The Doctor Is Out

California Wildlife Center Director of Animal Care Dr. Duane Tom points out a pellet that was lodged in a bird, which the California Wildlife Center rehabilitated.

Malibu residents may remember a time when the California Wildlife Center was the only Southern California wildlife rescue organization with a staff veterinarian. Today, it’s hard to imagine the CWC without that veterinarian, now director of animal care, Dr. Duane Tom.

After 11 years with the center, Tom is set to leave in August.

“Initially, it was something that I already wanted to do,” Tom recalled in a phone call with The Malibu Times. “Even though I was brought on part-time, it was always a full-time job.”

Tom first started in 2006. Back then, he said the CWC didn’t have anesthesia equipment or X-ray machines for the animals. His goal was to “get it to the point where we could do a lot of surgeries for animals.”

Most of all, he wanted to provide wild animals the same level of care available to domestic pets.

CWC Executive Director Jennifer Brent said she only knows what the center is like with him. (She joined the center’s staff in early 2016.)

“He has really helped to create the wonderful things we’ve done here at [the] CWC,” she said in a phone call. “I think one thing that he really heralded, worked and focused on was the extern-, preceptor- and internship program[s].”

The programs allow veterinary students and others who are interested to participate and get hands-on experience in various capacities at the center. 

“He’s been able to touch literally hundreds of students from all over the world and light a fire under them,” Brent said, speaking to Tom’s ability to help students find their passion for wildlife.

Tom mentioned the CWC’s work with marine mammals as an addition that makes him particularly proud.

The marine mammal rehabilitation center was reopened earlier this year. Using awarded funds, the CWC was able to redo the enclosures, installing weather- and waterproof materials, better drains, double gate system, loading dock and more. Its first patient—a young sea lion—came to them on Jan. 1 and was released two months later, fully recovered.

In the next few months, Tom will be on hand to help train and transition the CWC’s newest addition to its staff: veterinarian Stephany Lewis. 

Prior to moving to California, Lewis originally resided in Long Island, N.Y. She attended Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University with an emphasis on wildlife medicine.

Brent had nothing but good words for Lewis; the director said she wouldn’t have hired anyone Tom “didn’t approve or endorse.”

Most importantly, Brent said that not only did Lewis come with “phenomenal recommendations,” but she gets along well with the rest of the staff.

With that set, what’s next for Tom? First and foremost, the veterinarian plans on taking “a little bit of a break.”

“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “I’m probably going to take a little time off [and think about] what it is I actually want to pursue down the road.”

He even mentioned a possible change of career—as long as it involves “taking care of animals or people.”

As for the CWC, he said, “We had the hopes of getting a new facility to be able to serve more animals, to do more. It would be nice for us to continue with those goals.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify how long Dr. Duane Tom and Jennifer Brent have worked at the California Wildlife Center.