GRANTS PASS — When Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center in Merlin had a new skunk approved for education purposes, it turned to its go-to veterinarian to get the stinker's scent glands removed.
Grants Pass veterinarian Russ Codd took the job, knowing that nicking a scent gland during the procedure would provide dire aromatic consequences. He didn't realize just how dire until he nicked them.
"Everyone wanted to vomit," Codd says. "It was unbearable."
And it was the gift that kept on giving.
"Their surgical suite stunk for weeks," he says. "My instruments stunk for three weeks. My car stunk for three weeks. I stunk for three weeks. It was probably the worst experience I've ever had."
But it wasn't enough to scare Codd away from performing very unique, sometimes challenging and always interesting procedures on Wildlife Images rehab animals. The center's mission is to rehab wounded wildlife and return them to the wild or make a home for them should survival after release be impossible.
The nonprofit center along the Rogue River outside of Merlin started in 1981 when J. David Siddon opened it to care for injured, sick and orphaned wildlife.
It's now run by his son David Siddon, Jr., and it is known more for its very public education efforts than the largely behind-the-scenes care for sick and injured wildlife handled by a team of wildlife rehabilitation specialists — without the help of a full-time, in-house veterinarian.
"We'd love one, but we can't afford one," Siddon says. "We have to pay as we go like everybody else."
Still, Wildlife Images rehabbers have called on myriad experts to handle everything from rebuilding a bald eagle's damaged beak, to cataract surgeries on birds of prey, and occasional surgeries on black bears or grizzly bears.
But many of the run-of-the-mill procedures fall to Codd, whose Lincoln Road Veterinary Clinic is in nearby Grants Pass.
"They have quite a few veterinarians they can call on, but because of my location I've been kind of the go-to guy," Codd says.
The 59-year-old Codd got here in a roundabout way.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he emigrated to South Africa, where he did multiple-species vet work for a decade before relocating to Florida in 2010 determined to stick to smaller animals.
"The older you get, cows and horses start to kick harder," Codd says.
In 2010, he bought the Grants Pass clinic, and in the process inherited the occasional Wildlife Images gig.
"I just kind of fell into it with Dave and Wildlife Images," Codd says.
Visits are really on an "as-needed basis," and telephone consultations with the center's skilled rehabbers are sometimes enough, Codd says.
"They're so good with animals that I know, when they call me, they have a problem," Codd says.
Sometimes Wildlife Images brings the smaller animals to him. Work on larger animals is at the center, either in the animal's pen or the medical facilities there.
Much of the work is routine stuff he does daily at his own clinic — lancing abscesses, cleaning or pulling teeth and fixing damage caused by clashes with humans or other animals, he says. It's the animals that make it unique.
Last week between repairing damaged tails on dogs and cats, Codd amputated the tail of a coati, a funky-looking member of the raccoon family that, unlike its city-dwelling cousin, lives in dense forests.
"And when an animal getting its teeth worked on is a 160-pound mountain lion, you approach things a little bit differently," Codd says.
Codd says procedures that are rather routine in his clinic can be much more challenging in the field because dosages are a little less precise and he's administering anesthesia via a syringe at the end of a long pole. Should the procedure start going sideways, he can't hook up his patient to electronics for more intense monitoring.
One particularly dicey procedure involved a lynx that ate a cereal box that had been given to it as a play toy, Codd says. The animal wound up with a ball of indigestible cardboard that had to be removed from its stomach.
"I'm glad in a way that there hasn't been anything too traumatic," he says. "Sometimes you think it's going to be wildly romantic, but I haven't been trapped in a cage for four hours. You don't have those kinds of experiences, but they are really interesting.
Still, he's not interested in a second go at de-scenting a skunk.
Now, when asked by Wildlife Images if he wants to do another de-scenting, Codd says, his standard response is "Not today."
Siddon says he understands.
"He's reminded me of that several times," Siddon says. "Our place often reeks of skunks, so to us it really wasn't that bad."