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from the Florida Times Union link to original article

ELKTON | A welcoming chorus of cheerful chirps and purring-like chuckles greeted Melanie Cain-Stage when the makeshift family of river otters, Andy, Charlie, Opie and Patty, heard her coming toward their habitat at Humane Association of Wildlife Care and Education Inc.

dwcDances with Clouds, an elegant swallow-tailed kite, cocked her head and hopped along her perch nearby to watch Cain-Stage, who paused to say "Hello"' before continuing on to check Cherokee, a young bobcat brought to HAWKE too tame to survive if returned to the wild.

"We're running on fumes right now," said Cain-Stage, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator since 1979.

HAWKE is one of the oldest nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation facilities in Florida. But its future is uncertain, as is the fate of similar sanctuaries statewide that care for the state's injured, sick or orphaned native animals and birds.

Relying on donations, HAWKE has cared for river otters, bobcats, eagles, hawks, owls, turtles and gopher tortoises for 26 years. Injured and orphaned wildlife typically come to the five-acre Elkton farm in rural St. Johns County from state and federal authorities, law enforcement and fire-rescue agencies and other wildlife rehabbers. HAWKE works closely with St. Johns Veterinary Hospital and St. Augustine Regional Veterinary Emergency Center to nurse them all to health — and release, if possible.

Recent patients include a young screech owl that a county sheriff's deputy brought in early Christmas morning after it was found lying injured beside a road. On Dec. 20 county firefighters turned over another screech owl that apparently also had been hit by a vehicle, but it didn't survive. However, the Christmas owl is recovering and soon should be ready for release, Cain-Stage said last week.

Like some of its patients, HAWKE is struggling to survive. The economy is taking its toll on fundraisers. And what some rehabbers perceive as apathy toward their work is making their mission to preserve a natural resource tougher each day.

"Wildlife rehabilitators are the real endangered species," Cain-Stage said.

HAWKE recently had to dip into its emergency fund to feed the animals. Cain-Stage said she "maxed out her credit card" so the facility could accept new patients. There is no large reliable source of funding such as corporate sponsorship.

"We need some money that we can depend on because ... we just can't keep going day-to-day praying we have enough money," she said.

It costs about $3,000 to raise a baby otter to the point where it can be released into the wild. Food alone for a screech owl costs $5 a day. This year, $20,000 was needed for fencing to keep otter and bobcat habitats separate to ensure compliance with state regulations, she said.

Other facilities also are scrambling financially.

Florida has one of the largest networks of wildlife-rehabilitation facilities in the nation. Although licensed and regulated by state and federal authorities, the rehabbers don't get any government funding, said Beth Hirschfeld, president of the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does work with rehabbers to ensure they are operating properly in the best interest of the animals and humans, said Katie Purcell, spokeswoman for the commission's Division of Law Enforcement.

Hirschfeld said rehabbers rely on personal income, private donations, fundraisers, memberships and sponsorships to operate their facilities, which typically are nonprofit private organizations.

HAWKE is among 229 licensed facilities in Florida, including 30 in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties, state records show.

But the number of rehabbers is dwindling. Cain-Stage estimates about 40 percent of Florida's larger facilities have closed in recent years. Others are switching to solely educational programs, Hirschfeld said.

"Mostly, there are small rehabilitators throughout the state taking care of a large number of animals in their homes and in a very small area, using resources out of pocket just because that is kind of the nature of the beast," said Hirschfeld, a wildlife veterinarian for 14 years. Some work two or three jobs out of necessity so they can afford to care for the animals. A lot are "running on fumes and hoping for the best."

"A lot of people get beaten down, and don't feel appreciated and don't feel like they financially can keep doing it," Hirschfield said. "These days, we're also losing rehabilitators because they die, get sick or old and fade away."

After 29 years, Wrede's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Inc. in Sebring stopped taking in animals and became an education-only center Jan. 1. That means there will be no Highlands County facility that takes care of birds. The center's Facebook announcement attributed the decision to "less volunteers, less donations and funding ... plus some health issues" for its operators and a volunteer.

Cain-Stage and other rehabbers said they want people to understand the importance of Florida's wildlife, and to care enough to support their efforts to preserve it.

"It's sad, but true. If you want to help the poor owl hit by a car, the eagle shot and left to die, the bobcat kitten starved and alone, you need to support wildlife rehabilitation," Cain-Stage said.

That may be a hard sell. Three of 17 people picked randomly by the Times-Union in St. Johns County said a portion of state hunting and fishing license fees should go toward wildlife rehabilitation. However, the other 14 said no government money should be used because the facilities are privately run and rehabbers do it voluntarily.

