Laura Zitzelberger: Decades of helping animals

Laura Zitzelberger recently stepped back from her role at Nature’s Nursery a bit. She’s been involved with Whitehouse, Ohio’s wildlife rehabilitation center since co-founding it in 1989 with her friend Deb Cooper. She’s worked as the Nursery’s Director of Operations since 2006. But now, Zitzelberger works remotely as she has a lung condition so must remain very careful in the era of COVID-19. But don’t think that means she’s any less passionate about caring for animals. She currently has 11 skunks and six squirrels at her house, because there’s no place for them in the crowded Nursery.

Caring for injured and orphaned animals

“We take in injured and orphaned native wild animals, with the intention to release them back out into the wild,” Zitzelberger said of the Nursery.“The first year, we took in 159 animals, and thought we were busy. And the next year, it was 550, and the year after that, 850. And then it shot up to 1,200 animals (per year) pretty quickly.” Last year, the number of animals taken in exceeded 3,000. This year they’re already ahead of last year’s pace. It’s clear people know the name and mission of Nature’s Nursery nowadays. Beyond caring for animals, the Nursery is also focused on conservation and reform, through formal educational programs, while taking thousands of calls through their hotline.

It’s all very gratifying for Zitzelberger. A native of Whitehouse who now lives in Waterville, she has always loved animals and worked for years at the Toledo Zoo before joining Cooper in founding Nature’s Nursery 31 years ago.

Two from the Zoo

“She had worked at the Zoo, and I had worked at the Zoo, and calls were always coming into the Zoo from people wanting to find help for injured and orphaned wildlife, and there was no place to send them. So when she quit her job at the Zoo, she looked into what it was going to take to start a wildlife rehab center.” For the first 11 years, Nature’s Nursery was an all-volunteer organization. But as people steadily grew to know and trust the organization, the operation outgrew its base of operations. As evidenced by her home’s current occupants, Zitzelberger— who loves kayaking and visiting the Metroparks in her downtime— is hopeful that the Nursery can find a new, more expansive location soon.

“We probably outgrew the farmhouse that we’re in two years after moving there,” she said. “It just has not fit our needs. We’re looking into a couple of different options.”

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