Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wildlife In Need Center Victim Impact Statement

Wildlife In Need Center Victim Impact Statement
Public Presentation to
Judge Domina
Circuit Court Judge, Branch 11, Waukesha County
August 29, 2012

Introduction:  Joan Rudnitzki, Executive Director of WINC

Good Afternoon Judge Domina.I am Joan Rudnitzki, the Executive Director of the Wildlife In Need Center.  Thank you for giving us the opportunity to present information regarding the damaging effects that the criminal actions of the defendants have caused to the overall business operations of the Wildlife In Need Center.
To fully understand the harm that has resulted from this crime, I would like to give you just a bit of background about the Wildlife In Need Center. As you know from our previously submitted written statement, the Wildlife In Need Center is a wildlife rehab facility. As part of our mission we also provide educational programming. The Center was established in 1994 in response to this community’s need for an organization to care for injured or orphaned wildlife. 
In its relatively short history, the Wildlife In Need Center has grown to be the second largest organization of its kind in this region. We admit between 2,000 and 2500 injured or orphaned Wisconsin wildlife annually with a goal to rehabilitate and release them back into their native habitat. To perform this work, the Center holds permits from the DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Services and the United States Department of Agriculture.

The value of our work is demonstrated by our partnerships with area law enforcements agencies, area humane societies, area veterinarians, and the Department of Natural Resources.  These organizations are fully aware of the valuable role that the Wildlife In Need Center plays in our community. Their support for our work is demonstrated by the fact that they regularly refer to us any calls that they receive regarding injured or orphaned wildlife.

Equally important in the fulfillment of our mission is our education program.
We field approximately 10,000 calls every year to provide advice and counsel on wildlife related questions for residents in our five county service area. The most visible aspect of the education component of our mission is our outreach programming.  The Center presents at least 100 programs each year to schools, scout groups, civic groups and senior centers.  WINC’s outreach programs advise the public on how to live in harmony with their wildlife neighbors.

Since his coming to WINC twelve years ago, Dakota has assumed an exceptionally important role in our educational programming. HHHis story, as a young owl provides a platform for teaching the public that it is illegal to keep wildlife without a license.  The outpouring of community concern over Dakota’s kidnapping last November is an indication that the community holds him in very high regard.

To further explain the impact of the crime that was committed against the Wildlife In Need Center, I would like to introduce Chelsea Matson and Mandy Feavel who are animal care staff members at WINC. Mandy and Chelsea hold degrees in Wildlife Ecology and Animal Science respectively, have combined 10 years of experience in their fields and are licensed by the state of Wisconsin as Wildlife Rehabilitators.

Mandy and Chelsea, along with Leslie Kiehl, the center’s education coordinator, organized volunteers and participated in the search and rescue of Dakota.  Mandy and Chelsea, along with guidance from our Vet Dr. Nicole Waliszewski combined their exceptional levels of expertise and were able to nurse Dakota back to a healthy physical state.

Mandy and Chelsea have a short statement to share about the rescue and rehab of Dakota.

Thank you Judge Domina for giving us this opportunity.
To fully understand the impact that Dakota’s kidnapping had on him, we want to share his history.
Before coming to Wildlife In Need, Dakota’s story began after falling from his nest as an owlet 12 years ago. He was taken from the wild, being illegally kept as a pet. He became very ill, since this person did not know how to properly care for an owl.  He was taken to a vet who explained they were breaking a federal law by keeping this wild animal without proper licensing. Dakota was given to a local wildlife rehabilitation center in Northern Wisconsin which determined he was imprinted.  Imprinting is a process that occurs during a restricted period early in life during which an animal develops species identification. Therefore having spent his early formative period with a human, Dakota identifies himself as a human. Sadly, this process is irreversible. Dakota was transferred to Wildlife In Need in hopes to further educate people to prevent his story from happening to any other owl or wildlife.

On the morning of November 13, 2011 Wildlife In Need staff came in to find multiple enclosures damaged, a patient running loose, and the worst- Dakota’s locked enclosure broken into and Dakota gone. Because he is imprinted, Dakota trusts people and looks to humans to provide food and socialization. We assumed that Dakota had been taken against his will from his enclosure and according to Waukesha County’s criminal complaint, one of the defendants stated “the owl didn’t want to go.” 

