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Mona, Wild get CNN hero status

Jessica Cuffman • May 31, 2013 at 9:10 AM

The founder of a local animal rescue and education center is slated for national recognition after being announced as one of 25 CNN Heroes for 2013.

Mona Rutger, who runs the nonprofit Back to the Wild, is best known for her work in nursing injured bald eagles back to health. She will now be featured on CNN several times over the next few days.

“It was kind of a shocking call to get,” she said. “She said, ‘This is CNN in New York.’ I thought they had an injured animal or something.”

The network had a more of a daunting task in mind: A two-day visit to the Margaretta Township rescue and education center.

Before the news crew’s arrival, the network interviewed Rutger five times in hour-long phone calls. They arrived May 20 and were gone the next evening, after two days of taping.

“It was just like, ‘Bam, bam bam.’ There was no lead up to it,” Rutger said.

Students from Bucyrus Schools and Norwalk Schools will be featured in the segment when it airs this weekend, as they were visiting Back to the Wild at the time CNN was visiting.

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The news crew interviewed Rutger in one of the facility’s barns, as well as filming day-to-day activities and talking to people who arrived with injured animals.

“It was hysterical,” Rutger said. “I’m not for that world. I’m not a show, whatever you call it.”

But the honor and the possibility of earning $50,000 to help operate Back to the Wild are exhilarating. The Top 10 CNN Heroes receive the money to run their nonprofit organizations. They aren’t selected until September.

Rutger’s rescue operation runs on donations alone. When the economy nosedived a few years ago, so too did the donations. Back to the Wild hasn’t recovered since.

It takes $350,000 a year to run the rescue and education center. Rutger and her husband, Bill, and their small staff take in 2,500 wild animals each year. They also educate 70,000 children throughout the state.

“It’s not something I ever pursued,” Rutger said. “We sure could use the money for the center. It would be such a godsend to us.”

Linda Nardini, a Lorain resident who lives in Sandusky seasonally, nominated Rutger for the award.

“I came up on Mona after I found a baby Robin last summer,” Nardini said. “Everyone said take it to Back to the Wild. They took it and I had the tour.”

“It’s so exciting,” Nardini said. “Good for Mona.”’

Want to watch?

Air dates and times


CNN: 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

HLN: 6 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. 8 p.m.

CNNi 2 a.m., 6 a.m. 7 p.m.


CNN: 9 a.m., 5 p.m.

HLN: 8 a.m.


CNNEE: 7 p.m.


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