The Orphaned Wildlife Center
The Orphaned Wildlife Center has appeared in news stories and online feeds across the country and around the world. Videos of their bears have gone viral and hundreds of thousands of people regularly stay up to date on the center’s happenings. Yet one young girl has taken this interest a step further, and is now an inspiration not only to the people at the center but to other kids across the country.
Some of this country’s greatest treasures lie in the most unlikely places or within the most unassuming people. Jim and Susan Kowalczik are two such people in one such place, quietly going about their labor of love, reluctantly agreeing to flashes of the spotlight to support their work. Quinn Medina is an eleven-year-old gem who found inspiration from the Kowalcziks and began her own movement to support them.
The Orphaned Wildlife Center sits unobtrusively in the small town of Otisville, NY.
It’s a tiny town with an easily-missed main street, nestled nicely in the Hudson Valley, rich in scenic areas and home to diverse wildlife. Ideally the wildlife remains wholly wild, but when accidents happen or overlapping causes issues, other options may be necessary. For the lucky wildlife orphans or accident victims, sanctuary and healing await at the Orphaned Wildlife Center
Equal Love for All, From Tiny Squirrels to 1200 Pound Bears.
Eleven grown bears and one little cub are in Jim and Susan’s care. Most of the bears are moderate sized while Jimbo the Kodiak bear tips the scale at about 1200 lbs. The workload attached to the proper care and well-being of these bears is incredible. From their meals, to their medical needs, to their physical and emotional well-being, these giant animals are entirely dependent on Jim and Susan. Day in and day out, regardless of their own health or challenges, Jim and Susan provide for the bears’ every need. One may think this is more than enough work for two people, but there is much more.
The bears are the biggest residents at the Orphaned Wildlife Center, but they are often not the most demanding.
Foxes, deer, squirrels, weasels, raccoons, and mink have all called this place home. Baby squirrels have teeny tiny stomachs. They must be fed minute portions every two hours. At one point, Susan was bottle feeding 25 baby squirrels. Every two hours without fail, around the clock, Susan cuddled one squirrel after another as she expertly fed them precise amounts needed to grow strong enough to be released.
The little fawns require regular bottle feeding as well. Until an ingenious volunteer devised awall mount for several bottles, Susan was also individually bottle feeding each of those babies every few hours.
It can be exhausting and overwhelming to maintain this pace. With all of their energy focused on the immediate care of their adorable family – and make no mistake, Jim and Susan love those bears like their own children, and care for all of the animals with the highest standards – little time and less interest remain in the tedious nature of fundraising, a crucial lifeline for their work. Chief Financial Officer Kerry Clair picks up this part of the job, and she has a special helper.
Quinn to the Rescue.
Quinn Medina is a bashful 11 year old who underestimates her impact. Beneath her quiet composure, Quinn is deeply dedicated to animal welfare. She is also an extraordinary example of turning inspiration into action.
Two years ago, Kerry received an envelope addressed to the Orphaned Wildlife Center. Enclosed was a letter from Quinn along with hand-drawn pictures of the animals featured on their website. Kerry and the Kowlacziks were so moved by the little girls’ words and pictures, they posted them on their Facebook page, and a movement was born.
Hundreds of the Orphaned Wildlife Center’s faithful fans and followers commented on Quinn’s letter. They thanked her for taking her time to reach out in support of the animals and the Kowlacziks and commended her for the example she set for others – and Quinn was just getting started.
In the two years since she sent that first letter, Quinn has raised and donated hundreds of dollars to the center. She sells hand-made magnets and dog bandannas, donating the profits to the animals. She then looked deeper into her own world and found something else she could donate – her own birthdays. All on her own, this special girl requested family and friends to donate to the OWC instead of giving her presents.
Kerry posts updates on Quinn’s letters and efforts, and the fans eat it up. Quinn not only has her own following within the site, she has inspired others to follow her lead. Kids from across the country now donate their birthdays to causes they support. One child collects uneaten apples from the school cafeteria and brings them to a local rescue.
Jim, Susan, and Kerry put their heads together to think of some way to thank Quinn. In the spirit of their work and their first love, they told her the very next animal to arrive at the center would be named after her. Before long, Quinn the shy, tenacious advocate was virtually introduced to “Quinn” the weasel.
Asked how she felt about her namesake being a weasel as opposed to a cute bear or deer, Quinn’s smile grew even bigger as she said weasels are her favorite, proving that some things are simply meant to be.
“She is the future in the best way,” Kerry says of Quinn. “If she is already making a difference as an 11 year-old, who knows what the future holds?”
Strict Regulations Hamper Wildlife Rehabilitation
Recently implemented DEC regulations bring further restrictions to an already heavily-regulated wildlife rehabilitation overwatch. Bears can no longer be taken in beyond the first few months of age, and are no longer afforded sanctuary status. If the bear cannot be rehabilitated and released, it may not be taken in.
The adult bears already living at the Orphaned Wildlife Center are permitted to remain- for now- but Vinnie, a young cub recently admitted with life-threatening injuries, was removed by the DEC. After several weeks of vigilant and loving care at OWC, Vinnie grew stronger and a brand new enclosure was almost complete, just for him. The Kowalcziks planned to keep Vinnie wild, with the hopes of releasing him one day, but the DEC determined Vinnie would be better off in a different facility, and the cub was mandated to be removed.
This is not the first time state and federal regulations interfered with life-saving measures for wildlife. A highly publicized case of Pedals the Bear ended tragically for the bear when New York and New Jersey officials refused to allow the Orphaned Wildlife Center to respond to concerned citizens’ pleas by offering Pedals sanctuary. (Read more about Pedals here)
Additional regulations on raccoons lead the Kowalcziks to implement a policy themselves, refusing to admit the masked cuties, as the regulations often lead to the animals being put down. Such things are simply too heartbreaking for them.
As frustrating and upsetting as these regulations can be, the Orphaned Wildlife Center is bound by them. You won’t see them in any public forum, bashing the DEC or encouraging others to do so in their name. Anyone who voices such on the center’s Facebook page is instead encouraged to pursue peaceful options of convincing the lawmakers to change policy – on their own. Politics may be a beast, but it is the only one the Kowalcziks have no interest in.
Future Plans for The Orphaned Wildlife Center
Bears can live into their thirties. Many of the bears at the center are young, still in their teens. They are considered family to the Kowalcziks, who are determined to provide them all with a safe, warm, happy home for as long as they live.
This sounds nice and fuzzy but the reality is – the future is uncertain. The Kowalcziks are fully aware of the need to find someone with more youth on their side to carry on their work when they no longer can. So perhaps someone with Quinn’s fortitude – or perhaps Quinn herself – may someday assume the role as head of this adorable family.
Listen in to our podcast above with Jim and Quinn to hear more about Pedals, and day to day life at the Orphaned Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as what Quinn has to say about why she feels drawn to help.