-         Slide 1- Facebook picture slide: 
This is a picture that was posted to facebook the night Dakota was kidnapped showing one of the defendants holding Dakota as if what they did was something to brag about. Even to the untrained eye Dakota looks terrified.

Although imprinted, Dakota’s traumatic removal from what he knew as his safe enclosure may have forever damaged his trust in people.  At that point, we were thankful he had escaped his captors not knowing what their full intentions were. Since Dakota has never had to hunt or avoid natural predators like crows, we were well aware this story could have had a very different ending. Luck did not bring him home - our experienced, educated and dedicated staff brought Dakota home.

Our recovery of Dakota took a total of three and a half weeks totaling over 1000 volunteer and staff search hours. These hours included setting up multiple trail cams, feeding stations, organizing large search parties, and reaching out to the community for help with any sightings or sounds. This time period also involved Thanksgiving Day and deer hunting season which posed a hurdle in our search, but we were determined to bring him home. For three and a half weeks our personal lives were turned upside down staying out late during night searches only to wake up and begin the search again before the sun was even up. The time spent on these daily searches was on top of the daily work of caring for hundreds of other injured wildlife at the center. All this added stress and exhaustion stemmed from an unprovoked act of cruelty against our center.

-         Slide 2- ICU picture

After hundreds of hours of searching, Mandy and I rescued Dakota on the morning of December 7th and brought him back to his home at the Wildlife In Need Center. Our staff and his vet, Dr. Nicki Waliszewski, determined his body condition was emaciated having lost 27% of his weight. He had no fat stores left and his body had started to eat away at his muscle putting him at high risk for refeeding syndrome. This happens when a starved animal is not properly reintroduced to nourishment. For this reason, patients that come to our center emaciated and dehydrated, like Dakota, are given only fluids for the first several days to encourage healthy recovery of those organs before giving them calories. Introducing calories too early could send their bodies into shock or electrolyte imbalances that could cause heart failure. This fear was a reality for Dakota’s case. For the first week of Dakota’s recovery he was monitored through the night by the dedicated staff to make sure he would make it through his body’s toughest battle. His vet had made it clear to staff that he could very well die during the first week.

-         Slide 3- Depressed close up

This picture was taken within an hour of Dakota’s rescue. It shows Dakota was too week to stand or perch. Also he was so weak he wouldn’t open his eyes which a healthy alert owl would do.

Dakota was not given any solid food until he was completely hydrated and his blood levels were starting to move in a more normal direction. This showed us that his liver and kidney function had improved. All of this information confirmed that our staff was correct in knowing that an imprinted owl cannot fend for itself in the wild.

-         Slide 4- Nicki examining Dakota

With the expertise of our trained staff and vet, Dakota’s health slowly improved after administering fluids multiple times a day for weeks along with antibiotics and supplements.

-         Slide 5- Comparison in appearance

Dakota was not back to his healthy weight until a month after he was rescued although you can see he is stronger and more alert. He still had a long road to full recovery, as he had to build up all of the muscle mass he had lost. Dakota’s physical health was finally normal by the beginning of March, allowing him to slowly return to educating the community about respecting his majestic species and Wisconsin wildlife as a whole.

Introduce Leslie

Now Leslie Kiehl will provide background information on Dakota’s psychological health and Dakota’s continued work as a WINC educator.

Good Afternoon. I am Leslie Kiehl the Education Coordinator for the Wildlife In Need Center and I have been Dakota's primary handler for last 7 years. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to speak.
Once it was apparent that Dakota was on the road to a physical recovery, I began to monitor his mannerisms to assess his readiness to return to his educational role.  I did this by taking Dakota for walks inside the Center to interact with trusted volunteers.

One day while sitting calmly and quietly Dakota stood upright, trilled, which is an angry or nervous response, and all his feathers flattened to his head and body.  I had never seen such a stark reaction in him before.  What I did notice was one of our younger male volunteers passing back and forth at the end of the aisle.  Dakota was vividly frightened and disturbed.  He began to pace on his perch showing high levels of anxiety.  It then dawned on me that our young volunteer looked like one of Dakota's captors.

