After a messy six-month battle with officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife over their methods of rehabilitating orphaned deer and elk, the operators of For Heaven’s Sake WIldlife Rescue in Rochester have decided that they will no longer be conducting large animal rehabilitation work.
“David and I have had to make some difficult decisions and knowing that we can’t do wildlife rescue forever, we think it is time to semi-retire,” wrote Claudia Supensky, in regard to her and her husband, in a Facebook post from Feb. 26. “After major trauma, including heartache and use of financial resources for attorney fees, regarding the unlawful killing of three fawn and an elk calf under our care, my decision is to cut way back on rehabilitation under the current leadership in WDFW. We will be rescuing and rehabilitating owls only this year.”
Contacted for comment on Wednesday, David Supensky said that since their wildlife rescue facility at their home was raided in November and four young ungulates were killed by WDFW employees, things have been unsettled.
“We never really know from day to day as far as that goes,” said Supensky, who noted that Claudia has applied for a license to keep rescued owls for educational programs. “So we are definitely going to continue doing that and at any rate then, probably, we will discontinue taking other animals.”
Supensky noted that their license for rescuing and rehabilitating other wildlife is valid for another three years. The couple plans to retain their license in case a situation arises where they feel they could be especially useful. However, he called that scenario unlikely.
Claudia Supensky provided some additional details in her Facebook post from last week.
“I applied to obtain a Scientific Collection Permit (now approved) which allows me to keep the owls in our education program and continue to do education programs in our community without the requirement to rehabilitate animals,” wrote Claudia Supensky. “However, my rehab permit is still valid. We are hoping for enough support to continue owl rehabilitation, maintain our education owls, and education programs. We are in high demand and have already scheduled programs in March.”
She added, “We will move ahead with rehabilitating the State’s beautiful owls and educating the public about them. We are hoping to add some additional species to our education program. These would be owls who cannot survive on their own in the wild but could become education birds and live out their lives in a good environment with lots of attention and care.”
While the Supenksys have decided to begin moving on from the menagerie of wildlife rehabilitation work that they have immersed themselves in over the past eight years, there is still much to be decided in regard to the deer that the WDFW previously condemned to death for being “too friendly” and “habituated.”
In November, following up on a complaint from a pair of former volunteers, the WDFW descended upon the Supenskys’ home-based rehabilitation center and demanded to take the 14 deer fawn and one elk calf on the property with them for immediate euthanization. Three of the deer and the elk were darted with tranquilizers and subsequently put down by state wildlife officials. However, the 11 remaining deer fled to safety in the Supenskys’ woods and could not be rounded up by officials before nightfall.
At first, the WDFW contended that the remaining deer would have to be rounded up and either put down or placed in the care of other wildlife rescue centers or universities for study. However, following a wave of public outcry, the WDFW changed its tune and gave the Supenskys the opportunity to continue raising the deer over winter in an effort to “wild them up” for release as they have claimed they’ve done hundreds of times previously. That agreement stipulated that the WDFW would be allowed to make two check-up visits to their property, with a deadline of March 16 for any release.
According to the Supenskys, the most recent visit by the WDFW came on Feb. 9, and all of the deer exhibited wild instincts. In a Facebook post on the day of the inspection, Claudia Supensky wrote, “The evaluation by WDFW of the fawn went excellent today. As I expected, the fawn did not approach the three people who went into the woods looking for them. Regardless of the direction the people went, the fawn moved away in another direction. I'm so sad that the elk calf and the three fawn who were killed didn't have this opportunity to prove that they were not habituated. It's a travesty. Still, I'm thankful that the 11 remaining fawn will continue to prove to be releasable.”
David Supensky noted that one volunteer has been designated as the caregiver for the deer. That worker typically only ventures into the deer pen once a week to feed them. Supensky said those trips to distribute feed during the lean winter months are timed to limit contact while the deer are roaming in isolated parts of the property.
“We’ve done everything we can to ensure that they are wild and that seems to be the case. I have no doubt that they will be released,” said David Supensky on Wednesday. “Every time the Fish and WIldlife has come out there to evaluate them, the deer have not shown to be friendly. They continue to hide in the back end where it is forested in our 3-acre area.”
The decision to release the deer will ultimately be up to the WDFW, which has thus far remained coy about the ultimate fate of the ungulates.
“They don’t want to be 100-percent committal on anything it seems. They’re not coming right out and telling us,” said David Supensky, who noted that previous efforts to send the deer to WSU for participation in a study seem to be null and void now.
“The discussion was fairly limited but clear that in order for WSU to accept them they would have to be friendly and we are fairly certain that they are not,” clarified Supensky. “That looks like they are out of the picture.”
In her Facebook post from Feb. 26 detailing the pending changes at For Heaven’s Sake, Claudia Supensky added, “We are very sorry for the inconvenience to our community who will have to take animals elsewhere but this decision could not be avoided. We have raised and released thousands of animals over the past years and have done so with integrity. We have always given quality care and raised the animals appropriately. The tragedy that happened here should not have happened. We are unable, emotionally, to live in fear of it happening again. You likely know that there is a lot to this behind the scene. It’s ongoing. We hope to see revisions in the laws as a result of rehabilitators and citizens demanding change. We appreciate all of your support past, present, and future.”
In addition to changes in the animals they will be providing care for, the Supenskys have also chosen to change the contact information for their rescue and rehabilitation center. As of March 1, emails can be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Additionally, phone calls can be placed to 360-701-5884 or 360-701-0885. Physical mail can be sent to 16111 Case Road S.W., Rochester, in place of their former PO Box.