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Wildlife Rehab Center in overdrive after polar vortex

"Our volunteers can be any walk of life. We will take anybody as long as they love animals and don't mind getting dirty."

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Winter is typically when things finally slow down for the unassuming wildlife rescue center off Union Avenue Northeast. 

Peg and Roger Markle, a couple with a passion for rehabbing wild animals, officially opened the Wildlife Rehab Center from their backyard back in 2002. They and their team of volunteers now rehab about 2,500 animals each year. 

It takes about 60 volunteers to ensure all the animals are tended to both morning and night. 

"Nobody gets paid," Allyson Swanson, a 15-year volunteer said on Friday, Feb. 1. "Most of us do our work here and then end up going to work right after."

Swanson became licensed to rehab wild animals several years ago, so she could take in animals on her own time. But, she said a license isn't necessary just to volunteer.

"Our volunteers can be any walk of life. We will take anybody as long as they love animals and don't mind getting dirty."

This year's polar vortex has made for a busier winter season. Swanson said there's not necessarily more animals coming in, but the animals that are coming through their gate are in more serious conditions. 

"We had a opossum frozen to a sidewalk the other day," she said. "It's been ridiculous."

Within a few hours Friday morning, Swanson and the two other volunteers on site took in four different animals.

"We don't have any rescue crews, so we ask the public to intervene," Swanson explained. "Box 'em up, and bring 'em in."

When they get calls about animals that need to be rescued, they call on James Rummelt, owner of R&R Wild Animal Control. 

"I am a big guy, but I'm quick," Rummelt said. 

Rummelt's worked alongside the rehab center for the past 7 years. 

"You name it, I've gotten it pretty much. I got an alligator in Grand Rapids about 5 years ago." 

The Wildlife Rehab Center can be reached at 616-361-6109, and James Rummelt can be reached for rescues at 616-862-3557.

The rehab center will host their annual fundraiser on February 26 at the John Ball Zoo, click here to purchase tickets. If you'd like to donate, visit their website.

Emma Nicolas is a multimedia journalist. Have a news tip or question for Emma? Get in touch by email, Facebook or Twitter.

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