Owls have a remarkable memory.  Situations or circumstances that they have encountered as juveniles or throughout their lives will stay with them always.   With Dakota's sign of panic it was obvious he was remembering someone who had caused a traumatic experience for him.  From here on out I knew I had to be wary of who Dakota was around and watch for his cues if he could handle the situation or environment he was in.

On January 30th while conducting an educational program for a 4-H club in our Gathering Room I believed it was the right environment for Dakota to make a very brief appearance.  I asked the group to remain very still and quiet and brought Dakota in.  Things were going well until we turned to face the audience.  The room was filled with girls and women except for one young man in the front row.  Dakota fixated on him and began to trill.  Dakota leaned into me for protection and I asked the young man to stay seated, look away and remain calm.  After a couple of minutes I had to remove Dakota from the room to calm down.

That experience showed me that Dakota was not yet ready to meet with the general public.  There had to be more work and time put into reassuring Dakota that male figures were not a threat to him.

On February 29th we decided to have Dakota participate in an educational program that was similar to what he had been doing before his theft.  Dakota came out for a group of law enforcement officers in our Gathering Room.  During a usual education program Dakota's portion could be up to 20 minutes long while he would perch on my arm as I educated people on his story, natural history and answered questions they might have. 
During that time in Dakota's past experiences he might bate, jumping off the glove, once or twice but he began to get nervous and bate more.  Due to this I wrapped up talking about him and opened the floor for questions and pictures.  When the men began to stand for pictures or to get slightly closer, Dakota began to open mouth breath.  He was frightened and had to be taken back from the audience so that he could feel safer and subsequently put back in his enclosure.

Dakota was not scheduled for a full education program again until March 24th which was almost 4 full months since his return.  I continued to socialize with him inside his enclosure and also with me at my desk. Dakota's disposition had changed.  He needed more reassurance with anything I did and wanted more direct attention.  His vocalizations had become more conversational and needy.

Three more direct experiences stand out.  On March 24 at a program for a group of middle school boys Dakota could not stay out but for a few minutes. There was another session immediately after that with mixed sexes and Dakota was fine. The last experience I would like to mention was just on August 3rd and with my own son who was helping with maintenance and weed clearing around Dakota's enclosure.  I had to go into Dakota's enclosure to retrieve him for a program and unlike our usual ritual of him flying to the perch where he then steps on to my glove to leave the cage he was agitated and flying back and forth.  When he calmed he did get on the glove nervously.  My son was standing outside the enclosure raking when Dakota saw him. Dakota began trilling at him like I have never heard.  I asked my son to put down the rake and stand still.  Dakota did not stop trilling and was almost screaming at my son.  I approached my son with Dakota with much reassurance and asked my son to not look directly at him.  After a short time of Dakota still scolding my son, Dakota settled down but still stared directly at my son’s face.  That is when it dawned on me my son had just cut his hair to the same cut as one of Dakota's captors.

These are all obvious signs that Dakota is still suffering from post traumatic stress.  Since Dakota's reintroduction to educating the public I have had to modify programming to adjust for his behavior.  The organization that is booking the program is told up front that I plan to bring Dakota but never promised in case he is having a bad day.  Previous to his kidnapping, Dakota and I had appearances in which he would sit on the glove with me for an hour at a time in front of large audiences and venues.  We have not been able to do those to date.  He can bate 5-6 times in five minutes which did not previously happen and results in the end of his appearance.

Dakota only identifies with people and to have his trust violated by them was devastating to his psychological well being. We have no way of knowing whether or not he will ever be as comfortable doing programs again as he once was. Physically he is fine but his psychological recovery has been slow.   

Closing – Joan

We have presented the very negative impact that the actions of the break in and theft has had on our business operations and on our staff, including Dakota. . This was a reckless foolish action and has resulted in significant serious impact to the Center. In the many years that that the Wildlife In Need Center was housed on Highway C, there was never any break in or security threat to our operations. Now the Center has been forced to employ security measures to protect our staff and property.  Our staff and volunteers who provide a valued community service are entitled to feel safe from those who might violate our security. 

Further, any case regarding animal abuse of this type requires the court’s attention. We know that particularly with young people that this kind of action is a marker for other potential problems later in life.  Children and young adults that have disregard for animals often times translate their actions into a manner that is hurtful to people.

