Forest district's animals carry on despite extreme weather

Although the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s education centers were closed to the public early last week because of the severe weather, staff and volunteers worked through the extreme conditions to care for the agency’s resident animals.

The District’s centers that house animals are quite different, but employees at all three agree that providing animals with dry shelter and access to food and water is critical when the temperatures drop.

At Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, the District’s native-wildlife rehabilitation facility, animal residents are generally well prepared to adapt to typical winters in northeastern Illinois. During extreme cold, staff members take into account each animal’s disability to determine what intervention is needed. 

Some may move indoors temporarily or have their caging modified to ensure warmth. Heated water bowls that have been installed over recent years allow constant access to fresh water.

“The animals at Willowbrook are wild, not pets, so it’s important that they are able to carry out the normal behaviors that protect them in bitter cold,” says Sandy Fejt, the site manager at Willowbrook. “Still, we did provide a few enhancements to help them along, such as extra bedding or warming packs to prevent their food from freezing.”

In winter, Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton usually turns its herd out in the paddocks for daily exercise and social interaction. The animals’ coats are allowed to grow, which offers plenty of protection against the cold. But in the face of last week’s sustained below-zero temperatures, Danada kept the horses in their stalls from Sunday through Wednesday morning.

“Because our largest barn has a pathway that wraps around the center stalls, our volunteers were able to lead the horses in a few laps to stretch their legs and prevent boredom during the cold snap,” says Matt Dehnart, program coordinator at Danada.

At Kline Creek Farm, the District’s 1890s living history farm, staff and volunteers brought horses and cattle indoors before temperatures plunged to ensure their shaggy winter coats had time to dry to offer effective insulation. 

They also made sure the sheepfold and chicken coop had plenty of dry bedding and that the structures provided protection from biting winds. 

The farm did use one modern convenience unavailable in the 1890s, though: electric heaters that kept water from freezing in the stock tanks.

“Some of the most charming winter animal behaviors here are the barn cats burrowing into the haystacks for warmth,” says Keith McClow, manager of Kline Creek Farm. “Visitors are welcome in the upper barn, and if they look carefully they might spot a feline nose or tail moving through the hay.”

All three site managers agree on something else — that the assistance of the District’s volunteers is one of the most valuable resources they rely on during inclement weather.


–News Bulletin news sources