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Helping wildlife is helping people

Jace Carlson, who brought the baby sparrow to Wildwoods, prepares to put it back in its nest with its syblings. (Photo by Anna Carlson)1 / 2
Nestling sparrow with a plastic string lodged in its throat. (Photo by Tara Smith)2 / 2

The other day I was conversing with a friend about why I am so dedicated to working for this nonprofit organization, Wildwoods. The rewards are not monetary and often are not easily obtained. However hard-earned the successes may be, it is all worth the emotional benefits. Since I was very young, I felt a kinship with the wild creatures in my world. Finding this organization where I could care for my wild family in need just felt like being home.

Although my love of animals is why I am here, an amazing part of my job is connecting with people. Sharing a wildlife experience that may be commonplace for me, but completely unique to someone else, is truly rewarding. Wildwoods is a safe space for the expression of compassion. We exist as an organization because we have a shared sensibility with members of the community about wildlife.

I often observe a transformation in someone’s thoughts or feelings about animals. For example, three men brought in a baby squirrel they had found on a job site. I could tell they felt a little sheepish in front of me and each other about “caring about a dumb squirrel.” I expressed how grateful I was that they cared enough and they became less self-conscious. They started to realize there was a merciful significance to what they had done. Their sensitivity and compassion was validated, and I experienced a moment among three friends that showed camaraderie through an act of genuine kindness. I like to believe that this event caused a new bond that I was also connected with as part of this shared experience.

Some of the greatest moments here show the kindhearted nature of a child. My favorite story is about a family that had been watching a nest of birds grow up. They noticed one of the nestlings was in trouble. It had swallowed a plastic string, which was now lodged in its throat. The young boy in the family insisted they do something. They drove an hour to get to us, which is risky for a small bird as it needs to be fed by its parents every 15 minutes. This was a long trip without necessary food. It was difficult to know how far down the digestive system the string was.

After a consult with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis, it was determined that the bird needed to be fed around the string until we could obtain an x-ray. I administered the food slurry, which provided enough lubrication to gently ease the string out. The waiting family was able to bring the bird home after he was well-fed and string-free. The greatest gift was receiving a photo of this boy ready to put this baby back in his nest.

It may seem like such a small, insignificant act but I will never forget it, and I am quite sure neither will this boy. We are tied through this shared memory by a small bit of plastic string. These memories and stories build a network of compassion that is woven through the community and will hopefully capture and unite us all.  

Take a moment to think about the nonprofit organizations that have made a difference in your life in some way. Recognize the efforts of the people who perform their jobs simply because they have a passion to serve the community. Consider supporting a cause that speaks to you, in whatever way you can. Keeping nonprofits going benefits us all.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

Wildwoods will hold its annual fundraiser April 21 at Clyde Iron Works. Tickets can be purchased through the Wildwoods Facebook page.