Michael J. Berhman, MD, was part of the medical team that operated on this injured fawn.
Courtesy of Arthur White, advisory board member of Animal Rescue Team, Inc.


Published 7/1/2012
Jennie McKee

Dr. Behrman Takes a Walk on the Wild Side

California orthopaedic surgeon contributes his talents to Animal Rescue Team, Inc.

When Michael J. Behrman, MD, is not busy treating the upper extremities of human patients, he turns his attention to the damaged wings, fractured legs, and other injuries of wild and domestic animals.

The orthopaedic surgeon and self-described “life-long animal person” cofounded Animal Rescue Team (ART), Inc., a nonprofit rescue, rehabilitation facility, and animal protection service in Solvang, Calif. ART is licensed and permitted by the California Department of Fish and Game to rescue and rehabilitate injured, orphaned, and displaced native wildlife.

Dr. Behrman serves as president, securing funding and occasionally performing surgical procedures on animals. Cofounder and Executive Director Julia Di Sieno, who is employed by Dr. Behrman at one of his practice locations, draws upon decades of experience in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation to run ART’s day-to-day operations.

Every year, ART helps approximately 400 sick, injured, orphaned, and displaced animals. The organization focuses on rescuing animals such as fawns (but not adult deer), foxes, bobcats, coyotes, badgers, birds of prey, and many other small mammals.

Responding to the call
“If you call 911 in our area to report an animal that needs help, the dispatcher calls ART,” explained Dr. Behrman.

Staff members respond to calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, arriving in an animal ambulance equipped to provide immediate treatment at the scene.

“ART is the only animal rescue facility on the central coast of California that has an animal ambulance,” noted Ms. Di Sieno.

If the animal needs to be sedated before it can rescued, staff members tranquilize the animal. Rescuers bring animals that require treatment to the facility, where they are evaluated by one of four veterinarians who donate their services.

“We have a medical infirmary that is well-stocked for taking care of small animals and keeping them warm,” said Dr. Behrman. “We are able to clean and sew up lacerations, which I have done several times when a veterinarian was not available.”

Some injured animals are given steroids to prevent them from going into shock, said Dr. Behr-man. The medical staff performs minor surgical procedures at the facility, while more complicated surgeries are performed at a neighboring veterinary facility.

Staff members care for the animals as they recover from their injuries, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild.

Performing surgery, raising funds
Dr. Behrman has had some memorable animal patients.

“Last year, we had a week-old fawn with a broken foreleg, which is essentially the equivalent of a fractured humerus,” he said. “We used orthopaedic hardware to perform open reduction and internal fixation. The fawn did well after surgery.”

Another patient was a bird with a badly broken wing.

“The wing was not salvageable,” said Dr. Behrman. “The bird couldn’t walk because the wing kept rubbing on the ground, so we amputated it to enable the bird to function better.”

According to Dr. Behrman, performing upper extremity orthopaedic procedures on animals is not that different than on human patients.

“The real trick is getting the animal stable, because you’re not going to get them to be nonweightbearing after surgery,” he said.

Despite all of ART’s efforts, however, not all animals can be saved.

“The reality is, if they’re too badly injured, we have to put them down,” acknowledged Dr. Behr-man. “We are better served by using our resources for animals with a good chance of surviving.”

Although he sometimes performs surgery on rescued animals, Dr. Behrman directs most of his efforts related to ART into administrative tasks and fundraising. The organization’s resources come entirely from monetary donations and the volunteers who donate their services.

“ART has hundreds of members who make regular contributions, as well as donors who make larger contributions,” said Dr. Behrman. “For example, in 2008, ART was selected to receive the Santa Barbara News-Press Holiday Fund, which enabled us to build eight large mammal enclosures.”

He added that “the generosity of Santa Barbara residents and businesses, as well as others, is key to ART’s continued success and to our ability to accommodate the growing needs of abandoned or injured wildlife.”

The group hopes to raise enough funds to buy another acre of land behind its facility.

“We don’t have portable radiograph equipment,” said Ms. Di Sieno. “If anyone has a used machine they would like to donate, we would love that.”

Making a difference
“We make a difference every day,” said Ms. Di Sieno. “Just yesterday, the fire department called me about three kittens that had been put in the trunk of a car when it was almost 90 degrees. We intervened and are caring for them.”

ART has helped rescue animals during disasters, such as the 2009 Jesusita Fire, a wildfire that destroyed 80 homes in the hills of Santa Barbara and endangered many animals.

“We worked with police and fire officials to rescue more than 200 domestic and wild animals,” said Ms. Di Sieno. “We treated animals with severe burns and other fire-related injuries.”

Some of the smallest patients have made the biggest impressions on Dr. Behrman.

“I have watched our staff members take care of rabbits so small that you could fit three or four
of them in one hand,” he said. “They were hand-fed until they were big enough to take care of themselves.”

Dr. Behrman is happy to volunteer his time at ART.

“It’s very rewarding work,” he said. “Many of these animals are very small and completely defenseless, and we enable them to return to the wild. This is what doctors do—we try to help living things.”

Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at mckee@aaos.org

Learn more about ART
www.animalrescueteam.net to find out more about ART and to read about the organization being featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as on Animal Planet.

In addition, visit the ART blog at www.animalrescueteam.net/blog1 to check out the latest entries and videos.