Saving the Wild

The sound of screeching by a back door during Halloween week usually means children in trick-or-treat costumes, but for a Myrtle Creek man, something a whole lot scarier was in the air.

A screech owl, a diminutive member of the owl family Strigidae, had entered into the man’s mud room somehow and was frantically flying from rafter to rafter. Because this man recently had knee surgery, he was incapable of catching the bird himself, so the call went out to Umpqua Wildlife Rescue, a group of volunteers who have been saving the lives of wild animals all across Douglas County for the past 24 years.

For this particular rescue, Peggy Cheatham, the group’s president, donned leather gloves, set up a ladder in the mudroom, and set about to catch the bird with its two foot wingspan. The bird, unfortunately, refused to leave.

After 10 minutes of flying around the rafters, the owl finally tired enough that Cheatham caught it, wrapped it in a towel and placed it in a plastic crate for transfer to her home where she has a clinic with two flight cages that she uses for Umpqua Wildlife Rescue.

“Our mission is to protect and preserve our native wildlife and to assist with orphans and injured wildlife and to return them back to the wild, if at all possible,” Cheatham said.

An owl at the Umpqua Wildlife Rescue

Umpqua Wildlife Rescue has been saving the lives of wild animals for the past 24 years.

Founded in 1988 by Marnie Allbritten, a wildlife rehabilitator and biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Nancy Duncan, a wildlife biologist who worked for the BLM, UWR currently has about 15 active members who take part in the rescue, care and release of wildlife.

“Our organization is an organization of volunteers. There are no paid positions and we do not have a rehab center,” Cheatham said; “We all have our own facilities.”

Individuals wanting to become a full rehabilitator for UWR must also undergo training and testing in order to achieve that status. Rigorous training in order to remain licensed is also required. “The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife governs us. They have state regulations, and we have to pass the state test. We have to be licensed, renew annually and have inspections on our facilities,” Cheatham said.

The ODFW has benefited from the volunteer rescuers. “They are a good group to work with,” Tod Lum of ODFW said, “They are very helpful to us. We are pretty limited and don’t have the facilities here, so they help take a lot of the workload off us and serve a very important function. They give us breathing room.”

Peggy Cheatham

Volunteer Peggy Cheatham is president of Umpqua
Wildlife Rescue. The rescue group teaches a non-credit
class on campus.

Glide resident Tonya Cripps-Starr has twice taken injured animals to UWR. “I admire the devotion and care that they provide to the wildlife. Hopefully, I do not ever have to place another call to them, but if I do, I know that the animals will be receiving quality care from well-qualified and trained rescuers.”

UWR also teaches a non-credit, community-education class on campus at UCC, often with live animals for the students to work with. Anyone who takes the class is eligible to become a non-licensed member of UWR. To achieve full rehabilitator status, further training and testing is required.

“We are on board for this winter. We will start the first Thursday after Valentine’s day, from six to nine p.m.,” Cheatham said; “We run the class for six weeks.”

Cheatham also has this advice for anyone who encounters an injured wild animal: “The first thing you want to do is protect yourself. Don’t get bit. If you get bit by an animal, by law we have to confiscate the animal and kill it to test for rabies, so that animal has lost its life to potentially protect you.”

Cheatham warns those who find an injured animal to take care. “Safety to the handler is the first thing, if you can safely wrap a towel around it, get it in a box, keep it dark, keep it quiet, do not feed it because they have certain diets and you can mess up their system if you feed them. Contact UWR or your Department of Fish and Wildlife or your state police,” she said.

And what will become of the little screech owl? “In a week or so, if all goes well, I will take him back and release him,” Cheatham said.

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.