The Rescuers

This is an excerpt from the article “The Rescuers,” which is available in full in the August issue of Grand Rapids Magazine.

Peg Markle sat at a glass-top patio table on the wooden deck outside what is both her home and the site for Wildlife Rehab Center, 1504 Union Ave. NE. Sporting a pink T-shirt beneath an unbuttoned blue-on-blue shirt, Markle, the WRC executive director, was within reach of her coffee and her cordless phone, which seemed to ring every 10 minutes.

Beside her sat Allyson Swanson, assistant to the director and volunteer with the organization for 15 years, who was relentlessly texting, trying to find someone to pick up a litter of baby opossums in Saranac. The person who shot the opossums’ mother called earlier in the morning, feeling guilty enough to make the call, but not enough to retrieve the babies and bring them in.

“They said they thought the mother was trying to get in their house,” Swanson said, shaking her head and fighting the clock. The babies still are in the dead mother’s pouches, and depending on how old they are, may need feeding every two hours.

Wildlife Rehab Center
Wildlife Rehab Center

Opossums are a favorite of Swanson’s, who brought an injured opossum named Forest to join the conversation, holding him on her lap.

Markle and her husband Roger established the wildlife rehabilitation center “about 30 years ago,” she said, unsure of an exact date. “A long time ago, we had vets who were friends and they’d get an injured squirrel or something. We were just doing stuff on the side and then decided we better get a license to do this. This was in the ’80s,” Markle said. “You have to take a set of classes and you have to work with a vet, and when you apply for your license, it has to be signed by a vet who’s willing to work with you.”

Just as I swept away fresh, green debris that fell onto my laptop from the mammoth black walnut tree that canopies much of the yard — “That tree is 200 years old,” Markle noted — a volunteer came rushing up to us, her hands cupped together, holding a just-hatched duckling.

“This is Charlie!” she announced, smiling and giddy.

Swanson stepped away from the table to see the wet newborn and then said, “We name the eggs. This duckling hatched out of the egg we named Charlie before he was born.”

Charlie is one of about 400 animals currently being rehabilitated at WRC, according to Markle’s estimation. Her dedication to caring for the 2,500 or more animals they take in each year is unending.

To read the full article pick up a copy of the August issue of Grand Rapids Magazine on newsstands now.

*Photos by Michael Buck

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