Verona wildlife rehab center receives donation after outrage from shot bald eagle
While rescuing a bald eagle with a fatal shotgun wound was an act of human kindness, so is raising the money to pay for its medical bills at a nonprofit wildlife rehab center.
Dorothy Pierini-Rodgers, 61, and her husband, Bill Rodgers, of Blairsville donated about $1,660 of $2,660 raised through a GoFundMe account set up in early October to raise funds and awareness of a bald eagle that was found on the West Penn Trail in Derry after it was shot in the head but still alive.
They gave the check to the Humane Animal Rescue’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Verona on Saturday.
Although the eagle was euthanized because of the severity of its injuries, it cost money to examine the bird. Just taking it in and caring for an injured bald eagle can cost between several hundred dollars and $1,000 for initial diagnostics, according to Jill Argall, director of the center.
For the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Saegertown, which treats raptors and a growing number of bald eagles, treatment can cost $1,000 per eagle because of the frequency and testing for lead poisoning, according to Carol Holmgren, Tamarack’s executive director. The Verona center often sends its eagles to Tamarack.
Since eagles eat carrion in addition to fish and other wildlife, it’s believed the eagles ingest the toxic metals from dead animals left by hunters in the field laden with lead ammunition.
“A piece of lead the size of a pea can kill an eagle,” she said.
Last month, two bald eagles died at Tamarack because of lead poisoning, including a 25-year-old female.
Earlier in the year, the center treated an older male bald eagle with lead poisoning that lost a bloody battle to another bald eagle in the Cochranton area. The bird recovered and was released back in the wild while his mate “waited for him,” according to Holmgren and local birdwatchers.
“It is difficult because we don’t charge for rehabbing a bird,” Holmgren said. “People who find injured animals don’t cover the cost, and they aren’t asked to.
“I think it’s good not to require a contribution,” said Holmgren, who doesn’t want to discourage the public from rescuing distressed animals.
In the end, a group of donors kick in the money, but both rehab centers continually lobby for money as they receive no government funds. Both are supported solely by donations.
When Argall learned the Rodgerses wanted to donate via a GoFundMe campaign, “I was pleasantly shocked,” she said.
Such donations are infrequent, according to Argall.
“I don’t think the public understands what we do,” she said. “They have no idea the amount of technical and professional services that go into it.” Just to feed, keep and medicate a bird or another animal costs about $200 a week.
The Rodgerses set up the GoFundMe account after a fellow member of the West Penn Trail Council, Cliff Wissinger of Derry Township, discovered the bird.
When the Rodgerses were alerted about the eagle, they immediately hit the trail to document the bird and stay with the eagle and Wissinger as they awaited the arrival of a Pennsylvania Game Commission warden.
The couple was so horrified at the sight of the wounded bird, which was still walking around, that they wanted to do whatever they could.
“I don’t understand how somebody could be so cruel and shoot an eagle and walk away,” Pierini-Rodgers said.
So Pierini-Rodgers set up her first GoFundMe page.
“I thought maybe we can get a reward going and if we could get 500 bucks that would be awesome,” she said.
She posted the photo of the eagle that was shot and her story about the bird’s demise on Facebook, directing viewers to the GoFundMe page.
It took off.
From the comments left on her Facebook and GoFundMe pages, “people were outraged,” Pierini-Rodgers said. The couple raised more than four times what they expected.
“I was overwhelmed and grateful,” Pierini-Rodgers said.
“I only knew two of the people who gave, and the rest are all people who I have no idea who they are,” she said. One unknown woman gave $700, while another donor will add another $200 to the $1,000 reward if authorities can prosecute a suspect.
The shooter is still at large. The state game commission is investigating the incident, according to William Brehun, the game warden investigating the case.
“On behalf of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and all of the wildlife enthusiasts out there, I am extremely humbled that so many people would come forward and donate to such a great cause,” Brehun said.
“Hopefully the reward and interest in the case will bring light to the person or persons responsible for shooting and ultimately killing such a beautiful bird,” he said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the game commission’s Southwest Region office at 724-238-9523.
As eagle populations continue to flourish in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, so are the numbers of injured birds — hit by cars, poisoned by lead and being shot.
For an organization such as the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Verona, the price tag for caring for injured wildlife is growing as the number of animals brought to the center has been increasing.
The center took in close to 3,000 animals in 2014, which rose to more than 4,100 last year. Its budget increased from $313,000 in 2014 to $471,000 this year.
Argall says residents continue to bring in a steady stream of injured wildlife to the center: Turtles hit by cars; snakes stuck in hockey nets and red-tailed hawks with broken wings.
She attributes the increase to more people knowing about the center and development that encroaches on habitat.
“Some animals do well living close to humans; some do not,” she said.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .