Deb Malewski
Contributing Writer

Covid-19 has caused an uptick in the number of animals brought to Wildside Animal Rehabilitation and Education Center in Eaton Rapids, according to Louise Sagaert, who runs the facility on Houston Road for native Michigan wildlife.
Sagaert has worked as a full-time special education teacher consultant for about 35 years.  “But it’s always been animals for me,” she explained.
A new record of animal admissions at Wildside has already been set for 2020; they’ve already seen over 1,900 animals, up from 1,600 in 2019.
“We are seeing things we might not normally see,” explained Sagaert, “due to more people being home and out in their yards much more.”
Over 950 cottontail bunnies have been rescued in 2020, up from the 500 in the past, she said.
“Sometimes a dog digs up the nest, or the lawnmower destroys the nest and the babies are discovered.”
The facility has a room dedicated to the cottontails with rows of cages, each filled with a family of rabbit “kits,” along with a 40-year-old human incubator that has been modified for baby rabbit use. Darlene Smith is the “Bunny Expert,” Sagaert explained, and has been a volunteer at the facility for over 20 years.
Possums are in the same situation, with a room dedicated to their care. Often their mothers have been struck by cars, but the babies survive. Possums eat ticks, and they get requests from people who would like possums re-homed on their property for this reason.
Even the larger birds, the raptors, have increased in numbers this year. With 120 raptor intakes so far this year, that’s twice what they normally see, Sagaert commented.
This time of year, we see a lot of ‘young and dumb’ with the raptors,” said Sagaert. These are young birds that are unsure of what to do or how to act and haven’t figured out how to survive on their own. They recently acquired an osprey from DeWitt, only the second osprey they have had in thirty years in rehabilitation. It was found in the road, not flying.
“The bird is doing fine and will be returned to his parents if he can fly in the flight cage,” Sagaert said.
“Raptors are the love of my life,” she said. If successfully rehabilitated, they are returned to the area that they originated from. So far this year they have released kestrels, red tail hawks, barred owls, bald eagles, hundreds of possums and rabbits, along with dozens of squirrels, Sagaert said.
A new addition to Wildside is a 120-foot-long flight cage on the property. The building allows the eagles to fly and condition their muscles before being released into the wild.
They have the funds to finish the flight cage but hope to add a treatment area on to the front of the building in the future. Due to the location of the flight cage at the back of the property, there is no water or electricity.
Newly admitted to Wildside is Valor, a bald eagle brought from the Muskegon area. He joins Patriot, a juvenile bald eagle from Grand Rapids.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not allow Wildside to accept raccoons, due to the diseases that they often carry that are harmful to both humans and animals. Skunks and bats also are not admitted due to rabies fears.
They take animals in between 9 a.m, and 8 p.m.
Wildside does not receive any state or federal funding and is a 501(c)3 non-profit. The staff are all unpaid volunteers.
“We always need money,” “Sagaert said. “Any little bit can make a difference.”
You can contact Wildside on Facebook at wildsiderehab or call (517) 663-6153.