Articles and Media

A Visit to Greenwod

by Colleen M. Quinn

Peekaboo Racoon Standing among large cages behind the newly renovated Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Art Gneiser admires the raccoons that tumble along their playgrounds of logs and boxes.

“I never even had an idea that this program would get this big,” he says with a smile on his face.

As president of Greenwood’s board of directors, Art puts in time at the center not just administratively, but his real enjoyment comes from working with the animals.

For those on the outside, the rehabilitation center is doing great things by rehabilitating local wildlife and promoting public education on the subject. For Art, Greenwood is a proud achievement of many volunteers and a bright tradition in memory of his daughter Natalie. On an evening in 1983, Natalie was attempting to rescue an injured animal from a roadside in Boulder, Colorado, when she was struck and killed by a car. To honor his daughter, Art gave donation from Natalie’s funeral to the Boulder Humane Society, and the funds were used to grow a fledgling rehabilitation program.

Named the Natalie Gneiser Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, this organization worked with the Humane Society until 1993, when the center became its own entity. The name was changed to Greenwood and in 1997 moved to an area of land off of Highway 66, between Lyons and Longmont, Colorado. This last February, Greenwood underwent another change, moving into a brand new facility with offices and rooms for animals. The bigger digs were a much needed change; last year, Greenwood received more than 2,400 animals in their former facility of two temporary trailers.

Greenwood’s new facility along Highway 66 is an unassuming building, surrounded by leafy trees and neighboring pastures of cows. It’s represented by a Greenwood sign with signature raccoon emblem, although driving it’s easy to miss it altogether. And that’s just the way it should be, says Linda Tyler, Greenwood’s executive director.

“We actually don’t publish our address,” she says. “We really want people to call us first [before bringing in animals]; we need them to know if the animal really needs to be rescued.”

Art says that of the number of callers Greenwood speaks to every day, about half don’t really need to bring in the animals they’ve found. More often than not, wild animals are capable of taking care of themselves, even if injured or lost. Rescuing a wild animal is not the same as rescuing a stray dog, says Linda. There could be many reasons why a baby animal is alone, or why a fox looks like it is limping. Mother deer often leave their young alone in tall grass while they graze nearby, so a fawn by itself isn’t necessarily lost or abandoned. That’s why it’s so important to call first before even attempting to rescue the animal, says Linda.

“We do a lot of education by phone – each call usually takes about 10 or 15 minutes,” she says.

“Education is a very important part of our job,” adds Art. In addition to being an actual hospital for animals, Greenwood is also a wealth of information about wildlife. On its website,, there is advice on how to tell whether an animal is in actual danger, what to do, and tips for reducing human-wildlife contact.

Educating the public about wildlife also helps people to help Greenwood, by learning how to live with wildlife. An animal that makes a regular appearance in near someone’s house isn’t necessarily a nuisance, but rather an important part of a complex ecosystem. A fox for instance, doesn’t need to be relocated or taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center simply because it often crosses the lawn. It’s probably hunting pesky rodents that could become unwanted guests in nearby houses.

In the spirit of education and knowledge, Greenwood also offers presentations on wildlife for schools, scout troops, and clubs. Getting the word out and educating the public are some of Greenwood’s main goals, says Art. However, the center does not use any live wildlife in their presentations. This is because it is important for people to realize that wild animals are not pets and don’t belong in captivity.

Greenwood believes that less human contact is better for wild animals. Independence from and fear of humans is necessary for an animal living in the wild. For this reason, regular tours aren’t held at the center, save for a rare and brief walk-through. The health and safety of the animal patients are the main priorities behind Greenwood’s front doors. Animals received at the center are treated as appropriately and quickly as possible, so they can return to the wild sooner.

“Educating people helps limit the number of animals we take in,” says Linda. While Greenwood is one of the largest rehabilitation centers in Colorado, resources are limited for the nonprofit center. Depending on their size and condition on arrival, cost ranges anywhere from $200 to $900 or more for rehabilitation of an animal,. One hungry bird ate $40 worth of fish each day it spent with Greenwood.

Greenwood is also limited in the kinds of animals it can take in. Coyotes are the largest mammals that Greenwood can accept, and bird of prey and reptiles have certain needs the center can’t always meet.

“We had someone bring in a young bobcat,” Linda says. “It was too big for us. Bobcats also eat rabbits, and we rehabilitate rabbits, which is a real conflict of interest.”

For this reason, Greenwood is a very well-connected center in contact with various centers across Colorado. Birds of prey are sent to a raptor program in Longmont while reptiles are transferred to the Reptile Rescue Program.

The brand new facilities at Greenwood are first-rate in terms of animal hospitalization and care. The triage room is where animals are first brought and assessed by medical staff. There is also an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where urgent medications are often administered, and the care of small mammals takes place. The ICU is where animals that need more attention than others are looked after. Last month, Greenwood took in 53 baby and fledgling birds that had been taken from their nests by local kids. Unfortunately, many didn’t survive due to their very young age, but those that remained required an almost constant feeding schedule.

Another animal that requires lots of attention is the raccoon; at Greenwood, there is a room designated just for baby raccoons. Housed in small, cozy cages with little fleece swings and nests, these raccoons need the comfort of a parent figure, even if that figure is a human volunteer. As they grow older, they’re weaned from human contact, but at this age they enjoy lazing about like kids on summer break. Newly-made messes of food and water are everywhere.

