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Volunteer-run society needs bigger facility to meet growing demand for rehabilitation and release

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VOLUNTEER WEEK: Longtime Powell River Orphaned Wildlife Society volunteer Joanna Dunbar has been writing the educational PROWLS: Rescue of the Week column for the Peak for more than 10 years.

by Tania Hill at the Powell River Peak

Barred owls, dark-eyed juncos, deer fawns and northern pygmy owls are just a few of the wildlife species that pass through the 100-per-cent, volunteer-run Powell River Orphaned Wildlife Society (PROWLS) each year.

The society was started in 2010 by “bird-lady” Merrilee Prior and operates out of her home in Townsite. The facility has become well-known to the wildlife rehabilitation network throughout BC.

Dedicated volunteer Joanna Dunbar has been educating residents for 12 years with a weekly column highlighting recent rescues or “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to interacting with wildlife. 

“When I began, I didn’t know what I would be doing,” said Dunbar. “I like birds, I had bird companions [in the past] and I didn’t have any at that time, so I thought joining PROWLS might be a way [to connect with birds].

“I thought I would be doing bird care, but they needed a writer at that point, so I took it on.”

Volunteers have recently built a large flight cage to house bigger birds, and in the past they came together to construct a small indoor/outdoor facility in Prior’s small home in Townsite. Volunteers also do outreach work and fundraising for the facility.

The unique aspect of PROWLS is that the society is able to provide emergency care here in the qathet region, as opposed to sending the animals on a ferry to Courtenay or elsewhere. The goal is to release the animals locally.

Due to human encroachment into wild territory every year, the society has seen an increase in injured birds and other animals in the region. The organization rehabilitates and releases hundreds of injured wild animals annually.

“The summer is a very busy time, because of summer migrating birds; there are many window strikes, cat attacks; they come in so mangled, it’s really shocking,” said Dunbar. “The long-term plan is to build a specialized building for bird care, and to care for rescued birds and other rescued wildlife.”

Although headquarters is located in City of Powell River, the nonprofit rescue serves Saltery Bay to Bliss Landing, Texada and Savary islands, and the lower Sunshine Coast.

The stated challenge for PROWLS in 2023 is that “our coastal communities continue to expand into wild spaces, and the number of patients we serve grows higher every year.”

PROWLS members want to expand to a facility that can meet their growing needs.

“It’s amazing [the work Prior does],” said Dunbar. “She’s been doing it for a long time.”