One of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the world is housed in a cramped building in a park in Roseville, seeing nearly 20,000 patients a year, from sleepy-eyed rabbits to majestic trumpeter swans.
After 20 years old, it lacks space.
The nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center has purchased 22 acres in the Washington County town of Grant with ambitious plans to spread its wings and build a $14 million eco-friendly campus focused on on rehabilitation and orphaned wild animals, including raising 2,000 ducklings each spring.
“We always felt we needed a rehab campus for our young injured and orphaned patients over the summer,” said chief executive Phil Jenni. “There’s the emergency vet clinic, but most of our business, frankly, is summer daycare: baby rabbits, baby squirrels, baby ducklings. All those things that aren’t necessarily hurt, but need help.”
The nonprofit will continue to operate its Roseville Veterinary Hospital, where all patients will initially be admitted and assessed. Renee Schott, the centre’s veterinarian and wildlife director, said the extra space was desperately needed and would raise the standard of care for all patients. Currently, staff members use every “nook and cranny” of the Roseville building and have an offsite space for the ducklings, she said.
“Having a new campus will help our healthy young patients grow up in a wilder environment. Right now we’re right in the middle of town,” Schott said. “It will also give them the space they need to grow and get away from our sick and sick 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 admits up to 250 animals per day during busy months.
Eight veterinarians, more than 30 other staff, 70 student interns and 600 volunteers provide care including X-rays and fracture repair, administering medication, testing for lead poisoning and other toxins, and education of young people. Animals are released back into the wild near where they were first found.
The center has treated 200 species of animals, according to its records. While most are common in Minnesota and not at risk, Jenni said the organization’s mission is fueled by a love of nature and a deep sense of compassion.
“People appreciate the natural resources here and they appreciate the wild animals,” 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?”
Members of the public, as well as animal control officers, can drop off injured and orphaned animals free of charge. Families regularly come together to drop off animals, Jenni said.
“Parents often tell us, ‘Thank you so much for having this place where I can be a model of compassion and kindness for my children,'” he said.
Jenni, 68, will step down as executive director at the end of the year after 20 years on the job, then serve as project manager for the Grant facility before retiring. The role will include fundraising and planning, with the goal of completing the campus in 2024.
Being good stewards of the environment is a top priority, which is why the nonprofit is installing a state-of-the-art closed water filtration system, which will capture rainwater to fill 56 underground ponds needed to raise 2,000 ducklings each spring. It will take 165,000 gallons of water.
The system will allow water to be filtered and reused, keeping patients healthy and protecting natural resources.
“The highest level of design is for the ducklings,” Jenni said. “This water needs to be cleaned every day.”
The facility will also have air filtration systems and geothermal heating and cooling technology. Outdoor cages are already in place for raccoons, squirrels and birds, positioned near the center of the property 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 concerns from neighbors about the possibility of increased traffic and other changes to the rural community.
“The city has received no complaints,” Mayor Jeff Huber said. “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 securing a major donor.
With patient admissions up more than 34% during the COVID-19 pandemic, they hope compassion for their work will continue to grow.
“We want to get everyone excited about this,” Jenni said.
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