As an animal lover, I was very disappointed to read about Cook County's proposed closure of Trailside Museum's animal rehab area. The county cannot afford to terminate this service with no alternate plan to offer. It's a health risk to the people of Cook County and will have a dramatic negative impact on the wildlife. In most cases, injured animals will now be forced to die inhumanely in the care of families who want to care for them but don't have the knowledge to do it. And there is always the possibility of a disease carrier being released back into the wild unless under the supervision of a trained wildlife specialist.
For at least 50 years Virginia Moe did incredible work at Trailside as its director and the place was a popular one for all who live in the area. Everyone around knew Miss Moe. Residents knew they could bring injured wildlife and lost pets to Trailside and the animals would be rehabilitated, and given a new lease on life.
Miss Moe died in 1991. The last wildlife rehabilitation specialist retired in 2003. Now residents know better than to take an animal there because almost every creature brought there will most certainly meet death by lethal injection. Since 2003, 80 percent of the animals that have been accepted at Trailside either died or were euthanized at Trailside, according to Trailside's own records. Up until 2003, when there were wildlife specialists employed at Trailside, the figure was 50 percent or lower. Clearly the animals only survived with wildlife specialist help, not the biologists who now run the facility and are not qualified or not interested.
Last fall things seemed to be looking up for bringing the animal rehab function at Trailside back to life. A group of dedicated people led by Jane and John Morocco put several years' effort into forming a public/private foundation just to focus on supporting the rehabilitation area of Trailside. The group worked closely with the county officials, such as Forest Preserve Superintendent Steve Bylina, to create a proposal that would work. Then in November, the rug was pulled from under Morocco's group when Cook County President John Stroger met with the group to say he would not support the plan. And all this was done in a private meeting so no press was there to cover it.
Why was this important proposal killed by Stroger? To transform the center into a stronger educational facility, says Forest Preserve spokesman Steve Mayberry. Why would killing the rehab facility make it a stronger educational experience? Seems that it would reduce the value of the educational experience. What is the purpose of making Trailside only an educational destination minus the live animals? Aren't the live animals the reason so many families and schools made trips there? There is a wonderful opportunity here to teach compassion for animals to our children and to all people. Wildlife rehab provides us with hard facts and scientific data on how humans are affecting the creatures that share the earth with us. We have a unique educational opportunity when rehabilitating wildlife.
James Chelsvig, Trailside's director, has stated that the animal rehab program was "an inefficient use of resources." Why? When is taking care of injured animals a waste of resources? Would anyone ever say the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which treats injured people, is a waste?
What's missing is the lack of respect we have as a society for wildlife and animals. We love our Disney animal movies, and we can even tolerate documentaries like March of the Penguins. But when it's in our backyard, we say "No, taking care of wildlife that live in our county is a waste of resources." Shame on you, Mr. Chelsvig, who should be a wildlife advocate, and most of all, shame on you, Mr. Stroger.
Even in the Feb. 8 Wednesday Journal, the editorial recommended education, not rehab. Why? There is a state-of-the-art wildlife rehab clinic already set up on the premises. Why should this rehab function be moved to another place in Thatcher Woods as the Journal suggests? Isn't part of the educational experience to observe wildlife being helped? Why doesn't the education part go hand in hand with the rehab? It seems the Journal really did not do their homework here.
People already know Trailside and have wonderful memories of it as a wildlife rehab facility in addition to its educational aspects. Don't people in the area want to celebrate the memory of Virginia Moe and her work for the welfare of wildlife?
We need the unique facility that Trailside has been for the past 70 years; there is nothing that can replace it.