'Overwhelmed' wildlife rehabber gets deferred prosecution


In this Oct. 4, 2005 file photo, Leslie Straub, director of the Florida Wildlife Care Center, visits with Blossom the possum. Straub, who became overwhelmed following tropical storms, has entered into a deferred prosecution program after being cited for animal neglect and caging violations.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.

A longtime Gainesville rehabilitator of injured wildlife has had her license suspended and is prohibited from keeping wildlife on her property under a deferred prosecution agreement.

If Leslie Straub fails to meet the terms of the agreement, she could be charged for failing to provide adequate care.

"All totaled there were, I believe, 23 violations that included animal neglect and some caging violations," said Kenneth Holmes, an inspector with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "At one time, she was good at what she did. I don't know what happened recently, but she failed to come through."

Stephen Bernstein, Straub's attorney, said Thursday that Straub became overextended, adding that a break from taking care of animals will be good for her and for wildlife.

"She is a classic example of someone who is dedicated and who over-obligated herself and overworked herself. She had to do a one-woman operation for too long, and it just caught up with her," Bernstein said. "It's far healthier for her and for the project that they diversify and have other people take responsibility for some of the job that she was doing. This will provide a break and give her some perspective. Ultimately, I think it will be good for the animals — they will have a better facility."

Straub, 53, operated Florida Wildlife Care at a center on Southeast 15th Street. The center is currently closed.

Straub has had wildlife rehabilitator permits from FWC since 1995.

The bulk of the violations came after former volunteer Dawn Fox alerted FWC that Straub had been keeping animals at her Gainesville home — rather than at the center — in conditions that were crowded and inhumane.

Fox told The Sun last year that Straub was leaving animals to die and didn't provide adequate food or water.

On Thursday, Fox said her intention in providing photos and videos to FWC and The Sun was not to hurt Straub but to help the animals.

"I'm sorry that it happened," Fox said. "I couldn't just walk away from what I saw. I could not stand to see the animals suffering. I'm very pleased there has been a positive outcome."

Straub is a co-founder and director of Florida Wildlife Care, which takes in injured birds, deer and small mammals such as raccoons and opossums, as well as reptiles, including tortoises and non-venomous snakes.

Also, Straub gives educational programs with wildlife to teach people about the animals and what to do if they come upon an injured animal.

FWC is the regulatory agency that oversees wildlife rehabilitators, who must have licenses. The state has requirements on cage or enclosure sizes, acreage and general care of animals that must be met by people who keep captive wildlife.

In October, when the investigation was under way, Straub told The Sun she became overwhelmed with animals after Tropical Storms Isaac and Debby blew through.

"This has been our busiest season in a long time. We are in the middle of doing renovations at the center, so we had a lot happening," Straub said at the time, adding that she hadn't seen Fox's photos and videos. "Pictures are just a snapshot in time. If they were from after the storm, we were flooded with animals."

As part of the agreement, Staub's license to care for wildlife has been suspended for three years. She agreed to pay $100 toward the cost of prosecution and to donate $100 to the Florida Wildlife Alert Fund. Also, Straub must allow FWC to inspect her home and property.

Florida Wildlife Care is the only Alachua County rehabilitator listed by FWC.

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