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Wildlife rehab sanctuary takes flight

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  • Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

    An Eastern Phoebe opens wide for a meal worm during last week’s morning feeding at Nathou Attinger’s Schuyler home. Her home is a temporary location for the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary as it raises money to build a new facility for the care and rehabilitation of injured wildlife.

  • Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

    This file photo from the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary was taken in July 2013.

Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 11:00 am

It feels a bit like an animal playground in and around Nathou Attinger’s Schuyler home.

Orphaned waterfowl squawk. Skunks and raccoons shuffle from side to side in their cages. A pair of baby opossums is snuggled in fur and blankets within their temporary homes.

These are just a few of the 550 or so animals living at the home, a temporary location for the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary. The Schuyler nonprofit is launching its “Taking Flight Fundraising Campaign” to raise money to build a new facility for the care and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife.

As the only wildlife sanctuary in Central Virginia that takes in waterfowl, the majority of creatures at RWS are birds. Some ducks and geese even come to sanctuary from Northern Virginia.

However, the sanctuary also is home to several mammals, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes and opossums, and also some reptiles. The new facility will allow RWS to even start housing fawns.

“We just need more room, and we need a more efficient use of the space,” said Attinger, the founder and main wildlife rehabilitator at RWS.

The new location on Wheeler’s Cove Road in Shipman is a 20-acre plot of land, which RWS already has purchased, and is just miles down the road from Attinger’s house, where the sanctuary has been operating since 2004.

The new facility will be about 40 by 50 feet, and Attinger said that, along with the 20 acres, should easily double the sanctuary’s capacity to house wildlife, allowing them to help more than 1,000 animals per year.

The space will include two nurseries, instead of one, and a lot more windows to help duplicate the environment animals will experience once they move outside, Attinger said.

In the next few weeks, the organization plans to construct a foundation, septic drainfield and driveway on the new property.

The rest of the construction will be done as funds allow.

However, getting the driveway in will be a big step, as once that’s done, the staff can build cages on the property and start housing some of the wildlife there, Attinger said.

In the spring, RWS received a matching grant from the Perry Foundation of Charlottesville for $50,000, which requires that RWS raise $300,000 to receive the funds. So far, the sanctuary has raised $100,000 through donations.

In addition to fundraising, the organization, led by the RWS Board of Directors, has been working to get approval and proper permits from the Nelson County Planning and Zoning Department, the Virginia Department of Transportation and others.

“You have to do one thing before you can get the other, but it’s all in place,” Attinger said.

The sanctuary has three primary missions: “to rescue and rehabilitate animals that need help,” “educate the public about their wild neighbors” and “to educate them how to recognize if an animal needs care or not,” Attinger said.

The sanctuary is brought new animals on a daily basis. Most of them have been orphaned or injured because of human-related reasons, such as hitting cars or windows, Atttinger said.

The sanctuary then releases the animals every few weeks, or whenever they’re ready.

“The release days are fewer because we’re making sure everybody is ready to go, and letting them go at the same time,” said Jessie Cole, wildlife rehabilitator.

It makes the transition easier for the animals if they are released with their friends, in what Attinger calls “the buddy system.”

Rehabilitators continue to assist the animals after the “soft release,” providing food for about a month before weaning them off completely.

RWS works closely with the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, a hospital and rehabilitation center for native wildlife.

The Wildlife Center takes care of animals until they’re healed from serious injuries or illnesses, and then gives the somewhat healthy animals to RWS to take care of until those animals are ready to be released back into the wild.

“We’re constantly shuffling animals back and forth,” Attinger said.

Interested community members can get involved in the campaign by volunteering time or donating money and supplies.

“We want to get volunteers … to help us [build] the cages once we get the driveway in,” Cole said. “Maybe organizations, or individuals. Whoever wants to help.”

So far, no fundraising events have been planned for the county. Attinger said they would love to do a big event in Nelson County to raise money, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

“We haven’t had a good time to plan that kind of thing,” she said. “But we’d certainly welcome any volunteers that would help us in that department.”

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