Alaqua Wildlife Refuge opens wildlife rehabilitation center in Freeport

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FREEPORT – Alaqua Animal Refuge is a long-standing refuge for domestic and farm animals in need, welcoming everything from dogs neglected by their owners to cats abandoned due to the tropical climate to injured horses and goats in need.

Now it can help wildlife too.

Alaqua recently announced the opening of its new 5-acre Wildlife Rehabilitation Center within its original property on Whitfield Road in Freeport.

The Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is a state and federal licensed nonprofit facility providing a “much needed” resource for the rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife, according to the release. hurry. The permits were issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and pending for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the statement said.

A young Eastern Gray Squirrel is hand-fed with others at the Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Freeport.

Shelby Proie, the director of wildlife, has over 12 years of experience rehabilitating wildlife at the center, she said. Prey believes this is the last component in making Alaqua truly capable of helping all animals, including domestic, exotic, farm, and wildlife.

“I couldn’t have a better team,” she said. “They are amazing, passionate and excited. And it was really just a dream come true to be able to develop that, open it up and now be able to offer it to our community because we know there is such a great need for it in Walton County in particular.

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The Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center welcomes animals of all types, including shorebirds, seabirds, birds of prey, mammals, marsupials and reptiles, and will not be open to the public. . Alaqua predicts that most of the animals will come from Walton, Okaloosa and Bay counties, according to the press release.

Shelby Proie, Alaqua Wildlife Manager, stands in a new flight cage at the Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Freeport.

Prey began discussing the concept with Laurie Hood, founder and director of Alaqua Animal Refuge, in October 2020. But Hood said the idea has been in the works for years.

“There are literally close to a dozen counties around our area that don’t have any type of wildlife center, and we get calls almost daily,” Hood said. “You hate that you can’t help. So we finally put the right team and facilities in place to do it, so it was time to pull the trigger and offer this to our region, so we’re very excited about it.

Prey echoed the need for a rehabilitation center at the Alaqua location, centered between Navarre and Tallahassee, she said.

“We love Emerald Coast (Wildlife Refuge) and a lot of the private rehabilitation centers that have been around here forever, but it’s so difficult for the public to drive from Walton or Bay County to Navarre with an injured animal,” said Prey. “And a lot of the services don’t pick up the animals, so I think a lot of the animals are suffering just because there is no ability to provide transportation services.”

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The staff at the Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center are managed by Director of Wildlife Shelby Proie, MES, who has worked in the field for over 10 years after serving in other wildlife centers.  Other team members include Andrea Diessner (Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager);  Morgan Gentile (wildlife care technician);  Tyler Brown (Wildlife Care Technician);  and Chris Teboe (Wildlife Care Technician).

Prey believes it will serve the tourism industry as well.

“You have a lot of people paying a lot of money in Destin, on Santa Rosa beach and they find a pelican, heron, gull, injured loons sitting on the beach and no one can do anything about it,” he said. she declared. “The FWC does not have the capacity to react. Well now we can do better by being able to go and assess whether this animal really needs help or not, and if it does, show the tourists that we care and we’ll take it and treat it. and we’re not just going to leave it there for you to watch die on your vacation.

Hood calls Prey “a dream come true” because she is organized and “plays by the books”.

“I knew when I started talking to her and when she came on board just to work with pets that she was going to make sure everything was done the right way, and I love that,” said Hood. “She just breathes that in everything she does, all of her protocols and the way she takes care of animals – even her rules to make sure wild animals interact with as few humans as possible, because the ultimate goal is for them to be free again and be wild again. She does everything to make that happen.

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Alaqua had to build the facilities “from scratch” because he had to create specific enclosures for wildlife and create new roles for staff, said Prey. The center has a dedicated wildlife team with a combined experience of 30 years working with wildlife in clinical settings.

An on-site surgery room is available for veterinarians at the Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Freeport.

It’s been a crazy summer, she says.

“My team is amazing. I hired them as wildlife rehabilitators, and they’ve been so awesome, being entrepreneurs and just developing the diet books and whatever you can imagine without even blinking your eyes while digging holes for the ponds. This crew literally did it all. Our blood, sweat and tears are in this program and at the center now. “

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And, their structures are “pretty cool,” added Prey.

The wildlife rehabilitation center has a wildlife clinic with an operating theater, triage area, intensive care unit for critical animals, a detached avian nursery and a mammal nursery with a species quadrant. rabies vectors to provide specialized care to orphaned babies in a confined environment, according to the press release.

“We have a veterinarian on staff six days a week who will come and do consultations and surgeries for us,” said Prey. “We have a full arsenal of drugs, so we can make our own treatment plans and treat just about any disease. And that’s what’s unique about us compared to some of the private rehabilitators, is that we have that extra medical component where they wouldn’t have to take them to a private vet and pay out of pocket. We offer the service free of charge for all surgeries, x-rays and such procedures. “

Outdoor habitats include a flight cage built on the wooded property to provide an environment free from common urban stressors, a turtle park, and a seabird pond. An aviary is being built for other birds, said Prey. This will allow the rehabilitation process to take place in a setting close to nature.

The center also has a “pelican room” because it receives so many pelicans, said Prey.

Alaqua estimates that its capacity for indoor and outdoor patients is 300 to 350 animals.

“We’re starting out small and plan to grow as we get more donations and funding,” said Prey. “As you know, Alaqua as a whole is a non-profit organization, and that doesn’t make the Wildlife Center any different. We are 100% funded by donations. Although we provide this very important free service to our community, we do not receive any state or federal funding or grants or anything like that at this time. So if anyone feels obligated to support us in our mission and growth, we would be very happy to accept donations.

In the future, Alaqua hopes to transfer all domestic and farm animals to his new property off State Road 20 and use the original location exclusively for wildlife rehabilitation and equine therapy which is closed to the public. .

“Rehab patients are easily imbued and accustomed to humans, so you don’t allow visitors,” said Prey. “The new property would have all domestic animals, all farm animals. And then when we add an Ambassador Wildlife Preserve, which would be like non-releasable animals, they would be in the new property because they can be on display and open to the public.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center started taking patients last week, said Prey. She admits that due to the delay in opening, the center operates between baby season and migration season.

“It’s pretty funny, because we’re in the slowest two weeks in the rehabilitation world, so we have seven squirrels right now and we’re going out and helping calls from raccoons with distemper,” said Prey. “There is like an outbreak of distemper in Walton County in their raccoons population, so we went to various places and helped get raccoons and treat them or take them out of the wild so that they do not have the capacity to affect others and continue to spread this disease, which unfortunately is often very fatal.

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Prey can’t wait for the season to resume.

“I’m on call 24/7, so I can take calls at night. And if I can’t reach you, I can at least guide the audience in a way to alleviate the situation until you can bring me the animals or I can join you. And then our office hours for admissions are 9 am to 4 pm, seven days a week. ”

Animals can be dropped off daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Alaqua Whitfield Campus, 914 Whitfield Road, Freeport. A team of volunteers is also being assembled to save the animals and bring them back to Alaqua. Those in need of assistance can call the office at 850-880-6697 or the FWC Wildlife Hotline at 888-404-3922.


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