Let The Wild Be Free

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

On a good day, the Lakeside Nature Center, one of the busiest wildlife rehabilitation operations in Missouri, will treat 30 injured or orphaned wild animals. On a bad day, it can expect twice that many. Over the course of a year, nearly 2,000 animals will come through its doors.

On a good day, the Lakeside Nature Center, one of the busiest wildlife rehabilitation operations in Missouri, will treat 30 injured or orphaned wild animals. On a bad day, it can expect twice that many. Over the course of a year, nearly 2,000 animals will come through its doors.

Fortunately, the Kansas City facility has many dedicated people to deal with these animals. For those few who actually draw a paycheck, it is a low-paying and thankless job.

"That's the thing people have to realize when they work with wildlife," said Kevin Hogan, Lakeside naturalist. "You can't expect an animal to lay its head on your lap and look up with big, warm eyes and say, 'Thank you for helping me!' The reality is that every day you treat an animal who's fighting for his life, he's also fighting you. And it's possible he'll take a big chunk out of you."

But Hogan, along with naturalist Susan MacDonald Bray, and Carla Bascom, a naturalist transplant from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, complain less about the dangerous animals than about people who have no understanding or compassion for wildlife.

"You see a lot of hurt animals and many are accidental," Hogan said. "After all, who means to hit an owl with a car? But sometimes we see situations where people just don't have sympathy for animals. Those are the tough ones that get to you a little bit.

"The most pathetic thing I ever saw was an adult water turtle that had all four of its legs cut off for bait and was left lying there. It was alive, but, obviously, very much in misery."

Despite such unusual acts of cruelty, Lakeside wins more than it loses when it comes to wildlife rehabilitation. With the help of three Kansas City veterinarians who donate their time, and 75 other volunteers, Lakeside returns about 52 percent of its injured or abandoned wildlife back into the wild. The nation al average is around 30 percent according to Tammie Tritico, Lakeside supervisor.

Neither Lakeside nor the Conservation Department encourages people to attempt to save injured or seemingly orphaned animals they encounter. In most cases, in fact, nature should be left to take its course, however cruel it might seem.

The Conservation Department encourages people to leave wild animals in the wild. This is especially true with young animals that may appear to have been abandoned. There are exceptions, of course, mostly dealing with endangered species. The Conservation Department has strict regulations concerning wildlife rehabilitation and although Lakeside has been granted permission, it rehabs out of necessity, not by design.

"Let the wild be free!" is the Lakeside battle cry emblazoned across T-shirts and sweatshirts that volunteers sell and wear at the facility. Although the facility has a handful of birds, snakes and other assorted critters around for educational purposes, its mission is to send all of its patients back out the door. If an animal is too badly injured to make it on its own in the wild, it is humanely euthanized.

"Some places where I've been around the country will never put injured animals to sleep," said Hogan. "But we look at a quality of life for these animals. If I were a bald eagle and had been flying free and suddenly I was missing a wing, I don't think you'd be doing me a favor by putting me in a pen and having people come look at me."

The patient list runs the gamut: rabbits to robins, squirrels to screech owls, coyotes to 'coons. And since Lakeside is located within the heart of Kansas City's heavily forested Swope Park, it also gets bobcats, snakes, foxes, hawks and even an occasional endangered species such as a peregrine falcon.

If Hogan, Bray, Bascom and the veterinarians are the hands of Lakeside with their rehab work, then the Friends of Lakeside Nature Center are the heart of the operation.

With several thousand animals coming in annually, Lakeside co uldn't possibly keep up. Sharon Goff is a charter member. Annually, she alone will nurse between 30 and 40 animals back to health · from her own home.

"Right now I've got three 'coons and four squirrels," she said. "Why do I do it? Putting it simply, it's something I can really put my heart into. I'm also a teacher, and this is something I can do for my students on an educational basis.

One of the first times my kids saw a raccoon, one little boy asked if it was a squirrel. Isn't that sad that some of these kids haven't had more exposure to the wild to know the difference between a raccoon and a squirrel?"

