FORT WAYNE – Jeanie and David Seel have been giving wild animals a second chance for nearly a quarter of a century.
The couple, who have been married since 1979, established the Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in 1988.
The Seels started the center when they discovered a need for a sanctuary for infant and injured animals in Fort Wayne.
We used to volunteer at the zoo, and people would try to bring animals there, and that’s not what they do there, Jeanie said. There wasn’t anybody in this area doing it at the time. That’s what got us started.
The couple acquired the necessary licenses and permits to house wild animals, and once area veterinarians, the zoo, Animal Care & Control, along with the state, county and city police, had the center’s number, animals needing help came pouring onto the Seels’ doorstep.
It was pretty much started in our garage, Jeanie said. Then it sort of ballooned, and we built the barn in 1997. We’d take maybe 50 animals a year (at first), now we take about 300.
The Seels work with four volunteers, and veterinarians from the Allen Veterinary Hospital donate their time to help injured animals.
We couldn’t do it without them, Jeanie said of the veterinarians.
The center costs about $10,000 a year to operate. It is funded by donations and the Seels’ money.
Jeanie, who is retired, said she and her husband cover between 80 percent to 90 percent of the operation cost. Her husband is a Realtor.
Jeanie said some of the best donations are gift cards to pet stores, which allows the Seels to purchase what they need, and laundry detergent because of the amount of laundry they do at the center.
We cut back this year, and it’s mostly because of the economy, Jeanie said. We are just not getting donations because people can’t afford it.
The center was only accepting groundhogs, beavers and crows near the end of April, but the Seels did take in two baby raccoons from a close friend.
The center had 30 animals at the start of spring, which is the center’s busiest time as it can house up to 80 animals. Even though the center can look like a zoo, Jeanie said it’s important for the public to know guests cannot visit the animals.
People want to come back and visit animals that they brought us, and that’s not permitted by the state, Jeanie said. Since the animals are being released into the wild, they are supposed to have as little human contact as possible.
Some animals do become permanent guests because the Seels are not allowed to release them into the wild.
A fox with a missing leg, along with two coyotes and three-toe box turtles that were brought back illegally from Arkansas, are permanent residents at the center. The Seels have permits to keep the animals.
There are also six coydogs, a mix of coyote and dog, that the Seels cannot release.
David said the coydogs each have a distinct personality. One called Shaq can leap so high its back legs would be at eye level of a standing adult, and another one is called Dozer because he likes to push things.
They came in as real tiny babies, as coyote pups, Jeanie said.
Usually, the center can only keep an animal for up to six months. There is an exception for injured animals that are showing signs of improvement.
One of the Seels’ most recent successes was an injured mink that came to them after being crushed under a log. Originally, it was thought that the mink’s back legs were paralyzed, but the veterinarian noticed its tail twitch.
We had that thing for probably five months, and then all of the sudden, it started using its legs and tail, Jeanie said. And it got released.
Release times are based on the animals’ age, if it has healed from an injury and if it shows the skills needed to survive on its own. Contact with the animals is mainly limited to feeding and cleaning, because they need to learn how to survive on their own.
It also helps if like animals are rehabbed together.
We always try to have at least two of something, so they bond with the other animal, Jeanie said, or as David puts it, So they know what they are.
Jeanie and David said they have about a 70 percent success rate in rehabbing animals.
And while they do give some animals a permanent home, they said the most rewarding part of running the center is releasing them back into the wild.
It’s just nice to see them back where they are supposed to be, David said. Everybody has a place.
The economy may dictate how many animals the center can take care of, but the Seels will never stop caring for animals.
As long as it is fun and rewarding, we will still do it to some extent, Jeanie said.