Birthe Levie, a volunteer with the SPCA’s Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Metchosin, feeds an orphaned baby bird with a syringe. The Colwood resident is one of 11 volunteers who help rehabilitate and release thousands of animals back into the wild throughout the year. (Contributed photo)

Where the wild things are: go behind the scenes at Wild ARC

Nursing animals back to health a labour of love for Colwood volunteer

Thursday afternoons are sacred for Birthe Levie.

It’s a time when the Colwood resident hops in her car and drives to the B.C. SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre (ARC) in Metchosin to volunteer with animals that are sick, injured or orphaned in Greater Victoria.

Being in the company of a variety of animals has brought a sense of tranquility to Levie’s busy life – even if it’s just for a few hours a week.

“It’s very calming,” said the 65-year-old, who has been volunteering at the centre for the past eight years. “When I go there, I forget about everything else because all of the sudden whatever I was worried about doesn’t seem quite as important.”

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On average, Wild ARC admits 140 different species of animals throughout the year, about 70 per cent of which are birds. The centre also helps water fowl, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and currently have a couple of beavers in its care. Staff are on hand to deal with raptors such as hawks and eagles. Last year, the centre treated just over 3,000 animals and returned them to the wild.

When an animal is injured, sick or orphaned, it is brought to the centre where it is housed in an indoor or outdoor species-specific ward for “patients,” depending on its stage of development. Levie’s job as one of 11 volunteers with the centre is to care for the animals.

A consultant in her day job, Levie has always had a love for animals. She originally wanted to volunteer with the B.C. SPCA’s Victoria branch, but after an orientation decided she would end up adopting too many pets. That’s when she heard about Wild ARC from a friend and decided to give it a shot.

During her shift, Levie oversees anywhere from 20 to 50 animals of all shapes and sizes, cleaning their cages, refreshing their greenery and doing head counts, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat. She estimated about 80 per cent that come into care have been injured due to human intervention, such as a bird flying into the window of a home or residents cutting down trees that house nests.

She admits nursing animals back to health can be a physical and mental challenge, as the centre needs to provide animals with food they would normally eat on their own, as well as bringing in branches and leaves that would mimic their natural surroundings.

But the months of rehabilitation is all worth it once the animal is released again.

RELATED: Injured Oak Bay eagle learns to fly in Metchosin

In one particular incident Levie recalls nursing a Northern Goshawk, which are not prevalent in the area, back to health. The hawk had been injured at Uptown Mall after he was attacked by a group of crows. While he normally would have been able to escape, reflections from the windows in the mall confused him and he only injured himself more. After a couple of months in rehab, Levie had the chance to release him at the Swan Lake Sanctuary.

“The very best thing of all of it is being asked if you want to release an animal on the way home and I think everybody gets a thrill out of doing that and just knowing that you helped to be able to put them back where they actually belong … I feel amazing,” Levie said.

“It makes me so happy just to watch them, perhaps a bird with an injured wing that we’ve helped rehabilitate, just to watch it fly off, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

For more information about the SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre visit spca.bc.ca/locations/wild-arc.

kendra.wong@gold streamgazette.com

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