A herring gull that couldn’t fly and his 107 squirrel companions will be among the last to find care during winter at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Gaithersburg.
After taking in more than 3,500 sick, injured or displaced wild animals each year for the past 16 years, Second Chance Wildlife Center must move in less than a year because of health and safety risks at its existing building on Barcellona Drive.
Christine Montuori, founder and executive director of the nonprofit, said it’s hard to leave the circa-1900 farmhouse and 9.77 wooded acres.
“I like this building,” she said, pausing and shrugging. “I fell in love with it when I first saw it.”
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has leased the property to the organization since 1996; the land was donated to the parks department in 1969 by George R. Carson, who had run the Carson Farm on his 52-acre property.
The department has been working with the organization to help it find a new place, but if it isn’t nearby, it would be a costly change, board President Frank Howard said.
The support that the organization has built during the years would need to be re-established elsewhere. Volunteers, most of whom live close to the center, might be unwilling to drive elsewhere, Howard said.
“Everybody around here loves the Second Chance location,” Howard said. “But the farmhouse is falling down around us, and we have to move.”
Second Chance’s work is crucial to wildlife rehabilitation in Maryland, said Roxy Brandenburg, president of the Maryland Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. It is one of fewer than five certified wildlife rehabilitation centers in the state and one of the largest, she said.
It takes any small mammal — such as beavers and squirrels — as well as reptiles and birds, while many rehabilitators only take a certain type of animal.
“We need Second Chance,” Brandenburg said. “I don’t care where they are located. We need them.”
The organization received a letter from the parks department in October that explained the building has overly stressed floor joints, insect-infested support beams, a plumbing system in need of an overhaul, a presence of asbestos and lead, an outdated and dangerous electrical system and more problems.
The septic system is “a ticking time bomb,” said Kate Stookey, chief of public affairs and community partnerships for the parks department.
Because the farmland is in the Upper Rock Creek Special Protection Area, there will be no rebuilding on the land, she said.
Second Chance is hoping for a new place that is more than five acres, away from ball fields and not in a residential neighborhood, Howard said.
Second Chance has a building fund of about $200,000, he said.
The organization’s current budget is $288,000, but it is running a deficit because of a lack of donations, Howard said.
The number of legitimate wildlife rehabilitators in the state has steadily decreased in the past 10 years because of aging caretakers and the inability for them to garner donations in a tough economy, Brandenburg said. She added that three of her friends, all rehabilitators, died in the past two years.
For now, the center still is filled with the sounds of birds cooing as their broken wings mend, as well as squirrels scampering about. The center has about 100 squirrels more than usual for this time of year, because many of them were displaced by Hurricane Irene in October.
Howard recently wrote a letter to supporters of the center that states he hopes landowners will come forward to offer their land or building space at a discounted rate.
“Think of the feeling you would have by leaving such a legacy, not only for your immediate family but also to the entire community,” he wrote.