Only four wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers exist in Missouri, and one of them is Oak Grove, serving to help wounded or sick wildlife in Eastern Jackson County and beyond while educating the community about what wild creatures need the most.

April Hoffman, founder and CEO of Wild Souls Wildlife Rescue and Release, started the non-profit when discovering the lack of resources available to people who come across a wild animal in need.

The passion for helping local wildlife began when Hoffman discovered a pair of orphaned baby squirrels and felt the need to do something other than let nature take its course. Hoffman said she felt convicted to do something.

“I knew there had to be an alternative option,” she said.

With the nearest wildlife shelters hundreds of miles away, Hoffman took the animals into her own care, gaining an online following as she did so. The experience, according to the shelter’s website, inspired Hoffman to found the non-profit, which will celebrate a year in operation next month.

“I felt that I could be the alternative solution in aiding conservation, helping our communities, while making a social impact,” Hoffman said.

Not every animal is a good candidate for rehabilitation, according to Hoffman, but she, along with a few volunteers, spend a majority of their time answering calls to help wounded or abandoned animals across the state, driving as far as St. Louis to rescue a creature. Hoffman said they are averaging as many as 200 calls a day.

Coyote pups, owls, opossums and raccoons have found their way into Wild Souls’ arms, creating a full-time job for a small team of volunteers that work to feed, clean and heal the animals before gently releasing them into the wild.

According to Hoffman, the team “can only handle as many animals as they have hands to care for,” and is looking for more volunteers to lend their time. The more people taking part, the wider their availability to rescue and take care of wildlife.

Once the volunteers have taken custody of an animal, the rehabilitation starts, giving it medical attention and nutrition while being careful not to let it become too attached to humans or become domesticated.

“We always put them back into the wild; that’s the goal,” Hoffman said. Animals are allowed to stay in rehabilitation up to 120 days, and Wild Souls begins the release process at 90, coaxing them back into the wild and letting their instincts take over.

Each animal that enters Wild Souls costs approximately $150 to rehabilitate, not including overhead costs such as gas money to rescue it, and the center as a whole costs $20,000 annually. To combat this cost, the center holds two cornhole tournaments each year, and will have a race in October to raise money.

“Other than that it’s just people believing in the cause and donating,” Hoffman said.

Those wishing to volunteer can help in any number of ways, from transporting animals to feeding them. According to Hoffman, the non-profit is insured to allow residents under 18 to volunteer with the animals, and groups such as the Boy Scouts have already helped with a few projects, such as building enclosures for their guests.

Wild Souls rehabilitates any Missouri mammal, and while it won’t rehabilitate any birds of prey, it will still transport them to a place that can.

Residents wishing to volunteer with Wild Souls, or if they find an animal in need, can contact the organization at 800-495-8403. The shelter is at 2200 S. Broadway in Oak Grove.