Marilyn Omlor is a “closet-wannabe veterinarian.”
When the receptionist at Ponti Veterinary Hospital isn’t answering phones and scheduling appointments, she helps Dr. Jerry Ponti rehabilitate injured wild animals.
Last year, Omlor, Ponti and a handful of volunteers treated 75 hawks, owls, eagles and other birds of prey.
They are guardians for orphaned animals that would be killed if left on their own. The Otis Orchards clinic treats practically any wild animal in need of care for free.
“I just like game animals,” Ponti said. “It’s sort of another hobby that coincides with what I do for a living.”
Ponti and Omlor have accepted small donations for doctoring everything from porcupines to a golden eagle that is being kept in a horse stable at the clinic until four of his flight feathers grow back.
Two days ago Omlor released a great horned owl after six weeks of rehabilitation from a fractured leg.
Injured birds are initially kept in a small cage. Omlor visits them daily, pulling and lifting the wings in a waving motion. Then the birds are leashed to a sort of tether cord and thrown in the air. Some fly. Some fall.
It could take anywhere from two weeks to six months for birds to fully heal, Omlor said. They dine on rats that Omlor raises.
Nestling birds need nearly constant attention. They have to be fed every 15 minutes from about 6 a.m. to midnight.
Some would call this work. Omlor calls it hands-on conservation.
“It’s the little bit I can do to help give the birds a second chance at life,” said Omlor, who has loved birds since the sixth grade.
Ponti has been rehabilitating animals for 12 years. His clinic’s willingness to take in wild critters has spread by word of mouth.
He usually sees a dozen fawns per year. Only five have visited the clinic this year. Two had to be put to sleep; one was born blind and the other had a broken leg.
The other three orphaned fawns have been residents at the clinic since June.
“We get them pretty young, usually the mother is hit by a car,” Ponti said. “Some John Q. Public will bring them in and we put them on a bottle and feed them in the summer.”
In September the fawns will be cared for by a friend of Ponti’s in Metaline Falls.
Ponti encourages the public to “leave fawns in the wild unless you know there is a dead doe.”
“There is a mistaken belief that if they find a fawn alone the mother is dead,” Ponti said. “The fact is she left them there to hide and she will come back.”
Sometimes, the clinic’s patients can seem downright unappreciative.
Ponti took in a baby bear whose mother was shot out of season. Though it was just a “squirt,” Ponti had no idea the bear - later named Houdini - would be able to squeeze through a 4-inch gap in the roof of the dog kennel where it was kept.
Three miles later, in Newman Lake, Ponti was climbing up a pine tree after the cub. Ponti ended up nursing his own wounds after Houdini chomped through his leather gloves.
“There is a little blood every now and then,” Ponti said.
Omlor once had to have a red-tailed hawk talon removed from her finger with a pair of pliers, but she’s not sore about it.
“I can’t describe the feeling of setting an owl free and knowing I had something to do with that,” Omlor said. “I wish them well, give them one last rub across the top of the head and let them go. They never look back.”
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