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Volume V Issue XXXVII

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Seattle Washington USA

 

KAYE BAXTER: A WILD ANIMAL’S BEST FRIEND

by MarkReiman

 

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.
You pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.

kaye_totem.jpg (18740 bytes)
Kaye Baxter, founder and director of the Sarvey Wildlife Center.

It is a 7,500 square mile area in western Washington that stretches from the wooded Cascade Mountains in the east to picturesque Puget Sound and the blue Pacific Ocean on the west, and from the Canadian border south to the state capitol in Olympia.

It is a land of soft rain, mild temperatures, and the stunning scenery of shimmering lakes, snow-capped mountains, and the majesty of Mt. Rainier that jumps into view at every turn. For people who love the outdoors it’s a recreational wonderland.

"If you build it, they will come" is the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams. God built it and they came. Boy, did they. In the last 100 years more than 3.5 million people.

Microsoft is here. Along with Amazon.com. So are a half a dozen Boeing aircraft plants, a growing high-tech and biomedical corridor, and the North American headquarters of Nintendo. You’ll find a thriving arts community, professional sports teams, and top quality schools. There are also lots of construction jobs building the homes and businesses for a thriving, vibrant, and ever expanding metropolis.

More and more people. More houses and cars. More roads. Less open space.

Where do the fish and wildlife go that have lived for thousands of years in the beautiful green forests and valleys? They are finding themselves in the path of humankind with nowhere to go, their habitat shrinking and the natural habitat that remains is under steady attack from an unending ocean of people.

This tragic and difficult situation is occuring in many places across the U.S. It’s happening where Kaye Baxter lives.

Following a bout with breast cancer in 1976 which included a mastectomy, she began volunteering with the Seattle Wildbird Clinic. She loved the lift that helping care for animals gave her spirit. Her battle for her own life was far from over. In 1980 Kaye was diagnosed with uterine cancer and she underwent a complete hysterectomy. But her animals needed her and she fought on.

One day, later in 1980, the Wildbird Clinic’s director called with an unusual request: all the cages were full and there were five baby barn owls that needed some room--would Baxter keep them at her suburban Everett home? Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo, and Etcetera were the first of many creatures to be loved back to health the next year in her garage and backyard. Baxter applied for her own permit and in 1981 founded what has become the Sarvey Wildlife Center, (http://SarveyWildlife.org) named as a tribute to Bill Sarvey, a state Fish and Wildlife agent who befriended Kaye and supported her efforts to save injured and abandoned wildlife. When he died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 41, the Everett Wildlife Center was renamed the Sarvey Wildlife Center in his honor.

Her Everett neighbors were friendly and very supportive of her "hobby", but as more and more of her backyard became a wildlife refuge, it became very apparent that, if she was to continue, more space in a rural area was necessary. When Baxter’s mother passed away and she received a small inheritance in 1987, Kaye and her "hobby" moved to its present location 25 miles northeast of Everett. Kaye retired from her job as a teaching assistant and transformed what had been a time-consuming hobby into a more than full-time passion.

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This juvenile bald eagle, hit and injured by an 18 wheeler, is not old enough to have a white head.

The Sarvey Wildlife Center’s mission is to care for and rehabilitate sick, injured and orphaned wildlife including all species of birds, mammals, and reptiles. The goal is to place wildlife back into their natural habitat so they may propagate and add to the beauty and natural resources of the Evergreen State.

The loss of habitat due to a swelling population from Bellingham to Seattle is the primary reason the Center is increasingly crowded with recovering wildlife. Encounters with cars, powerlines, domestic animals, and the occasional firearm are resulting in their ever increasing numbers.

It is now just one of two facilities in the entire region that provide these services for all species of wildlife.

And the dramatic increase in animals being served is startling.

SWC treated approximately 1,000 animals in 1995 and one year later that number grew to 1,500. In 1999 Kaye Baxter, two paid assistants, and their volunteer staff treated just over 3,000 sick, injured, and orphaned animals.

