Arundel SPCA plans regional center to rehabilitate birds injured by oil spills


ANNAPOLIS -- The rows of old cages lack doors and coverings, and cracks have sprouted on the cinder block walls. But an aging former animal shelter in Annapolis could soon become a first in the Chesapeake Bay region: a facility designed to help waterfowl injured in oil spills.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County has launched a $40,000 fund-raising campaign to create a regional waterfowl rehabilitation center.

Only a handful of such facilities, designed to clean, house and rehabilitate ducks, geese and other birds caught in oil spills, exist, said Guy Hodge, a staff naturalist with the Humane Society of the United States.

The "overwhelming" success of SPCA classes teaching volunteers how to handle and clean oiled waterfowl convinced board members to establish a full-fledged facility, said Frank C. Branchini, the society's executive director.

"People can't stop oil tankers from going up and down the Chesapeake Bay," said Mr. Branchini. "This is a way they can make a difference. People can feel they're part of something."

Reacting to television images of dead and stricken birds in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, the society started offering classes on cleaning waterfowl last spring. Volunteers learned to handle ducks and geese, clean them, feed them and check them for injuries.

The first class quickly filled with 60 students, and organizers had to turn as many people away, Mr. Branchini said. The following two classes also resulted in waiting lists of about 100 people each, he said.

"They had that spill in Alaska, and that really triggered things for me," said Karen Auckenthaler, an Annapolis area resident who participated in one of the one-day courses. "You wonder, if it happens in the Chesapeake Bay, would I be in a position to do anything?"

The former dog run in what is now the SPCA's volunteer and education center makes an ideal place to aid injured birds, organizers believe. Left vacant when a new animal shelter opened four years ago, the 1,500-square-foot room is surrounded by outdoor pens that, if repaired and covered, could hold waterfowl on the mend.

Under the society's proposal, the $40,000 would also help pay for the installation of a heavy-duty hot water system, a special drainage system with an oil separator, pet dryers, work tables, heat lamps, inside pens, rubber gloves and other veterinary supplies.

While ducks and geese "may not be an endangered species, they are still part of the environs of the Chesapeake Bay," said Sue Youngs, a former SPCA president. "It's great that somebody took the initiative to create a facility here in Anne Arundel County."

Mr. Hodge, a veteran of 30 oil spills including the recent one off Huntington Beach, Calif., said facilities like the one proposed in Annapolis are badly needed. While such a center might save only 150 to 250 birds after a disaster, "it is worth it for humanitarian reasons," he said.

Eventually, the center will establish a telephone network to notify its list of volunteers -- about 450 currently -- when a spill has taken place, said Mr. Branchini. When not in use for rescue work, the center will be used for meetings and for dog obedience classes.

Organizers plan to solicit oil industry groups, private foundations and environmental advocates to raise the money and complete the project before year's end. One company likely to be called upon is Procter & Gamble, makers of Dawn dishwashing liquid. Researchers have found that that particular product is best for cleaning waterfowl, Mr. Branchini said.

A spokesman for one leading environmental group, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the non-profit organization supports the society's proposal. "We've thought for some time that the bay ought to have something like this," said Rod Coggin, spokesman for the Annapolis-based, 73,000-member foundation.

Anyone wishing to donate money for the project should make their checks payable to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County, 1815 Bay Ridge Ave., P.O. Box 3471, Annapolis, Md. 21403.

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