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Shelter’s mission focuses on healthy wildlife | Guest Column | Oct. 1

Karen Platt, a raptor handler for the West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and Athena, a barred owl, share a moment during a recent a Sportsmen’s Club event. - Brad Camp/For the Review
Karen Platt, a raptor handler for the West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and Athena, a barred owl, share a moment during a recent a Sportsmen’s Club event.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

West Sound Wildlife Shelter is honored to provide a monthly column in the Bainbridge Review – look for our column on the first Friday of every month.

Each month we’ll tell you what local wild animals are doing in the great outdoors or share a story about a current patient at the shelter. Or maybe both.

In this first column, however, I want to introduce you to the shelter – what we do and why we do it.

Much of what makes Bainbridge special is its environment: the deep, peaceful forests; the vibrant, beautiful shorelines; and the iconic, inspirational wild animals like eagles, cormorants, herons and owls. 

West Sound Wildlife’s work focuses on these wild animals that grace our environment. Our core program is our wildlife hospital.

We take in injured, orphaned and sick wild animals, then do everything we can to save them and send them back out to the wild for a second chance at life.

This year we’ll have nearly 900 patients. We also provide a powerful education program featuring two crows, two owls, and a red-tailed hawk, all of whom were injured and are unable to survive on their own.

Finally, we provide conflict resolution advice, helping people humanely resolve issues with wild animals. Our goal is for the animals to survive and for our human lives to be improved.

We are the only organization in western Puget Sound that provides any of these services. Why do we it? And why do hundreds of people donate the money we need every year to do our work?

The answer to these questions is found in the shelter’s core philosophy.

Our philosophy is simple: We believe that every wild life is a life worth saving, and we try as hard as we can to save each life either through direct care in our hospital or by teaching people how to co-exist with wildlife.

Drilling down into this philosophy raises a number of meaningful questions. A question often asked is “Why? Why should our human society have institutions that try to save the lives of wild animals?”

My simple answer is “because we can.” Frankly, I think that’s a sufficient answer. My next simple answer is “because more than 90 percent of our patients are injured by human activity.”

However, a more thorough answer is based on two basic motivations: compassion and morality.

I believe, and our staff knows through first-hand experience, that every wild animal is a thinking, feeling being.

Do wild animals “think” at the same high levels as humans? I don’t know. Do wild animals feel the full range of emotions that humans do? I don’t know that either.

But I do know that every patient at the shelter – from little orphaned squirrels to adult bald eagles – thinks and makes decisions. And at some level feels at least basic emotions – fear, pleasure, pain, etc. In short, there is a magical spark of life in every patient that comes through our doors.

In light of this existential truth, how can anyone not believe that wild animals deserve our compassion and that we have a moral duty to save their lives if we can?

This philosophy leads to some interesting questions. For instance, some people question why the shelter cares for non-native animals, animals that did not live in our local environment prior to human society’s arrival here.

It’s a valid question; the shelter’s philosophy explains why we do so: Every life is a life worth saving. We don’t value one species over another. We are simply a hospital.

I often ask people who raise this question if they think a human hospital should turn away people who moved to our area from California. How about people who immigrated to our country?

I hope this column has given you a sense of the values that drive our work and mission at the West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Please contact me with any thoughts or quibbles.

Kol Medina is the executive director of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter and can be reached at kol@westsoundwildlife.org or 855-9057.

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