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Sasha, a cougar (aka a mountain lion), demonstrated why "owner" does not mean "master".

SASHA IS A THREE YEAR OLD COUGAR and one of the most magnificent animals I have ever layed eyes on. She lives in a very large four-room, heavy wire pen with the square footage of a small 3-bedroom house. Baxter speaks to her in a rhythmic and musical voice that brings the big cat toward where we are standing. The cougar seems quite relaxed, almost tame...and for Kaye Baxter and one other long-time Sarvey volunteer, she is remarkably affectionate--when she’s not hungry, eating, or simply ticked-off at living in captivity. It would not be hard to imagine stroking her golden brown head and listening to Sasha purr like a giant house pet. That’s exactly why she’s at Sarvey for the rest of her life. Her first owners saw a cute little cougar kitten and imagined what a fun and unique pet she would make.

Sasha came to Sarvey because they didn’t realize that wild animals are just that -- wild.

As Sasha got older she quickly became alarmingly big, strong, and soon was simply overpowering. When she clawed on furniture it wasn’t cute. Sasha destroyed both a sofa and a commerical scratching post in a single day that was intended to last a house cat for a lifetime. Her owners knew then that similar damage could at any time become the fate of their own arm, leg, or face. What should they do now? They had Sasha declawed.

The young cougar wasn’t finished growing, increasing still more in size, strength, and power. It didn’t take long before her owners knew they weren’t really the masters and that the wild would never leave this wildcat. But now Sasha could never be released back to the wild. Without claws she could not hunt food nor protect herself. Placing Sasha back into her natural habitat would have been a certain death sentence. Sarvey Wildlife Center came to the rescue of both the humans and cougar.

THERE ARE MORE...

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The first owners of Lucy the Bobcat couldn't figure out why she acted so wild.

A two year old bobcat, considerably smaller than the cougar, was raised as a housepet until she became too active and scared the children she lived with. She had been fed from a bowl in the kitchen all her life and had never learned to hunt, so when her "owners" became fightened at her size and wild nature released her, this animal nearly starved. A local animal control officer was called when the bobcat was spotted in a parking lot. As the officer looked around the back of a restaurant where food had been thrown out, the bobcat jumped out at the officer’s chest and wrapped its front legs around the frantic woman’s neck, knocking her to the ground. While the frightened animal control officer lost control of her bladder, the bobcat licked her face---too wild for suburbia but too tame to hunt her own food, she was starving and overjoyed to see a human being.

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A regal eagle.

A spectacular bald eagle accompanies Kaye to nearly every school presentation. A sparkling white head and a curved, sharp beak give him a proud, regal bearing. But he will never fly again for he only has one wing. The other was blown almost completely off by the blast of a shotgun.

A bear cub, whose mother was illegally hunted and killed, is in seclusion and at particular risk at Sarvey, kept away from nearly all human contact. Not because he is so fierce, but because through any contact with humans, bears are at tremendous risk due to a lack of fear of civilization. As a result, one volunteer from Sarvey has been outfitted with a bear suit. This volunteer, always wearing this big, hot, scratchy, suffocating bear suit, is the only "person" the bear cub will see until it is old enough to be released into the wild, deep in the Cascade backcountry.

 

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A great horned owl gets its name from its pointed ears.

I WALK PAST DOZENS OF PENS AND CAGES, each with one or more animals. Owls, falcons, racoons, and seal pups. Three beautiful golden eagles, a racoon, and one very sick fox...and on, and on, and on. They have all been given names and each has a story about their head-on collision with humankind that brought them to Kaye Baxter and SWC. Many of the injured are nursed back to health with the help of extraordinary veterinary skill, expensive medicines, and the care of 100 volunteers per week. The orphans are raised until they are old enough to live on their own. Many of the injured animals and virtually all of those orphaned are released back to their wild, natural habitat. Some are injured too badly to survive and must be euthanized. A few of the injured regain their health but cannot fend for themselves any longer, remaining at Sarvey to grow old and educate others, especially the school buses filled with children that Baxter loves to teach.

