Animal clinic braces for spring injuries

by Emily Dalnodar

Amidst squawks, squeaks and howls, veterinarians and volunteers tend to the cries of baby animals injured from falls or left without mothers.
Spring is a busy time for the University’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on the St. Paul campus. Center officials, just barely escaping eviction in February, must now prepare for a long season and a depleted volunteer staff.
Within the past month, three animal nurseries reopened, and they already house several injured baby animals. The nurseries, which close in the winter, fill each spring when animals traditionally bear their young. The babies fall prey to numerous dangers, and many times, people bring them to the center.
“The reason people find (injured) squirrels in their yard is because when a mother squirrel gets hit by a car, the babies get hungry and crawl out of the nest and then fall out of the tree,” said Kate Johnson, chairwoman of the center’s board of directors.
The center houses a number of animal species. Currently it has two birds, several goslings abandoned by their mothers, and enough squirrels and rabbits to fill a small room. Center officials have also cared for groundhogs, chipmunks and a coyote.
After 19 years of animal care, building officials condemned the center’s facilities, making its future on campus unclear. Negotiations between center and University officials are underway over new housing, but nothing is in writing. In the meantime, the center has a two-year extension on the building.
In February more than 200 veterinary students signed a list in support of the center’s stay when eviction time drew near. University President Mark Yudof then announced the center would not face eviction under his watch.
“We have committed a spot for them to put in a new building, so the ball is in their court,” said Chris Roberts of the University’s Academic Health Center, who is working on the contracts.
It is now up to center officials to raise money for construction of a new facility. The project would replace an existing parking lot between the veterinary hospital and the fairgrounds on the St. Paul campus, Roberts said.
But the center still has 28 months to come up with the funding. Most will come from donations and fund-raisers, which are ongoing, Johnson said.
Until then, the center will run as usual. Tuesday volunteers received four baby squirrels which found themselves homeless after someone cut down the tree where they nested. The squirrels will join the others in the mammal nursery for evaluation and treatment.
Each long, narrow closet-like nursery caters to different needs: waterfowl, birds of flight or mammals. All of them are headed by a coordinator and a crew of volunteers, in addition to staff veterinarians who are on patrol. The center is always in need of volunteers, said Kim Gordon, an active volunteer. They need to fill several three-hour shifts throughout the week.
Volunteers perform tasks like feeding and watching over the animals, cleaning cages and doing laundry, Johnson said. Some baby birds must be fed every 10 minutes.
“Working with the baby animals is real enjoyable. You don’t often get a chance to handle wildlife that isn’t harmful,” Gordon said. No medical knowledge is required to help.
Although animals are closely cared for, veterinarians and volunteers don’t hold or talk to them as they would a pet. Animals need to return to the wild as unaffected as possible, said Kathy Belisle, a veterinarian at the clinic.
Young animals need to learn the basics, such as finding their own food and staying away from predators like humans, Belisle said. Sometimes full rehabilitation will take weeks and include a trip to an outdoor rehabilitation clinic as a final step before release.