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July 08, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 08, 2005

Saving our little friends Saving our little friends (July 08, 2005)

Wildlife Rescue calls for help, and money

By Jon Wiener

Apparently, no one bothered to tell the injured and sick birds at Wildlife Rescue how hard it is to balance a $194 million city budget.

Take as an example the five black phoebes found in a bag in a Springer Road garage in late June after a resident had mistakenly chased away their mother. Piled on top of each other in a plastic strawberry basket lined with a few squares of toilet paper, they see the door to their climate-controlled box open, so they wiggle their heads free and start gaping.

What they don't realize is that it's still 11 minutes before feeding time, and director Terry Keible is only opening the door to show off the animals to a reporter.

At its final budget hearing in mid-June, Mountain View canceled its $16,000-a-year contract with Wildlife Rescue, managed through the police department. That same week, Palo Alto hit the nonprofit with a $19,000 cut. Both cities cited the budget crunch.

In the span of one week, the nonprofit had lost nearly a fifth of its funding, and Keible was warning that it might no longer be able to afford food and medicine for injured phoebes and others in the future.

"The most horrible thing we could imagine doing is having to euthanize the animals. We don't want to do that," says Keible.

When the phoebes do get fed, they will receive a couple of gulps of a house specialty Basic Nestling Diet -- a rather disgusting blend of Eukanuba kitten chow, chicken-flavored baby food, powdered egg whites and vitamins. Some of the larger shorebirds get something called Fish Mash (don't ask), while baby squirrels nurse on Pedialite.

Located in Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto, Wildlife Rescue has contracted with local cities for decades, taking in "urban wildlife" -- mainly birds and squirrels, but occasionally foxes and baby raccoons -- from all over North County. There are plenty of ways to earn a trip to the recovery room. The most common ones involve flying into a window, nesting in a prematurely trimmed tree, getting hit by a car or attacked by a cat.

"Sometimes I get a little upset with people. I'll come back here and have a little tantrum," says Jennifer MacLean, animal care coordinator at the center and one of only three paid employees.

Close your eyes in the recovery room at Wildlife Rescue (and ignore the incessant beeping of timers going off every half hour announcing feeding time), and you might imagine you are in a wildlife preserve, or at least some sort of aviary for flightless birds. A soundtrack of bird songs plays in the background, so that babies can pick out their own and learn it. The squirrels are kept in upturned laundry baskets in a separate room.

Every once in a while, the peace is shattered, and a bird escapes into the open air. The volunteers know the drill -- one yells "bird out" and tries to keep an eye on it, while another shuts off the light so the birds are not tempted to fly upward.

Though they often are too young to fly, the smaller birds are hardest to corral. "They scoot and they hide," says MacLean.

Just over half of the animals that are dropped off here make it out alive, at which point they are released as close to their homes as possible. Keible says that is a pretty good rate compared to similar organizations, but bleaker days may be ahead.

The cities' budget decisions do not spell certain doom for Wildlife Rescue -- already the organization has been trying to come up with new ways to increase the donations that make up the majority of its funding. Last month, a fund-raising night at Baja Fresh netted $250. The fourth- and fifth-graders at Emerson Elementary School raised a little more than $300 at a bake sale held to benefit the shelter.

The biggest event of the year is the October raptor release at Fogarty Winery. It puts the organization in the awkward position of hoping for a great horned owl to get hurt so that its release will attract media coverage -- but it happens every year without fail.

Last week, a worker brought in a golden eagle from NASA Ames with its wing broken in two places. Keible thinks the bird flew into a wire.

Cradling a swift that fell down a chimney, MacLean reflected on the countless animals that she has helped care for, with varying degrees of success.

"When it ends up they are perfectly happy and they are released, it's a really good feeling."
Wildlife Rescue quick stats
Number of animals last year: 1,726 Number from Mountain View: 386 Treatment cost per animal: $94
Information To make a donation, send a check to Wildlife Rescue, 4000 Middlefield Road, Building V, Palo Alto, 94303

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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