Animal rescue organization needs rescue of its own following mouse shortage, summer drought

Diane Johnson, executive director of Operation Wildlife, checks the progress of an injured red-tailed hawk Tuesday at the clinic. Johnson says that with rising costs of food products and medicines for her rescued animals, so too come financial difficulties at the Linwood-based animal clinic.

At this time last year, the price of a frozen, euthanized mouse was 45 cents.

But now, that price has nearly doubled, said Diane Johnson, executive director of Operation WildLife Inc. And the 25-year-old animal rehabilitation clinic known as OWL is “struggling” as a result.

“Right now, we’re OK,” Johnson said of the financial situation at the Linwood-based clinic, which also has a satellite receiving center in Shawnee. “I don’t know if two or three months down the line we’re going to be OK.”

Mice and rats, which are even more expensive, are in high demand as a main food source at a clinic that houses and rehabilitates 4,000 to 5,000 injured, orphaned and displaced wild animals every year. OWL has its own breeding colony of mice and rats, but “we’re limited on space,” Johnson said, so the clinic largely depends on an Indiana-based supplier to provide the more than 450 mice and 100 rats animals at the clinic consume on a weekly basis.

Johnson said a national mouse and rat shortage is to blame for the higher prices, but there is a mountain of other problems.

“The recent summer drought seriously challenged local wildlife,” said a news release issued by OWL in December. “OWL, which serves nine counties in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri, saw more cases of emaciation and dehydration than usual in the young mammals brought to its facility, requiring more medical services and more food.”

Johnson said the summer drought also caused higher prices for grains and other ground-grown foodstuffs. It caused more raptors, such as owls and hawks, to go near roads in search of nearby sources of water, too. Instead of the one to two raptors a week the clinic usually takes in at this time of year, Johnson said, “we’ve been getting one to two a day.” That means more mouths to feed.

Then there are the necessary repairs and maintenance that come with a 20-year-old building. One remodel OWL will face, Johnson said, is a $20,000 update to the outdoor eagle flight pens.

All of these expenses add up to a pretty tough year for a clinic that survives on public donations, fundraisers and educational programming fees alone, Johnson said. A registered veterinarian technician and longtime independent wildlife rehabilitator, Johnson started OWL out of her home in 1987. In 1992, her husband finished construction on OWL’s current base of operations, next to the couple’s Linwood home and made out of materials from the clubhouse at a previous location of Smiley’s Golf Complex in Lenexa. After seeing a newspaper ad publicizing its sale, Johnson said, she convinced her husband, Mark, to dip into their savings to purchase the 4,000-square-foot clubhouse, tear it down and build something new next door.

“He used our kids’ crayons to mark the sheeting and stuff so he knew how (the pieces) would go back together,” Diane Johnson recalled.

Now OWL has grown into the largest nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation clinic in Kansas, ministering care to owls, hawks, skunks, raccoons, foxes and other nondomestic animals. OWL opened the Shawnee receiving center, 11218 W. 75th St., 15 years ago, Johnson said — a successful move.

“Of the 4,000 to 5,000 (animals we take in annually), we probably take in 2,200 to 3,000 through the Shawnee facility,” she said.

The ultimate goal of OWL, Johnson said, is to return the animals to the wild, which it does at a rate of about 69 percent a year. Helping to carry the daily load of caring for and feeding the animals are 125 volunteers, including seven outside veterinarians, but it’s not enough, she said.

“We need volunteers,” she said. “We subsist entirely on volunteer help.”

Johnson said the clinic also needs some help financially, but only what community members can afford.

“It’s tough for everybody right now; I think everybody’s having a hard time,” Johnson said.

Donations by check can be sent or dropped off in person to OWL’s Linwood clinic at 23375 Guthrie Road or to the Shawnee receiving center. Paypal donations can be made online at, where volunteer applications can also be found.