DEKALB -- Christy Gerbitz remembers in detail her favorite animal rescue story.
A young boy brought in a turtle with a fishhook stuck in its mouth and eye to Wild TAILS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where Gerbitz is the assistant manager.
The boy asked what it would take to get the turtle help.
"He stuffed his hands in his pockets, and I could hear change rattling around," Gerbitz said. "And he was probably one of my toughest clients. I had a hard time convincing him that I was worthy to help fix the turtle."
She said the turtle was helped and released back into the wild.
It's one of many success stories that has happened at Wild TAILS, an offshoot of TAILS Humane Society. While TAILS provides shelter and emergency services for homeless, abandoned and abused domestic animals such as cats and dogs, Wild TAILS takes in and rehabilitates wild animals with the goal of returning them to nature.
Little can be done to care for such animals without a wildlife rehabilitator such as Wild TAILS, and most efforts by the general public to save wild animals are illegal, said TAILS Executive Director Beth Drake. Needs are specific to different species, and many animals would die without the care they receive at Wild TAILS, she said.
Located near the back of the humane society's main building in the 2200 block of Barber Greene Road in DeKalb, Wild TAILS is open from May through July. Wild TAILS works closely with Oaken Acres Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Sycamore, which is open year-round.
Because Wild TAILS handles the more time-intensive animals, it's allowed Oaken Acres to care for about 50 percent more animals, said Oaken Acres Director Kathy Stelford.
"We look forward to a long, healthy and rewarding partnership," Stelford said.
Jon Bockman, manager of Wild Tails, said the center sees anywhere from 350-500 animals a summer, and it can house as many as 120-150 animals at a time.
"I guess it's a given that you like animals," Bockman said of working at the center.
The most common animals Wild TAILS sees are squirrels and raccoons, Bockman said, although ducks and songbirds also are frequent visitors. Occasionally, the shelter will see less common animals; Bockman said Wild TAILS sometimes take in mink.
"They're especially fun animals ... very playful and curious," Bockman said. "They're an absolute joy to work with."
Many of the animals are injured or orphaned wildlife. Bockman noted this is often caused by human interference: Some are hit by cars or have had parents killed by humans who want to rid their property of animals such as raccoons.
Others experience different types of injuries. Intern Becca Baird recalled a night when a bird was "blowing up like a balloon." The bird had experienced some kind of trauma that ruptured many of its air sacs.
"I didn't know birds could do that," she said. "You simply take a needle and pop (the air sacs)."
Bockman warned against taking in wild animals as pets, noting small animals such as raccoons and baby coyotes can become attached to humans by a process known as "imprinting." Stelford said it's most often associated with birds and refers to baby animals identifying with whatever it is they first focus on.
"You can't have a coyote who thinks humans are on the same page ... (Or) wanting to play and a kid getting injured," Bockman said.
In these cases, the animal often cannot be reacclimated to living in the wild and must be euthanized.
"Sometimes well-meaning people do the wrong thing," Bockman said.
He stressed that it's critical to consult a professional whenever dealing with injured or abandoned wild animals.
For Gerbitz, the best thing about working at Wild TAILS is that it offers people a place to bring wounded animals that may not have anywhere else to go.
"(With Wild TAILS), people have an avenue of compassion," she said.