For four long years, the doors of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre have been closed to visitors.
Located 45 kilometres west of Innisfail, the animal hospital and education centre has been working toward a renovation to substantially upgrade the ways staff treat sick and injured animals.
Thanks to tremendous community support, Medicine River should soon be able to welcome back the public.
Last week, pre-cast concrete walls arrived at long last, which will provide a 3,500 sq. ft. haven for animals in need. The remaining piece is the roof, which the centre is hopeful it can secure funding for next month through a provincial grant. If successful, the facility will re-open this summer.
Executive Director Carol Kelly says the journey began about 10 years ago when they realized the building they had couldn’t continue to meet demand.
“It’s not been an easy chore to get here. But we decided that we were going to do this all the way rather than just do this halfway,” Kelly says, noting once the old hospital was taken down, everything inside it was packed into their interpretive building.
“We wanted to have a building that was going to be durable, that’s going to last longer than I’m going to be here. It’s going to be functional, easy to clean and house all the patients, plus all the students who come here to learn,” she says. “We’re beginning to refer to the old building as 50 per cent duct tape now, just keeping it together until we can get our new building up.”
At the heart of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre’s objectives are two things, healing animals and public education. Kelly says that while the centre has maintained off-site programming during its closure, its reach has been limited.
“Ninety-nine per cent of animals [that come here] are damaged by human activity, so if humans don’t understand that, they’re not going to minimize that,” she says. “The emails, the texts, the phone calls and just the visitors dropping in to say when are you going to be open again -- people really love coming to this place and we’ve got some really unique ideas to add to what we used to have.”
In 1991, the Medicine River Wildlife Centre took in around 500 patients,. That number has since risen to 2200 patients per year for what is one of only seven wildlife hospitals in the province. Patients over the years have ranged from pigeons, hawks and owls to moose, deer and foxes.
Each and every life is worth saving, Kelly believes.
“We have this story we always tell -- a little boy called me from Red Deer and said he had a bird he’d just found that was injured. [He asked] ‘Can you help me?’ I said ‘Sure, I’m in Red Deer, I’ll come over.’ He’d obviously been to one of our presentations because he’d done exactly what we’d told him to do -- had it in a little box and he’d given it Gatorade for hydration,” she recounts. “I picked up the little magpie and it had a broken leg, and this was a boy of about grade four and he was standing there with kind of a lightbulb moment on his face. He looked at me and said I just saved a life -- and I said ‘Yes!’
Kelly adds it isn’t just about the individual animal, but about a person’s ability to think on a bigger scale than just themselves.
“I believe that little boy learned a massive lesson that day,” she says.
More information is available at MedicineRiverWildlifeCentre.ca.
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