How to help
The organization is in need of donations because of the increased animal intake from recent storms. Needed items include:
• Gerber baby vegetable, chicken and turkey.
• Powdered egg whites.
• High efficiency laundry detergent.
• Wheat germ.
• Walmart gift cards to buy fresh produce.
For more information, email OpWildLife@aol.com or call 542-3625.
In one room, a volunteer readies a hobbled fawn — recently attacked by a dog — for a stroll around the grounds.
Less than 10 feet away, volunteer Roger Rucker wrestles a feisty bald eagle named Sassy while the bird gets an injection for an injured leg.
And down the hall, veterinary intern Shelby Parsel is cutting open a rat, which will be dinner for a lucky possum.
All in a day’s work over at the Linwood home office of Operation Wildlife.
“Walks, crawls or flies across Kansas, we’ll take it,” said Diane Johnson, director and founder of the agency that helps rehabilitate 5,000 or so wild animals every year.
It’s normally hectic inside the string of buildings next to Johnson’s home, as ducks, roosters, turtles, eagles, possums and rats are cared for by a team of more than 100 volunteers. But with recent severe storms, the organization is seeing nearly double its daily intake of animals — about 60 to 70, Johnson said.
Raccoons, birds and baby bunnies are filing in from tornado-ravaged Reading and Joplin, Mo.
The increase in animals is straining the agency, Johnson said as she roamed the buildings checking on her flock. Johnson started the organization in 1988 and has dedicated her life to rehabilitating wild animals. In busy times, 12- to 14-hour days are the norm, she said.
The organization doesn’t charge for services but takes donations. With a few grants, Operation Wildlife, which also has a Shawnee office, gets by “on a wish and a prayer,” Johnson said.
Dedicated volunteers, such as Rucker, who all work at least eight hours a week, provide the free labor. For the retired Rucker, who drives in from Olathe at least once a week, Operation Wildlife helps him make use of a master’s degree in zoology he didn’t use in his work life.
“You never know what you’re going to have,” said Rucker of the wide variety of animals he gets to work with.
Seeing an animal recover is what it’s all about.
“The real joy is seeing an animal come in injured, then release it into the wild. That’s the real thrill,” Rucker said.