Returning animals to nature is the goal of Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Lead Rehabilitator Stacy Wise and intern Jennifer Fischer check on a Northern Flicker after it was brought in at the Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Everson by a Whatcom County resident, on Friday July 13, 2010.
Lead Rehabilitator Stacy Wise and intern Jennifer Fischer check on a Northern Flicker after it was brought in at the Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Everson by a Whatcom County resident, on Friday July 13, 2010. FOR WHATCOM MAGAZINE

When it comes to animals, Stacy Gaber has come a long way since her youth on her parent's spread in Missouri with cattle, turkeys and other critters.

"I was scared to death of birds," she says. "I was attacked by a chicken as a child."

Gaber got over her fears and now cares for birds of a wilder sort, including eagles, falcons and pigeons - plus wild mammals and the occasional amphibian - as director of Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

In 2005, while a biology student at Western Washington University, Gaber came upon an injured fawn at Larrabee State Park. She called the center, which summoned a volunteer to help. Gaber and the volunteer carried the fawn out of the park on its way to rehab, and soon Gaber became a volunteer herself.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, Gaber thought about going to veterinary school. Instead, she studied how to rehabilitate wildlife and became the sole, year-round employee of the nonprofit center at Nugents Corner.

"I definitely love wildlife," she says. "Domestic dog and cat stuff is definitely not my cup of tea."

People concerned about wildlife started the center a dozen years ago as a triage-and-transfer operation in Lynden, taking in sick, orphaned and wounded animals. In 2005, the center moved to its current location, a small house, with acreage near the Nooksack River, that the center leases from Whatcom County's parks department.

The center works with state agencies as well as with private people who come upon wounded and orphaned animals.

During warm weather - when animal babies become orphans, baby birds fall out of nests, animals and vehicles collide, and wildlife and pets tangle - the center can house 100 or more animals at a time.

Winter is much quieter. At one point in late December, the center had a mere handful of animals, including a swan that had been shot in the wing and a disabled band-tailed pigeon that might be adopted by a California zoo.

Gaber uses the winter to work on projects and plan the center's annual fundraiser. Funded by donations and occasional grants, the center cares for about 1,000 animals a year, from bobcats and raccoons to songbirds, squirrels and even a bullfrog with a busted hand.

"Everyone fell in love with our bullfrog," Gaber says. "He was really cute."

Gaber is helped by a part-time summer staffer, plus volunteers and interns, usually college students.

In the small house, the front room serves as the office and greeting room while the former dining room is now the medical checkup and operating room. The kitchen has two set of facilities, one for people, the other side for animals.

Former bedrooms - with doors prominently labeled "birds" or "mammals" - now hold cages, for animals that need peace and quiet while recuperating. In the backyard, fenced pens and screened enclosures shelter animals that are well enough to be outdoors.

Large animals, such as cougars and bears, are sent to other animal centers equipped to handle them.

The goal of the center is to heal and release wildlife back into nature. If animals can't recover enough to be released, zoos or educational or breeding centers will sometimes take them. Otherwise, they are euthanized.

To avoid inadvertently domesticating animals - and thus make them poor candidates for release - workers wear masks and remain mute while tending to especially impressionable species.

"Baby pigeons imprint very easily," Gaber says. "I learned that the hard way."


Click here to see photos of work being done at the Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.


Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is not open to the public, but does welcome public support. Details: 360-966-8845 or .

Sardis Raptor Center, by Ferndale, cares for birds of prey. Details: 360-366-3863 or sardisraptor.org.

NWWildlife 01 (raccoon in shadows): A shaft of light illuminates a young raccoon in June 2010 at Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Nugents Corner. The center limits its intake of baby raccoons to 20, because they are so numerous, as well as fussy and messy, says Stacy Gaber, center director.

NWWildlife 02 (thrush has eye swabbed): Stacy Gaber, lead rehabilitator at Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, swabs the eye of an injured Hermit Thrush in July 2010.

NWWildlife 03 (two women with flicker): Stacy Gaber and Jennifer Fischer, an intern, inspect a Northern Flicker in July 2010. Workers often check the back of a bird's neck for wounds inflicted by cats or other predators.

NWWildlife 04 (proverbial bird in the hand): In July 2010, Stacy Gaber tries to comfort a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest.

NWWildlife 06 (is no 05 photo) (woman feeding raccoons) Intern Jennifer Fischer feeds raccoons in their outdoor pen July 2010 at Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. At first, raccoons usually hide when a worker appears, but soon learn their presence means food is on the way. To ease cleaning, workers encourage raccoons to use a litter box filled with water.

NWWildlife 07 (American Kestrel with wrapped wing): Stacy Gaber, lead rehabilitator at Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, checks her work after wrapping the wing of an American Kestrel in July 2010. Birds often suffer broken wings after being hit by a car, flying into a window or being injured by a cat, Gaber says.

NWWildlife 08 (Gaber with skunk): Stacy Gaber checks a striped skunk for wounds in August 2010. The skunk, while not sedated, remained passive during the inspection and did not spray Gaber. The skunk, which may have been dehydrated and had parasites, recovered and was released back into nature.

NWWildlife 09 (woman with fawn being released): Stacy Gaber encourages a black-tailed fawn to enter the forest during its release in September 2010. The fawn and two others were released at the same time in the Custer area. Fawns and raccoons are often released in small groups when they are able to return to nature. -->