"Plenty of patients, no insurance"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:54 PM
"Quick: How do you save a great blue heron stranded and dying in a jumbled tangle of metal wire?That question confronted Bainbridge resident Nan Lofas two weeks ago, when her dogs discovered one of the giant birds trapped and thrashing in the frigid waters of her neighbor's lake.He looked terrified, Lofas said. The more he tried to flap and free himself, the more he ended getting tangled up.I didn't really know what to do at first, she said. You feel helpless because as much as you want to rush in yourself and rescue it, you realize that it's a wild animal and you could do more damage than good.Lofas called local veterinarian Elizabeth Greenleaf, who extricated the heron with a blanket and heavy gloves. She transported the bird - chilled and exhausted - to the Island Wildlife Shelter on Dolphin Drive.That's when rehabilitation Director Emily Meredith stepped in, nursing the weak heron to recovery.He came in, and we tubed him with warmed fluids and he was fine, Meredith said. He flew away that afternoon, beautifully.Such resuscitations are all in a day's work for Meredith, who manages the shelter - the only facility of its kind in Kitsap County.From raptors to raccoons, the shelter cares for all manner of imperiled creatures. But now, the animal haven next door to Bloedel Reserve suffers from perils of its own - directors say the facility may wither away by the end of the summer without an infusion of money.We need to do some major fundraising if we are going to survive between now and then, if at all, said Ralph Eells, treasurer for the shelter's board of directors.The facility opened in August in two remodeled buildings donated by the Bloedel Reserve on a five-acre parcel. Money to outfit and operate the shelter for the first few months came from several private donors, the Bainbridge Foundation, and a city animal-control service contract. To cover future costs, Eells intends to apply elsewhere for more large grants, but he says key aid must come from sources closer to home.The reality is that in order to stay in business, we are going to have to raise more money from the local community, he said.Such an approach represents a shift in funding strategy, but it's a transition for which the shelter has been preparing. We thought that before asking the community for donations, we ought to show that they were getting something for their money, Eells said.A patient lostA roufous-sided towhee - dead - lay splayed out on Emily Meredith's treatment table Thursday, the most recent victim of neighborhood felines.An island woman, she said, delivered the bird to the wildlife shelter after she found it in her cat's food bowl.Meredith checked the songbird's lacerations, which were infected, and verified its identity with an avian field guide.Her cat brought him in and I think another cat had got him before, she said of the red-breasted bird, now rigid. The poor thing was on death's door.She tagged and sealed it in a ziplock bag, bound for the Burke Museum, which uses the shipments to measure bird populations and perform studies.The shelter's patients see death more often than recovery, said Meredith, who acts as a sort of emergency medical technician for wild critters. But with a release rate of nearly 45 percent, the shelter does often return recuperated wild animals to the wild, considering the difficulties inherent in their care.That success stems from the work of Meredith and 12 volunteers, and the benefits of top notch facilities - some of the best in the west, Eells said.Integral to those facilities are seven outdoor cages housing the shelter's menagerie. Current residents include a baby western squirrel, songbirds including two pine siskins and a varied thrush, and a bald eagle.The eagle, permanently crippled and unable to take flight, was captured after several weeks of attempts by a shelter volunteer, after it fell into some brambles. The shelter doesn't usually keep unreleasable animals, but is holding the eagle to donate to a zoo.Volunteer Kim King is attempting not to get too attached to the august guest.You try not to talk to him, she said as she ventured into the raptor's cage to leave a lunch of thawed herring. You just kind of go in and go out and move on. But it's kind of hard.Volunteers at the shelter ensure that the eagle gets a balanced diet.He likes the rats better, King said, but I think it's just because he's spoiled."