Cain-Stage established HAWKE in 1987. Respected by her peers, Cain-Stage is considered a river otter expert, having taken care of about 50 of the animals and successfully released many during her career. She also is known for her experience with bobcats and birds of prey.

HAWKE's patients are returned to the wild if possible. But if unreleaseable, they may become part of HAWKE's environmental education program or find homes at other facilities. HAWKE's four otters serve as a foster family for orphaned baby otters brought to the facility. Cain-Stage hopes Cherokee will become a foster parent to orphaned bobcat kittens.

To raise public awareness about wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, HAWKE does education programs at local schools and civic organizations.

Meanwhile, the state association of wildlife rehabilitators is trying to interest young people in the field.

"It's kind of difficult when we say, 'You know, you'll get the warm fuzzies and feel really great about what you do, but you'll live in poverty and not make any money,' " Hirschfield said. "It's not an easy sell."

Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075

ELKTON, Fla. -- A bald eagle is recovering after being shot in St. Augustine.

H.A.W.K.E. Wildlife, a non-profit rescue group, says it has been caring for the mature bald eagle since last week when it was found near State Road 206 in the St. Augustine area.

Read the story HERE.

Melanie Cain-Stage president of HAWKE and licensed rehabilitator since 1979 never knows what the next phone call will bring. Sunday evening February 10th just as Melanie had placed her weary head on her pillow for the night, she got a desperate call from Sara
LaNina .Sara was guarding an adult bobcatthat had been hit by a car. He was staggering from the blow and and was trapped by the sides of the wall of the small (Hastings) bridge. This is located on the 4 lane SR 207.The woman had called every phone number she could find,and the only help offered was to come out and shoot the animal. She was in tears and guiding cars around the injured animal. She and the bobcat were in danger of getting killed by a passing car.

Orig babcat coverTo save valuable time, Melanie called George Letts of the St Johns County Sheriffs office. He lived near the location and had drugs that may be needed to capture the animal. Officer Letts had brought eagles and other wildlife to HAWKE in the past, He even had experience rescuing bears . He got the dazed cat into a large kennel pictured here above Melanie had her intensive room ready for the injured cat and was releaved when he came with the bobcat secure in the Kennel.

The bobcat was in serious condition, his eyes were darting uncontrollable from side to side and his entire head wobbled and was tilted at an unnatural angle. He could not focus or dilate his eyes and this indicated that he had severe head trauma. There was no
acknowlegement with a growl or response to our presence, Melanie made the animal comfortable and put some cortisone for brain swelling in a piece of meat. She then put the injured cat in HAWKE's ICU room in where it was warm and quiet. By this time it was past midnight. Melanie was afraid he might have internal injuries, or bleeding in the brain and not might make it until daylight. In the morning, "Braveheart "named for after the celtic warrior, was more alert, but still shaking his head and eyes. She called St Johns Vet Clinic who have donated their medical care to HAWKE for over 15 years .Expert wildlife veterinarian Dr Kathleen Deckard explained because of the head trauma it was unsafe to drug the bobcat and have him x-rayed. Only supportive care and proper medication and food would be his treatment.

Melanie prepared her largest mammal cage by placing a dog igloo house inside where braveheart could hide and sleep. She used the empty shallow swimming pool for cat itter and put wood shavings over the floor for his comfort, The empty pool worked perfect for a super size litter box..A large bowl of fresh water and food and the kennel was opened and the cat dashed in and went into his igloo. This cage is located in a back area of the fenced in HAWKE compound under a huge oak tree. The roofed cage has 4
foot steel lined wire to prevent escape and also give total privacy away from people and other wildlife.

Melanie was really concerned for the first few days that Braveheart was going to die. He just laid n the igloo and slept. He did however eat his food ( fresh beef heart and chicken) which was laced with his medications. By the third day he was peeking out of the igloo and looked much improved, The St Augustine Record newspaper featured this beautiful; photo taken by Daron Dean and article by Tiffany Pakkal on their valentines day front cover story The photographer had had a long range lense so the Bobcat was not aware of his picture being taken. . Wi t h e v e r y d a y t h e r e w a s improvement. He was eating his food and alsoa special canned food made for bobcats and had been wormed for parasites. He had nobroken bones and his bruised body and head injury gradually healed. Melanie did not want to drug or stress him out for capture. So two weeks before she planned to release him she had placed in the cage a large bobcat size live trap. It was tied open so the cat could walk in get his food and the door would not shut.

 

Orig babcat cover.jpg100_0899.jpg262387606.jpg100_0897.jpgP2080358.JPGP2090366.JPG262387657.jpgready to go.jpgsjs_09BobcatRelease0329.jpg

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