Founding Members Share Special Memories

by Carol Hamilton, Cofounder
If it weren't for "Herman," there wouldn't be a Wildlife Rescue as we know it today.

When we moved to Portola Valley in l970 we had three cats, one dog and no birds. Every May (as any Wildlife Rescuer can tell you) it "rains" baby birds who have left the nest for various reasons long before nature intended them to, and so it was with "Herman," a nestling mockingbird found in my back yard that first May.

There are many stories about Herman and me and how I had to learn from the ground up in those pioneering days how to raise, rehabilitate and release orphaned and injured birds and mammals. People started bringing me birds. It was discouraging that despite my skills as a registered nurse, some birds died. I wanted to know more, yet very little was published. Gary Bogue, wildlife coordinator at Alexander Lindsay Jr. Museum in Walnut Creek, offered a training course. It was a long way to go, but my friend Jeanie Collins and I went. Now we had some basic knowledge. There was no organized wildlife care system on the Peninsula. What was happening to all the other orphaned and injured "Hermans" if there were not trained wildlifers to care for them? We didn't like the obvious answer.

Jeanie and I, along with self-taught wildlife rescue friends, Sue Scott Hons and Phyllis Pierce, offered our services to the local humane societies working under their Fish and Game permit. We took in more than 300 animals that year. That doesn't seem like so much today. But everything we take for granted today-diets, housing, equipment, all the forms and records, aviaries and release sites-had to be invented, designed, purchased and researched by trial and error in those days. Once I went all the way to San Francisco just to find a veterinarian who would take care of a robin. He put on falconers gloves to handle him. That shows how much even he knew.

As the five of us soon realized, the people who brought us these orphaned and injured animals wanted to be more involved with their care. A question occurred to me: why should five people be taking care of 300 animals, when 300 people could take care of 300 animals? You see, we not only had these animals in our homes, but the five of us were also the on-call emergency service-24 hours per day, 365 days per year-for any wildlife rescue calls that came from the animal shelters, the police department or the general public.

I went to the Palo Alto Jr. Museum, and the director, Mearle Carson, set up a meeting with Bill Burke, superintendent of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. We gave classes through the museum on the care and feeding of orphaned and injured wildlife. The five of us each took a day at the animal shelter, accepting animals for care. Because 144 people took our first class and were the pool for our first core of volunteers, it told us there was a need for this service. Wildlife Rescue applied for its own Fish and Game permit, and as we grew, we decided to incorporate. I think I can safely say that none of us had any long-term vision of 25 years down the road. We were just trying to survive on a day-to-day basis.

Each new species that came in was a new challenge. The first sparrow was the first sparrow, the first squirrel was the first squirrel, the first kestrel was the first kestrel. Each had no specie paper or experienced team leader. We gave special volunteers a bird, and said, "It's your baby, develop a diet and housing and write a specie paper." In the less-structured society of yesterday, it worked. We had an almost 50 percent survival rate. The basis of all that Wildlife Rescue does today had its foundations in those early days. We found a need and filled it. It is gratifying to know you are still hanging in there from our humble beginnings. Congratulations and thank you.

Click here to read Cofounder Jeanie Collins' story

by Sue Scott Hons, Cofounder
In 1973 when five of us banded together to care for orphaned wildlife, we never dreamed it would rain birds and squirrels. Back then we actually named our babies instead of numbering them! My jays were Ajay, Bjay, etc., and the squirrels, opossums and raccoons had names out of our favorite books. We carried our "kids" around with us as we ran errands, went to school and attended social events. I had a baby bird pop its head out of my blouse on a first (and last) date, and we all smuggled our really ugly "purses" into restaurants in order to be able to feed the little ones. My family and friends soon learned that they could "bring it to Sue" if they happened upon an orphaned animal, and I learned that some of the animals could be returned to their own moms to care for them. Our education was varied: we attended classes at the Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum on baby animal care, and we read articles and compared advice from lots of other people who cared. Identification is always difficult with nestlings, and we were called upon to rescue some very interesting animals.

I went to one of the Animal Services offices to pick up a baby turkey vulture and found the officers cutting up a dead frog and trying to entice the bird into gulping it down, with no success. No wonder- pigeons don't eat frogs!

Through the years we have all met so many wonderful, generous people who simply care. Not everyone has the same feeling for all species, and we all have our favorites. But through all of our many locations and challenges, we have done a lot of good. Educating the general public has been one of our main goals. I have been to many classrooms speaking on behalf of Wildlife Rescue, and when I see and hear the awareness in the children, I know we are making a difference. People have to understand the problems faced by our wildlife before they can help.

Caring for and releasing endangered species is what our permit is for, but my favorite memory is the return of one of my first baby birds a year after he was released. He landed on my head and demanded a worm! Of course it was a starling.

We Save the Birds
Copyright © 1999 Wildlife Rescue, Inc.
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