For more than 22 years, the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in north Scottsdale has cared for injured, orphaned, or abandoned wild animals. Now, the center is under fire from one neighbor who says the coyotes and wolves are so loud he can hear them inside his home and that the dust generated by visitors is unbearable.

The neighbor says he thought he was moving next door to a wildlife rehabilitation center, “not a zoo,” as he explained to The Arizona Republic in an email. He is suing SWCC claiming it is a “criminal nuisance,” a suit that, if won, could result in the disbanding of the facility. Many of the animals, unable to survive on their own in the wild and with nowhere else to go, would be euthanized.

As the article details, the neighbor purchased a house on just over two and one-quarter acres next to SWCC in 2012 and another three and a half adjoining acres in 2015. He says he was well aware of the wildlife sanctuary but he didn’t expect there would be so much noise or realize that he’d be living next to what he contends is a commercial zoo in a residential area.

The neighbor says he asked SWCC to get rid of the dust and howling animals but it refused. He then repeatedly complained to the sheriff’s office and to the Maricopa County Planning and Zoning Department that the wildlife sanctuary was giving public tours without a permit.

At that point, in February 2015, SWCC got a temporary-use permit. But, it allows only so many tours and educational programs in a six-month period, greatly limiting a vital funding source for the wildlife sanctuary, which runs on donations. To give you an ideas of how many people actually come through on tours, SWCC had 7,000 visitors in 2014 but estimates it had only a third of that in 2015.

In order to survive, the SWCC is seeking a special-use permit that would allow it to give more tours. However, the neighbor in question is fighting back. Four months after the county issued the temporary-use permit, he sued and is now asking a judge to block the county from issuing the special-use permit until the SWCC gets rid of the wolves and coyotes and ensures that the road isn’t dusty or rutted.

You can read the full story as it appeared in The Arizona Republic here to get a clear picture of both sides.

In the meantime, Valley residents and many of the wildlife sanctuary’s other neighbors have signed a petition that was delivered to Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri on April 6 asking that the board issue the permit and save the animals. The request for the special-use permit will be heard before the Maricopa County Planning and Zoning Commission on May 5. It is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on June 8.

Linda Searles, who founded SWCC in 1994, says that if the special-use permit is denied, the wildlife sanctuary and the 300 animals being cared for there would be in jeopardy. Searles also notes that, in the future, animals that were found injured, orphaned, or abandoned would have nowhere to go without the SWCC.

That’s exactly the scenario that prompted Searles to create the SWCC. In the early 1990s, a farmer who had accidently run over a den of newborn coyote puppies with his tractor brought the sole survivor to Searles. She had difficulty finding a veterinarian who could treat the wild pup, let alone a facility that could accommodate him until he was rehabilitated.

In 1994, she bought 10 acres northeast of Scottsdale and founded SWCC to rescue native wild animals. The goal is to return them to the wild—more than 70 percent of the thousands that have been rescued over the years have been returned—but those that can’t be rehabilitated have a “forever home” at SWCC.

To support itself, the wildlife sanctuary offers educational programs, including tours, wildlife workshops, and occasionally wildlife photography workshops. The basic guided tour is $25 per person; wildlife workshops for adults 18 years and older are $85. Check the wildlife sanctuary’s website for more information and to register for upcoming events.

If you can’t make it to one of the tours or workshops, you can also support the SWCC by making a general donation, purchasing items the sanctuary needs through Amazon, or adopting an animal. In fact, some of the animals listed in the left-hand column are even available for adoption!

We’re big animal lovers here at The Matheson Team, and huge supporters of wildlife and land conservation. Where do you fall in the debate between the neighbor and SWCC?

Don Matheson
Realtor | Founder
The Matheson Team – RE/MAX Fine Properties
21000 N. Pima Rd., #100, Scottsdale, AZ 85255