Founded as a student organization at the University of Minnesota in 1979, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota is now recognized as one of the country’s oldest and best clinics, nursing some 15,000 orphaned or injured animals back to health every year. The Roseville-based center is run by a staff of 22, with help from hundreds of volunteers. Even in a pandemic, it’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with special rules implemented for social distancing.
The WRCMN has been around 41 years, but we didn’t know it existed until last week. We heard crying near our front door around 10 p.m. We raced outside, thinking it might be a dog. Instead, we saw a baby squirrel on the lawn, whimpering in pain. It was maybe a month old, eyes still closed, and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
As we’re contemplating what to do about this poor creature, we hear a rustle in the branches 15 to 20 feet above our heads. In an instant, three more babies fall out of this enormous tree and land at our feet, one after another. Bits and pieces of a nest follow. It was chilly out and all four babies were still breathing, so we put on gardening gloves and moved them inside the house. That’s when the panic set in.
What the heck do we do?! Frantic internet searching brought us to WRCMN’s website, which gave detailed instructions on how to reunite them with their mother. We placed the babies in a cozy, towel-lined box at the foot of the tree they fell from. Our plan was to give Mama Squirrel, who we could hear screeching and pacing along the limbs overhead, a chance to reclaim her scurry. If she didn’t grab ‘em by morning, we figured we’d take them to WRCMN.
Unfortunately, we never got that far. The kits, bless their little hearts, didn’t survive the night. We buried them in our backyard and sprinkled flower seeds over their tiny grave.
We were traumatized. What had we done wrong? Should we have kept them indoors overnight? Not touched them at all and left them on the lawn? We felt so guilty. The WRCMN’s website assured us it wasn’t our fault — that with massive trauma, the squirrels would have likely died even in their care.
We’re so grateful for the compassionate work this center does, even if we never made it there. WRCMN’s “critter ticker” tracks intakes; today alone, the hospital admitted 18 eastern gray squirrels, 10 eastern cottontail rabbits, seven raccoons, two mallards, a white-footed mouse, and an American robin. We also appreciate how detailed their website is; it’ll be the first thing we check if we ever encounter another distressed animal.
Note: If you’re interested in volunteering with the rehab center, it is now accepting applications for the 2020 nursery season. Volunteers are needed in dedicated nurseries for small mammals, songbirds, and waterfowl.
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota
2530 Dale St. N., Roseville, MN; 651-486-9453.