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April 19, 2005 > No Talking, Bird Songs Only

No Talking, Bird Songs Only

Turn off Thornton Avenue at Hickory Street and the road appears to end at an industrial building's parking lot. Those who persevere and press on through the lot will find a small road leading toward marshlands beyond. About 100 yards down that road sits a small, one-story building that houses a very special group of residents and volunteers who purpose is to evict the occupants as soon as possible.

Welcome to the Ohlone Humane Society (OHS) Wildlife Rehabilitation Center that reopened its doors last month for the expected spring "baby season" of abandoned or orphaned wildlife that will need a little help to grow and survive in the wild. Lack of funding closes the center during the winter months when volunteers use home care to protect animals challenged by adversity. From April to September, however, the Ohlone Humane Society reopens the facility to treat and protect animals that need a respite from their natural environment before returning to it as adults in good health.

Funded and run completely by volunteers, the rehabilitation center has an open door policy to wild animals in need. Volunteer Supervisor Karen Henderson says that often people see babies that appear to be abandoned and with the best of intentions, bring them to the center. She cautions that even though it may appear that young birds are abandoned, sometimes the mother is close by and responding to the chirping sounds of her brood. If there is human intervention, she will wait until people are at a safe distance before returning. Obviously, if the chicks are in distress - unable to climb out of a pool or caught in a drainage area for instance - a helping hand is appreciated, but often mom will return to scold the kids and hopefully keep them from making that mistake again.

Henderson explains that the OHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is unique. "We do not turn any animals away" unlike some other facilities. Some residents of the center require specialized care that may require prolonged protection. These animals are transferred to reserves and centers that have specialized environments and specially trained volunteers. However, just as in the movie, "The Horse Whisperer," Henderson says the center has its own specialists including Patty and Lila who she terms "Raccoon Whisperer" and Squirrel Whisperer" respectively. Just as Dr. Doolittle could talk to the animals, she swears that these people can do it too! Opossum guests also have specialists who bond with these slower creatures that appear to keep conversation to a minimum.

Some strange but true stories circulate around the center. Once, an OHS volunteer was driving along the freeway when a "rock" careened over the car. As he watched, a head appeared from the rock and gazed at him as the volunteer looked back in amazement. Quickly pulling to the side of the road, the volunteer searched for the rock and found it was actually a tortoise with no injuries. Apparently a car had clipped the edge of the shell when this fellow was out for a leisurely stroll and flipped it like a "tiddlywink." When the tortoise was brought to the center, it stretched out its neck, looked around, and continued its stroll, this time in the center and without vehicular traffic.

"We are always looking for volunteers," says Henderson. Often high school students looking for community service credits help out, but there is usually a second and more important reason to spend time at the center. Volunteers Elizabeth Foeger of Washington High School, Elisa Hong of Irvington High School and Roshan Sukumar of Logan High School confirmed that although they will receive community credit for their work, love of animals is at the root of their service choice. Every rehabilitation center volunteer, no matter what age, goes through a 3-step training process that includes an orientation session, baby bird care class and site training. Flexible shifts are typically 3 - 4 hours between 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. The center is open every day of the week.

Rehabilitation is exactly what the center is all about. As Ms. Henderson looks in on a couple of young pigeons in a clean outdoor holding area, she explains that when they are ready to return to the wild, they will outgrow a noisy "peeper" stage and roost on a high branch in the enclosure. The pigeons will be released in a remote area, away from people and buildings. Inside the center, smaller versions of these birds, fed by volunteers, live in incubators purchased by the Candle Lighters as older cousins maintain temporary residence in an enclosure where they begin to feed on their own. Talking and human contact with the animals is kept to a minimum since the idea is to release them with their natural defenses and wariness of humans intact. A prominent sign proclaims, "No Talking, Bird Songs Only."

Although a Grand Reopening Party and Open House was held March 26 with an admission price of needed items for the center, Center Director Connie Nelson stresses that the following "wish list" continues:

Bird grit, bleach, CASH, ceramic crocks, clothespins, copier paper, dark greens (no iceberg), fruit, gift certificates for pet stores and grocery stores, Kleenex, latex gloves, laundry soap, medical supplies, paper towels, pens/pencils, pet carriers, plastic dog houses (small), prepaid gas cards, "science diet" kibble (puppy growth), sod for aviaries, toilet tissue, VOLUNTEERS.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to:

Ohlone Humane Society
39120 Argonaut Way, PMB 108
Fremont, CA 94538-1304
(510) 792-4587

To volunteer at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center call Angela at (510) 299-7896 or email

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