Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Keith Burris


Healer builds refuge for the wounded

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    Mona Rutger, shown working with a barred owl, runs ‘‍Back to the Wild,’ a nature hospital for rare and exotic creatures that have been injured.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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CASTALIA, Ohio — A few weeks ago I was following Marcy Kaptur around for a few days. The idea was to find out what a member of Congress does on a typical day back home in the district and maybe to learn more about this remarkable woman who has represented Toledo for a generation.

I learned that a member of Congress has to change hats, and subjects, constantly — like an actor doing improvisation. And Marcy is very good at this.

I also learned that the lawmaker has several ongoing passions — the Great Lakes, agriculture, urban agriculture, Ukraine, her Catholic faith, to name a few. She also loves animals, including injured and endangered ones.

She asked me if I would like to go with her to Castalia to meet Mona Rutger. Marcy’s aides told me Mona is a lady who takes in injured animals and returns them to the wild. “Sure,” I said.

I didn’t expect much. Maybe a photo op for the representative.

I could not have been more wrong. I imagined a little old lady with some feral cats and an injured raccoon in her garage. I found something much more serious and substantial than that. It is called “Back to the Wild,” and it is a thoroughly professional and scientific nature hospital for rare and exotic creatures that have been injured, often by men in their stupidity.

Mona is, officially, an “animal rehabilitator.” And this place she runs — just she and her husband, Bill, and a tiny staff, plus some volunteers — she calls “a wildlife rehabilitation and nature education center.” It is all that and more.

I saw hawks, eagles, bobcats, and all manner of bird and beasts. Everything from butterflies, to owls, to turtles, to swans. Injured, and quite literally in training for their return. There is a “raptor flight cage,” for example, where the eagles rehab and recondition. It’s amazing.

The goal is to get all the “guests” back to nature, though some, like a couple of the bobcats, have been declawed and are so badly injured they can never go back.

Mona has been featured on CNN as “an American hero,” and that she is. She brims with passion. She did all this herself. And nothing has been able to stop her. She is not supported by government or corporate grants, but only by small, private donors. Finances are a constant struggle. Always have been. She lives with it. Most recently, she lost her supply of rodents — for food. That caused a sudden $80,000 shortfall.

Ms. Rutger has become the the leading wildlife educator in northwest Ohio, and the school visits are constant, but even the schools do not support Back to the Wild on a systematic or sustained basis.

The place is a kind of inexplicable miracle.

And Mona a modern Dr. Doolittle.

But, really, that comparison is a disservice. Mona Rutger is an American original — one of those people for whom there is no metaphor. What she is doing is unique. Her facility is unique. And she is unique. This lady and her creation need a film crew to document them, because words cannot describe some of the creatures — the eagles were breathtaking — she takes in and heals.

How did it happen? She started with a passion, and compassion, for wounded animals, she says, and the thing just grew.

She’s had to get constant training through the years, and the facility must meet rigorous federal standards for safety and cleanliness.

There was no photo-op here. No press conference. Marcy came to see one person — Mona. And what she was doing to return some animals to their natural habitats.

And Mona was not lobbying Marcy for funding or any kind of help.

This was an afternoon with two dedicated, driven women.

There is no one I can compare either of them to — one is her own model of how to be a public servant, the other of how to be a modern St. Francis.

Beautiful and amazing stories exist, even amid the gore and burlesque of cable and Internet chatter. But you have to keep your eyes open.

To learn more, schedule a visit, or support Back to the Wild, go to or phone 419-684-9539.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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