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Where the wild things will be

Workers from Puget Sound Energy clear lines as the house rolls along Agate Point. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Workers from Puget Sound Energy clear lines as the house rolls along Agate Point.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Wildlife Shelter patients will have a new (if slightly used) home to recuperate.

The two-story house rested on moving dolly, perched above a steep muddy track in the yard of the Carney-Cargill home on Agate Point Road.

It was ready to begin a precipitous descent past the owner’s new house to reach their narrow driveway where it would be winched angle by angle through the overhanging fir trees to reach the paved street.

From there the house would be hitched to a truck and towed a half-mile to the West Sound Wildlife Shelter on Dolphin Drive where a swimming-pool-sized rectangle of earth had been dug away to receive it.

That was the plan anyway.

House mover Jeff Monroe and his crew were scrambling around the sides of the house Thursday morning, checking the placement of the moving dolly, which made the 27-foot-tall house tower even higher.

Monroe, a third generation house mover was characteristically confident.

“We’ll let gravity do most the work,” he said, standing on the slope below the house and gazing up at its peaked roof.

Shelter director Kol Medina could only shake his head as he walked back to his car. The house was the largest donation his non-profit had ever received and the move was quite possibly the most important event in the eight-year history of the shelter, but Medina didn’t plan to be there when Monroe let the house begin its controlled slide down the hill.

There was too much riding on this trip for the shelter; he couldn’t bear to watch.

The house move was the culmination of eight months of planning, fundraising and coordination to provide the shelter with a long-awaited new administration building.

It began in December when Medina was talking with his friends, John Carney and Mackie Cargill, and mentioned how badly the shelter needed a new place for its offices so it could expand its animal hospital.

Carney and Cargill told him they had built a new house a few years before and weren’t sure what to do with the old cedar-shake home that was still on their property. They were considering making it a guesthouse.

“Would you like it?” they asked Medina.

“I told them, ‘Are you crazy? Of course we’ll take it,” Medina said.

“We all thought, ‘Wow, what a great idea,’” said Cargill. “We had a house we didn’t need, and they needed a building.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time for the shelter. Since it was founded in 1999 the animal hospital and rehabilitation center has shared cramped quarters with the group’s administrative offices in its one-story house on the Bloedel reserve.

Just a door away from where Medina files paperwork and phones donors, wildlife rehabilitation specialist Michael Pratt and his volunteers tiptoe around fir bough-lined cages that house orphaned birds and squirrels.

Lately there hasn’t been room for both the animal patients and the office crew.

“The last two summers by June or early July we had hit our capacity for animals and had to turn some away because we simply didn’t have space,” Medina said.

The shelter is the only wildlife hospital in the West Sound region; the next closest is in Seqium or a ferry ride away in Seattle.

For Bainbridge and the Kitsap Peninsula it is the only place to take injured, sick or orphaned wildlife. The shelter will take all animals in need, except for large mammals like elk and bear, and marine mammals, which they aren’t equipped to handle.

birds and most the rest are small mammals like squirrels, mice, raccoons and even foxes and the occasional coyote.

The shelter takes every creature it can, but it can only help animals it has room for.

“We are the only ones in the region, so it’s really beneficial to the west Puget Sound wildlife population that these guys are donating this house to us,” Medina said.

After accepting the house in December, Medina was left with the question of how to get it to the shelter.

He began calling house movers and explained the size of the house, the difficult terrain and the tree-lined driveway.

After working through a list of nearly every house mover in the region, he settled on Jeff Monroe, the only one that Medina, Carney and Cargill felt had the experience and equipment to do the job with confidence.

“He might be the only one who can do it,” Medina said. “I talked to one mover who called him a living legend.”

Even for Monroe, who by his own estimate has moved well over 500 houses, the shelter’s project was going to be tough.

His last house-moving gig on Bainbridge had been the relocation of the historical museum building from Strawberry Hill to its new home in Winslow, and the only challenging part had been timing the move to not interfere with school buses.

To move the shelter’s house he would have to choreograph every turn and angle down to the inch.

“It’s definitely one of my top five most difficult ever,” Monroe said.

Thursday he raised the house up six feet onto an air brake-equipped moving dolly.

With the brakes locked up his team used a winches to skid the house ever so slowly down the muddy incline, sliding just inches from the broad windows of Carney and Cargill’s new home.

On the driveway they realigned the dolly and spent Saturday and Sunday guiding the house through the forest, using winches to bend back several trees to buy precious space on each side.

“It was a tight, tight fit,” Cargill said. “There were a few moments when it didn’t look like it was going to make it.”

To the untrained observer the move may have looked like a series of near misses.

To Monroe it was meticulous planning paying off. Even the trees he had bent over in the move sprang back up as straight as ever.

The final stage was scheduled for yesterday morning.

After bending one more tree back the house would be towed out onto the road and begin its crawl toward the shelter preceded by a caravan of utility company trucks, on hand to detach overhead wires that would snag the peaked roof.

When the house is finally laid on cribbing in the shelter’s yard, Medina will have a new deadline to meet.

He plans to have the building anchored, hooked up to utilities and remodeled to meet code (mostly access for the disabled) by Nov. 16, the date when a group of volunteers from HSBC financial group will be planting a native garden around the house.

That leaves Medina with a lot of fundraising to do.

He will have already invested between $15,000 and $20,000 in the house move, money that was raised at a “Wild Night for Wildlife” donor dinner held in September. Installing the house on the lot could take another $10,000, and he expects to dole out $15,000 more for the renovations.

The native plant garden itself will be a large part of the shelter’s fund drive.

Donors can sponsor a plant in the garden or buy a brick for the pathways with their name engraved on it.

Medina hopes to move the shelter’s offices into the house in time for the new year, and in time to let the hospital settle into its new space before another busy summer season arrives.

With new office space and added elbow room in the hospital, it could be the beginning of a new era for the shelter.

“I think it will have a lot of positive consequences that we don’t even know about yet,” Medina said.

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