GARRISON - Deb Eskedahl never knows what she'll face when she goes to work each morning.
She could be giving a puppy its first shots or performing surgery on a black bear.
Eskedahl, a veterinarian and owner of Garrison Animal Hospital, also is co-founder of the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Program. Eskedahl is a master rehabber, meaning she has the needed permits to legally rehabilitate any species of animal that can be found in Minnesota, except skunks. Skunks are excluded because they run a higher risk of being rabid.
Last year, Wild and Free cared for more than 350 orphaned or injured animals. The public or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources take the animals to Garrison Animal Hospital to be examined and treated by Wild and Free volunteers.
Katie Baratto, a veterinary student and volunteer with the Wild and Free Animal Rehabilitation Program in Garrison, held a saw-whet owl that is recovering after losing an eye in an accident. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
In most instances, injured animals come to Wild and Free after suffering human-related injuries - animals are shot, hit by cars or lawn mowers or birds fly into windows.
"Our motto is if someone cares enough to bring it in, we'll feed it," said Katie Baratto, Wild and Free volunteer.
Baratto, a third-year student at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine, has worked at the Garrison Animal Hospital since she was 16. She reminisced about someone bringing baby mice to be raised after their mother was killed in a trap. The mice died but Baratto said most orphaned or injured animals brought to Wild and Free are released back into the wild when they become healthy enough.
"We let everything go," Baratto said. "We usually try to release them where they were found."
Wild and Free volunteers said this bear must have been born late in the season because he was extremely underweight when he arrived at Garrison Animal Hospital. The bear is kept in an outdoor pen near the veterinary hospital. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Baratto, one of about 60 Wild and Free volunteers who do everything from treating animals to planning fundraisers, is a general rehabber, meaning she can treat anything except birds, bear, deer and skunks.
Baratto said it's important to limit human contact with wild animals so they can eventually be returned to the wild and be able to care for themselves. Wild and Free volunteers use a raccoon puppet to bottle-feed baby raccoons, and a bucket with makeshift nipples is placed under a deer decoy to feed fawns.
Each year, about 10 to 15 animals aren't able to be set free because they become too tame.
"We very rarely have problems with them letting go," Baratto said.
A great horned owl with a broken wing is recovering at the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Program in Garrison. The owl is expected to make a full recovery. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Animals not able to be returned to the wild usually are sent to a zoo, or a breeding project in the case of an endangered animal.
The Dispatch covered the story of a young loon that didn't fly south for the winter and was rescued in December by an ice fisherman on Rabbit Lake. Students at Cuyuna Range Elementary School raised money to ship the bird to Florida, Eskedahl said the loon died of complications due to pneumonia before it left for Florida.
Most animals successfully make it through the Wild and Free rehab program, but about 10 are euthanized each year.
Jan Anderson, Wild and Free board member, observed two of four trumpeter swans being cared for by the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Program. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Wild and Free is a volunteer program funded by donations. Baratto said donations are used for medicine, food and cages for animals. Last summer, an animal rehab building opened on a 10-acre plot of land near the Garrison Animal Hospital, and volunteers hope to soon get new outdoor cages for the animals.
For more information on volunteering or donating, visit www.wildandfree.org.
A young beaver is growing to maturity after being taken in at Wild and Free weighing only 1 pound. The beaver will soon be ready to be released into the wild. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
HEIDI LAKE can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.
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