We agree with and support all the elements of the joint recommendation. We are hopeful that your sentence will serve as a strong deterrent and will send a message to these young men and the community that this was a serious offense and that it won’t be tolerated. On behalf of everyone associated with the Center, we appreciate this opportunity.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Opossums

Being a licensed wildlife rehabilitator makes you look at your surroundings in a different way than most people. When my husband and I drive anywhere, one of the things we are always looking for is good patches of dandelion greens to pick for the many cottontails we rehabilitate each year and the other being any injured animals that may need our help. One animal specifically we notice are any dead opossums because anyone of them could be a mom with babies still alive in her pouch. As the only marsupial in North America, mom opossums carry their young with them in their pouch for a number of weeks. They can have two sets of babies each season, one in spring and one in fall. That is why between April and October it is so important to check any dead opossums you see on the road (where it is safe to stop and check).

So the story goes that we are always on the lookout. On September 11th we found a great patch of dandelion greens in Ottawa. The following Tuesday morning my husband went back there for more greens and saw a squashed mamma opossum (he could tell because there were scattered dead little ones on the road). To keep anyone who would be grateful for the free meal from being in the way of traffic, he dragged her way off the road and started picking greens. After just a little while he started thinking; he’d seen her dead and all the little ones but didn't actually check her pouch. So, back he went to where he had dragged her and sure enough - one little guy was still hanging on - ice cold but alive. He brought him home, weighed him and tucked him into a box on heat to warm up.

That night, I had promised to release some orphaned cottontails in a friend’s yard in the town of Waukesha, so after work we packed them up and hurried over there. All went well with the release, but now it was almost 7pm, getting dark, and we need greens again for overnight and morning for the bunnies that were still at home. We wondered where to go - look around and waste time, or go back to Ottawa, which takes time to drive to, but where we’d be assured of abundant greens. We decided Ottawa was the best choice, so off we went. I started picking down the road one way and him the other. A little later he came over and said he thought he heard something but wasn't sure. I came over by where he was picking and listened but heard nothing. Then, a little sound, and nothing again. We didn't want to walk around for fear of stepping on any little ones, and needless to say, by now it was getting dark and we really had to keep picking greens. So I got down to ground level and started making mamma opossum sounds and my husband got down and began to make baby opossum sounds. Sure enough, in just two seconds we hear another little baby. He'd been out there all that time and was cold as ice, but we found him and as of this writing, he and his brother are doing really well.

So, it just goes to show you, if take the extra time you may be able to help save a life.

Guest Blogger: N.M.

Photos courtesy of M. Draeger.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Every January the Wildlife In Need Center holds a celebration to show our appreciation for our amazing volunteers. This party is all about our volunteers and recognizing the hard work they do all year long. This year we were excited to host the party in our own gathering room here at the center!

The night is filled with food, drinks and lots of fun. Staff gives a presentation thanking all our wonderful volunteers and also awards the new Volunteer of the Year. This year the award went to Christine Fuller. Christine’s 2011 hours totaled 244.5 hours (average volunteer will clock in about 200 hours per year). Since becoming a volunteer in 2009 she has come to WINC with a wonderful attitude every shift; lifting the spirits of both staff and the resident ambassadors. Staff is lucky enough to encounter her wonderful attitude twice a week. Christine is here at the center every Saturday morning and has stepped up to help on Tuesday afternoons since the beginning of last summer. She gives incredible kindness to our patients and her fellow team members. Her heart has a big warm place for wildlife and it shows! Christine also helps at other WINC events including our dog cookie cutting party to make cookies for the World’s Greatest Cookie Sale.

Christine is dedicated, reliable, and has a great attitude. The center would not be the same without her and we are very grateful to have her as part of the Wildlife In Need Center’s volunteer team.  Thank you, Christine for all that you do. Congratulations on being 2011 Volunteer of the Year!

Interested in volunteering? The center is always looking for more volunteers! We have volunteering opportunities in animal care, grounds and maintenance, office, phones and admissions, baby bird feeding. For more information call the center at (262) 965-3090. We offer volunteer orientations once a month here the center to give you an idea of what we’re really about.
RSVP for a volunteer orientation today!
Tuesday, February 28th from 6:30-8:00PM
Tuesday, March 20th from 6:30-8:00PM
Tuesday, April 17th from 6:30-8:00PM

This could be you!

