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Flash flooding sends Wildlife Rescue Center staff scrambling to rescue animals

BALLWIN, Mo. - An organization that has helped hundreds of wild animals displaced by flooding this year was hit by flash flooding itself after heavy rain fell Wednesday afternoon. Volunteers with the Wildlife Rescue Center are working overtime to clean up before the group's annual open house this weekend.

Kim Rutledge, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rescue Center, said rain typically flows into Kiefer Creek and into the lake on the property. The facility was built in Ballwin in 1999.

"This has not happened in the 20 years that the building has been here," Rutledge said.

As volunteers scrambled to stop the water from flowing through the front door, Rutledge rushed outside to check on the animals. She said there was nearly a foot of flowing, muddy water in an enclosure that housed a young mink.

"There were only a couple of things that were up above the water, so at that point, we didn't know if it was already too late," she said.

Fortunately, the mink was located, caught, and moved to safety inside. Rescuers moved to the next enclosure with five box turtles.

All of the animals survived and no staff or volunteers were injured. In addition to the clean up inside the building, several outside enclosures have to be reinforced and most substrates replaced.

Native wild animals treated at the Wildlife Rescue Center are sick, injured, or orphaned. This year's flooding has forced countless animals from their homes, and, according to Rutledge, they are on the move searching for a safe place, which means more encounters with people.

Rutledge encourages people to keep a distance from wild animals but to enjoy the opportunity to watch them.

"If it's a situation where the animal seems to be perfectly healthy and not injured, probably nothing needs to be done," she said.

The Wildlife Rescue Center treats approximately 3,000 wild animals each year. At its peak this year, there were 450 animals at the center including a record number of turtles. At the time of the flash flood, there were more than 200 animals being treated at the center. Based on yearly trends, Rutledge expects that number to spike soon with baby animals.

The Wildlife Rescue Center operates entirely on donations. There are six full-time staff members, a few part-time employees, and about 150 volunteers. It costs about $400,000 to operate the rescue annually.

The Wildlife Rescue Center (1128 New Ballwin Road) is hosting an open house on Sunday, July 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People interested in attending are asked to register at www.mowildlife.org.

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