Veterinarian Ben Parker says that 90 percent of his Bluffton practice involves working with dogs and cats.  It’s the other 10 percent that allows him to explore his wild side.

Parker’s Coastal Veterinary Clinic sees about 10 injured or sick wild animals a week, including squirrels, raccoons, deer, alligators, herons, hawks, owls, ospreys and bald eagles.  But unlike the dogs and cats who are brought in by their owners, the wild animals don’t have owners who can pay for their treatment.  He’s not paid for helping them.

“I really enjoy working with wildlife,” he says.  “I sort of consider it my way of performing community service.”

A native of Kentucky, Parker has been practicing in the Lowcountry since 1989, when he graduated from Auburn University’s veterinary school.

Since coming to Bluffton, he was worked with a three-legged deer, a coffee-drinking squirrel that preferred French vanilla to hazelnut, and a pelican that nearly put out Parker’s right eye with a well-aimed beak strike while he was closing a wound with several dozen stitches.

Five years after releasing that injured pelican into the wild, the story took an amusing turn.  Parker was at Hudson’s restaurant on Hilton Head Island when a young boy noticed an odd-looking bird on the restaurant’s waterfront.  The boy turned to his father and said, “Dad, that pelican has stitches!”

Parker says that Bluffton-area wild animals continue to be displaced by construction of new homes and businesses in the fast-growing area.

He cautions people to avoid handling sick or injured wild animals.  “That’s a good way to get yourself hurt,” he says.  “If you find yourself in that situation – particularly with larger animals – you need to find somebody who knows what they’re doing.”