Back to the Wild shows where your donation goes

CASTALIA Maybe it was the flying squirrel that sealed the deal for the kids, and maybe the alien-fac
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

CASTALIA

Maybe it was the flying squirrel that sealed the deal for the kids, and maybe the alien-faced barn owl lured the adults.

It seemed the baby skunks, however, were the lure for the bikers. There's something strangely rebellious about those striped animals -- tough-talking on the outside, entirely lovable on the inside.

"This is pretty cool here,' said Greg Luettke, a Toledo-area resident and Harley Davidson rider who cruised in with a group from Toledo on Sunday to check out an open house at Back to the Wild in Castalia.

"Some guy just brought in some skunks," Luettke said. "A whole bunch of little baby skunks he found. This place is pretty cool."

While more than 500 fascinated visitors absorbed the creeping wonders of the Bardshar Road animal rehab center, owners Mona and Bill Rutger were fascinated with what appeared to be a record turnout for the open house.

"This is the most people we've ever had at one of these," said Bill Rutger. "We had to turn cars away because we couldn't get them in here."

Acres of lawn outside the facility were chock-full of cars all day Sunday, with wave after wave of visitor showing up to peer at barn owls, screech owls, bald eagles, flying squirrels, red-tail hawks and a virtual Noah's Ark of northeast Ohio's injured animal population.

At 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., Mona Rutger released two red-tail hawks that had been rehabilitated at the facility. After its release, one of the birds loitered for an hour or so on a treetop about 50 yards from the facility, where a knot of smaller birds dive-bombed it to protect their nests.

"They're all mad," said Kathy Carter, who visited the open house with her husband, Richard Carter. "The hawk doesn't even know what's going on. He's just trying to figure things out."

"Do they ever come back?" one woman asked.

"They're still wild," Mona said. "They're like, 'Let me out of here.' We have to be careful not to imprint ourselves on them. We aren't do animals any favors at all if we're petting them or talking to them."

At that, a young boy in the crowd asked if he could pet the flying squirrel Mona was holding.

"This is a hospital," Mona said. "A wildlife hospital. We can't pet 'em because they're all wild."

The boy seemed satisfied with that answer, and wandered over to an eggplant-sized screech owl that seemed to be looking at the onlookers. Dozens of local groups and charities donated time and money for the open house, with the proceeds benefiting the self-funded animal rehab clinic. The clinic has been in dire financial straits for months, and continues to seek donations from area residents.

Frequent visitors and supporters of the facility -- folks like Kathy Carter -- figured Sunday's event was a good start.

"I dropped off a 10-pack of rubber gloves," Carter said. "Little things like that can help them out. When I get a few extra bucks, I try to send it here. That way, I know my money is going someplace where a little critter is going to get fed this week."

Ohio Division of Wildlife Officer Kevin Good wasn't shy about his support for the facility. His colleagues, after all, are working with Back to the Wild to release an eaglet into a wild nest at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday morning.

"As far as animal rehabilitation goes, (Mona) is the best around," Good said. "Her records are immaculate, and she knows what she's doing. If someone wanted to know how to get started in animal rehab, they could look to Mona."