Gretchen Strate had always loved animals but witnessing a terrifying incident inspired a far deeper connection to them, one that would change her life forever. On her way to a wedding reception, Gretchen watched as a car in front of her intentionally ran over a flock of geese. Horrified, she stopped her car, picked up an injured goose and raced to the Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release exam room at the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota. Moved by the swift response to help this animal, she asked to volunteer and would go on to work in animal transport, education, outreach and eventually, serve on the Board of Directors. Gretchen’s immediate and heartfelt response is a stunning illustration of compassion in action. That love, passion and drive continue to weave their way through her work.
Today, Gretchen works with Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release Wildlife Rescue Team, a wildlife organization supporting rehabilitation through education, recruitment and direct rehabilitative support, where she’s had a tremendous impact. Gretchen noticed an important gap in local services; while the community had wildlife clinics and private rehabilitation spaces that provided care, they did not offer services for capturing injured and sick wildlife. For example, if you found a fox in your yard that had been hurt, you might not know what to do, how to keep both you and the animal safe or who to call for help.
Driven by a desire to provide assistance and compassionate care for wildlife animals in need of help and support the local community, Gretchen developed a plan to create a trained and equipped volunteer Wildlife Rescue Team that would rescue and transport injured and sick wildlife that people might not be able to safely capture on their own. In addition, Gretchen wanted to provide outreach, education about wildlife species and information about conservation issues to the community.
“Conservation is so important but it’s often focused on populations as opposed to individual wildlife animals. When it comes to individuals, some say let nature take its course but many of the injuries and illnesses that wildlife experience are not the result of “natural causes” but rather the result of anthropogenic threats. I believe in the value of each individual animal and the importance of providing assistance because nonhuman animals are also sentient, have emotions, and can suffer and feel pain. It’s not just working with the animals – which I love – but in being a part of a rescue team, there’s a lot of interaction with the public and I see how many people want to help. It’s encouraging to see the love and respect people have for wildlife,” said Gretchen.
The Pollination Project grant allowed her to bring her dream to life. Gretchen built a team – the first rescue team in the state of Minnesota solely dedicated to rescuing wildlife. In addition, they purchased nets, bite proof gloves, kennels and safety vests. “We are a very small organization so the The Pollination Project grant was so helpful. We are very, very grateful,” said Gretchen.
Since their official start in June 2021, the team has been deployed 81 times and they’ve grown from 4 volunteers to 15 with a hope for further expansion as they were stretched a bit thin in the summer – the busiest time of their year. While winter can be a slower season, they have recently received calls about water fowl with broken wings, including one that led to their first winter kayak rescue. A swan with a wing abrasion and broken foot was in need of help. Navigating an icy area in a kayak on a 13 degree day brings about many safety concerns. However, this team was able to overcome every challenge and successfully rescue the water fowl that is now in rehabilitation.
No matter what obstacles they face, this team continues to navigate the world – just like that icy water – with courage, determination and heart. As Gretchen continues to grow the team, there is no doubt that they will not only help wildlife, they’ll educate the public on the importance of caring for individual wildlife animals and the ripple effect of that work will be endless.