Diane D’Orazio (DVM ’85): Roanoke veterinarian shares her passion for wildlife rescue with students
Written by Kelsey Foster
January 1, 2016
Since her graduation from the veterinary school with the Class of 1985, Diane D'Orazio's career has taken many paths. She's worked with dairy goats in Maryland, at an emergency veterinary clinic in Clearwater, and with Veterinarians to Cats, a Roanoke-based cat clinic run by D'Orazio's former classmate, Connie Canode. Throughout her career, however, she's always made time for volunteer wildlife rescue work.
Her passion for wildlife rescue began two weeks after graduating from the veterinary school when she received her first wildlife patient. "I got a fawn who had been hit by a hay mower. I had to amputate part of her back leg and then found a sanctuary for that little deer once it grew up, and that kind of got me started," D'Orazio said.
Now, D'Orazio is the full-time veterinarian of record for the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center, a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center that serves the greater Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas. The wildlife center, which moved to a new facility in April of 2015, treats about 1,250 animals annually.
The center's goal is to rehabilitate and release as many animals as possible. Currently, staff members must rely on the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro and Big Lick Veterinary Services for most of their radiology and surgical needs. They do have a room they would eventually like to turn into a surgical suite once they raise enough funds to do so, D'Orazio explained.
Winter is typically the slow season at the center, so D'Orazio and center directors Sabrina and Lucky Garvin operate solely with the help of volunteers. "During the summer months, it's not unusual for us to have a hundred patients at a time. We have a whole slew of college interns and volunteers that come on board during those busy months," said D'Orazio.
Many of the student volunteers come from Virginia Tech and the veterinary college. And for the past year and a half, fourth year veterinary students have been able to include the wildlife center in their rotations. "They'll come spend at least three weeks with us and learn basic triage of wildlife which is something that even if you're a small animal veterinarian is helpful to have because chances are your clients are going to be bringing in wildlife at some point to you," D'Orazio said.
"There are a lot of students at the vet school who are interested in wildlife," she continued. "There's a core group of students who bring us things or send us things. They'll take care of wildlife there, try to stabilize them, and then bring them to us, so we work really closely with this group of students," said D'Orazio.
While the clinic has a regular rotation of educational programs, D'Orazio explains that "no day is like any other." This past summer, D'Orazio was called to The Westlake Golf and Country Club at Smith Mountain Lake to rescue a fledgling eagle. D'Orazio explains that there had been inclement weather and this fledgling, "an adult size bird with the mentality of a baby, had gotten blown out of the nest." D'Orazio and her team drove to the back of the golf course and when they found the eagle, "it was perched on a cliff over about a 25 foot drop to a ravine down below." She continued, "I knew that if I went towards it, it would back up and go off that cliff."
Luckily for D'Orazio, a tree had fallen near the bird with its roots still attached to ground. "I shimmied out on one of the big roots and then had my intern hand me a towel. Then, I was able to get beyond the bird, so I could get my hands on it without it backing up. And it just kind of sat there and hunkered down and flattened itself on the ground, so I'm thinking that's not a good sign because most bald eagles I've ever dealt with are quite a handful unless they're very, very sick. I put the towel over the bird and scooped it up under my arm, and then I had to reach up to hand it to the intern. She took the bird," D'Orazio continued, "but then I'm stuck on this root. We had to wait for several guys to come, and they created this chain and they kind of pulled me up off of this root."
The female fledgling was dehydrated, in shock, and infested with maggots, so D'Orazio and her team took her back to the wildlife center for rehabilitation. When she was strong enough, D'Orazio explains that they "transferred her to the Wildlife Center of Virginia where she spent several months in this big eagle nest they have." In October, the eagle was released back to her native habitat at Smith Mountain Lake.
Despite the intense rescue experience, D'Orazio says that they'll drive just about anywhere or do just about anything if it means rescuing an eagle. "They're very special to us," she said. The center has treated four eagles in total this year.
This past fall, D'Orazio attended the veterinary college's 30th reunion for the Class of 1985 and is hoping to work even more closely with the school in the future.