Reece Mercer and Payton Johnston practicing anesthesia on a toy hawk under the watchful eye of Max Lipman. 
photo by Jim Anderson
Reece Mercer and Payton Johnston practicing anesthesia on a toy hawk under the watchful eye of Max Lipman. photo by Jim Anderson
A brand-new wildlife rehabilitation facility, Think Wild, has opened east of Bend. A lot of people from Bend, Tumalo, La Pine, Sisters, and Redmond came out to check out what Think Wild was all about.

The facility once housed another wildlife rehab facility that went out of business.

Think Wild is an entirely new organization. It has a board of directors made up of local people who have diverse professional backgrounds and experiences. With Michelle van Hilten as the executive director and Max Lipman as director of wildlife rehabilitation the new facility is already taking in injured animals and preparing them to re-enter the wild.

And they also have 11-year-old Payton Johnston from La Pine to bring new life into the operation. In 2015, when Payton was seven years old, she and her mother, Amanda, began transporting sick and injured wildlife from southern Deschutes County to the previous facility. She started helping out regularly, then became an indispensable member of the staff.

“Dr. Cooney was so very good to me; he told me all about what he was doing as he worked on an injured or sick animal, and why the work he was doing would help it to get better,” Payton said.

Payton and her mom kept hauling injured and sick animals from the La Pine countryside to the facility, and stayed to pitch in and do laundry, and mix bird food two days a week. It’s a little over 24 miles from her house to the facility one way. It wasn’t uncommon for her and her mom to make that 24-mile run in the middle of the night when someone delivered a sick or injured bird to the Johnston’s home.

Then, in 2017, Payton started her injured wildlife hotline. She also began making special shoe-box sized shipping containers she used to transport her injured birds and other animals to the clinic.

Payton said, “I don’t like spiders, but everything else is OK” — and “everything else” includes song birds, porcupines, rabbits, skunks, ducks and just about any wild animal she could get into the family car to haul to the clinic in faraway Bend.

When the previous facility folded up, Payton discovered Elise Wolf’s Native Bird Care rehabilitation clinic in Sisters, and made arrangements to meet Elise in Bend to deliver sick or injured birds.

Now Payton shares tips about what’s going on in the injured wildlife world via the Think Wild website:

Executive Director Michelle van Hilten stated that, “We have a part-time volunteer wildlife veterinary technician, and 10 certified veterinary technicians who will be doing volunteer rotations throughout the week.

“We will be in regular communication with ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) and USFW (U.S. Fish and Wildlife), submitting monthly updates on the patients and impacts we are seeing around our community. We will be supporting the wildlife rehab community in filling gaps for wildlife care and working collaboratively with these specialists, and are providing support for the rehab community and the general public through our wildlife hotline, which is currently operational seven days a week.”

A big part of Think Wild’s mission is education outreach for students as well as being a liaison to the community on conservation issues facing wildlife. They plan to be available for K-12 schools and educational facilities throughout Central Oregon in the future.

Think Wild encourages community support to help build a series of outdoor enclosures designed to rehabilitate and condition patients for successful release back into the wild. Anyone can support an enclosure through various levels of sponsorship — more details are available on the website at

The wildlife hospital, located at the northeast corner of Neff and Erickson roads in Bend, is not open to the public and the staff asks that anyone needing to bring in an injured animal call the wildlife hotline first: 541-241-8680, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.