Archive for Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Call to the wild: refuge treats injured animals

November 13, 2002

Diane Johnson, the coordinator of Operation Wildlife, an animal refuge located west of Linwood, said her operation was one of the "best kept secrets in Kansas."

"That's a good thing and a bad thing," Johnson said. "If more people knew, we could have better funding. But if more people knew, we'd probably have more animals."

Operation Wildlife, 23375 Guthrie Rd., provides rehabilitation and temporary sanctuary for wild animals in need of medical treatment.

At the facility, medical treatment could mean any number of things, from the golden eagle undergoing surgery for a fractured wing to treating and caring for a bald eagle with permanent disabilities.

"Some of them have permanent disabilities, so they can't be released into the wild," Johnson said.

The operation began as a way to serve an escalated need of treating the area's wildlife, said Johnson, who worked at the Bonner Springs Veterinary Clinic before starting Operation Wildlife in 1988.

"There just aren't many people out there that take care of our native wildlife," Johnson said. "There was such a need because there was no place to take them."

Currently, Operation Wildlife is home to more than 100 animals, mostly hawks, eagles and at least one owl who doesn't like strangers.

"That's defensive posturing," Johnson said explaining the animal's ducked head, ruffled feathers and hissing. "He's telling you, 'Stay away from me'."

As the weather gets warmer, more animals pour into the shelter, including some predators such as coyotes and bobcats.

"Right now, we're in migration so we don't have to many mammals," Johnson said. "In the spring and summer, we can have 2-, 3-, 400 hundred animals, easy."

Since its inception, the operation has gotten larger in scope. This year, Operation Wildlife treated more than 4,600 animals, Johnson said.

An influx of animals came to the clinic because of two reasons: a similar center in Kansas City, Kan., closed, and the progression of the West Nile virus into Kansas.

"We saw a big jump (with West Nile)," Johnson said. "The media did not report it as bad as it was. You could watch the progression across the city."

Johnson said the center took in one to three West Nile animals per day. Animals with the virus are still being treated and vaccinated, she said.

The center is currently raising funds to purchase machines that would kill mosquitoes and protect the animals at Operation Wildlife. Purchasing the machines is a clear indication that animal treatment centers are taking West Nile seriously.

"I think (West Nile) is going to be a problem for a long time," Johnson said.

However, funding for the machines and the normal day to day operations for the refuge is slim, Johnson said.

The animal safe haven is licensed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, the non profit organization receives no state or federal funds and relies on the donations of people who bring animals in for treatment.

The center runs on a budget between $69,000 and $80,000 a year. A rough breakdown shows that's about $1.87 per animal treated at the facility.

An education program in which animals are taken to area schools generates about $25,000 a year. However, the funds are usually not enough to run the facility.

"I'm not afraid to beg," Johnson said.

Johnson is the only paid employee at the center; her salary was donated by an anonymous donor.

The facility is able to operate because of volunteers and veterinarians that donate time and resources.

"Sometimes money isn't everything," Johnson said. "There are other pleasures in life that aren't driven by money."

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