Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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September 11th, 2001 was a day filled with shock, fear, uncertainty,
and grief. Our perceptions were forever changed, and we were all
inundated with terrifying stories and images that continue to haunt us
to this day. But when I think back on 9/11/01, from among the images of
chaos and destruction, I can pull forth an image that always brings me
comfort. The image is that of a face, full of the excited expectation
of pending freedom. On a day when so many lives were lost, I was
fortunate to be able to take part in the restoration of a life. I
recounted the event in the September 11th, 2002 edition of Wild Again.
As the second anniversary of 9/11/01 approaches, I feel that it is
appropriate to reprint the column once more as a reminder of that days
events, both tragic and uplifting.
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
I stayed in the truck while riding the ferry not because of any real need to keep an eye on my passenger, but due to an inability to pry myself away from the radio. I looked around at the vehicles closest to me and noticed that they too still had their drivers, some with eyes turned downward and some staring straight off into space. Everywhere I turned there were looks of stress and shock. It would have been quite puzzling had I not been suffering from the same condition myself at the time.
On the way into work I had listened as unfathomable events unfolded in New York City. In the short period of time that I was away from the radio rounding up my release candidate for the day and loading him into the back of the PAWS truck, an airliner had struck the Pentagon. I had listened to progressively worse news after I had climbed into the cab of the truck and left Lynnwood. First the south and then the north tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed. The freshest bit of bad news was that an airliner had just crashed in a rural area of Pennsylvania. The shock of it all had not yet faded enough for me to begin to ponder what kind of far-reaching effects these events would have. Regardless of whether or not I was able to ponder the effects, some of them were quickly becoming apparent.
A voice came over the ferry's intercom system and informed my fellow passengers and I that ours would be the last crossing of the day.
A Raccoon, in care at PAWS, investigates a stream of water.
I arrived at the marina on schedule and met with three agents of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I had originally been told that I would give the transport carrier to the agents who would put it on a boat and motor it out to Protection Island where my patient was to be released. They would perform the release and then return the carrier to me on the mainland. Instead, one of the agents asked me to come along making the statement that, "Everyone needs a little happiness today...". After helping to load the carrier onto the boat, I donned a life jacket and settled in for the 15-minute ride to the island.
As we made the crossing and approached the island, my charge was growing restless in his carrier. Perhaps the feeling of the waves or the smell of salt in the air was giving him some inkling of his pending freedom. Arriving at the island, we scouted an area near the harbor looking for conspecifics of our guest of honor. Approximately 300 yards from the boat dock, we spotted nearly 100 plump bodies on a sandy point. It was decided to perform the release a short distance from that point. The carrier was loaded onto a small utility vehicle and driven over to the chosen release site.
Protection Island's caretaker helped me remove the carrier from the vehicle and we placed it about 6 feet from the water’s edge. He then retreated and stood about 15 yards away with the three attending wildlife agents. I moved around to the door of the carrier to find a whiskered face with a twitching nose and large dark eyes staring intently through the bars at the water. The face before me showed none of the stress or shock that I had seen in the faces on the ferry, this face glowed with excitement. The emotion of the animal affected an immediate change in my mood and I suddenly found myself sharing in his excitement. I opened the door, removing the last barrier between him and his new life.
This orphaned Douglas Squirrel is currently in care at PAWS Wildlife Center.
I feel a connection to that seal in the sense that both of us experienced a major change in life as we know it on September 11th, 2001. I'm very thankful that I was able to, as a spectator, experience his change. I'm even more thankful that he did not have to experience mine.
Wildlife Release tally: August 20th to September 2nd, 2003
Wildlife Release tally: 2003
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