Film goes behind the scenes to show work of animal rescues at St. Francis Wildlife

·4 min read

The storm in Tallahassee was a “frog strangler.” Winds gusted to 40 mph, and the rain blew in torrents. When the deluge subsided, a tiny, baby river otter had been washed away from its mother in a rushing stream at Cascades Park.

A City of Tallahassee employee discovered it, helpless and alone. She scooped it up and headed for St. Francis Wildlife. After unsuccessful attempts to reunite the baby with its mother and two weeks of TLC at our wildlife hospital, we drove it to Homosassa Springs where it could be raised and released with other orphaned otters.

An orphaned baby river otter is comforted by a soft, plush toy otter at St. Francis Wildlife.
An orphaned baby river otter is comforted by a soft, plush toy otter at St. Francis Wildlife.

Parade marshal: Wakulla's Surf Dog, a survivor and free spirit, named grand marshal of Panacea Christmas parade

Christmas trees: 'Don't wait': Local Christmas tree retailers report high sales amid nationwide shortage

Recreation area: New E. Guy Revell Jr. Nature Trail Conservation Area preserves Wakulla wildlands into the future

On her morning commute to Tallahassee on a rain-slicked Crawfordville Highway, a driver swerved to avoid hitting a small bird. She rescued the very thin horned grebe with badly scraped feet and took it to Northwood Animal Hospital. Later that morning the bird arrived at St. Francis Wildlife where it spent the next four days sucking down shrimp and crickets while its feet healed.

Then our wildlife rehabilitator drove the little bird to Panacea, carried it to the water’s edge and set it free.

When St. Francis Wildlife received a call about an opossum trapped on the North Monroe Street northbound overpass, our on-call rescuer promptly responded and captured it. When it arrived at the wildlife hospital, our wildlife rehabilitator treated the marsupial’s wounds and also examined the eight oblivious babies happily suckling in her pouch. After she healed, mama opossum and all her babies were released in a safe forest habitat.

To prevent them from imprinting on humans, St. Francis Wildlife volunteer Emily Shaw wears a camouflage mask when feeding baby barred owls.
To prevent them from imprinting on humans, St. Francis Wildlife volunteer Emily Shaw wears a camouflage mask when feeding baby barred owls.

Work of keeping wild ones free

Scenarios like these are repeated several times a day at our local wildlife rehabilitation center. For 43 years, St. Francis Wildlife has advised our community how to live in harmony with the wild critters that share our backyards and parks.

People leave injured, orphaned and sick wildlife for us at Northwood and Allied Veterinary Hospitals in Tallahassee. Some take the animals directly to our wildlife hospital in Quincy. And, when necessary, we also send out our experienced rescuers.

St. Francis Wildlife raised 40 orphaned baby raccoons this year, feeding each one four times a day.
St. Francis Wildlife raised 40 orphaned baby raccoons this year, feeding each one four times a day.

Caring for all these wild animals requires more than love and compassion. They don't purr or lick your hand. They don't want to be petted. Most view us as predators. This healthy fear of humans is a good thing; their survival in the wild depends on it. They desperately want to be free again, and that's our goal too.

So we handle our wild patients only when necessary to feed, medicate, treat and clean. We are silent during treatment or keep our voices low. An animal in a cage feels particularly vulnerable. Consequently, the public is not permitted in our treatment areas, and we do not conduct tours of our facility.

Behind-the-scenes dream

Orphaned baby screech owls at St. Francis Wildlife.
Orphaned baby screech owls at St. Francis Wildlife.

However, St. Francis Wildlife receives so many requests from adults and children who would love to visit and see what actually happens to the orphaned baby squirrel or injured owl they’ve brought to us.

So, to make that dream come true, Kris Petersen, VP of Digital Media Production with The Pod Advertising; Alan Hanstein, Director of Business Development at Event Owl; and I collaborated on a rare, behind-the-scenes video tour of our 36-acre wildlife hospital and sanctuary tucked deep in the Gadsden County woods.

Recorded over the span of one year, wildlife lovers won't want to miss this rare peak into the inner sanctum of North Florida's haven for injured, orphaned and sick wildlife.

“It was an absolute honor being asked to capture this footage. I witnessed how much care all of the staff at SFW pour into every rescue. They are truly amazing, and I am thrilled we have this opportunity to show everyone a glimpse of their work at this incredible wildlife hospital!” said Petersen.

St. Francis Wildlife rehabilitator Teresa Stevenson gave Lynda Flynn White the honor of releasing this rehabilitated bald eagle at Lake Jackson.
St. Francis Wildlife rehabilitator Teresa Stevenson gave Lynda Flynn White the honor of releasing this rehabilitated bald eagle at Lake Jackson.

“We are honored to support St. Francis Wildlife and this 2021 virtual screening and fundraiser," said Hanstein. "Using the Event Owl platform, participants will be able to watch never-before-seen behind-the-scenes videos following hawks, woodpeckers, bunnies, foxes, raccoons, turtles and, of course, owls from the time they arrive at St. Francis to the exhilarating moment they are released back in the wild."

The virtual screening will be available on demand Dec. 9 to 12 only. Registration is required to attend. Participation is free, but if you are moved to make a tax-deductible donation to St. Francis Wildlife, that will certainly be appreciated.

Sandy Beck is the education director for St. Francis Wildlife. Contact her at stfranciswildlife@comcast.net.

If you go

What: Premiere of St. Francis Wildlife's Behind-the-Scenes Video Tour

When: Stream on-demand viewing, Thursday, Dec. 9 - Sunday, Dec. 12 only.

Where: Event details, video trailer and registration link at stfranciswildlife.org/tour.html

Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Watch animal rescues: Film showcases work at St. Francis Wildlife