Guest Blogger M.F.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

And An Owl In A Pear Tree

Once upon a time we received a phone call from a woman who had an Owl in her pear tree. This owl, she claimed, “must have been injured,” because she had seen it in nearly the same place both the day before as well as today and she was afraid to go outside because of it. We did our best to explain that even if there was something wrong with the owl it wouldn’t pose a threat to a grown adult while it was in a tree and we tried to gather more information from her as to what more was going on to give us an idea if there really could be something wrong with it.

After a short time it was obvious that the caller was coming at the situation from a much different place than we were and was unwilling to provide us with anymore of the information we needed.

The following day, the adult children of this same woman called and tried to tell us the same story of the owl in the pear tree. When I encouraged them to approach the tree to gather more information the same as I had suggested the previous day however, the owl flew away just fine!

The reason I share this story is just an excuse to talk about the fact that baby season is just around the corner and the earliest babies are already being prepared for by their Great Horned Owl parents!

Each year we admit as many as half a dozen or more “owlets” because of strong spring storms and poorly built nests. This is the situation that Dakota was faced with when he was a youngster. As much as he has become a part of the Wildlife In Need Center and who we are over his 11 years with us, his true and ideal place would have been the freedom of living as a wild owl. Because he was taken from his family that blustery spring day rather than brought to a rehabilitator who could’ve reunited him with his family like we do with the owlets we admit, he will never live that life.

Just a reminder that when you find an animal you think needs help, make your first step a positive one and contact your local wildlife rehabilitator before you do anything else!

This puff-ball can't get back up into his parents' nest without a little assistance. This is not a safe place for someone like him to be so if you see this situation, give us a call
An experienced volunteer is gently gathering up the owlet to bring to the Center for evaluation. Once we've determined that there are no injuries we will send out re-nesting volunteers and staff to reunite the babies with their family.
Owlets that are a little larger and more feathered like this one are called "branchers." These little guys may be capable of hoping and gliding enough that if found on the ground they could get back up into the lower branches on their own. If they can't do so in a reasonable amount of time however, always call a rehabilitator for advice 

An Owl Re-nesting Volunteer climbs the tree armed with a new "nest" to install for the owl family
Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Turtle Town, Snake City, and a warm place to spend the winter

During the winter the center receives both reptiles and amphibians that end up spending the winter at the center until spring when warmer weather arrives. This winter we received a Common Garter Snake that had a tail injury. It was found on someone’s driveway, probably trying to bask in the sun to stay warm, when they noticed the injury on the tail. One of our volunteer vets took a look at him and decided the dead tissue should be removed with surgery to allow for proper healing to avoid any infections.

Last week Thursday, February 2nd the Garter Snake had its surgery to remove the infected area of its tail. The surgery was a success! It took under a hour to complete surgery and see healthy tissue under all the infected tissue. Since snakes have such a slow metabolism, a snake its size only eats once or twice a week! The Common Garter Snake already got his post-surgery meal and ate every last worm. We will continue to monitor the snake through the rest of winter as we prepare him for release this spring.

Guest Blogger M.F.

Surgery, after care, and food aren't free; want to help this little guy out? 
Consider making a donation to cover some of his medical costs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Do you know what day it is?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Thanks to Rebecca Seymour for the photo of Waldo during his 2010 prognostication

But Waldo the Woodchuck would rather have a dried banana or a nut in the shell. And that sort of treat will be his reward for his official prognostication on Thurs, February 2nd - Groundhog Day. The story goes that if Groundhog Day is sunny and bright, woodchuck sees his shadow and it will scare him. He will run into his burrow and sleep 6 more weeks. That means we will have 6 more weeks of winter. Why would a woodchuck be scared of his own shadow? Well, you probably aren’t your sharpest when you first wake up in the morning – poor Groundhog has been hibernating since October, no wonder he is a little confused.

The origins of Groundhog Day probably go back to the European Christian holiday of Candlemas “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May”. German immigrants brought the idea to the Pennsylvania area. The local abundance of groundhogs that would begin rousing from hibernation in spring somehow got mixed into the tradition and Groundhog Day was born.

