The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has record-breaking week after Solstice storms


Baby robins were fed by a volunteer at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville on July 11. (photos by Linda E. Andersen/Review)

One of the many interns at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, Christopher, helped feed a duck that was injured in one of the recent storms that hit the area.

Phil Jenni, Executive Director of the Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center, demonstrated the database system that is used at the center and throughout the world. The database system keeps track of diseases that affect animals that may be eventually passed to humans.

Katie Heino, Certified Veterinary Technician at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, held a robin that had been admitted to the center on July 11.

Interns worked in the avian area at the Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center in Roseville where there are a lot of ducks recovering from the recent storms that injured the animals.

The powerful storms that swept through the Twin Cities metro over the Summer Solstice weekend uprooted thousands of trees and cut power to thousands more. The storms were also detrimental to local wildlife.

The soaking rains and violent winds swept countless baby songbirds from their nests, leaving them defenseless on the soggy ground below.

Luckily, compassionate Minnesotans responded to their rescue, delivering hundreds of them to the capable, hard working staff and volunteers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota in Roseville (WRC).

The rehabilitation center — one of the largest and busiest in the country — was inundated with helpless baby birds that weekend and the days that followed.

By Friday evening on June 21, the center had admitted 110 patients, Saturday saw 147 admissions and Monday an additional 111.

In total, WRC admitted 685 patients in a week’s time following the storms — the most in the center’s history.

Executive Director of the 15,000 square foot facility, Phil Jenni, says spring and summer months are the busy season at the WRC and although it is impossible to predict when an influx of patients will arrive, you have to expect it and be ready when it does.

“You know it’s going to happen, but you never know when,” he says.

The WRC, a 501-C3 non-profit organization, has nine full-time, year-round staff members and relies heavily on its seasonal paid staff and hundreds of volunteers and interns to help keep the place operating seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Jenni says May and June are usually the peak months for admissions; however, this year has been later than usual because of the extended cool and wet weather that lingered into early June. So far this year late June and July have been the busiest. He says because more people are out of doors in warmer months, more orphaned or injured animals are discovered and dropped off at the center.

The WRC rehabilitates around 8,500 animals per year.

Jenni says the Solstice weekend storms brought in a total of around 500 baby birds, most of which are still in the center’s care.

Those birds are being cared for at the facility and will be released when they are mature and healthy enough to provide for themselves.

Rows of indoor and outdoor enclosures house the hungry finches, warblers, robins, sparrows, blue jays, ducks, woodpeckers, crows and dozens of other bird species.

Bird types are separated into several different areas — waterfowl in one area, seedeaters in another and ground feeders in another, for example.

The youngest are kept warm in incubators, as they grow they are moved into a series of enclosures that get slightly larger the bigger the bird’s get.

A team of volunteer’s constantly hand feed the babies with droppers from dawn until dusk.

“It’s like washing windows on a sky scrapper, once you get done with them you have to start all over again,” Jenni says.

At the final stage in the rehabilitation process, birds are taken into large outdoor enclosures where they acclimate to an outdoor environment and learn to eat on their own before being released.

Jenni says many of the birds taken in after the June storms will be released into the wild in August.

Helping wild animals state-wide

The WRC cares for hundreds of different mammal, bird, reptile and even a few amphibian species.

On Wednesday, July 10 the center had several soft shell and snapping turtles. Many of the snappers had taken hits from vehicles while they were crossing roadways.

Veterinarians had repaired many of their shells using wire, Jenni says the center is known nationwide for their turtle repair work and staff members teach their techniques to other animal care experts at symposiums or in the field.

On Wednesday the center also had baby bats, loons, possums, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, an otter, pheasants and other animals.

The center provides medical care and rehabilitation for wild animals from all over the state, as well as western Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

Tom Zelman and Pat Hagen are a married couple who live in Duluth. The two College of St. Scholastica English Professors have season tickets to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and over the past year they have delivered orphaned and injured animals to theWRC in Roseville several times on their way down to the Twin Cities to see a play or socialize with friends.

