Most people know that at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, we rescue, treat, rehabilitate, and release wild animals who get injured, become ill or orphaned, but that’s only part of our mission. We also present educational programs to civic groups, school children, nursing home residents and to members of various organizations where we target concepts about conservation and life sciences. To most effectively do this, we quite often showcase our educational animals, also known as Wildlife Ambassadors, who reside permanently at our shelter. These are wild animals who were either captive raised illegally, human habituated and seized by authorities or animals that suffered injuries too severe to be returned to the wild. We get very close emotionally to our wildlife ambassadors because they live with us, we take care of them, we get to know them personally, and they become part of the shelter staff. We really do fall in love with our wildlife resident family, and that is certainly the way we felt about Dinah, our resident Barred Owl, who was deemed non-releasable over 25 years ago when her recovery status was less than 100% after suffering life threatening trauma which could have been a car collision based on the circumstances of her rescue. She recently passed away after serving the Carteret Community for so many years as an education ambassador. Her passing really tore a hole in the hearts of all who knew her and worked with her. Dinah had such an ease of engaging program participants and eliciting empathy and a positive attitude towards her own species, as well as other wildlife. When Dinah showed up at programs and events, she drew such excitement and wonder within an audience. Educational animals provide program attendees the rare chance of interacting with a wild animal that often promotes stewardship and a connection to the species, but it is imperative for all education animals to have the right temperament, be under the control of the handler and not be stressed by human presence. So, it is important to note that it takes just the right individual animal be a good fit for public programs. Not every wild animal can adjust to or is suitable for so much human interaction, but Dinah was a special Barred Owl in that way. While it is always important to focus on keeping the public safe when wild animals are present, we were also very protective of Dinah in a public setting. By the way, the Barred Owl gets its name from the bar-like markings on its feathers, which is a strong symbol of protection. Her disposition was quite calm in public environments, and she seemed to enjoy the attention, well, most of the time. If Dinah did not want to be part of a program on any given day, she would let us know by refusing to glove, and that behavior was respected. She would not go, and we would check with the Red-tailed Hawk or Screech Owl to see if either of them wanted to go. Dinah was remarkably close to a few people at the shelter, especially our Executive Director, Brooke Breen, who spent a lot of quality training time with her. Dinah was Brooke’s first education animal to work with and part of the very first program Brooke presented. Dinah and Brooke developed and shared a bond that was obvious to any onlooker. Yes, Dinah was a great teacher, but also, she was an amazing ‘Foster Mom.’ When orphaned baby Barred Owls were rescued and transported to the shelter, we knew that once the babies were stabilized, eating well and ready to go outside, Dinah would raise them the rest of the way and teach them to be the Barred Owls they were meant to be in the wild! She was perfect in that role! We were never quite sure what was being said between Dinah and the foster kids in her charge, but we were very sure owl learning was taking place. We often wondered if she was telling them stories about her old days in the wild. The little ones were always so attentive to Dinah and locked in on her every move and sound. She was a dynamo, a treasure and so sweet! How do you say goodbye to a being so fascinating, so loved and so different than any other relationship you could ever have? The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter family is comforted knowing Dinah was not in any pain and was not sick, so natural causes and old age took her peacefully during a recent sunny day. That is always the hardest part of loving an education animal, when they leave us. It is not an exaggeration to say, many tears were shed. They touch your soul, and that is when we realize we are far more similar to other species than different in so many ways. Dinah was an inspirational and precious Barred Owl who we will miss terribly, but the time she spent in our lives made us better humans, and we say thank you, Dinah, for all the memories, love, laughs and everything you taught us. As with all loss, we must go on so we can continue to help all wildlife who are deserving of their second chance at life. A young non-releasable Barred Owl, we named Barnabus, iscurrently stepping into Dinah’s role as Wildlife Ambassador. Although not even a year old, he is as cute as a Barred Owl button and shows great promise. Barnabus is in training with staff members at OWLS now and so far, doing very well, but he has very big “Toes and Talons” to fill when you consider the legendary status of Dinah. We feel confident, with what we have experienced and observed so far, that he will be fine, although he has shown us already, he will be different, but that is the way it is and should be. We are not the same, so why would Barred Owls be the same? With ongoing behavioral evaluation and monitoring, we believe Barnabus’ amicable disposition and personality have the potential to carry forward an opportunity to involve students in topics such as adaptations, natural history, ecology, conservation, empathy, and a healthy appreciation, if not love, for wildlife. Be ready Carteret County . . . Barnabus will be coming to a program near you (if we can keep him out of his bath water long enough)!
author of “Save Them All“