By Eric Wilson-Edge
Deer are supposed to run away when you get close. Willow doesn’t. She walks right up and nuzzles her head into my chest. Someone raised Willow as a pet. The State of Washington found out and brought her here to For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in rural Thurston County.
Willow lets me rub her ears. I’m equal parts amazed and confused. She finds Claudia Supensky and begins to sniff. “In the wild, deer smell each other’s breath to identify each other,” says Supensky.
This is Willow’s home now. She can never be released into the wild. Instead, she and another doe are used to help teach rescued fawns how to be deer. The fawns, like most of the animals at For Heaven’s Sake, will eventually be returned to nature.
For Heaven’s Sake is situated on eight acres of land near Rochester. Claudia runs the non-profit with her husband David and a team of volunteers. The first thing I see when I arrive is an enclosure. Staring right at me with his huge eyes is an owl.
Supensky takes me around. She has an owl pendant on her shirt. “There’s nothing I don’t like, but I just truly enjoy owls,” says Supensky. Her career helping animals began at a young age. Claudia grew up in Texas. One day a rancher brought over three little jack rabbits – he’d accidentally ran over the nest while plowing the field. Supensky raised them and eventually sent them back into the wild.
We step inside a trailer. It’s tiny and filled with the chirps of baby birds. Claudia uncovers a nest. Four mouths instantly open. Supensky plunges a syringe into a grey colored formula and gives each bird some food. “Volunteers are feeding baby birds every twenty minutes,” says Supensky.
There are a lot of birds – and opossums, squirrels, rabbits, ducks, chickens, etc. They came to For Heaven’s Sake for one reason or another. One of the rabbits was shot. A pigeon ran into the windshield of a car. The Canada goose had its wings clipped.
Claudia shows me the medical building. We talk about the scale of her project. Nearly everything is paid for by donations. All of the food, medical supplies and materials comes from the generosity of others. The new x-ray machine was paid for by a grant.
The phone rings. David needs help locating an opossum someone called in earlier. I meander into the next room. I’m looking at the baby owls when Claudia finds me. The owls are huddled together in a mass of patchy white fluff.
I think I’ve seen everything when Claudia opens a cage and hands me a river otter. Oscar squirms in my arms for a minute until he finds a warm spot. Oscar’s mother left him behind. He lifts his head, his eyes still closed, and I want to adopt him on the spot.
But that’s not the point. As Claudia explains it, caring for wounded or abandoned animals is a delicate process. The goal is to help them recover so they can leave. One has to be especially careful around babies who have little exposure to the outside world.
Oscar has since been transferred to a facility that is better equipped to handle marine life. He’ll learn how to swim when he’s four months old and, at 18 months, he’ll join his brethren in the river. “Otters have to be with each other or they won’t do well,” says Supensky.
As we walk back to the entrance Claudia shows me where new enclosures will be built. For Heaven’s Sake is expanding at a steady rate. This is a far cry from when Supensky started out five years ago. The only “building” was the trailer I mentioned earlier.
I am treated to one last surprise. Claudia lets me pet Cruiser, a Saw-whet owl. He cannot fly so, like Willow, he will remain at For Heaven’s Sake. Cruiser is an educational animal which means he can be used to inform the general public about wildlife. He likes his head rubbed a certain way, not too rough, just a lite ruffle of the feathers.
I wish he could be released but at least here I know he’ll be loved and looked after.