PAWS Magazine

Issue 42, Summer 1999

McCleary's Olympic Wildlife Rescue merges into PAWS Wildlife

Washington’s wildlife gained a strong new ally recently as the PAWS Wildlife Center and Olympic Wildlife Rescue (OWR) of McCleary, Washington formally merged their operations.

The PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood was the largest wildlife rehabilitation center in the Northwest, taking in more than 5,000 wild animals every year. Now with Olympic Wildlife Rescue, which takes in around 1,500 animals a year, PAWS Wildlife is the largest wildlife rehabilitation organization west of the Mississippi.

For Gary Bankers, Olympic Wildlife Rescue board chairman, joining forces with PAWS made perfect sense. "We have been a partner with PAWS Wildlife already for over a decade," explained Bankers, referring to the close working relationship that PAWS and OWR have enjoyed.

Bankers also noted how the common philosophy between OWR and PAWS Wildlife further enhances their bond. "With this merger, the eagles, murres, raccoons, opossums, bears, and other critters of Washington gain a powerful new friend."

Olympic Wildlife Rescue was founded in the mid-1980s by Ron Ambuehl. Situated on some sleepy land in McCleary, OWR has grown from essentially a backyard operation to a facility featuring a large raptor flight cage, major caging for large mammals, and facilities for caring for smaller animals.

Though based in Grays Harbor County, OWR receives most of its animals from Thurston County, primarily from nearby Olympia.

PAWS Wildlife Center was founded in the early 1980s by current PAWS board member Curtiss Clumpner, with the help of many others, including current Wildlife Director Jeanne Wasserman. The center was originally called HOWL, which stood for Help Our WildLife.

HOWL quickly outgrew its small facilities beside the PAWS shelter, so a campaign to finance a true wildlife center was undertaken in the mid-1980s. In 1987 the Elsie Grismore Memorial Wildlife Hospital opened for business on the PAWS grounds.

HOWL quickly grew to become a national leader in wildlife rehabilitation, with other facilities often looking to HOWL for leadership.

OWR began working closely with HOWL (which was renamed PAWS Wildlife Center in 1998) almost as soon as OWR opened.

The new PAWS Wildlife Center was able to accommodate large sea bird pools, and OWR would often transfer to PAWS emaciated sea birds that washed up on the coast during winter storms. Last year OWR transferred more than 100 weakened sea bird to the PAWS facility for special care.

The staff at OWR is well known for its dedication to Washington’s wildlife. Traditionally OWR has had trailers on site where staff could live and be ready around the clock to care for the animals.

"But the burn out factor is high," said Gary Bankers. "If paid at all, it was often at or near minimum wage. The long term staff members and the many OWR seasonal employees have sacrificed a lot in their dedication to the mission of OWR."

Last year, according to Bankers, it became apparent that OWR’s staff, volunteers, and financial resources could not sustain OWR indefinitely. Bankers and the rest of the OWR board approached PAWS Wildlife about joining forces. After months of discussion, PAWS and OWR signed a Joint Operating Agreement on May 3, 1999.

The Joint Operating Agreement means that PAWS has taken over day-to-day responsibility of the OWR facility. Several PAWS staffers have transferred to OWR, included facility manager Jennifer Convy and caretaker Neil Deruyter. OWR staffers Dominic Wolff and Kathy Weed have transferred to PAWS in Lynnwood, and some OWR staffers, like Deb Watters, remain at the McCleary facility. OWR staffers all now work standard shifts, and are paid commensurate with staffers at the Lynnwood wildlife facility.

The OWR board remains in place for the first year of the Joint Operation Agreement, then all operations are transferred to the PAWS board. Current OWR board members Gary Bankers and Shawn Newman are pre-approved for the pool of candidates for the next PAWS board openings.

Are OWR members now PAWS members?

Yes. All OWR members are now officially members of PAWS. This means that OWR members are eligible to vote in the PAWS yearly board election and receive a one-year subscription to PAWS News. After May of 2000, OWR members will have to renew their memberships as do all PAWS members. This means either a $30 minimum donation, or a $50 family donation (which offers two voting memberships), or the member must volunteer for OWR/PAWS during the year.

Will PAWS change the name of Olympic Wildlife Rescue?

Olympic Wildlife Rescue will retain its name. Because it will now be part of the PAWS organization, OWR will become known as PAWS Olympic Wildlife Rescue. As with any organization, OWR and PAWS will be evaluating their names and identities over time, and may modify the names of the different facilities, but PAWS is committed to maintaining the recognizable identities that communities have come to respect.

What will happen to the OWR facility?

PAWS is bringing in a new structure to expand OWR’s resources. PAWS also recently bought a new van for transporting animals between the facilities. Soon OWR’s main access road will change so that traffic isn’t constantly driving by the raptor flight cage and mammal cages. The old trailers used by staff have been removed.

Is everything going to based out of Lynnwood now?

No. OWR now has more staff than ever, including volunteer coordinator Sandy Kernast. Sandy is looking for volunteers such as wildlife care assistants, who help with cage cleaning, food preparation, and cage set-up. OWR is also looking for volunteers to transport animals to the vet, work on fund-raising projects and more. Call Sandy at (360) 495-DEER if you would like an OWR volunteer packet.

How does this merger help Washington’s wildlife?

Now that OWR and PAWS are the same organization, duplication of services can be avoided, and animals can receive the best possible rehabilitation. With OWR and PAWS meeting the wildlife rehabilitation needs for such a large portion of Washington state, the PAWS wildlife lobbyists will have an even stronger voice in Olympia when they advocate for Washington’s wild animals.

I still have questions about the merger.

Call Olympic Wildlife Rescue at (360) 495-DEER.

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