The Aark takes care of Bucks County's other residents

By Christina Kristofic Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012 11:00 am

http://www.phillyburbs.com/my_town/warrington/the-aark-takes-care-of-bucks-county-s-other-residents/article_5085a120-7e6d-55d7-b674-1e8029e246e9.html

“I couldn’t leave it there to die,” said the woman who brought in the baby bird that had fallen from its nest.

“I had to help it,” said the man who saw the fawn crying next to its mother, who had been hit by a car.

“I just couldn’t let it die,” said the man who rescued the owl that almost got sucked into his pool skimmer.

Those people — and hundreds of others in Bucks and Montgomery counties — have only one place to take the orphaned and injured wild animals they find: Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in New Britain Township.

Aark is one of the newspaper’s featured Do-Gooders for 2012. Do-Gooders are exceptional nonprofit organizations that work to help the residents of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Aark is one of the few organizations of its kind in the state.

”They care for the smallest, least interesting animal to the largest, most exotic animals I can think of. They don’t pick and choose,” said Mike Zowniriw, an animal removal specialist who regularly takes animals to Aark and recommends the organization to others.

“Every single one of them does it from their hearts,” he said. “They never complain.”

The organization’s leaders and its volunteers are trying to lessen some of the impact the area’s human residents have on the furry, feathered and scaled residents.

“Human beings have come onto this planet and accelerated the evolutionary process. We’re extincting animals left and right. ... One day, there’s a field and the next day it’s a development. The least I can do is try to help them get on to a better place,” said Aark Executive Director Leah Stallings, the daughter of Aark founder Mary Jane Stretch.

Stretch started caring for wild animals when she was about 11 years old and found an abandoned nest of baby rabbits. She continued to care for injured and abandoned animals as she got older and eventually became known as “the bird lady.”

Representatives of the federal fish and game commission heard about Stretch more than 40 years ago and contacted her for help caring for baby kestrels, Stallings said. The state fish and game commission then asked Stretch to work with it to draft rules and regulations for the care and rehabilitation of wild animals.

Stretch decided to start a nonprofit. She was going to call it the Ark, but that name was taken. So she added an extra “a.”

“It’s not an acronym. It doesn’t stand for anything. But it does get us in front of the phone book,” said Lou Erlich, a volunteer supervisor at Aark.

Aark was staffed by Stretch, Stallings and two of Stallings’ sisters in its early days. The family took care of a few hundred animals a year.

As time passed and more people heard about Aark, the family started caring for more and more animals. Aark now has more than 40 volunteers who work in shifts 24 hours per day, every day (even on holidays), to care for 4,000 to 6,000 animals per year.

The organization’s busy season is from April to October.

“In the spring, we start getting baby squirrels, especially if we have heavy storms. Heavy rains and things like that destroy nests, babies fall to the ground, people find them,” Erlich said.

“Then we start getting baby birds in. Then we get a full crop of squirrels. All along, there are rabbits and more rabbits and still more rabbits.”

People also bring mice, rats, raccoons, possums, foxes, groundhogs, skunks and water birds to Aark. This year, Aark even got a pair of beaver kits (babies). In the winter, the organization gets a lot of animals that have been hit by cars.

“Every animal that comes here is dead unless we do something,” Stallings said.

Aark’s volunteers, who include two veterinarians, treat every animal. Stallings said they use a lot of homeopathic remedies because they are less invasive and stressful for the animals than allopathic (mainstream medical) treatments. The volunteers release as many animals as they can back into the wild.

“There is nothing like raising your hands and having a bird fly out. Sometimes, they bite you on the hand on the way out,” Stallings said. “Some of them come back. It’s almost like a thank you.”