OKEECHOBEE — When do you take your Christmas tree down? If you have a real holiday tree still at home, consider donating it to Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
The center put out a request for tree donations just before Christmas. It was circulated on social media and published in the Lake Okeechobee News.
What do they do with the trees? Some animals at the center eat fir trees, explained Sue Arnold. Others, like the big cats, just like to play with them.
On Dec. 30, wildlife center staff seemed a little worried. “We didn’t receive any Christmas trees yet,” they posted on Dec. 30.
Not to worry. The trees were still coming, local residents responded. They just had not yet taken down their Christmas trees.
“We don’t take down our trees until New Year’s Day,” responded Shawna Borgstrom.
“Mine will be up until after the 6th for Three Kings Day, but then we’ll bring it out,” said Tommie Jumper.
“Our Christmas tree will be in the house at least until the end of January, if not longer, nicely watered and the pine scent is still fresh,” said Linda Drabova.
By Jan. 1, Christmas trees had started arriving at the center, much to the delight of the staff and the animals. Luna, a Caracal cat, happily shredded a tree to splinters. Bella, a red fox, excitedly burrowed into the branches of a fir tree. In another enclosure, lemurs licked the sap from a tree trunk.
The holiday trees give the animals some variety, said Arnold’s staff member Brittany White.
Those who use artificial trees can still share the holiday spirit with a donation to Arnold’s Wildlife. The center always needs wet and dry cat food, dog food, old towels, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. The monkeys need fresh, ripe fruit, but other animals don’t mind if the fruit is blemished or a little mushy or has fallen on the ground, explained Ms. White. Some animals even prefer their fruit and vegetables a little mushy. If you have a citrus tree or avocado tree, the center accepts donations of the fruit even if it has fallen on the ground. In the wild, tortoises eat fruit that has fallen on the ground, she explained.
Cash donations are also welcomed, as are volunteers who wish to donate some of their time.
Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, 14895 N.W. 30th Terrace, Okeechobee, rehabilitates injured and orphaned animals with the goal of returning Florida native animals to the wild. The center also provides a permanent home for animals whose injuries make it impossible for them to survive on their own, for wild animals not native to Florida and for exotic animals that were raised as pets and whose owners can no longer care for them.
About 1,000 animals go through the center each year. Approximately 300 animals are permanent residents.
The center is open to the public seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A $10 per visitor donation is requested at the “honor box.” The nonprofit center relies on the help of donations and volunteers.