Wildlife Ethics to save countless lives and reunite many families over the past 20+ years… a silver lining to an honest mistake.


The road ahead and the importance of community support

As our team has gained greater understanding of animal behavior and the human misunderstandings and policies that negatively impact wildlife and amplify human/wildlife conflicts, the organization has evolved to address an array of policies, practices, and human biases and indifference that threaten wildlife. Center for Wildlife Ethics is continuously evolving to affect life-saving change for the wild animals we seek to protect and although we’ve been hard at work for over two decades, we’re just getting started. We hope that you will support our ambitious mission and that together, our ethical and compassionate voice can successfully shift the paradigm that continues to inflict staggering violence toward our wild neighbors.   

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity -- then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.

—David Suzuki