Wolf Hollow turns 30

A saw whet owl finds a helpful hand and a chance to recover at Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The San Juan Island-based rehab center attended to

Covered in blood, mud and afterbirth, the two women arrived at the theater just moments before they had to go on stage. They slipped into their costumes just in the nick of time, but there was no helping the smell emanating off their bodies.

For veterinarian Meg Lainson (formally known as Jessica Porter) and her assistant Judith Carter, this was just one of many fantastic and true stories from the past. They were both dancers and loved animals, although the two interests didn’t intersect on a regular basis. But on this particular night they were called out for a difficult calf birth, which turned out to require a C-section. The end result of the adventure was a very dramatic theater entrance.

“I miss it a lot,” said Carter, reminiscing about her days working with Lainson.

In the early 1980s the two women were working at a domestic vet clinic, but after treating one wild bird they were thrust into a new direction. The road eventually led to the creation of Wolf Hollow Rehabilitation Center in 1983. The center’s mission is to promote the well-being of wildlife and their habitats through the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife, public education and non-invasive research.

In honor of the center’s 30 years of operation, Lainson, long-time volunteer Ross Lockwood and Wolf Hollow Education Coordinator Shona Aitken will be traversing 30 miles over the course of three days on September, 5, 6 and 7 on San Juan, Lopez and Orcas.

“We want to show we are a county-wide organization. Even though we are located on San Juan Island we really are involved in the whole area,” Aitken said.

The walk is to raise awareness about their 30 years of work and to raise general funds from sponsors to keep the center working.

The past

Looking back at the start of Wolf Hollow, Carter recalls that their first “wild” patient was a great-horned owl with a wing fracture, which is a death sentence in the aviary world. She built a large cage in her yard and cared for the owl until it died five months later.

“I remember every animal we euthanized, every wild animal that didn’t make it,” Carter said. “It’s real powerful the bonds you create among these creatures. I’m grateful I could do it.”

After that people kept bringing them wild animals at the office located in a lot that is now part of the Best Western on San Juan Island. So for a while they were treating domestic and wild animals at the same time. In the small house and yard they treated, at one time, four baby seals, six baby raccoons and six fawns. Lainson recalls an odd sight from that time of patients from the convalescence center next door wandering through the lot.

Carter tended to take birds home and would have to wake at 6 a.m. for their feedings.

Bald eagleAround 1985 or 1986 they decided that the wildlife in their care were too voluminous for the space, which was a good decision because soon after the building was condemned.

“The only thing that was insulating the place was dead rats,” Lainson said with a laugh.

The 40 acres, where Wolf Hollow is now located, was initially rented for $1 and eventually was purchased. The property hosts 40 animal enclosures, including an eagle flight enclosure, seal pools, a deer enclosure, and a songbird aviary. So far this year, Wolf Hollow has treated about 300 animals including finch nestlings, fawns, raccoons, kits, bald eagles and river otters.

Aitken said it takes two full-time staff, two seasonal staff, five interns and on any given day one to two volunteers to run the center during busy summer months.

“Hundreds of people have helped as volunteers … it takes a lot of people to make this happen … and will continue,” Aitken said. “The people involved have changed and the facility has grown, but our basic mission is exactly the same – rehabilitation, education and research.”

Only a few animals have suffered injuries that have left them unable to return to the wild – a rough-legged and a red-tailed hawk are used as education animals at schools and summer camps. As education coordinator, Aitken’s job is to help people learn more about local wildlife and human impacts on these animals and their habitats.

The future

As Aitken prepares for the upcoming walk, she reflects on how people’s perceptions about other species have changed over the years.

“People are understanding more and more the value of wildlife,” Aitken said. “Folks who were fishing and farming in the past may have thought of wildlife as more of a nuisance. Today more people are interested in wildlife.”

Although this is a positive sign, Aitken sees more interest from urban dwellers as troubling because people don’t always know the appropriate ways to interact with wild animals.

For instance, cutting down a tree during nesting season may cause unnecessary songbird deaths or injuries when it is easy to cut down a tree in the fall or winter, she said. Lainson says public education is at the top of the pyramid – in order to save animals, you have to know they exist and how they can be helped.

“We are one of them and they are one of us,” Lainson said.

For more info, visit www.wolfhollowwildlife.org.