West Sound Wildlife keeps animals safe.
But this year, it is focusing on keeping people safe – at least when it comes to their annual fundraiser.
The event will be online due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We’ve been going like a hamster on a wheel,” said Lisa Horn, executive director of the rehabilitation and education center that has been on Bainbridge Island for 28 years.
The event normally is in April, but when the coronavirus hit in February they went, “Oh, my god, what are we going to do?” Horn said.
As for a live event, they quickly decided, “This is just not going to happen” she said, adding they decided to go virtual, and it’s free to register.
“Anybody can come from anywhere in the world and attend,” Horn said.
The silent auction with about 300 items starts Oct. 1, and people have 10 days to bid. The live auction is Oct. 10 from 7-8 p.m. Information on how it works will start at 6:15 that night.
“It will be fast and furious” with about 10 items, she said.
Horn said she and the four other staff members obtained about twice as many silent auction items as in years past. Volunteers haven’t been able to help during COVID-19.
“It’s been a hard year – impossible for us to have volunteers. We didn’t want to put anyone in harm’s way,” she said. “We miss our volunteers so much, it makes me emotional. They’re part of our family.”
Because the auction is online, there were no space limitations for the items – they’re just online pictures.
“Everybody’s been so understanding” and generous, said Horn, who’s been with the wildlife center for eight years.
As for the center, Horn said it’s been an extra busy year without the volunteers. But they’ve been successful, releasing into the wild 85 percent of the animals that have been brought in.
“It’s getting to be the end of the summer. Everybody’s growing up, and it’s time to go live on your own,” Horn said.
The process works like this, she said: Say you find a baby bird in your back yard on the ground, and you remember you’re not supposed to pick it up. You call us. Our goal is to keep them in the wild if at all possible. Our full-time veterinarian assesses the animal and provides proper medical care.
If an animal’s injury is too traumatic to fix it cannot be released. Such is the case of a red-tailed hawk who lost vision in one eye.
“We apply to the federal government for a permit to keep it here as an ambassador to the center,” Horn said.
Ambassadors are taken to schools and community groups to send the message that, “It’s important to take care of our environment,” she said.
That outreach has reached 20,000 people over the years, but it, of course, is stopped right now due to no school and no volunteers because of COVID-19.
The center has seven ambassadors: a turkey vulture, owls, hawks, pigeon and more. They are all birds right now, but they did have a possum before it died last year.
Mike Etgen has been showing the animals around the community for five years.
“It’s magical to go out into the community,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to show a class and hear the oohs and ahs.”
One of his favorite animals to show is a perrigine falcon named Scout.
He came in with a bad wing, but once it was fixed and they kept observing him they decided he wasn’t aggressive enough to survive on his own.
“He’s like a pussy cat now,” Horn said, adding Scout, like some other animals, are so stressed being out of their environment that they have to be force fed.
Etgen said he knows not everyone will become conservationists, but he hopes by showing the animals they will become “involved citizens and appreciate wildlife.”
“I enjoy the way it benefits the community,” he said.
Horn said another class favorite is a turkey vulture named Princess Remington. The kids like her because she has a 7-foot wingspan, and she can projectile vomit to defend herself. The vomit is akin to “battery acid.”
Horn said turkey vultures have amazing stomachs that can handle about anything. ‘They’re nature’s leading cleaning company.”
Many of the pens are covered with brush and camouflage fabric.
“We don’t want them to get used to humans or they won’t survive in the wild,” she said.
Other animals at the center have included: mice, coyotes, beaver, mink, otters, spotted owl, brown pelican, a nest of baby flying squirrels and up to 40 bald eagles a year.
Their vet has pulled off some major fixes.
A few years ago a bald eagle lost the end of its beak. Using a bonding agent dentists use, they recreated the beak. Also, some bald eagles got sick from medicine used to euthanize a horse. Nine days later six were returned to the Graham area, where the community put out banners thanking the center.
“We treat a lot of incredible injuries,” Horn said, adding a red-tailed hawk hit by a car had tissue damage, and it was quickly fixed and released.
The center is not permitted to provide tours. Because of the animals’ injuries and illnesses, “They’re supposed to have as little human contact as possible,” Horn said.
However, the center is working on a new campus in the next few years in Port Gamble that would include an education center for the public. A capital campaign is ongoing.
Also, the center offers conflict resolution for islanders who have trouble with animals, such as raccoons.
“You don’t want them there; they smell bad,” Horn said.
The center would recommend non-lethal strategies such as putting rags soaked in ammonia where the raccoons hang out, along with loud music and lights.
“They don’t like it,” she said. “As opposed to trapping and killing, it’s a win-win.”