Karenlynn Stracher cares for sick, injured wildlife


Karenlynn Stracher first helped an injured gull when she was 17. Now, nearly 40 years later, her home doubles as an animal rehabilitation center.

Stracher, 56, of Merrick, rehabilitates sick and injured wild animals across Nassau County. She is a one-woman show, caring for a couple of hundred winged and four-legged patients every year. Now she is pleading with the Town of Hempstead to open a facility where animals can get the attention and help they need, as she faces challenges including an outbreak of a fatal disorder in raccoons in Baldwin and other local communities.

“Volunteers for Wildlife, who was the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Nassau County, left Nassau County last year,” Stracher said. “So whatever rehabbers are left in Nassau County, which are a few of us, work out of our houses.”

Her daily routine involves caring for a variety of animals in need of rehabilitation. In the morning she feeds as many as 100 animals, which include birds, raccoons, and squirrels that she houses in cages. She feeds them by bottle or syringe. She keeps water bottles and dishes of food full. All the cages are cleaned every day.

“After that, I go into food prep,” Stracher said. “So I mix formulas for different species, I chop vegetables, and then, by that time, it’s usually time for afternoon feedings.”

At the end of the day, she does the laundry, washing the blankets, towel and rags she uses to keep the animals warm and clean. She must feed baby animals every two to three hours around the clock, so, she said, she is up all night long.

Any free time she has usually involves taking calls from animal control officers, or police, letting her know about animals that needs help, or residents asking for assistance.

Due to her workload, she has asked the Hempstead Town Board if the town could open a rehab facility for her to use, but after repeated requests, town officials said they don’t have any space to give her. Stracher said that her next step will be to ask the county for a rehab center.

She hopes to incorporate what she is calling Long Island Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Inc. into a nonprofit in order to increase the chances of finding a facility more suited to her work than its current headquarters, her daughter’s bedroom. Other volunteers lend a hand, but Stracher said her family doesn’t want people coming and going into and out of their home all day long.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” she said. “But if I say no, a lot of times these animals would die, and I feel terrible about that.”

She is currently dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in memory of canine distemper in raccoons. Distemper, the second leading cause of death among raccoons after human activities like hunting and trapping, is a virus that infects the animals’ respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, spinal cord and brain, and is always fatal.

A different strain of the disease, feline distemper, can also infect raccoons as it spreads rapidly among feral cats, killing large numbers of them. To prevent that, Stracher advises that people who feed feral cats do so only during daylight hours, and sanitize their feeding bowls at night.

“Right now, Freeport and Baldwin are the worst in terms of distemper cases,” she said. “And Merrick and Oceanside are close seconds.”

Stracher posted a TikTok video of her testing a raccoon for distemper in Baldwin early last week, which garnered tens of thousands of likes. She captured the animal with a net, gently put it in a cage, and then, using a test similar to a rapid Covid-19 test, determined that the raccoon was indeed positive for distemper.

The only option for raccoons that contract the disease is to take them to local veterinarians to be euthanized; otherwise they are left to suffer. That’s one of the reasons why Stracher would like to have a centralized location where anyone can take wildlife to be rehabilitated. Because there currently is none, she said, people often give up on helping sick and injured wild animals.

“You have no idea how many people call me and say ‘I’ve had this animal since yesterday, and I couldn’t get help,’ or ‘You’re my 20th phone call and nobody is returning my calls,’” she said. “I just want one centralized location where anybody in the Town of Hempstead or Nassau County can call and know it will be answered.”