You may have heard of a chuck called Phil that tells the weather out east in Pennsylvania. But weather is a regional effect. When I lived in Georgia, General Lee foretold Atlanta’s weather. Here at WINC, we count on Waldo the Woodchuck and his backup Gregory the Groundhog to let us know if we will have an early spring. So here’s hoping for a cloudy February 2nd so Waldo will forecast an early spring. The earlier the spring the sooner Waldo will get the first spring dandelion leaves handpicked by his friends here at WINC so he has a little added incentive.

Guest Blogger L.R.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raptor ID

For those of you who followed his journey, you can imagine, we received a lot of phone calls about possible sightings of Dakota this past November and December. And in investigating these calls, some of those sightings have been of other raptors than a Great Horned Owl. There are many field guides to birds available which are much more complete, but we thought we’d give you a quick reference to some of these common raptors.

 Dakota is a Great Horned Owl. 22” tall, 44” wingspan, 3.1 lb. Note yellow eyes, ear tufts, white throat patch and horizontal bars on chest as markers. As with all raptors, females are approximately 25-30% larger than males. Dakota is kind of little even for a male. Great Horns are the most common owl in Wisconsin and our largest owls – except when Great Gray Owls or Snowy Owls occasionally come south from Canada in severe winters or lemming population crashes.

A caller was certain they had Dakota. They had an Eastern Screech Owl that had a fractured right furcula (wing bone) and blood in its right eye probably from trauma like being hit by a car or flying into an object. Screech come in 3 color phases : red, brown and gray. 8.5” tall, 18” wingspan, 6 ounces. Note the ear tufts but no white throat patch and much smaller size. But Screech Owls don’t know they are small- Screech’s are very feisty birds.

Barred Owls are our 2nd largest owl common in Wisconsin. 21” tall, 42” wingspan, 1.6 lb.
Note the black eyes. Years ago we got a baby Barred Owl in as a patient and one of our volunteers gasped that it was blind when she saw it. She was used to the yellow Great Horn eyes. No ear tufts, more pronounced facial disk, vertically streaked chest and belly. Even though barred are almost as large as Great Horns in height and wing span, they are about half the weight. These birds are very fluffy.

We also have Short-eared and Long-eared Owls in Wisconsin but they are not as common owls. We may admit one every couple years at WINC. Note that all these owls are stocky with round heads, very little neck definition, and short squat tails. And their heads are big in comparison to their bodies. Owls can see and fly in daylight although they prefer to sit on a branch next to a tree trunk and snooze the day away. If disturbed from their roost by crows, people or activity they will glide away to another location. If owls are having trouble finding food due to inexperience, lack of local food sources, or illness or injury which hampers their hunting, owls will be active in the day in addition to the night looking for food. If you see an owl active in day for several days, that owl may need help. Please call WINC or a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.

We had several calls that Dakota was at the intersection of C and 18, just down the road from our current and our old location. Was he trying to come home? Staff and volunteers have raced to the scene to find a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a pole. Red-tails are our most common raptor in Wisconsin and we regularly admit them as patients. They often hunt on the roadsides and can be seen often along I-94. Because the ditches are mowed to maintain the roadways, the vegetation that grows there is constantly growing back. That tender new vegetation attracts prey species like Eastern Cottontail rabbits, 13-lined Ground Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks to feed. The shorter vegetation also makes prey easier to see than dense underbrush. And some of these prey animals get hit by cars and Red-tails are resourceful enough to take advantage of the roadways for all these reasons. Hawks in general are taller and slimmer than owls. They have smaller heads in proportion to their bodies than owls and more pronounced neck and shoulder definition. Red-tails have a white to cream colored throat, chest and belly with faint mottling if any at all. They will soar or sit out in the open in daytime because they are hunting by sight. Red-tails are 19” tall, 49” wingspan, 2.4 lbs.

We began our blog originally to help educate people about native Wisconsin wildlife. When Dakota’s ordeal began it quickly turned into Dakota watch. Throughout the past few months, people have become more aware of owls because of the media stories about Dakota. Not only are we extremely happy for his safe return, he is still teaching people about wildlife even though he has not yet begun to work again!

