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Trailside animal rehab shifts to private hands

Thursday, December 29, 2005
River Forest River Leaves
by Holly M. Anerderson

Beginning with the new year Saturday, River Forest's Trailside Museum will refer those who find injured wild animals to private rehabilitators for care.

"People will still be calling us and we keep a list of private rehabilitators that are licensed with the state," museum Director Jim Chelsvig said. "We will be able to provide people with the names and numbers of rehabilitators who are close in location to them."

Chelsvig said his list includes a rehabilitator in River Forest and another in Oak Park.

"These are people in private practice, who do it out of there home," he said.

If an animal appears to be near death and a person bring the animal to Trailside, Chelsvig said he won't turn the person away. If a resident calls Trailside to report an injured animal, even if it's near death, Chelsvig said staff will refer the caller to a private rehabilitator.

"If someone shows up with something that is about to die we won't turn them away," he said. "If the animal is clearly suffering we may euthanize it."

The Cook County Forest Preserve's new budget eliminates animal rehabilitation services at its Trailside Museum, which had provided it for decades. Cook County Board President John Stroger intends to make the museum, a "full-service nature center" rather than a rehabilitation facility, spokesman Steve Mayberry said.

The museum, located at Thatcher and Chicago avenues, features displays on native flora and fauna as well as live animals, some kept in outdoor cages.

"We have been cutting back over the years," Chelsvig said. "Jan. 1 we will no longer be accepting animals."

Chelsvig said Trailside staff will continue to accept calls from people with questions about wild animals.

"That we do a lot of," he said. "We do a pretty serious interview to find out if the animal is going through normal animal behavior. A fledgling bird is one example. If a baby bird is on the ground and having trouble flying and the cat's going to get it, yeah maybe, but that's not a good reason to take it away from its mother.

"We will continue to do that. That's still part of our educational mission. When people call we will take the time and give them advice."

Cook County Forest Preserve Commissioner Pete Silvestri said he's disappointed with the change at Trailside.

"This is a facility that has been particularly a rehabilitation center since 1937," Silvestri said. "I'm disappointed."

Silvestri said he and a group of community activist have worked for years to develop a public/private partnership.

"The forest preserve administration was party to those discussions," he said. "The president's office rejected the idea. We talked about hiring a part-time vet. The administration rejected it for liability and financial reasons."

Silvestri said a rehabilitation center should be included in the plan to transform Trailside into an educational facility.

"People identified with the facility as a rehabilitation center," he said. "In 1989, the board authorized an addition for rehabilitation. I'm not opposed to it being an educational facility, but I think the proposal could have included a rehabilitation component."

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