"There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home." said Dorothy, clutching Toto as she visualized Auntie Em and the farmhouse. No one watching that famous scene from the Wizard of Oz can do so without being overwhelmed with emotions and feelings about their own homes—and how important that security, shelter, and sense of belonging really is.
One of the goals at PAWS is to see that the orphaned, injured and rescued animals that are brought to us find suitable homes, or are returned to their "real" homes in the wild. This is not easily done.
For companion animals, home is caring affectionate guardians, a secure dwelling place and having one’s basic needs met. For the many wildlife that are rehabilitated and released, it means a return to their native habitat and refuge from human contact and urban sprawl.
The tree was old, rotten and full of many cavities—but it was also sheltering, shading, and nurturing to wildlife even in its decay. The trunk and branches were riddled with insect tunnels, holed by squirrels, chiseled by woodpeckers, the old soft wood providing food and shelter to many living things. To these creatures the tree was home.
The old tree fell down in May, wind and age conspired, and the tired roots and decaying trunk gave up the struggle against gravity.
Curious hikers found the tree and within in its architecture discovered a crushed nest with four down-covered baby Barn owls.
Barn owls are cavity nesters, so this wasn’t a nest of sticks, twigs and grasses carefully placed across branches, but a hole in the trunk, possibly originally excavated by woodpeckers, and enlarged over a long period of time.
One of the babies died as a result of the fall, and the three remaining owlets were brought to PAWS Wildlife Center for care. Baby Barn owls are strange, misshapen looking creatures: round bodies covered with fluffy white down, heart-shaped monkey faces, and matchstick legs. These babies, about six weeks old, weighed from 14.5 ounces to 1 pound, 3 ounces. Barn owl eggs are incubated from the day the first egg is laid and hatch out in sequence, so the babies were different sizes.
It took 16 weeks of careful nurturing and special care to raise these baby owls to the point where they were ready to return "home," back to the wild. Barn owls are exceptional rodent predators and have prodigious appetites; so daily weights and checks were necessary to monitor the growth and development of each chick. In the wild, in a natural situation, each of the young owls in turn would fledge and leave the nest in the fall.
Going "home" for rehabilitated wildlife is a complicated process. Most animals are returned close to where they were found, so that they can successfully re-integrate into the local population. Great care must be taken in selecting the release sites: attention to location, weather, food and water sources, competition, and timing the release are all important, and can increase survival.
Because of the different ages of the three birds, one owl was released first and the two others a week later. In both cases, early in September, each of the three young owls was carefully caught, checked, and crated for the long release journey home. The release sites were two farms near Olympia, part of PAWS extensive release-site database of 170 properties, comprising 3,800 private acres. The first owl was released on a 45-acre property with a large barn suitable for roosting, surrounded by fields where the owl would be sure to find the rodents that are its primary food. The other two birds were transported to another farm, a 600-acre site. One of the owls was released near the barn and flew into a stand of trees. The other bird was released inside the barn, and flew up to perch in the timber structure. All the releases occurred at dusk, when crows and other day birds are settling in for the night, and when the barn owls would normally be stirring from their daytime roosts.
Each year we return about 1,500 rehabilitated wildlife of many different species back to the wild. Going home is the end of a sometimes lengthy period of specialized care. Dozens of people are involved in this process: the concerned member of the public who finds the wild animal in distress, the transport volunteer who drives it to the center, the staff and volunteers whose skills ensure the best standards of care, and landowner who allows her property to be used as a release site. Their reward is to know that another owl flies free in the moonlight, a raccoon returns to the woods, a murre dives free in the ocean, and a swallow once again describes its exquisite arabesque in the evening sky. All is well... everyone is safe at home.
People come to PAWS everyday looking for that new best friend, that special someone to make their lives complete. As winter approaches and the holiday season nears, hearts are even more open to adding a new member to the family and so it isn’t surprising to learn that more animals are adopted and "go home for the holidays" than at any other time of the year.
This is especially heartwarming to the staff and volunteers at the PAWS Companion Animal Shelter, who don’t want any of the homeless animals we care for to wake up behind the bars of a kennel on a holiday morning. Last year, a record 528 adoptions took place at PAWS during this winter season, due in large part to our participation in the national "Home for the Holidays" campaign. Started in 1999 by the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego County, its goal is to get animal shelters to work together to save lives. It has grown into a worldwide event where more than 1,050 animal welfare groups take part in activities that facilitate some 250,000 adoptions.
PAWS has united over 1,500 animals and families since joining the campaign in 2000. This year our goal is to place 700 cats and dogs in appropriate homes from November 10, 2003 through January 4, 2004. Placing an orphaned dog or cat with a loving family is always the goal of the comprehensive adoption process utilized by PAWS Adoption Advisors—a procedure that gets rave reviews from past "Home for the Holidays" adopters. Last year, shortly before Thanksgiving, Jeri and Ben Stalvey and their teenage sons, came to the shelter looking for a new companion. They met Abby, a beautiful Chow Chow, and were amazed by the detailed, yet easy adoption process, "PAWS helped us find a member of our family that we didn’t even know was missing until we met her." said Jeri. Abby is now home where she enjoys a steady supply of squeaky toys and loves to eat peanuts, according to her "dad" Ben. "We’re very happy to have Abby, and are glad she picked us."
The PAWS staff is highly skilled at matching an animal’s personality and needs to that of a potential human companion. Just ask Jean Brouelette who adopted Louie, (formerly known as Jasper), last December. Jean was introduced to a gorgeous lap dog, a 90-pound black lab that the staff described as intelligent, warm, funny and friendly. She was pleasantly surprised by the thorough consultation she received during the adoption process. "Your staff was able to detect potential issues beforehand through your screening methods," explained Brouelette, "and now I have the best dog ever!" Because of her experience, Jean vows to adopt from PAWS again when the time is right, and encourages others to consider bringing a new companion home during the holidays.
So while home may look, smell and feel different for the various animals we care for, it ultimately means the same thing... a place of refuge, comfort and peace in what can be a big and sometimes unfriendly world. Cougars, puppies, squirrels and kittens can't click their heels together and go safely home. Instead, they rely on PAWS to help them return to their natural homes in the wild, or they wait patiently for people like you to adopt them.
This holiday season open your hearts, homes and wallets to those animals needing to go home—the creatures of the world will thank you for it.