Dakota, meanwhile, continues to remain well. He loves mealtime and spending daytime hours outdoors so that he can watch the antics of our resident birds and squirrels.

Guest Blogger L.R.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dakota's Fan Mail

Dakota's "wall of fame" was a place that gave many of us hope in the days and weeks before his return home
Since Dakota’s ordeal began back in the middle of November 2011 the center has received an outpouring of support for both Dakota and the center’s mission itself. One of our favorite forms of support and encouragement came in the form of “Dakota fan mail”.

Children and adults alike sent their well-wishes for Dakota's safe return home. Many were among the 80,000 people that Dakota has educated since becoming a part of the Wildlife In Need Center

The center received cards and letters almost every day addressed to Dakota. (Most included staff and volunteers, but some were just for Dakota!) Cards came to us during every stage. The first cards we got were cards of encouragement for the center to find Dakota and hopes of a safe return. Once Dakota was recovered the get well cards flooded in for Dakota with wishes of a full healthy recovery. Finally, Dakota received cards from people thanking him for all he taught them through his ordeal.

Some of the center’s favorites came from kids and students Dakota has educated over his 11 years of working with the center. 

We wanted to share with you some of these wonderful cards we received. The cards and letters made us smile; we hope they do the same for you.

He even received a packet of get well wishes from second grade students in Ohio that were studying owls when word got down to them about Dakota! Even though these students had never personally met Dakota, because he helped them learn about his wild counterparts they affectionately called him “their mascot.” How amazing!

Students from Ohio who followed Dakota's ordeal via the internet sent him their best wishes for his speedy recovery, calling him their "mascot." He's ours too!

We would also like to take this opportunity to again thank EVERYONE for their overwhelming amount of caring and support for Dakota and the center. Daily words of encouragement were very much appreciated by staff and volunteers as we rescued and cared for Dakota.

Guest Blogger M.F.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Doesn’t Dakota Stay Inside All Winter?

Over the years many people have asked the question of whether or not Dakota comes inside in the winter. Now that he’s been inside during his recovery we've gotten the question as to why he would live outside at all.

The simple answer is for his health and well-being. Being exposed to the sun and weather actually helps him maintain good plumage. Exposure to sun also helps him to synthesize vitamin D for his bones, muscles, and eyes and is important to his overall health.

Being outside is necessary for Dakota’s mental health as well. Because he is a Great Horned Owl, and his wild counterparts stay here all year long, they are not only used to the changing temperatures, but are designed to withstand them. Dakota has a covered nest box in his enclosure to provide shade in summer, shelter from rain, and protection from snow and cold winds in winter. He also has multiple perches of various sizes and materials around his enclosure to choose from. But he still sometimes prefers to sit on an exposed perch in all sorts of what we would consider bad weather because he can. Being outside as much as he is, his body acclimates to the change in temperature gradually. In fact, in the past, when Dakota was indoors for programs, especially in the winter, he would often get overheated if kept inside for too long.

Dakota is spending some time getting fresh air and enrichment during the day
While it will still be some time before Dakota moves back outside on a regular basis, being outdoors is good for him. Although many of us consider him a colleague, he is still a wild animal, and being so, he enjoys the variety of the weather, the amusement of watching the birds, squirrels and other animals outside his window, and having some space to himself – most of the time. The enrichment of being outside in our outdoor habitat area watching local animals-squirrel and songbird tv, "talking" with our local owls and also with our staff and volunteers who are outside often caring for patients and other permanent animals is necessary for his overall well-being.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Turtle Town in Winter; New and Improved, part 1

Turtle Town is a pretty busy place this winter! We are currently over-wintering four Snapping Turtles and two Western Painted Turtles. While all wild Wisconsin turtles are hibernating, our patients are enjoying air and water temperatures in the 80’s with daily food service including a menu of fresh Sendik’s salmon, berries and greens. We hope to release all six turtles back to their natural habitats come late spring!

This is our educational ambassador Antoinette. She is a Western Painted Turtle. Here she is showing off her underwater swimming skills!

Guest Blogger C.M.

Our new facility has enabled us to go beyond our old limitations. Stay tuned for more adventures from Turtle Town especially, this winter!