HELPING CRITTERS: An injured coyote, 'the two Mikes' and a lot of legwork lead Wildlife Rescue of Sonoma County to a new site north of Petaluma

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Somewhere wandering the underbrush of Sonoma County is one lucky coyote that Doris Duncan owes a debt of gratitude.

Duncan credits that injured coyote with leading her to a new home base for Wildlife Rescue of Sonoma County, a three-acre site on Mecham Road, between Petaluma and Cotati.

"He was hit by a car, and he was lying by the side of the road bleeding, and it was raining so hard. I came out and scooped him up," Duncan said of the rescue in January.

Just after the coyote's release back into the wild, Duncan, executive director of Wildlife Rescue, learned she needed to find a new home for the nonprofit group dedicated to saving hurt or orphaned wild animals.

The Humane Society, which had let Wildlife Rescue use space rent-free at its site on Highway 12 near Sebastopol, said in March that it needed to take back the loaned space by December.

Undaunted, Duncan called every volunteer she knew and wrote letters to local politicians seeking help. Then she remembered that rain-soaked coyote left to die and an empty house she happened to see when she made that stop on Mecham Road.

She learned that the county bought the property sitting near the crossroads of Stony Point and Mecham roads about two years ago. It was purchased to use as a buffer between the county landfill and semirural homes in Happy Acres.

Acquiring use of the property became her mission.

She invited Sonoma County Supervisors Mike Kerns and Mike Reilly to visit Wildlife Rescue. They discussed county-owned properties that might be adaptable to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation work.

"That's how she gets you. You see what they're doing, and it's so impressive. And, of course, I love animals, too, like most people," said Kerns.

Wildlife Rescue was founded in 1981 to address the welfare of sick, injured, orphaned or displaced wildlife and is licensed by the state Department of Fish and Game. It is the largest agency of its type in Northern California.

Duncan credits the work of volunteers, plus help from the supervisors she now refers to as "the two Mikes" to get the lease arranged.

The nonprofit group, which runs on a budget of about $80,000 a year, will pay $400 a month on a one-year renewable lease, said board President Carrie Kramlich. The group will pay for all upgrades, utilities and maintenance.

Wildlife Rescue will be using less than four acres of the 130-acre site. The lease covers a four-bedroom, two-bath home situated on a hill overlooking a patchwork of vineyards to the east and includes use of outbuildings and a grove of eucalyptus trees where animal enclosures will be built.

Wildlife Rescue each year helps more than 650 foxes, hawks, opossums, raccoons and other critters as small as moles or as big as coyotes. It will continue to operate at the Highway 12 site until September or October. People who find injured or orphaned animals can continue to call the hot line at 526-9453 for help or to arrange to bring animals to the center. Volunteers are on standby seven days a week until 10 p.m.

Duncan already is working to create paths, lay out animal enclosures, and create a youth library and volunteer training room. She is seeking help to create gravel pads for parking, chip old tree trunks and plant a garden.

And volunteers are stepping forward.

"For every tree she has to take down because of aphids, we're planting five redwoods," said Dudley Strasburg of the Magic Tree Service. "It's a huge project, but it's the kind of thing I love. It's really exciting to be involved."

Joe Cox, owner of Coggins Fencing in Santa Rosa, also is helping.

"She comes in here covered in mud after rescuing animals all the time, and I just can't say no to her. Pretty soon we'll be taking down the old cages and moving them all over for her," Cox said.

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