Ohio animal rehab center facing financial crunch

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CASTALIA, Ohio (AP) â€" An animal rehabilitation center in northern Ohio that nurses wild animals back to health is making its own appeal for help.

The center is facing a potential financial crisis after losing an important supply of free food for its hawks and owls, said Mona Rutger, founder of Back to the Wild in Castalia near Sandusky.

"Our source for rodents we rely on to feed all our injured wildlife and permanent residents has gone," she said.

A laboratory in Portage, Mich., is closing and no longer will be able to give the center a free supply of rodents for the animals. The lab donated rats and mice that were free of research chemicals to zoos, rehab centers and nature centers, she said.

The center's workers would pick up the rodents once a month, saving the center thousands of dollars. In the summer, they use about 300 mice and 50 to 60 rats a night, said Heather Yount, the center's staff supervisor. Yount says staff and volunteers also plan to work to save the center.

Back to the Wild now will need $80,000 a year to make up for the loss, Rutger said.

"I can't bear the thought of closing it," Rutger said. "This is my life's work."

Rutger, who founded the nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation and nature education center 24 years ago, was honored in 2002 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The department gave her The Cardinal Award for dedication to protecting and preserving wildlife.

Back to the Wild treats thousands of animals â€" including wild birds, foxes, turtles, fawns, squirrels, bald eagles and rabbits â€" each year and is funded through donations. Most of the animals are hurt by human activity, such as being hit by a car, poisoning or being entangled in fishing line.

The goal is nursing animals back to health so they can return to their natural habitat. The center rehabilitates more than 2,500 animals each year.

Back to the Wild also sees thousands of visitors, including school children who come to learn about wild animals.

Rutger vowed that she won't allow the shortfall to force her to close the center.