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The Sarvey Wildlife Center puts on over 190 educational programs per year to children and adults

THE BIG YELLOW SCHOOL BUS opens its double doors and children, excited to be on a field trip adventure, pour out the doors and up the dirt-and-gravel driveway. They form a circle around Kaye and listen intently as she begins to teach. She has a friendly, firm, experienced way with the students and the teachers are as tuned in to her presentation as their students are.

"Human beings have a lot to learn from animals. You will never see a hawk, cougar, bobcat, owl, falcon, or any predatory wild animal doing a drive-by killing. They will never kill because you don’t look the way they do or because you don’t believe the way they do. They only hunt when they’re hungry and only what they can eat."

Baxter has the attention of every fidgety 5th grader as she teaches lessons that go far beyond the animal kingdom and Sarvey Wildlife Center.

"It’s not uncommon to see a crow chase a hawk across the sky. The hawk could turn, attack and kill the crow just like that (snaps her fingers). But he doesn’t because it doesn’t have to. He knows who he is. He knows he’s big and strong. He doesn’t have to prove it to a crow. If more humans would be like the hawk in this way we would have so many less problems. Be strong enough to walk away, like the hawk does from the crow."

Every decision we make has far reaching consequences, she instructs. Humans and wildlife are interconnected...and interdependent.

"The salmon is one of the prime examples of mankind not paying attention. When I was growing up, if someone had told me that salmon would be an endangered species, I would not have believed it. There’s all the salmon in the world, I thought. But now we know that’s not the case, and we now know that the salmon runs are in deep trouble. From dams, from pollution, and over fishing. If the salmon go, then the bald eagles go, the bear and the racoon goes, the orcas go...and it’s all because we didn’t look at the whole picture."

The whole group moves inside a building that houses owls and falcons. It’s been almost an hour and Kaye’s unique classroom is still listening attentively as she concludes her lesson.

"You are future and I will soon be the past. You must grow up and take my place. Animals need your help and they don’t care what you look like, what kind of clothes you wear, or if you are in the "popular group" at school. They only care about what’s in your heart. We all need each other...people and animals both."

Soon they are back on their school bus and heading home. Today they have been taught by two master teachers: Mother Nature and Kaye Baxter.

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"Porky", a juvenile porcupine, found a comfortable place to
stay while his cage is being cleaned

THE NUMBER OF ANIMALS Sarvey Wildlife Center treats continues to grow but the money to operate Sarvey does not. A tremendous amount of food for the animals is donated and labor to attend to the animals and the physical plant comes from a large group of very dedicated volunteers. Still a great amount of food must be purchased, veterinary services and medicine paid for, and electricity, phone, and other utilities are absolute necessities.

When it comes to possessing the vast knowledge required to care for an incredible number of animals, Kaye Baxter is a genius. She is also a master teacher. Unfortunately, her ability to find an increasing source of money to keep Sarvey’s doors open is not as stellar. While monthly pledges from regular donors bring in about $3,500 per month--the vast majority of the donations ranging from $10 to $20--monthly costs run $6,000. Two large bequests over the last several years have kept the Wildlife Center solvent but that money is now exhausted.

Kaye lives in the house just 20 steps from the infirmary on alimony and a small retirement income that totals only $670 a month.

"I don’t need much for myself," Kaye tells me, "but I don’t know what will happen to these animals if we can’t take care of them. I hope your story will help."

I tell Kaye that I hope so, too. I really hope so.

 

The Sarvey Wildlife Center desperately needs your financial support. They also need someone to help them raise money on an ongoing basis. If you are able to help, please send your tax deductible donation to:

Sarvey Wildlife Center
P.O. Box 2083
Everett, WA 98203-0083

Their phone number is 360.435.4817. Find them on the web at http://SarveyWildlife.org or you can email Kaye directly at: hihanska@aol.com

 

mark(staff).jpg (11747 bytes)Mark Reiman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People Magazine. You can email him at: mark@IncrediblePeople.com

 

  

Hope      Courage     Determination      Compassion
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