Zelman says he and his wife have dropped off ducklings, an eagle, and most recently three gray fox kits and three baby raccoons.

Their most recent trip was a few weeks ago. Zelman says they follow the rehab center on Facebook to see if there are any animals in the Duluth area that need to be transported to the WRC.

Zelman and Hagen were told about the orphaned fox kits and raccoons and told to pick them up at the Wildwood Rehabilitation Center in Duluth.

Peggy Farr, who rehabs animals at the facility located in her home, says the center got a call from a man who discovered a gray fox and her three kits living under his porch. The man did not mind the company and apparently was willing to coexist with the animals, until one day he saw the mother dragging its hind legs.

“Some malicious idiot shot her,” Farr says.

The mother could not be saved, the orphaned kits, however, were taken by Zelman and Hagen, along with a trio of surly little raccoons to the WRC in Roseville.

“It was kind of fun,” Zelman says. “We stopped a couple of times to check on them. They were all in a big clump in their carrier. It took a while to get the foxy smell out of the car though,” he says.

A cutting edge non-profit facility

The Roseville facility often takes in animals from other smaller facilities that either do not have the space or resources to treat certain animals, such as Wildwoods in Duluth.

The WRC has the capability to treat just about any wild animal found in Minnesota.

They use state of the art software to create medical charts for every animal that comes through its doors, and have ultrasound machines, X-ray machines, a surgery room and highly trained veterinarians and other animal care staff to provide expert care to WRC patients.

“I try to plant myself here as much as possible,” veterinarian Renee Schott says while inspecting a box full of ducklings in a treatment room. “I can address any issues,” she says.

Two concerned interns, who were holding a small bird with a swollen leg, approached Schott. She gave them some quick instructions and said she would check on it shortly.

Schott says the previous week she put in 70 hours at the WRC, because of the deluge of patients brought in after the recent storms.

She says space can at times be an issue during peak periods, but over all she says the biggest challenge can be multi tasking. She will often provide treatment for animals while training interns and directing volunteers.

Volunteers are crucial to WRC’s mission

The facility relies on its hundreds of volunteers to accomplish its goal of getting animal patients back into the wild.

One of those volunteers is Mary Benz, who has volunteered at the WRC every Thursday for over ten years.

Benz has cared for many animals over the years. She enjoys taking home and feeding the premature born squirrels brought into the facility. A couple of year’s back she says she even had the pleasure of caring for some minks.

Benz has even come in on holidays to help feed the hungry animals when the place is short staffed.

“I’ve had people say: ‘you’re going there on Thanksgiving?’ and I always say that the animals don’t know it’s a holiday and they still need to eat today,” she says.

Benz says some days she will end up doing laundry the entire day. All animals in the WRC’s care have their bedding changed twice a day, which creates mountains of dirty laundry. The center will wash and dry dozens of loads on an average day.

A lot of the work isn’t glamorous, Benz admits, but the outcome is very rewarding. Benz says one of her favorite parts of the job are days when she gets to see animals released back into the wild.

“It makes it all worth while to see that,” she says.

Volunteer Michelle Ustipak agrees that seeing the animals released is a great feeling. She says she also really enjoys learning all the particulars of every different species and seeing patients carried through the front door while she is working in the reception area.

Jenni says the center relies on the help fulltime staff gets from the hundreds of volunteers as well as the charitable donations they receive to keep the place running.

As a non-profit organization, the WRC relies solely on donations to pay for running the facility, which due to its large size requires a large operational budget.

“Because of the nature of our business we don’t always know what we are going to need, but we always need money to pay for what we need when we need it.”

If you would like to make a donation to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville stop by the facility located at 2530 Dale St. N. in Roseville. The WRC staff is not legally able to provide tours of the facility, but will gladly accept donations and answer questions.

There is also a lot of free information provided in the front reception area.

To learn about volunteer or internship opportunities, visit the center’s website at www.wrcmn.org or call 651-486-9453.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at  jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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