Actually, the Friends wear several Lakeside hats. Lloyd and Robin Davies, for example, head up one of the most active Stream Teams in the state. In addition to animal rehab and planting thousands of trees along streambanks, the Friends of Lakeside Stream Team will haul away between 30 and 50 tons of debris from a nearby stream.

"We've probably got about 400 tires out of there," Lloyd said during a cleanup this spring. "Tires, four refrigerators and an eight-piece furniture sectional. We even found a bowling ball. That's just normal for us."

Why are people drawn to injured animals and dirty streams when they could be sipping a cold brew at Kauffman Stadium or a hot toddy at Arrowhead Stadium?

"They love animals, that's the first hook," said Kay Wise, Friends president. "They feel they can make a difference. They believe that bunnies and squirrels are important, too. They'll do anything to help get that message across."

The Friends rehab animals, pitch in against pollution, conduct educational programs and raise money.

Because it has grossly outgrown its current 64-year-old facility in Swope park, Lakeside will soon break ground for a new $2 million, 15,000-square foot building. The new Lakeside will be located just about a mile up from the flood-prone old building. The Friends have committed to raising $500,000. The Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation is matching that am ount, and the other $1 million is coming from the Conservation Department.

"It makes good sense to create one very good facility than have two organizations both working separately of each other," said Anita Gorman, Conservation Commissioner. "It's a wonderful partnership. Our donation says to the private donor that this is going to be a stable, well-meaning operation." Raising money is a difficult task, almost as onerous as being one of Missouri's busiest wildlife rehabilitation and educational facilities.

"But if we have to raise this money nickel by nickel, quarter by quarter we will," promised Tritico.

Gene Fox is a metro media specialist in the Conservation Department's Kansas City office.

On a good day, the Lakeside Nature Center, one of the busiest wildlife rehabilitation operations in Missouri, will treat 30 injured or orphaned wild animals. On a bad day, it can expect twice that many. Over the course of a year, nearly 2,000 animals will come through its doors.

Fortunately, the Kansas City facility has many dedicated people to deal with these animals. For those few who actually draw a paycheck, it is a low-paying and thankless job.

"That's the thing people have to realize when they work with wildlife," said Kevin Hogan, Lakeside naturalist. "You can't expect an animal to lay its head on your lap and look up with big, warm eyes and say, 'Thank you for helping me!' The reality is that every day you treat an animal who's fighting for his life, he's also fighting you. And it's possible he'll take a big chunk out of you."

But Hogan, along with naturalist Susan MacDonald Bray, and Carla Bascom, a naturalist transplant from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, complain less about the dangerous animals than about people who have no understanding or compassion for wildlife.

"You see a lot of hurt animals and many are accidental," Hogan said. "After all, who means to hit an owl with a car? But sometimes we see situations where people just don't have sympathy for animals. Those are the tough ones that get to you a little bit.

"The most pathetic thing I ever saw was an adult water turtle that had all four of its legs cut off for bait and was left lying there. It was alive, but, obviously, very much in misery."

Despite such unusual acts of cruelty, Lakeside wins more than it loses when it comes to wildlife rehabilitation. With the help of three Kansas City veterinarians who donate their time, and 75 other volunteers, Lakeside returns about 52 percent of its injured or abandoned wildlife back into the wild. The nation al average is around 30 percent according to Tammie Tritico, Lakeside supervisor.

Neither Lakeside nor the Conservation Department encourages people to attempt to save injured or seemingly orphaned animals they encounter. In most cases, in fact, nature should be left to take its course, however cruel it might seem.

The Conservation Department encourages people to leave wild animals in the wild. This is especially true with young animals that may appear to have been abandoned. There are exceptions, of course, mostly dealing with endangered species. The Conservation Department has strict regulations concerning wildlife rehabilitation and although Lakeside has been granted permission, it rehabs out of necessity, not by design.

"Let the wild be free!" is the Lakeside battle cry emblazoned across T-shirts and sweatshirts that volunteers sell and wear at the facility. Although the facility has a handful of birds, snakes and other assorted critters around for educational purposes, its mission is to send all of its patients back out the door. If an animal is too badly injured to make it on its own in the wild, it is humanely euthanized.

