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Three weeks after Piedmont Wildlife Center closed its clinic, questions are emerging about its finances and its importance in the local wildlife rehabilitation community.

Piedmont's funding, significance questioned 

Three weeks after Piedmont Wildlife Center closed its clinic, questions are emerging about its finances and its importance in the local wildlife rehabilitation community. (See "Financial woes prompt wildlife clinic to close early," July 8.)

PWC Executive Director Gail Abrams cited "drastic reductions" in government funding as a primary reason for the clinic's closing. However, Wake County Community Services Manger Tim Maloney told the Indy that PWC, which received $20,000 from the county in each of the last two funding cycles, did not reapply for funding for 2009-10.

Meanwhile, Orange County gave PWC $17,000 for the next fiscal year, only $3,000 less than previous appropriations.

Only Durham County chose not to fund PWC; it hasn't done so for two years.

Click for larger image • Staff sent birds and turtles to other centers when the hospital closed. (Pictured is the administration building.) - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

Abrams said PWC was advised against reapplying by Wake County Community Services Project Manager Johanna Foster because "they are focusing on new service organizations right now."

The Orange County Board of Commissioners opted to give PWC $17,000, overruling the county Human Services Advisory Commission's recommendation to halve PWC's request to $10,000. The advisory commission was concerned that the county was carrying a disproportionate share of expenses when PWC's services benefited the entire Triangle, said Assistant Orange County Manager Gwen Harvey.

After receiving PWC's year-end report, Harvey said, the advisory commission "saw PWC services as being less critical than other human service endeavors being evaluated for funding."

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said the board OK'd the $17,000 based on the county staff's recommendation. The board was also uncomfortable allowing the Human Services Advisory Commission to review PWC, which is not a human service, he said.

However, now that PWC has closed its rehabilitation clinic, which, with education, is its primary mission, county commissioners would reassess the funding for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

"After we adopted the budget, PWC made internal adjustments which we hope will lead to a higher level of service and education," Jacobs said. "But it [the closing] does change several factors, and we'll have to look at this next year."

Cindy Bailey, director of Durham County Animal Control, says the county didn't fund PWC because the center duplicated animal control's services. "Before Piedmont's clinic opened, we had years of wildlife issues, and we had to develop solutions on our own," said Bailey. "The county built relationships with a network of rehabbers who have access to medical care and will respond to our calls."

Bailey said PWC was inadequately staffed to rescue injured wildlife in Durham County. Instead, she said she relies on rehabbers such as Kindra Mammone, executive director of the Orange County-based nonprofit Creative Learning About Wildlife Species (CLAWS).

CLAWS doesn't receive government funding and is staffed solely by volunteers.

Drew Cummings, assistant Durham County manager for special projects, said PWC's application scored lower than the existing or new non-profits the county commissioners reviewed. "We have a group of volunteers who are willing at a moments notice to go out to where the wildlife is found," said Cummings. "With the PWC hospital, you had to take the animals to them, and they were then farming them out to the same network of wildlife rehabilitators that we could call right away."

Durham hasn't funded PWC since 2007, when county commissioners gave it $5,000.

Cummings said the county also questioned funding PWC because of staff turnover, including the firing of former PWC veterinarian Cheryl Hoggard in December 2008. PWC hired a new part-time veterinarian in May, but she was laid off in June. Eight of 11 PWC board members have resigned within the last two months.

"There was difficulty in utilizing the clinic," Cummings said. "Working with Durham animal control we've found it to be much more efficient and cost-effective not only for the county, but citizens who might have brought an animal to the clinic and left a donation, only to have the animal picked up by a rehabber from our N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission list."

According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, there are more than 80 rehabilitators in the Triangle.

Mammone said that for the past year PWC had not been providing rehabilitation services to small animals. Last year, Mammone said, she picked up more than 100 hundred animals from the PWC clinic that it could not care for due to license or permit restrictions.

In a June press release, Abrams noted the clinic had treated more than 12,000 animals in the last six years, with a 50 percent release rate. Steve Stone, executive director of Raleigh-based American Wildlife Refuge, questioned the 12,000 figure in light of how many local rehabilitators, such as Mammone, were picking up animals from the clinic to rehabilitate in their homes.

Abrams said the 12,000 figure represents animals served exclusively in the clinic. "I don't have precise numbers," she said, "but I think that number is close."

George Webb, a longtime wildlife rehabber, said that over the last several years he received numerous calls from the clinic to pick up animals. Webb says he paid for the veterinary expenses and did not receive any money from PWC.

Area licensed wildlife rehabilitators expressed concern over PWC's public statements issued after the clinic closed. "It was a false statement to claim that the wildlife would suffer," said Bailey of Durham County animal control. "I can assure you, the network of rehabbers I know and work with have not let one injured or orphaned wildlife animal suffer."

To find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area, go to www.ncwildlife.org.

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