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Meet Wildlife Shelter Patients at Fundraiser

One of the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter’s opossums peeks out. You may get the chance to meet this critter during the animal hospital’s annual fundraiser, Taste of Carteret Nov. 17 in the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. Photo: Mark Hibbs

MOREHEAD CITY – Meet Dinah the barred owl, Isabeau the red-tailed hawk, Nigel the eastern screech owl, either Little Girl or Sammie opossum and possibly Drake the Duck during the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter’s 23rd annual Taste of Carteret  Friday, Nov. 17, in the Crystal Coast Civic Center.

The wildlife hospital’s biggest fundraiser of the year, tickets are $35 each for the event that features a buffet-style dinner made possible through donations from several county restaurants, an open bar, silent auction, live entertainment by duo Now & Then and a meet and greet with critters that call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, or OWLS, home. Doors open at 6 p.m. and dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. Call the shelter at 252-240-1200 to buy tickets.

Items up for bid during the silent auction range from jewelry to home decor and gift certificates as well as work donated by local artists including Debra Pagliughi, John Althouse, Sam Bland, Bright Walker and others.

OWLS Executive Director Brooke Breen said that the money raised at Taste of Carteret, minus the cost of the venue, goes directly back into the shelter. The nonprofit organization does not receive any funding from state or federal government and relies solely on donations and grants to provide around-the-clock care for the sick and injured animals brought to OWLS.

Right now, the shelter is caring for baby squirrels, as well as a large number of raptors, migratory birds and local fish eaters.

“We have loads of loons, cormorants, pelicans, gannets, terns, gulls, black skimmers and scoters come in every fall and winter,” she said.  “They each will eat their own weight in fish per day and the average stay for these guys is two weeks. That’s a lot of fish, but you also have to consider the size of the fish being proportional to the animal. We can take any fish less than 8 inches long. Mullet, spot, croaker, menhaden, pinfish, silversides, minnows … “

The two, full-time staff members, Breen and Lainey Gottuso, and one part-time staff member, Jennifer Frame, have their hands full with caring for the wildlife brought into the shelter, but are able to provide the care needed with the help of volunteers.

Executive Director Brooke Breen with the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter studies an owl as it takes flight. Photo: Sam Bland

“We are open every single day of the year, including holidays. The way it all works out is because we have such a great group of volunteers,” Breen said. “They are the heartbeat of our clinic. We would never be able to care for the plus/minus 1,300 animals per year without their dedication. All the donations go to the cost of medicines, specialty foods, utilities and improving or adding enclosures.”

Adult volunteers with an interest in helping at OWLS are welcome to apply year-round, though, Breen said there is currently a waiting list for training new adult volunteers. Junior volunteers, ages 13-17, are encouraged to lend a hand during baby season in the spring. Breen said that if a child needs to complete service hours for school, staff may be able to make arrangements.

OWLS also receives a lot of support from Scout programs.

“We love our Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts,” she said. “Many of the enclosures and projects that we have are from these kid’s hard work and love of community.”

They also receive support from children in other ways, besides donations of time.

“In the past few years we have had children gift us with items on our wish list in lieu of presents for their birthday,” Breen added. “This is so cool. We absolutely are flattered that kids want to help the animals more than get presents.”

When asked what needs the shelter has, Breen explained that besides monetary donations, there are some items the shelter needs to have stocked at all times, such as Dawn dish soap, bleach, fragrance-free laundry detergent, Pine-Sol, toilet paper, paper towels, Pecans, green peanuts, acorns, any in-shell nut, freshly caught or frozen local fish, rabbit feed, Purina cat chow and black oil sunflower seed.

There are also items needed on a seasonal basis and vary depending on the types of animals. “Spring/summer baby season was incredibly long this year, in fact, we are still getting in infant squirrels,” she said.

“We do have a few larger scale needs, such as a new street sign off Highway 24 so that people trying to bring us patients can find us more easily,” she said. She also mentioned that the riding lawnmower used to maintain the two-acre campus and the clinic refrigerator are both beyond repair.

“There are several other items such as replacing the bridge across the pond and mending the privacy fence that would be lovely to have done,” she added.” This is the time of year that we have a little slack in the patient load, so we try to get the projects and repairs done now. In baby season, there’s no time for anything other than patient care. We work 12-plus hour days to raise all those orphaned or injured babies.”

To visit OWLS or have OWLS present one of its outreach programs to an organization, contact Breen at 252-240-1200. Monetary donations can also be made on the organization’s website.

OWLS Executive Director Brooke Breen shares advice for helping if you find an injured or orphaned animal:

  • Look around at the whole situation before you jump into action. Often, people misinterpret animal behavior. The circumstances of the encounter are very important in providing caregivers a frame of reference for that animal’s situation. Was it near a roadway or under a window? Was a tree cut down? Was an adult animal nearby?
  • If the animal is in immediate danger, pick it up or contain it somehow. If there’s a storm and deluge of rain and a baby squirrel fell from the tree, gently pick it up and keep it safe until you can speak with someone at OWLS. If it’s on the side of the road, pick it up, but only if it’s safe for you to do so.
  • Call OWLS for advice. There’s no receptionist, but your call will be returned. Another option, especially for after hours, is to message OWLS on Facebook. If you have an animal between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and it needs immediate help, just bring it.
  • Remember that you are handling a scared and injured wild animal. Be respectful of its mouth and claws. Turn off the radio and don’t pet the animal or talk to it on the way to the clinic. Human contact is intensely stressful to the animal and it can die from fright.
  • Because there are so many animals in care, OWLS may not have someone to go to a rescue immediately. The person reporting the injured animal is its best chance of getting help. OWLS staff can assist in any rescue scenario and explain how to restrain the animal safely.

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About the Author

Jennifer Allen

Born and raised in Swansboro, Jennifer Allen graduated from Appalachian State University in 2002 and picked up a second degree from UNC-Charlotte the following year. She joined the staff of the Carteret County News-Times in Morehead City in 2005 and completed her master's at UNC-Wilmington in 2008. Jenn spent nine years writing and editing at the News-Times before joining the staff at the Town of Beaufort in 2014, where she served as public information officer and town clerk. On June 1, 2017, Jenn came aboard as assistant editor for Coastal Review Online. She has also written for Our State Magazine and other regional and statewide publications. She lives in Morehead City with her fiancé and their pups, Z, Gus and Willa.