But Mackey's school visits may be numbered. The center is understaffed and running out of money, a similar scenario at two other wildlife rescue centers in Palm Beach County.

The center, also known as the Folke Peterson Wildlife Hospital, opened in the summer of 2004 at the end of Acme Road, near U.S. 441 and Southern Boulevard near Wellington. But when Mackey took over two months later, he immediately closed it to make the building more wildlife friendly and do some restaffing, he said.

The Folke H. Peterson Foundation of Fort Lauderdale donated $2.1 million for the 10,000-square-foot building and enclosures. And the late Bonnie Findlay, who once operated Bambi Bird and Wildlife on the site, donated 31 acres and a $1 million endowment. But the endowment didn't cover the cost of operating the center, leaving Mackey with a shortfall he can't meet.

"We appear to be well heeled, but we weren't provided with funding to meet demands of the overhead, as well as the animals in this county," he said. "We've been working on funding with a couple of large sources, but there's no guarantee they'll come through."

Three veterinarians, Dr. Mohammad Abed of The Acreage, Dr. Beth Hirschfeld of Hollywood and Dr. Rose Borkowski, head veterinarian at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, volunteer as surgeons for the center. "The vet technicians can handle 80 to 90 percent of the calls," Mackey said.

The operating room is fully equipped, but he can't afford to hire a veterinarian, a necessity to fulfill the original goal of making the center a veterinary teaching hospital, he said. Findlay's home on the site was supposed to house the interns, so it sits unused.

When the center opened, the primary goal was to teach other rehabbers, the term for people who are trained and have a license to rehabilitate injured animals. But after he took command, Mackey realized that was not necessary.

"There are three other organizations in Florida that do that," he said, referring to groups such as the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.

David Hitzig, executive director of Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, sympathizes with Peterson's financial situation because he's in the same straits.

"The public is under the impression that the state gives money to wildlife centers, but that's not true, and since 9-11, contributions have dried up," he said.

Hitzig said he cares for about 4,200 animals a year and his annual budget is about $690,000. "If we have another storm this year, it will be absolutely devastating," he said. "We might look at a scenario that we might not be able to continue."

He said his biggest problems are insurance, salaries -- because he has to hire people during the summers when volunteers take off, and incidentals such as spraying for fire ants. He has five acres and has to spray every month. "There are so many costs that people don't realize," he said.

"This has tremendous potential, and not many places in the world have the kind of facilities we have here. But the big problem is we need the funding to support it," he said.

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