QUINCY, Fla. — If it weren’t for some TLC, Rudy, a red-shouldered hawk, wouldn’t be here today.
Nine years ago, Rudy was hit by a car. She had a concussion and neurological damage. Now, she’s blind in one eye. She’s one of many animals at the St. Francis Wildlife Association.
Teresa Stevenson is the director of the non-profit organization.
“Most of the animals we get are injured or orphaned due to human activities,” says Stevenson. “I think that it’s very important to give them a second chance, because we were the cause of all their trouble in the first place. I consider it an obligation to give them a second chance.”
Stevenson and her staff treat up to 3,000 animals each year, ranging from orphaned rabbits, squirrels, and bats, to reptiles. Volunteers take care of these special patients around the clock.
“The songbirds, we feed them every 15 minutes,” says Stevenson. “You are feeding and cleaning, feeding and cleaning. That’s one person with songbirds. Another person goes and starts feeding the bunnies, and possums, and squirrels. They get fed every two or three hours when they’re tiny. Another person is working with the turtles, another person is working with the birds of prey.”
Healing starts indoors. Veterinarians examine each animal and start treatment. As a patient gains strength, it’s transferred outside. It learns to be mobile in special holding cages that protect them from outside predators. Once the animal makes a full recovery, it is discharged and released to the wild.
Sandy Beck is education director at St. Francis Wildlife.
“So much time, love, and care goes into it, and nurturing,” says Beck. “You get to take it back to where it came from and set it free. I’ll never get used to that. I hope I never will, because that is the most heartwarming and fulfilling experience. That is why wildlife rehabilitators do what they do.”
Not every case results in a full recovery. Some animals get a new home at a zoo, St. Francis Wildlife keeps others as foster parents for orphaned wildlife. Animals like Rudy, the red-shouldered hawk, are used as education animals. Sandy Beck brings in those animals to her class at Astoria Park Elementary school, and to other schools across the area.
“It’s really important, we feel, for kids to get up close and personal with wild animals. Just learning facts in books or in a nature program isn’t enough,” says Beck.
Beck says students are thrilled to see animals up-close. She says students remember the visits for a lifetime. While the visits are fun, she hopes it sends an additional message to students.
“What we understand and appreciate, we’re going to want to protect,” says Beck. “As older citizens, they will hopefully vote to protect the environment.”
It’s an opportunity to educate fostered by a need to care for the helpless.
Steven Wright volunteers at St. Francis Wildlife. He finds the hard work rewarding.
“This is the payment for me, knowing that I changed their life in a positive way.”
“I’m a biologist. I would not be doing anything else,” says director, Teresa Stevenson. “Once you get started with wildlife rehabilitation, you cannot go back to anything else. It’s too much fun.”
A calling to save lives of four legged and winged friends by giving back.
The St. Francis Wildlife Association is a nonprofit organization. They rely on donations from the public to help keep their facility running. They will be hosting a couple of fundraising events in the next few months, including a “WildlifeFest.”