Feathers Fly at Schuylkill Wildlife Clinic

A beloved rehabber suddenly fired amid protests and criminal charges. What the flock happened at Schuylkill Wildlife Clinic and what’s next?

Rick Schubert and Freya, the red-tailed hawk. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Sutton.

Wildlife rehabber Rick Schubert’s sudden firing on January 22 from the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center sparked a storm of protest, both on area Facebook pages and on the roads outside the center where picketers held up signs with slogans like “No Schubert, No Clinic!” and “Who’s going to help injured wildlife now?”

The outpouring of support for the Clinic’s only licensed wildlife rehabber went beyond just words and signs. More than 50 volunteers resigned in the days that followed Schubert’s firing, outraged that the Schuylkill Center would terminate a man who’d tended to injured animals for more than 13 years on a miniscule budget and without a sick day or vacation.

Photo courtesy of Della Micah.

The flames were fanned when Mike Weilbacher, the Center’s Executive Director, cited allegations of workplace misconduct as the reason for Schubert’s termination. To add to the drama, he also filed criminal charges against Schubert for “stealing” the animals from the Clinic in the days after the firing.

So how did something that seems like such a universal good – caring for injured wildlife – become such a source of drama? According to Schubert, the issue began in 2014 when he testified in a harassment lawsuit brought by a former employee of the Center. The testimony didn’t reflect well on management, which Schubert believes prompted Weilbacher to retaliate against him.

Photo courtesy of Della Micah

Weilbacher’s public statements so far haven’t revealed the nature of the misconduct allegations (and no one among the volunteers has expressed anything but admiration for Schubert’s integrity, compassion, and dedication). And the criminal charges? “They haven’t gone anywhere,” said Lisa Gruber, a longtime volunteer at the Clinic who also walked out. “Not sure how you can say he stole the animals because they were never the property of Schuylkill Center. As the sole licensed wildlife rehabber, once Rick left the facility it was operating as an unlicensed wildlife care center. The animals couldn’t stay.” (Working with the Red Creek Wildlife Center, Schubert placed all the animals with other licensed wildlife facilities for ongoing care.)

Given the unsubstantiated allegations by Weilbacher, Schubert says he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll file a law suit against the Schuylkill Center. “I am not looking to get anything from them but I will sue them in the future if I have to because they are causing me a lot of damage.”

“They handled it in a bad way and it got a lot of volunteers upset,” said Gruber, “but we’re looking to the future now and are excited by our new organization.” Lisa and other former volunteers have just filed the paperwork for a nonprofit wildlife rehab facility called Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center (PMWC). “We don’t have the land picked out yet for it but we’re looking at several locations.” And just in time since the warmer weather means baby animals and plenty of rehab opportunities.

Kickoff meeting for the new Philly Metro Wildlife Clinic at the Andorra library. Photo courtesy of Karen Melton.

With no other rehab facility in the Philadelphia area (and over 4,000 wild animals tended to last year) the Metro Center will be a sorely needed addition. “We’re excited,” said Lisa. “It’s a chance for Rick and all of our volunteers to start over, doing things our way.”

Help Needed

PMWC could use your support for everything from incubators to land for their new facility. While it’s awaiting approval of its nonprofit status, you can make donations to PMWC through its sister organization, Wildlife Rehabilitation Support of Pennsylvania, at wrspa.org, or email them at info@wrspa.org for other ways to lend a hand or to sign up for the PMWC newsletter.

 

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