Exec. Director Dave Siddon breaks down Wildlife Images closure

GRANTS PASS, Ore.- Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center (WIREC) reopened on April 22 after closing to the public for over four months.

NBC5 reported in December that a sudden and significant change in front staff caused the non-profit to close their doors. NBC5’s Lauren Pretto spoke with Dave Siddon, Executive Director of WIREC, about everything that’s been happening these last few months in an exclusive interview.

“We understood, this time around, if we didn’t get it right,” WIREC’s new Director of Operations Mark Wareing said, “there was going to be no other chance.”

According to one former employee, 22 employees had quit WIREC by mid-January. Siddon says he feels this was due to a change of culture.

“The kindness and the care for the animals and all that was starting to subside,” Siddon said. “We needed some refreshing with the staff and so it started back in December and it’s one of those things as you’re changing culture, some people aren’t going to like it.”

Some worried about the care of animals, like one porcupine named Thistle, who former employees claim died of Pneumonia when WIREC was closed. They alleged that the death could’ve been prevented, but Siddon says there wasn’t anything they could do.

“It was basically a super bug,” Siddon said, “it hadn’t been diagnosed. The minute (Thistle) got it, probably couldn’t have saved (Thistle) anyway because it was antibiotic resistant and everything. It took the porcupine out in about two days.”

Siddon also says when he announced his son was being added to WIREC’s Board, former staff members weren’t happy. He says this decision isn’t unethical, it’s part of what Wildlife Images is.

“My dad was on the board, my mom was on the board, I’ve been on the board,” Siddon said. “He had a skill set that nobody else had. It’s funny, the Governor was here visiting, and we were talking to the Governor about that and she said, ‘I think it’s a great idea’.”

Siddon says there have been many rumors spread about WIREC since the closure, but most damaging of them all was that the animals weren’t being properly looked after. He says that couldn’t be more false.

“The haters, kind of, went out spreading the word everywhere and so we invited USDA to come in, U.S. Fish and Wildlife to come in, State Fish and Wildlife, OSHA, every regulatory agency out there has been in here with a microscope, looking over everything and they said everything looks amazing,” Siddon said.

Siddon also says the closure was necessary for them to enhance their facility and restate their mission, which is caring for and educating the public about wildlife animals. He says they’ve hired new employees for nearly all the positions that they’d lost. This includes the new Animal Services Manager, Kara Deshazo, and new Director of Operations, Mark Wareing, who both joined in December.

“Before I was here, I was running the second largest rehabilitation center in North America in Houston, Texas,” Deshazo said, “I just feel like all my skill sets have, kind of, come together with ambassador work and clinic work and just, kind of, got to mesh at this wonderful facility.”

Wareing says getting everything prepared for opening day has been chaotic, but good.

“It has been crazy,” Wareing said, “I’ve had, really, no days off and I’ve been putting in probably about 12 to 14 hours a day to try to get everything ready and essentially build an organization again from, kind of, the ground up.”

Wareing and Deshazo both say they love this facility and the animals in it. They encourage people to come and see all the changes for themselves.

“I really want anybody that has heard any rumors or has heard any negativity about this place, I mean it just gives me the chills to talk about it,” Deshazo said, “just, please come see for yourself and talk to us. Talk with us about what is going on because we’re not ashamed, we want to talk about it.”

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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