HomeScienceWildlifeMinnesota wildlife hospital, one of the world's busiest, plans expansion

Minnesota wildlife hospital, one of the world’s busiest, plans expansion

One of the world’s busiest animal hospitals occupies a cramped building in a park in Roseville, admitting nearly 20,000 patients each year, from sleepy cottontails to majestic trumpeter swans.

After 20 years, it has no more space.

The nonprofit Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has purchased 22 acres in the Washington County town of Grant, with ambitious blueprints to spread its wings and build a $14 million eco-friendly campus focused on rehabilitation and orphaned wildlife, including raising of 2,000 ducklings per spring.

“We always thought we needed a summer rehabilitation campus for our injured and orphaned young patients,” said Executive Director Phil Jenni. “There’s the emergency vet clinic, but honestly most of our business is the summer nursery: baby bunnies, baby squirrels, baby ducks. All those things that aren’t necessarily hurt, but they need help.”

The nonprofit organization will continue to operate its veterinary hospital in Roseville, where all patients will initially be admitted and evaluated. Renee Schott, a veterinarian and the center’s director of wildlife, said the extra space is much needed and will raise the standard of care for all patients. Currently, staff members are using every “nook and cranny” of the Roseville building and have space outside the grounds for ducklings, she said.

“Having a new campus will help our healthy young patients grow up in a more wild environment. Right now we’re smack in the middle of the city,” Schott said. “It will also give them the space they need to grow and get away from our sick and ailing patients.”

Founded in 1979 as a student club at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, the center opened its Roseville location in 2003. The organization now has an annual budget of $2.3 million and allows as many as 250 animals per day during busy months. please.

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Eight veterinarians, more than 30 other employees, 70 student interns and 600 volunteers provide care, including x-rays and placing broken bones, administering medications, testing for lead poisoning and other toxins, and caring for young people. Animals are released back into the wild near where they were first found.

The center has treated 200 animal species, according to records. While most are native to Minnesota and not endangered, Jenni said the organization’s mission is fueled by a love of nature and a deep sense of compassion.

“People here value natural resources and they value wildlife,” he said. “It’s a way for them to act on values. It’s almost a secular religion. Who do we want to be as people and what kind of world do we want our children to live in?”

Citizens and animal inspectors can drop off injured and orphaned animals free of charge. Families regularly get together to drop off animals, Jenni said.

“The parents often say to us, ‘Thank you so much for having this place where I can show compassion and kindness to my children,'” he said.

Jenni, 68, will join as executive director at the end of the year after 20 years and then serve as project manager for the Grant facility before retiring. The role includes fundraising and planning, with the goal of completing the campus in 2024.

Good environmental stewardship is a top priority, so the nonprofit is installing a state-of-the-art closed loop water filtration system, which collects rainwater to fill 56 in-ground ponds needed to raise 2,000 ducklings each spring. That costs 165,000 liters of water.

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The system allows water to be filtered and reused, keeping patients healthy and protecting natural resources.

“The highest level of design is for the ducklings,” Jenni said. “That water has to be cleaned every day.”

The facility will also feature air filtration systems and geothermal heating and cooling technology. There are already outdoor cages for raccoons, squirrels and birds, placed near the center of the site and out of sight of neighbors and passers-by. The campus will not be open to the public.

“We want to be a positive part of the community,” Schott said. “We want to fly under the radar as much as possible.”

The City of Grant approved a conditional use permit for the campus in 2020, despite some hand-wringing from neighbors about the possibility of increased traffic and other changes in the rural community.

“The city has not received any complaints,” said Mayor Jeff Huber. “I think they’ve been a good neighbor.”

The project also has approval from the Rice Creek Watershed District, Jenni said.

The nonprofit has already invested $2.5 million in the property, he said. The next challenge is to complete fundraising – a goal the organization aims to achieve by spring 2024, after attracting a major donor.

With more than 34% more patient admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic, they hope that compassion for their work will continue to grow.

“We want to get everyone excited about this,” Jenni said.

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