The Bryden’s Den Neonatal Wildlife Care Centre is about to wrap it up for another year.
Once it does so, proprietor Denice Boniface doesn’t know if the refuge for juvenile wild animals will ever re-open.
The situation has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous other enterprises it has shuttered since March.
Rather, it involves a recent complaint to Norfolk’s bylaw department that Boniface doesn’t have the zoning to operate a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Port Ryerse.
The enforcement action is a heart-breaker for Boniface, who has tended to distressed wildlife at this location on Hilltop Drive for 15 years.
Boniface is working with Norfolk County to correct the situation, but she doesn’t know whether her efforts alone will be sufficient. The young animals presently under her care – which could include a mix of birds, fox, groundhogs, opposums, rabbits, raccoons and skunks – are ready for release. Boniface tears up at the thought that they may be her last.
“The ones I have in care are ready to go now,” she said. “Once they’re eating on their own, it’s hands off. Once weaned, it’s time for tough love. They have to be scared of me before I let them go. You stop talking to them. You don’t want them going up to people and getting in trouble.”
The headache started when Norfolk’s bylaw department – acting on a complaint – inspected the rehabilitation centre on Aug. 15. A month later, a registered letter arrived citing her for a violation of Norfolk’s zoning bylaw. Boniface has till Jan. 1 to bring her property into compliance.
As it stands, the situation isn’t yet a crisis. The rehabilitation centre is seasonal by nature and Boniface is ready to close for the winter. Whether she is allowed to resume her activities next spring remains to be seen.
Word of Boniface’s predicament is circulating and supporters are livid.
However, Boniface doesn’t want anyone blaming county staff. Bylaw enforcement in Norfolk is performed on a complaints basis and she understands that enforcement officers have a job to do. However, Boniface says proper expressions of support could show the way out.
“I’ve been asking people to send their letters,” Boniface said. “The backing I’m getting is unbelievable. But I don’t want people going after them with all guns blazing because that’s just going to trash me.”
Mounting a planning department assessment for a site-specific zoning change will cost a few thousand dollars with no guarantee of success.
Boniface could also secure a zoning change if she is able to convince Norfolk County that she provides a unique, vital service available nowhere else in the local area. She hopes to have the matter rectified in time for the next cycle of distressed wildlife.
In a normal year, Boniface will nurse and rehabilitate 100 or so juvenile animals before releasing them.
Prior to the pandemic, her catchment area included a large section of south-central Ontario. Due to COVID-19, she reduced her jurisdiction to a small section of Norfolk County that includes Port Dover, Turkey Point and Simcoe due to the risk of viral transmission.