by Brenda Malinics
The closing of the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehab Center, Philadelphia’s only “full service” rehab center in the tri-county area, makes many hearts heavy. As someone who has been a volunteer at the center for the past 30 years, I would like to share my personal observations/experiences of what has occurred between the Wildlife Rehab Center and its “parent” the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.
Founded as The Schuylkill Valley Nature Center, its mission was to be an oasis of green in a crowded urban environment. Its primary emphasis was on preserving natural habitat, and its secondary emphasis was on environmental education.
I worked closely with Dick James, the original executive director who served for more than 30 years. Dick had the ethics, morals and guts to fight for the mission of the Nature Center. Dick put education, the environment and animals before status, politics and money.
Under Dick, the original 11 acres expanded to 360 acres. A wildlife rehab center was founded; teacher’s programs were begun, including new ways to impart the joy and love of our environment to the student. The center was Dick’s passion, and he created many ways to share it with the public.
When Dick left his post due to illness, things began to change. The name was modified to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, small parcels of land were sold, deer hunts were begun, a charter school was started, which meant closing the library, closing the gift store, ending the mission of EcoVan, re-zoning easements, restructuring physical plant and closing the doors to all the nature clubs.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center continued to operate 365 days of the year, treating an average of 4,000 animals a year – free of charge. The center relinquished its rehab license to individuals who now needed their own rehab licensing. Wildlife rehabbers are hard to find – there is no incentive to become one other than the love of animals – it is physically and emotionally exhausting, one must deal with the public, and there is little financial reward. There is no state or county financial support, and most rehabbers survive exclusively on donations.,
Rick Schubert, a licensed rehabber, was hired and successfully ran the clinic for 13 years, treating more than 80,000 animals during his career. He created one of the most vibrant, successful volunteer programs in the city.
Operations became turbulent, however, when a lawsuit was filed by a SCEE employee, Mark Tinneny. Mark sued the Schuylkill Center when, according to court filings, he was harassed by a board member and subjected to retaliation and firing after reporting this abuse.
Meanwhile Rick Shubert, the rehabber, and other employees, were summoned to testify in the Mark Tinneny case. The information was damaging to SCEE, and the center settled with Mr. Tinneny. As a result, Rick suspected that he was in danger of a retaliation firing because of his truthful testimony. He filed his own EEOC report months before he was ultimately fired.
During his tenure, Rick and his volunteers kept the clinic running. They brought in food and supplies on a daily basis; they planned and purchased materials to build the outer cages and buildings for the animals. It was the volunteers who breathed life into the Wildlife Center, which could not have survived without them. But after Rick’s firing, several employees quit in protest and more than 50 volunteers including two veterinarians wrote letters of resignation to the SCEE board.
The volunteers were always loyal to Rick, a man who slept in the building overnight when the weather was unsafe for volunteers to drive. Rick stayed late and took home the countless babies that needed feedings throughout the night. Rick did not take a vacation for 13 years. Rick regularly worked 70- to-80-hour weeks, with no overtime compensation to keep the understaffed clinic functioning. Rick fought the fight for 13 years.
The Wildlife Center now sits empty of living creatures. It is a facility ready to help save animals, but it is devoid of staff. While it is closed, animals still get sick, orphaned, hit by cars, caught by predators, and have nowhere in Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties to go for help. If animals are such a critical part of the SCEE mission, why was there not a long-term plan in place to continue their necessary and ongoing care after firing Rick, especially during the start of baby season – the busiest season at the Wildlife Center?
Rick and many of the volunteers have now created a new rehab center: Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center. There is a steering committee and a board. Plans will soon be announced about a new location. All the animals and patients that were under Rick’s care at the time of his firing are safe and with other licensed rehabbers. Rick won’t be stopped from continuing and caring for the animals he loves.
If anyone would like to help support the new wildlife rehabilitation clinic, please go to the 501(c)(3) umbrella organization Wildlife Rehabilitation Support of PA (WRSPA,) and designate your tax-deductible donation to Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Clinic. WRSPA is committed to helping Rick and his team rebuild and get on with the business of saving injured, orphaned and sick wildlife.
If you would like to direct your prior donation from the SCEE to the new WRSP in support of Rick, please visit https://www.wrspa.org/take-action/ and note that it is for the Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Clinic.