Editor’s note: This story first appeared as the cover feature in the Oct. 1, 2017, print edition of the Chronicle.
The term “furry friends” is taken to new heights by one of Homewood’s very own, Dianne Cobban, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
A Homewood resident for nearly three decades, Cobban is very familiar with her town, which is the way her compelling career got its wings. Cobban has been rehabbing for 25 years, opening her home to wildlife of all shapes, sizes and colors.
“I’ve always been considered the crazy animal lady and so people would always bring me animals,” Cobban said. “But one day, about 23 years ago, someone brought me a baby deer. And I was really nervous because I had no idea what I was going to do with a deer. So I knew I had to find a rehabber who knew what they were doing.”
The deer was named Sydney. Cobban says “she was great.” “She followed us around the house like a puppy. I eventually found a woman in New Lenox who could take Sydney. She is the one who encouraged me to become a licensed wildlife rehabber and took me under her wing and taught me how to help all kinds of animals.”
Cobban is the go-to woman for almost all animals, but more specifically squirrels, raccoons, opossum and now birds. She rehabilitates local and not so local animals.
“People will call me because I am on the list for the state. So people in Homewood and Flossmoor, even Chicago, will call me when they see wildlife that they feel is in need”, Cobban said.
Part of Cobban’s job is also deciphering whether an animal is truly in need of help or not.
“Sometimes we do have people that want to help the animals a little too much and jump the gun and end up taking them. So I will try to go back and see if I can reunite the baby with their mom. “The most crucial part is to not just take an animal because they think it’s abandoned. Sometimes they’re not abandoned, their mom might just be getting food or fighting off predators to protect the nest.”
Over the years, Cobban’s home has looked at times like a rescue shelter with crates stacked to the ceiling on her dining room table. However, she has since learned that it is alright to say ‘No.’
“Ninety-five percent of the time if I pick up the phone I will take the animal in,” she said. “However, if they are calling me about a litter of six raccoons, then that is something I unfortunately just can’t do. I don’t have the facilities, nor do I have the supplies.
”But there was a time WHEN I didn’t know how to say ‘No’ and would need help from my son and daughter and husband. I miss those days sometimes, but I am happier now that I get to pick and choose.”
Cobban encourages anyone interested in becoming a wildlife rehabber to take the leap and do it. The Illinois rehabilitation community has gone from about 300 rehabbers across the state to about 80 within the last couple of years, she says, which sometimes frustrates people who are seeking help for wild animals.
Cobban is one of 18 certified wildlife rehabilitators in Cook County. However, Cobban points out that although taking care of wildlife may be someone’s passion, they should make sure they are legally able to do so — and that takes being licensed. In Illinois, wildlife rehabilitators must be certified by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“It took me about three years to get licensed and it was all worth it,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’m able to educate people. “We’re lucky because in this area people are really kind when it comes to wild animals. I don’t find many people in Homewood and Flossmoor who dislike wild animals.”
According to the DNR, it is illegal to care for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife in Illinois without a permit from the state agency. Individuals with wildlife rehabilitator permits may assist injured wildlife if necessary.
The DNR say wildlife rehabilitators should not be expected to have the resources or experience to successfully treat all species of Illinois wildlife. Rehabilitators should not attempt to assist an animal if there is a risk to personal safety or to the safety of others, the agency says.
Aside from rehabilitating wildlife, Dianne Cobban’s other passion is dog training. She trains mostly on weekends but is available during the week if given a reasonable notice. She has three adult dogs she will involve in training sessions to set an example to trainee puppies.
She is also available to anyone interested in becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. Cobban can be contacted via email: [email protected].