Jane Schnelker is busy every day, feeding and taking care of all of the little ones entrusted to her.
No, Schnelker doesn’t operate a daycare center or preschool. She’s the owner and operator of Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation and Education Center, 3659 Ohio 598 north of Crestline.
“I’ve always loved animals and wildlife in particular,” Schnelker said. “Even when I was a little girl, I was taking things in and helping them, but being a child and not knowing what I was doing, most of them didn’t make it.”
Schnelker has been in the animal rehabilitation field for about 35 years, officially starting when she took in some orphaned blue jays.
“I got four little blue jays and I knew I wasn’t allowed to have them; even back then it was illegal to have birds,” she said. “So I called the wildlife officer and he said it was okay, so he didn’t even know it was illegal. But once he knew I was interested in it, he started bringing things to me when people called him. That’s how it started, and it just trundled along and got bigger and bigger. About five years in we had to set up non-profit status because I was too busy to work a job and support it and we couldn’t afford to run it just on my husband’s salary. So that’s how it got started.”
According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources records, there are currently 78 permitted wildlife rehabilitators in the Buckeye State. There are two categories of rehabilitators.
Per the ODNR website, “Category I Rehabilitation Permits allow individuals to rehabilitate healthy, orphaned, or non-rabies vector mammals such as squirrels, rabbits and woodchucks.”
The website states that “a Category II Rehabilitation Permit allows individuals with at least three years of rehabilitation experience as a Category I Rehabilitator or equivalent to rehabilitate all species of wild animals except rabies-vector species, deer, coyote, bobcat, mute swans and state or federal endangered species, unless otherwise approved by the Chief of the Division of Wildlife. Category II Rehabilitators must have the ability to properly care for wild animals that are diseased, injured, or need rehabilitative care.”
Wildlife Haven is a Category II rehabilitation facility.
“We handle all species that are in Ohio,” Schnelker said. “That’s a lot of species. But you know what’s amazing, that doing this for 35 years, every year I will get a new species of bird or mammal that I’ve never worked with. You wouldn’t think that would happen after doing this for that many years.”
One of the unique animals she’s helped was a bobcat that was hit by a vehicle along Ohio 97 near Interstate 71 in Richland County. The cat suffered a variety of injuries, but survived, regained its health, and was returned to the wild at an undisclosed location, known only to Schnelker.
Schnelker said she’s also been called upon to lend aid to beavers — including one that had taken up residence in a garage in Galion — and mink. She noted that it’s rare for rehabilitators to have mink brought to them.
“The bulk of our intake, though, is things like rabbits and squirrels and raccoons,” she said. “But we limit raccoons to just Crawford County.”
Schnelker said she’s received animals from all across Ohio, but encourages people who call her from outside the local area to contact rehabilitators close to where they live or found the animals.
Schnelker advises people who find orphaned baby animals not to try and domesticate them, but to contact a permitted rehabilitator and take the animals to them.
“It isn’t a good idea,” she said. “That’s not what’s best for the animal. It’ll never be able to live a normal life if it’s raised like a cat or a dog. The average person will go to the internet for information and there’s so much bad information on the internet. People don’t seem to be able to filter out the good from the bad, and you wouldn’t be able to if you didn’t know any better. You can positively ruin an animal if you feed it the wrong thing.”
While the vast majority of animals taken to Wildlife Haven only stay there temporarily, the facility is the permanent home for several animals who can’t be returned to the wild, including two foxes, a red-tailed hawk, barred owl, crow, and a handsome turkey vulture.
For information about Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation and Education Center, contact Jane Schnelker at 419-683-3228 or email [email protected]. Information is also available on the Wildlife Haven Facebook page. There is also a Friends of Wildlife Haven Facebook group.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources maintains an updated list of wild animal rehabilitators and information about what to do if you encounter an orphaned or injured animal. Visit ohiodnr.gov and search for Wildlife Rehabilitation Permits to access that information.