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Busy season for Hampton Bays animal refuge
Caitlin Brett motioned to a row of about seven black mesh crates, an incubator and a small, cushioned box, each containing birds chirping loudly.
The birds in crates were adults further along in their rehabilitation process that needed to be fed every hour; the bird in the box that just had splints removed from his fractured legs and the baby birds in the incubator were under careful monitoring and needed to be fed every half-hour.
“It can be exhausting,” said Brett, 22, an intern at Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Refuge Center in Hampton Bays. “When you get to the end of the row with the birds and then you have to turn around and start over because it’s time for the little ones to be fed again already.”
On Tuesday, in addition to birds big and small, the center was working with a chipmunk, a woodchuck, a rabbit, a baby deer and a red fox, among other animals.
During “baby season” at the rescue center, the idea of downtime is laughable. The 12-year-old center has the capacity for nearly 300 animals, and comes close to reaching it through most of the summer months, when deer are more liable to get hit by cars, baby birds and squirrels fall out of nests and ducklings lose their mothers.
“Baby season is always crazy,” said Staci Earl, the center’s hospital supervisor. “March is when the squirrels are born and that’s busy; May is when the birds are born and that’s insane.”
Virginia Frati, director of the center, which runs on donations, said there are eight people on staff, three of whom are office personnel. The center counts on the help of interns and volunteers, but their numbers have been dwindling. She said volunteers work a three-hour shift each week and learn to properly handle the animals.
There is also a team of volunteers in each of the five East End towns that are trained for animal rescues and pickups, who respond to calls when available.
One of the most important -- but less exciting -- jobs at the center is just answering the phone, which rings almost constantly.
“People are always calling to say they’ve found something or they’ve seen something,” she said. “So many wildlife centers don’t like to answer the phone because it’s just constant, but it’s important to educate people.”
Staff members also have what they call “education animals,” including an opossum named Blossom, that they bring to local elementary schools to teach students about the wild animals in their backyard, how they get hurt and what to do if they find them.
For Frati, running the center is more than just a job. It’s a passion she discovered through finding injured animals in her own neighborhood or on the side of the road.
“I started stopping when I saw injured animals and realized so many of them were still alive,” she said. “Then I realized, there was nobody to call. The closest place to take animals was in Huntington.”
Frati, who was a secretary for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, left her job, began the extensive training it requires to be certified to work with animals, and opened the center in 2000. She worked without salary for the first 10 years as the center was getting off the ground, she said, and has been written up in “More” and “People” magazines for her effort and sacrifice.
“I love animals,” she said. “And I just thought there should be a place that people could call.”
Above: Staci Earl, hospital supervisor, feeds a fawn at the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. (June 19, 2012)