"Some places where I've been around the country will never put injured animals to sleep," said Hogan. "But we look at a quality of life for these animals. If I were a bald eagle and had been flying free and suddenly I was missing a wing, I don't think you'd be doing me a favor by putting me in a pen and having people come look at me."

The patient list runs the gamut: rabbits to robins, squirrels to screech owls, coyotes to 'coons. And since Lakeside is located within the heart of Kansas City's heavily forested Swope Park, it also gets bobcats, snakes, foxes, hawks and even an occasional endangered species such as a peregrine falcon.

If Hogan, Bray, Bascom and the veterinarians are the hands of Lakeside with their rehab work, then the Friends of Lakeside Nature Center are the heart of the operation.

With several thousand animals coming in annually, Lakeside co uldn't possibly keep up. Sharon Goff is a charter member. Annually, she alone will nurse between 30 and 40 animals back to health · from her own home.

"Right now I've got three 'coons and four squirrels," she said. "Why do I do it? Putting it simply, it's something I can really put my heart into. I'm also a teacher, and this is something I can do for my students on an educational basis.

One of the first times my kids saw a raccoon, one little boy asked if it was a squirrel. Isn't that sad that some of these kids haven't had more exposure to the wild to know the difference between a raccoon and a squirrel?"

Actually, the Friends wear several Lakeside hats. Lloyd and Robin Davies, for example, head up one of the most active Stream Teams in the state. In addition to animal rehab and planting thousands of trees along streambanks, the Friends of Lakeside Stream Team will haul away between 30 and 50 tons of debris from a nearby stream.

"We've probably got about 400 tires out of there," Lloyd said during a cleanup this spring. "Tires, four refrigerators and an eight-piece furniture sectional. We even found a bowling ball. That's just normal for us."

Why are people drawn to injured animals and dirty streams when they could be sipping a cold brew at Kauffman Stadium or a hot toddy at Arrowhead Stadium?

"They love animals, that's the first hook," said Kay Wise, Friends president. "They feel they can make a difference. They believe that bunnies and squirrels are important, too. They'll do anything to help get that message across."

The Friends rehab animals, pitch in against pollution, conduct educational programs and raise money.

Because it has grossly outgrown its current 64-year-old facility in Swope park, Lakeside will soon break ground for a new $2 million, 15,000-square foot building. The new Lakeside will be located just about a mile up from the flood-prone old building. The Friends have committed to raising $500,000. The Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation is matching that am ount, and the other $1 million is coming from the Conservation Department.

"It makes good sense to create one very good facility than have two organizations both working separately of each other," said Anita Gorman, Conservation Commissioner. "It's a wonderful partnership. Our donation says to the private donor that this is going to be a stable, well-meaning operation." Raising money is a difficult task, almost as onerous as being one of Missouri's busiest wildlife rehabilitation and educational facilities.

"But if we have to raise this money nickel by nickel, quarter by quarter we will," promised Tritico.

A New Lakeside

by Lynn Youngblood Sloan

The new Lakeside Nature Center will allow the facility to more than double its environmental education programming, according to Tammie Tritico, project manager for the new building.

Located in the heart of Swope Park, the new facili ty will use the surrounding habitat to illustrate how wild animals adapt to their environment, even in urban settings. Conservation themes, programs and hands-on exhibits will be the joint effort of the Conservation Department, Kansas City Parks, Recreation and Boulevards, and the Friends and staff of Lakeside.

"The new building will enable us to increase the number of programs we give and, therefore, we will educate more kids," Kay Wise, president of The Friends of Lakeside, said.

Lakeside draws in many urban visitors who are more familiar with cement, asphalt and street poles than with grass, leaves and trees. "We feel pretty lucky if we can get the kids to walk on the grass or take a hike in the woods," Tritico said.

The new facility will also allow Lakeside to continue its nationally recognized wildlife rehabilitation program.

Planning for the building began in Spring 1994. "The best thing about the new building," Tritico said, "is that it allows us to share with more people what nature is all about."

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