The end is NOT near
Once upon a time there was a sweet, innocent wildlife rehabilitation center that loved nothing more than to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured and orphaned wildlife. Representatives of this magical facility skipped through the forest, scooping up hurt animals, and made them all better. This facility never had any needs unmet. They had all the volunteers, supplies, food, medications, staff, and money they could possibly desire. I wish I could write that story, but Walt has the market cornered on singing mice and sewing birds in the land of plenty.
Then there is the tale about the villainous condo developer who steals the land right out from under the well-meaning volunteers who only want to help the very animals that this heinous scoundrel and his cronies have caused harm. The developers come in and cut down trees, uproot dens, destroy nests, causing havoc and mayhem at every turn for the unsuspecting animals that were the original inhabitants of the areas designated for “improvement.” But as heartrending as a new chapter in the never-ending FernGully saga might be, I can’t write that story either.
How about the one where the corrupt government officials take money from the highest bidder and close the orphanage so they can turn it into a parking garage? Brokerage office? Private men-only smoking club? I’m not really sure where that one goes at all. Someone with an intense conspiracy theory bent suggested the beginnings of that one, but never really got to the point of where it was leading. No money was exchanged and no favours were granted, so that story is out as well.
Let’s begin at the beginning. On June 5, 1996 Peace River Wildlife Center moved from its founder’s overcrowded back porch to an unused area at the far west end of Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda. The city gave PRWC a 20-year lease and the entire fee was paid by an anonymous benefactor. The property boundaries were determined at that time by an aerial GIS map and were undisputed by the then owner of the adjacent land, PGI Incorporated. Cages were built, prefab buildings were brought in, and the volunteers that had started PRWC in 1982 were able to assist many more animals than ever before. Birds that were unable to be released were kept on educational display to the public instead of having to be euthanized.
In March 2005 PRWC asked the city if we could expand our back fence line by a few feet. When we were granted the additional 1,045 square feet, Habitat for Humanity came in and helped us build some new pre-release cages. Grande Harbor Group closed on a warranty deed in April 2005 to purchase the (buildable) land at the corner of Ponce de Leon Parkway and West Marian Avenue. Although a survey had to have been obtained for this transaction, PRWC was not informed that our facilities were on private property at that time.
Early in 2014 PRWC approached the city of Punta Gorda about the possibility of building a new hospital and surgical facility. Our current buildings are old and not in very good shape. We were also considering shrinking the footprint of the buildings, combining the separate hospital, surgery, and laundry shed, so we could have more room for habitats and cages for the animals. It was at this time that we were informed that part of our facility “may” be on private property. The initial inclination that the back corner of a walkway, about 2% of our facility, may have to be reconfigured turned into the realization that over 90% of the entire compound is on private property.
We immediately halted expansion plans. We have been idling while waiting for a resolution to this conundrum. The city has been very supportive. They are trying to help us resolve the issue with the developer, but also looking at other city owned property to which they could help us relocate if that becomes a necessity. The developer has been respectful and helpful. He is trying to work with us also, but he is a businessman and rightfully has to do what is in the best interests of his assets, investors, and eventual condo purchasers.
So where does that leave PRWC? Right where we have been for almost 20 years. Our current lease is good through June 2016 and the developer has stated that he will honour that contract. We are still working with him and the city to find an arrangement that will be in the best interests of all parties involved, including the innocent animals caught up in this mistake. PRWC is still taking in injured and orphaned wildlife. We are still rehabilitating over 2,000 animals each year. We still play host to over 75,000 people each year who come to visit the over 100 unreleasable birds on display to the public seven days a week from 11a.m. to 4p.m. We are still in need of support to continue our mission, and continue it we will.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014 Opus restaurant at 201 West Marian Avenue in downtown Punta Gorda will host our first fundraiser of the season starting at 5:30. Our first annual Fall Fur and Feathers Fat Tuesday will include hors d’eouvres, entertainment, auctions, resident “adoptions”, an open bar, and a chance to get your photo taken with the star of our show, Luna, the leucistic screech owl. Call PRWC for information at 941-637-3830, but please hurry because tickets are limited and going fast.
–by Robin Jenkins, DVM