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Minnesota wildlife hospital, one of the world’s busiest, plans expansion

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One of the world’s busiest wildlife hospitals is located in a cramped building in a Roseville park, taking in nearly 20,000 patients a year from sleepy-eyed cottontails to majestic trumpeter swans.

After 20 years, it’s run out of space.

The nonprofit Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has purchased 22 acres in the Washington County city of Grant, with ambitious blueprints to spread its wings and build an environmentally friendly, $14 million campus focused on rehabilitation and orphaned wild animals, including raising 2,000 ducklings each spring.

“We always thought we needed a rehabilitation campus for our injured and orphaned young patients in the summertime,” said Executive Director Phil Jenni. “There is the emergency veterinary clinic, but most of our business, frankly, is the summer nursery business: baby bunnies, baby squirrels, baby ducklings. All of those things that aren’t necessarily injured, but they need help.”

The nonprofit will continue to operate its Roseville veterinary hospital, where all patients will be initially admitted and evaluated. Renee Schott, a veterinarian and the center’s wildlife director, said the additional space is desperately needed and will raise the standard of care for all patients. Currently, staff members are using every “nook and cranny” of the Roseville building and have space off-site for ducklings, she said.

“Having a new campus will help our healthy young patients grow up in a more wild environment. Right now, we are smack in the middle of the city,” Schott said. “It will also give them the space they need to grow and get away from our sick and ill patients.”

Founded in 1979 as a student club at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, the center opened its Roseville location in 2003. The organization now has a $2.3 million annual budget and admits as many as 250 animals a day during busy months.

Eight veterinarians, more than 30 other staff members, 70 student interns and 600 volunteers provide care, which includes X-raying and setting broken bones, administering medications, testing for lead poisoning and other toxins and nurturing youngsters. Animals are released back into the wild near where they were first found.

The center has treated 200 species of animals, according to its records. While most are common to Minnesota and are not in peril, Jenni said the organization’s mission is fueled by a love of nature and a deep sense of compassion.

“People appreciate natural resources here and they appreciate wild animals,” he said. “It’s a way for them to act on values. It’s almost a secular religion. Who do we want to be as people and what kind of world do we want our kids to live in?”

Members of the public, as well as animal control officers, can drop off injured and orphaned animals free of charge. Families regularly come in together to drop off animals, Jenni said.

“The parents often say to us, ‘Thank you so much for having this place where I can model compassion and kindness to my kids,’ ” he said.

Jenni, 68, will step down as executive director at the end of the year after 20 years on the job, then serve as project manager for the Grant facility before retiring. The role will include fundraising and planning, with the goal of completing the campus in 2024.

Being good environmental stewards is a top priority, so the nonprofit is installing a state-of-the-art closed water filtration system, which will capture rainwater to fill 56 in-ground ponds needed to raise 2,000 ducklings each spring. That will take 165,000 gallons of water.

The system will allow water to be filtered and reused, keeping patients healthy and protecting natural resources.

“The highest level of design is for the ducklings,” Jenni said. “That water has to be cleaned every day.”

The facility will also have air filtration systems and geothermal heating and cooling technology. There are already outdoor cages in place for raccoons, squirrels and birds, positioned near the center of the property and out of sight of neighbors and passersby. The campus will not be open to the public.

“We want to be a positive part of the community,” Schott said. “We want to be flying under the radar as much as possible.”

The city of Grant approved a conditional use permit for the campus in 2020, despite some hand-wringing from neighbors about the possibility of increased traffic and other changes to the rural community.

“The city has received no complaints,” said Mayor Jeff Huber. “I think they’ve been a good neighbor.”

The project also has approval from the Rice Creek Watershed District, Jenni said.

The nonprofit has already invested $2.5 million in the property, he said. The next challenge is completing fundraising — a goal the organization is aiming to reach by spring of 2024, having secured a major donor.

With patient admissions up more than 34% during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re hopeful the compassion for their work will continue to grow.

“We want to get everyone excited about this,” Jenni said.



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Foundations invest $6 million into new fund to support local journalism in Minnesota

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Some of Minnesota’s largest foundations are backing a new local news fund that’s collected $6 million so far in a five-year effort to bolster local journalism across the state.

Press Forward Minnesota, which launched last January, has raised $6 million in donations so far from the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis, the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, the Glen Nelson Center at American Public Media Group in St. Paul and the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation.

Mukhtar Ibrahim, who is a consultant on the initiative, said Friday he hopes to get more foundations to support the fund.

“We want to keep the momentum going,” said Ibrahim, former CEO of the Sahan Journal in St. Paul and a former Star Tribune reporter.

The effort is part of a national Press Forward coalition that started last year, aiming to invest $500 million in newsrooms nationwide. Other regions have their own chapters, including Chicago, which has raised about $10 million.

Since 2005, more than 2,000 newspapers have closed in the U.S. — almost a third of all newspapers — with Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota losing the most newspapers per capita between 2005 and 2023, according to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

That’s leaving a growing number of communities without any local news source. Research has shown that, when local newspapers close down, fewer people vote or run for local office and cities approve higher bond spending. In Minnesota, eight weekly newspapers closed earlier this year, some after operating for more than a century.

