Wildlife rescue outfit treated Zimmerman bear

• Woman who brought dying bear in for treatment accessed little-known rehabilitation services

by Nathan Warner

Contributing writer

A fatally injured bear in Zimmerman last month highlighted the importance of being educated on injured wild animals and the rehabilitation services available to them.

This topic couldn’t be more important for Linda Woodruff, of Zimmerman. She and her husband Tom stumbled upon the bear while on one of their daily walks.

Despite efforts to save this bear found in the Zimmerman area, the cub could not be saved.
Despite efforts to save this bear found in the Zimmerman area, the cub could not be saved.

“He was curled up in a little bed he’d made for himself in the earth, and he was soaking wet,” Linda Woodruff said.

She thought the bear was dead, but at the sound of their approach, the bear raised its head and clicked its jaws together. The Woodruffs realized it was trying to warn them off, but it was so weak, it could barely move.

“We knew then that he was in really bad shape,” she said. “I figured he’d been struck by a vehicle Friday, crawled into our field, and lay there all day in the rain.”

Linda Woodruff has a passion for animals and is a keen wildlife enthusiast. She shows bull terriers professionally, has been a dog groomer for 33 years and is currently a groomer at Little Suzzie’s Pet Parlor in Zimmerman.

The Woodruffs called 911 first, and a dispatcher for the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department patched them through to the Department of Natural Resources. But no one was available to take their call.

Feeling that time was running out for the bear, Linda Woodruff called Dr. Debbie Eskedahl and Dr. Katie Baratto, of the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Organization located in Garrison.

“After walking Dr. Eskedahl through the situation, she gave us instructions and permission to move the bear and bring it in to the clinic,” Linda Woodruff said.

With the help of a neighbor, the Woodruffs managed to push the bear in a kennel, load it into the back of their truck and make their way to Garrison, where the only hope for the bear would be found at the Wild and Free Organization.

A nonprofit rehabilitation clinic for injured wildlife, the Wild and Free Organization is dedicated to educating the public regarding wildlife, their habitats and relieving the pain and suffering of wild animals.

The organization operates out of the Garrison Animal Hospital and is funded primarily through donations.  Baratto said the organization was created to provide services for the large numbers of injured wildlife in the state – a need that she says the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources cannot fulfill alone. The organization is the only licensed bear rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota, Baratto said.

Founded in 1982, by Eskedahl, the organization moved north when she opened the Garrison Animal Hospital in Garrison. Of the animals they see injured every year, bears account for a small portion of them.

“We see four to five bears a year,” Baratto said. “They are mostly orphaned cubs that come into spring malnourished or under weight.”

She said most of the bears are starving and many are injured by cars. In the past 10 to 20 years, the incidents of animals struck by cars have increased rapidly due to increased human population moving into animal habitats, she said. Higher road speeds also account for some injuries, she added.

“I have a 20-mile commute to work every day,” she said, “and I count the road kills I pass every day. Some days, I see nearly 20 animals that have been killed by cars.”

Baratto said that 70-80 percent of the wild animals they see in the clinic are injured by humans in some way. If they aren’t hurt by cars, then rat poison, lead sinkers and power lines can often be blamed.

“Our job is not to change human habits,” Baratto explained. “We’re just trying to do what we can on a case-by-case basis for animals that have been injured.”

In the case of the Woodruffs’ bear, little could be done to save it.

“He had multiple bone fractures that were four to six weeks old, most likely from being hit by a car,” Baratto said, “and his bones were so malnourished, they reacted strangely to treatment.”

In the end, the bear had to be euthanized.

“I’m just glad his last few days were spent without the pain he would have experienced in the wild,” Woodruff said, noting she hopes people take better notice of the wildlife around them so fewer animals suffer like this bear did.

Eskedahl said she wonders why some animal injuries grab the headlines when most go completely uncovered.

“I guess it comes down to how much someone cares about an animal they find, because not everyone cares,” she concluded. “Linda Woodruff cared enough to seek help.”

And she knew who to call.

For Baratto, the Woodruffs are an example of responsible citizens interacting with wildlife through the resources of the Wild and Free Organization.

For more information on wildlife rehabilitation, the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Organization, or to donate to its work, visit www.garrisonanimalhospital.com.