Julie Dickie went on a goose chase in Red Bridge Park – literally.

Three residents had reported an injured Canada goose to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the DNR, in turn, calls Dickie – the only state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator in northern Minnesota.

Her nonprofit organization, Northwoods Wildlife Rescue, captures and releases all manner of wounded Northwoods creatures. Julie and her husband, Jeff, are unpaid volunteers.

This is the second year of their mission “to make the best decisions for the wildlife and to return all wildlife back to the wild where it belongs, whenever possible.”

While living in Florida, they rescued sea birds. When they moved to Minnesota, Julie says it wasn’t her plan to rescue animals.

Then a DNR conservation officer told her there wasn’t anybody doing it. And begged her to help.

Julie took classes to get recertified, learning how to care for Minnesota’s animals.

“It’s a good process. There’s a lot of bookwork that you need to do and tests you need to take, which is good. It makes you know what you’re supposed to do with the animals,” she said.

“It’s probably one of the most rewarding things you can do.”

She works closely with Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation in Garrison, Minn.

“They handle all the big animals,” Julie said. “I don’t have the facilities like that, and probably never will.”

When a mama black bear was hit by a car near Verndale, the Dickies retrieved three orphaned cubs. “They wouldn’t have made the winter without mom,” Julie said.

The cubs are now growing splendidly at the Garrison center. In the spring, they will be returned to the wild.

The previous night, someone had called the University of Minnesota Raptor Center in St. Paul, concerned about a bald eagle. They called in Julie. She ventured out into the pouring rain to locate and retrieve the bird.

Julie suspects, most likely, the eagle has simply overeaten and is in a stupor. After a thorough checkup, it will be returned to its wilderness home.

Meanwhile, a heron with a broken leg, waits in the Dickies’ vehicle. It’s headed to Garrison, too – a 100-mile road trip. Later, the Dickies will learn that it had a broken pelvis as well and had to be put down. Sometimes euthanasia is the most humane option, Julie said.

Remarkably, a bleeding snapping turtle that was hit by a car is going to be fine.

The Dickies make four separate attempts to find the goose, which is thought to have a broken wing. Sadly, when they do capture it, the goose is too emaciated and its wing was far too damaged to ever fly again. It had to be euthanized.

Julie said the animal rescue survival rate, nationally, is 30 percent. “My success rate is probably closer to 60 percent, but I don’t have that many animals,” she noted.

The Dickies tend to a variety of beasts and birds – foxes, egrets, eagles, wood ducks, bear, geese, otters, turtles, flying squirrels, you name it.

This osprey lost a fight with a bald eagle and required healing time at Northwoods Wildlife Rescue. (Submitted photo)
This osprey lost a fight with a bald eagle and required healing time at Northwoods Wildlife Rescue. (Submitted photo)

She answers calls from Hubbard, Becker, Cass and Wadena counties, but also crisscrosses the state, from the Canadian border to near the Twin Cities. The closest rehabilitator is in Wisconsin, and Julie said they frequently partner together.

Julie is allowed to have five volunteers under her license. She has two, but she must always be present and give permission to handle animals. The Dickies are vaccinated, so that they won’t contract rabies or other zoonotic diseases that animals carry.

Rehabilitators must be realists. “Because you can’t save everything,” Julie said. “And you can’t make them your pet. That’s probably the hardest thing.”

People often want to cuddle and soothe the injured.

Their Fergus Falls rookery destroyed by a storm, these great egrets survived near drowning. Northwoods Wildlife Rescue helped rescue -- and eventually release the birds back to the wild. (Submitted photo)
Their Fergus Falls rookery destroyed by a storm, these great egrets survived near drowning. Northwoods Wildlife Rescue helped rescue -- and eventually release the birds back to the wild. (Submitted photo)

“They are wild animals. Baby talk terrifies them. The ultimate goal is to get them back in the wild, so you want as little human interaction as possible,” she said.

Northwoods Wildlife Rescue operates solely on donations. The Dickies pay for all of the medications, food, kennels, carriers, mileage, etc.

“It’s expensive. There’s no funding for it,” Julie said. “That’s why a lot of people don’t do it. You’re on your own for all of it.”

Julie said she’s grateful for the support in the community.

“Delaney’s Outdoors are kind when I spend a lot of money there on minnow,” she said. “Ark Animal Hospital is wonderful if I have to have something euthanized. It helps. Every little bit helps because it all takes money.”

The rescue operation is in need of baby blankets, dog kennels and other supplies. Julie said construction and welding advice would also be helpful. She has ideas for building bird cages by a lake, for instance, but doesn’t know how to proceed.

Julie said her nonprofit organization helps "lots and lots" of squirrels and chipmunks.
Julie said her nonprofit organization helps "lots and lots" of squirrels and chipmunks.

“We found out with those bears, we don’t own a cage strong enough for bear cubs, so it’d be nice to have at least one transport cage,” she added.

For more information or to contribute to their cause, contact the Dickies at northwoodswildliferescue@gmail.com or 218-616-2176. They also have a Facebook page.