Minnesota’s fund will be administered by the Minnesota Council on Foundations, which will start accepting grant applications this fall. Ibrahim said it’s too early to say how much grants will be, but for-profit and nonprofit news organizations statewide will be eligible to apply.

“This will benefit the whole state,” he said. “We need to see journalism as essential [to fund] as much as public works … it affects the health of a society.”



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Shooter fired from behind fence, killed north Minneapolis man in his car

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A Bloomington man was charged with murder Friday after police said they used surveillance video to place him behind a fence where shell casings were found at the scene of North Minneapolis shooting last month.

Dameon Markese Collins, 23, of Bloomington faces second-degree murder charges in the death of Carl Maurice Woodard, 55, of Minneapolis and is being detained in Hennepin County jail on $1 million bail.

According to the charges:

Police were dispatched to a shooting on the 3500 block of Penn Ave. N. a little before 11 p.m. on June 28. They found a parked car with 13 bullet holes in it. Woodward was in the driver’s seat, unresponsive. His death was later ruled a homicide.

Officers determined the shooting likely came from a hole in a fence that was situated directly next to the passenger seat of the car where Woodard was found. The Minneapolis crime lab found 23 shell casings behind the fence.

Surveillance footage from the area later identified a white Chevy Tahoe that was parked two houses down from Woodard’s car. Police say Collins got out of the car and proceeded to navigate to a nearby alley before walking between two houses on the 3500 block of Penn Ave. to a fenced area near the victim’s car.

The video then shows several muzzle flashes. Shortly afterward Collins is seen running from the scene and getting back into the Tahoe. Phone records also place Collins at the scene of the crime.

After being placed under arrest, Collins gave a statement to police where he acknowledged that he drives a white Tahoe, was wearing the same clothes as the man seen in the surveillance videos and that he knew there was a hole in the fence on the 3500 block of Penn Ave. Collins stated then when he got out of his car it was because he was going to talk to a girl.

Collins is also charged with possessing a pistol without a permit, a misdemeanor. He is due in court next week.



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Rare officer v. officer lawsuit over Hennepin County K9 mauling ordered thrown out by federal appeals court

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A rare excessive force lawsuit pitting Minnesota law enforcement officers against each other after one officer was mauled by another’s K-9 must be dismissed, a federal appeals court ruled this week.

A three-judge panel from the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith McNamara in his bid to dismiss a civil suit filed against him last year by a former Champlin police officer attacked by McNamara’s K-9 as the two pursued a suspect together.

Daniel Irish, who now works as a police officer in Brooklyn Park, had alleged that McNamara did not warn others that he had released the K-9 named Thor as police tracked a suspect who had led them on a pursuit into Osseo in March 2022. Irish sued over his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force and unreasonable seizure.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery in August 2023 denied McNamara’s request to dismiss the complaint after he argued that he was entitled to qualified immunity. Montgomery noted that the mauling was a “highly unfortunate accident” but concluded that it was “clearly established” that a seizure occurred within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Irish had argued that McNamara willfully deployed Thor during the pursuit and “objectively intended for him to bite the first person he encountered.”

McNamara countered that he did not “subjectively” intend to seize Irish and that because “the law is unclear as to whether subjective or objective intent should be considered,” it was not clearly established that Thor’s bite was a seizure. The Eighth Circuit panel this week agreed with McNamara and reversed Montgomery’s ruling. The lawsuit now goes back to Montgomery with instructions from the appellate court to dismiss.

Megan Larson, a spokesperson for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that the office was “satisfied with the court’s decision and we have no further comment.”

Irish’s attorneys said he still suffers from the effects of C. difficile and other gastrointestinal ailments brought on by antibiotics taken to treat a deep skin infection caused by Thor’s attack.

“Officer Irish did exemplary policework that day,” said Andrew Noel, an attorney representing Irish. “He is disappointed by the court’s ruling but he continues to serve the people of Brooklyn Park every day.”

Writing for a panel that included Judges Ralph Erickson and Duane Benton, Judge Jonathan Kobes concluded that this case “fits best in the unintended-target line of cases.”

McNamara commanded Thor to go after the fleeing suspect less than a minute before the dog bit Irish. He repeatedly ordered Thor to disengage from Irish and refocused the K9 toward the suspect.

“All told, we cannot say that it was ‘sufficiently clear that every reasonable official [in Deputy McNamara’s shoes] would understand’ that he acted unlawfully — or even within the scope of the Fourth Amendment. Contrary to Officer Irish’s warning, our decision today does not mean that one police officer could never seize another,” Kobes wrote in the 9-page ruling. “We hold only that it was not clearly established as of March 2022 that an officer in Minnesota could seize a fellow officer with a K9 without subjectively intending to do so.”

The ruling was the second order issued this week from an appellate court regarding a police K-9 attack. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered that the State Patrol can be sued for liability after an unprovoked attack by one of its K-9s on an Owatonna car dealership employee, saying that qualified immunity for the agency does not apply under the state’s dog bite statute.



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