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The PROWLS Story: Merrilee Prior

The incredible labour and vision of “bird-lady” Merrilee Prior has led to PROWLS becoming a noteworthy addition to the network of wildlife rehabilitators throughout BC.

Our organization came into existence and has grown in capacity and scope as a direct result of her contributions of time and space — not to mention her dedication, medical skills and training, scientific expertise and many years of experience working with her patients; Powell River’s wildlife.

Merrilee Prior, wildlife rehabilitator and president of PROWLS.
Photo by Michelle Pennell

2010: A passion for Powell River wildlife

In 2010, inspired by the work of other rehabilitation centres in BC, Merrilee Prior wanted to be able to offer our community similar standards of professional response, care, and most importantly — local release. Before Merrilee started PROWLS, injured wildlife from our area would need to be transferred via ferry for treatment elsewhere in the province.

Merrilee gained her initial wildlife rehabilitation skills and training as a commuting volunteer at Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS Wildlife Rescue) in Courtenay. In the ensuing years she was the grateful beneficiary of comprehensive training and professional support from staff at the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta and the BC SPCA’s Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center (Wild ARC) in Metchosin.

In 2014, Wild ARC began encouraging Merrilee to enlist people to help her with daunting workloads in the busy summer season. Despite the dedicated help of a few volunteers, by the middle of the 2015 season, it became clear that a new approach was needed in face of a rapidly increasing workload.

2016: PROWLS becomes a society

In 2016, Merrilee called together a group of people who had expressed a strong interest in her work, and as a result the Powell River Orphaned Wildlife Society (PROWLS) was incorporated in early February 2016. Becoming a society has allowed PROWLS to be governed by a board of directors who help take care of organizational requirements. We also have a charitable number for tax-free donations and welcome our supporters to help sustain us with membership to our organization and or/ get involved directly by volunteering.

Link: “Idea flies for Powell River Orphaned Wildlife Society” – Oct 5th 2016, Powell River Peak

Present times: A bedroom in a wildlife hospital, shared bath and kitchen

A Townsite superhero, Merrilee has shared her home with PROWLS for just about as long as is humanly possible, and carried much of the financial cost of this work herself.

In her own words, “As I still work out of my Townsite home, this has become a bit of a challenge… It can be quite amusing to walk into the house in midsummer to find 20 plus babies on the kitchen table, another 20 adults in ICU and flight cages everywhere filled with birds almost ready for release. “

A new facility is an urgency for PROWLS. The two main things on Merrilee’s mind are how to keep more of our local wild species in Powell River for release, and how to accommodate the new volunteers needed to respond to large increases in the number of patients served. Currently, space limitations mean that larger animals are relocated for treatment, and are not returned back to our community for release.

A dedicated community elder, Merrilee continues to be the bottom-liner of the bulk of the physical work for now, and looks forward to a proper facility to house PROWLS. The Covid-19 pandemic has prevented her from bringing in new volunteers to help with increased workloads, due to the physical distancing limitations that come into play when operating in such a small space. The usual outreach and fundraising opportunities at community events have been totally unavailable for over a year. This, in turn, has had impacts on her workload and PROWLS funding. 

“…  I simply cannot continue to do it on my own, but, of course, funding will decide. Like so many other organizations, we have been challenged this year, since we have not been able to run our big fundraisers. We can only hope that next year is kinder.”

Looking ahead: Gratefully preparing for another, busier, season

With the wildlife rehabilitators in Gibsons unable to continue operating their facility this year, Merrilee is expecting an even larger influx of wild patients from our southern Lower Sunshine Coast neighbours. Despite the challenges, preparing for another season of work in 2021 is the first thing on Merrilee’s mind. She is over-the-moon to welcome in the next phases of growth, and every grateful to all the help she has received along the way. 

Local demand for the work Merrilee and PROWLS does is the one thing she can count on. “Fortunately, the rehab community is always ready to help: water birds go to MARS in Courtenay, raptors go to OWL in Delta and mammals go to Critter Care in Langley. This still leaves more than 400 song birds to be treated here.”

Merrilee takes a break from constructing a custom breastplate for an injured Northern Flicker to fill me in on all these details, as much as she can in the limited time she has these days. Her passion for our coastal wildlife shines through in everything she shares, as does her gratitude to our community.

Her words of respect and wisdom ring true. “For me, though, what is really important is the community that keeps us going. …[It] is humbling. I really believe that we have earned this support because of my insistence that we are a community organization and that we are here to help the people who call for our services because they really care. And that’s what life is about, isn’t it? Caring for each other and our community.”

Be kind to Merrilee and our local wildlife in 2021

Help us re-locate to a new facility!

If you want to be a part of making 2021 kinder to our animals, now would be a very excellent time to make a personal commitment to our local wildlife and make a donation to support the tireless and exceptional work of Merrilee Prior and PROWLS.

As more families move to our region, more wild patients flood our doors. Your contribution will make an immediate difference in the lives of countless local wild animals.

We look forward to making PROWLS more sustainable, and expanding our operation. Please consider donating money, land or time to us, so we can care for the bulk of our diverse patients in-house — and not Merrilee’s house!