“They’re just learning how to wash their food,” says Art.

In another room, small containers and cages hold very young birds that can’t fly or still need to be hand-fed. There are robins, flickers, and magpies, among many others. Tiny infant robins get lunch from a miniscule syringe. Linda says that baby birds need to be fed a specific way – by coaxing their mouths open – otherwise they’ll easily choke. In a separate, darkened room is a group of baby ducks that recently lost their mother to a raptor. They arrived at Greenwood in egg-form, but within 24 hours they had hatched and provided staff with five more mouths to feed.

Greenwood’s kitchen is perhaps the most unusual in the area. Minced berries are served up alongside small fish and mealworms, both of which are alive and wriggling. There is a staggering variety of appetites to satisfy. A recently rescued loon consumed an astounding 200 to 300 fish per day.

“That was one thing I had to get used to around here, mealworms and goldfish instead of kibble,” says Linda who recently came to Greenwood from the Boulder Humane Society.

Outside in the back, there is an impressive display of acrobatics going on. Raccoons and squirrels are the main residents of large outdoor containment areas. These animals are a bit older than those inside and are almost ready to return to the wild. Outdoor cages help animals make the transition to a new living environment before they’re totally on their own.

The older raccoons have personalities and attitudes that are almost too big for their cages. Growling and grumbling, they play rough and tumble games over their food dishes. The bravado seems to be just talk and they go from scrabbling with each other to cozying embraces in seconds. Their cages are veritable playgrounds with wood climbing structures, boxes for nests, and kiddy pools.

Another containment area is veiled with dark netting and the inhabitants are hardly visible to outside observers. Beyond the netting and chain link is another group of older ducklings still with soft tufts of baby down. Nearby are a couple of very long cages, about thirty or forty feet long and ten feet high. Covered with the same black netting, these are the flight cages for the smaller birds of Greenwood. Once the young birds in the bird care room are big enough, they graduate to the flight cages where they learn to fly. They spend a week or so in the flight cages before they’re caught with nets by volunteers and taken to a release site.

In the shelter of trees in the corner of Greenwood’s backyard, squirrels and rabbits are housed in shade and quiet. While the squirrels watch curiously from their perches, the rabbits hide out in dens made of crates and blankets. Linda explains that the rabbits especially need peace and quiet. They are easily frightened and can actually die from stress.

“Rabbits are some of the hardest animals to care for because they’re so sensitive,” Linda says.

Directly behind the Greenwood building, new construction is taking place. They are the beginnings of new waterfowl facilities and look a little like giraffe stalls one would see at the zoo. The floors are graduated pools with a water system for easier cleaning and the ceilings are high enough for young birds still practicing their flying.

These facilities may seem almost like luxurious raccoon condos and blue jay lofts, but each patient at Greenwood is on a track for release at the end of their treatment. Releasing an animal back into the wild requires a lot of preparation for the volunteers at Greenwood.

“We’re required to release an animal within 10 miles from where it was found,” says Linda, no matter how far off that location may be.

In addition to finding an appropriate environment for the animal, permission for release is required if the land is on private property. While some homeowners would balk at the idea of a raccoon or coyote released nearby, it’s a great way to sustain the beautiful ecosystem Colorado is known for. Greenwood offers a release program whereby property owners can apply to have a release happen on their property. Keeping this ecosystem healthy means happier, and less intrusive, wildlife.

For those who don’t have appropriate property for a release, there are still many opportunities to help the animals of Greenwood. The center is run almost entirely by a network of volunteers who do everything from treating and caring for the animals, to cleaning out cages and keeping up on the paperwork. The Greenwood Thrift Store, located at 30th and Walnut in Boulder, offers great shopping and prices. There are also opportunities to sponsor an animal currently being cared for. In return for supporting an animal’s care monetarily, a sponsor receives a photo and information about the animal and a one-year membership with Greenwood, which includes a subscription to the bi-yearly newsletter.

Greenwood will be holding its premier fundraiser, Wild Night for Wildlife, this coming October at the Millennium Harvest House in Boulder. The event plans to be a success, with a three-course dinner, silent and live auctions, and samplings from local breweries and wineries. There is also the chance to bid on vacation stays in Maui, Telluride, and Beaver Creek – who knew that helping animals could also mean skiing in fresh powder or basking on a beach?

The future looks very bright for Greenwood. It’s well on its way to topping last year’s number of animals helped, and its work has landed it in the Boston Globe and the New York Times with its recent rescue of a multitude of baby birds. Greenwood’s mission of rehabilitation for wildlife continues to grow stronger each day.

As Art writes in Greenwood’s 2008 annual report, “I personally am committed to making sure my daughter’s legacy continues to be an exemplary rehabilitation center, getting better and better as we move toward the second decade of the 21st century.”

And if Greenwood’s past and current success is any indication, this is a promise that will surely be kept.

About Colleen Quinn

Colleen QuinnColleen Quinn graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Mass Communication. A writer for most of her life, she has been writing for for over two years. In that time, she’s had the opportunity to meet with many practitioners and masters of the healing arts. Using her years of customer service experience and time as an intern reporter, Colleen provides a unique means of expression for each practitioner she meets. She believes that honest interest and open ears are paramount for learning and understanding the world around us. Through her writing, Colleen offers readers a valuable insight into the work of those who are doing so much to help others.