Russellville woman helps wildlife — from fawns to fox squirrels

By Tammy Keith Published December 13, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Lynne Slater, right, and Don Higgins work on an injured red-tailed hawk’s foot at the HAWK Center. Slater runs the center, which rehabilitates wild animals, near her home in Russellville.

— Lynne Slater never knows what the day will bring — it could be an injured owl, a lost fawn or a call about a sleeping duck.

Slater, who lives in rural Pope County, has been a wildlife rehabilitator for about 20 years.

“I was one of those kids who brought home everything, and my mother fostered that interest,” Slater said.

When she was in college in Virginia, Slater got an internship in the Florida Everglades through the Student Conservation Association.

“I met my first owl, and I was definitely hooked,” she said.

She moved to Pope County in 1998 from Wisconsin, where she operated Wildlife of Wisconsin, or WOW, for seven years.

Slater started with a co-rehabilitator but obtained her own permit and in 2001 started HAWK — Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters — out of her home.

Although others are licensed, Slater said she’s the only certified wildlife rehabilitator in Arkansas.

“I take it very seriously and try to maintain a super-high standard of professionalism,” she said.

“There are only nine of us in the state permitted to take care of birds. It makes for a heavy load,” she said.

A new facility for the birds is near completion, she said.

“Most rehabbers are home-based. Yes, it started with my own personal construction skills, which are lacking. My enclosures were kind of ramshackle,” she said, laughing.

“My husband said, ‘OK, we’ve got to build you your own center.’ Now we have a lovely facility — it looks like a clinic. No more animals in our house that aren’t our own pets.”

The center near her home is not open to the public; it’s where Slater takes care of the birds and helps them heal from whatever ill-fated injury they have.

Last week, that was two barred owls, two screech owls, a fox squirrel and two red-tailed hawks.

One is an “extraordinary story,” she said.

A Perryville man was going on his usual run and saw an owl that a car had hit. The man carried the owl two miles to his home and called Slater.

The owl stayed with her for three weeks.

Three weeks later, the man’s wife told him she saw an owl in a ditch. It was the same owl.

The man drove the owl to Slater again.

“It’s just extremely unlucky,” she said of the owl.

“She’s alive; she has a skull fracture. I just had a veterinarian ophthalmologist come out, and he said, ‘Amazing.’”

Slater said the bird was given a live-prey test, in which mice are released into a trough that is filled with leaves and debris, and the owl was able to hunt.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” she said.

Slater teaches classes domestically and internationally on basic wildlife-rehabilitation care.

One of the skills she’s trained in is physical therapy for raptors.

She’s using it on one of the hawks in her facility that broke the metatarsals, the bones “on the top of its hand,” she said.

Slater said she works with veterinarians, including Dr. Corry Key of Russellville, who will X-ray the animals or conduct blood tests.

“They’re one of the few that actually have a permit to help the injured wildlife, and it’s just a really good thing that they do,” Key said.

“Anything that comes in sick or injured, they do their best to save it,” she said.

Slater said she gets lots of calls because of her organization’s hotline.

“We’re the only one in the state and one of few in the nation that has a 24-hour hotline,” Slater said.

The call is to a pager, which Slater jokes about, but she doesn’t have the money for updated technology.

The pager is forwarded to a phone, so Slater or other volunteers call back to answer questions.

“You don’t have to be a rehabber to be able to respond to the need of an animal that needs help,” she said.

“I’ve had 136 calls since Sept. 1, and that’s just to the pager,” she said. “Sometimes people work for days trying to locate somebody. We get calls from 911, police departments, humane societies — you name it, we get calls from them.”

Once at 2 a.m., she got a call from Delaware.

Slater said the woman told her, “‘I have a duck in my front yard.’ I said, ‘OK, what’s wrong with it?’

“She said, ‘It’s just lying there.’

“I said, ‘Does it look injured?’

“She said, ‘No, it’s just sleeping in my front yard.’

“I said, ‘Well, they do sleep at night.’”

Slater called the woman the next day, and the duck was gone.

A lot of the phone calls require just educating the caller, Slater said.

“We get calls for baby deer. People often say they’re in the woods; they found a baby deer and didn’t see its mother.

“I always say ‘Put it back,’ unless you see flies, ticks on his eyes” or obvious injuries, she said.

“My biggest message to people is that wildlife does not always need help, and I’d rather they call and ask questions before touching something. Always.”

Find a baby bird on the ground?

“They have to learn how to fly,” she said.

Find a baby squirrel on the ground?

“It missed the limb. They have to learn how to climb. Keep your cats away for a few days,” she said.

“We get a lot of very unusual cases. This year back in February, we had a bald eagle that was shot. Who could ever mistake a fully adult bald eagle as anything but? It was shot while perched. There’s a reward pending on that one,” she said.

Another unusual case was a greater white-fronted goose.

“I’ve been doing rehab for 20 years, and this is the first one I’ve seen. She came 3,000 miles to be here.”

The goose was banded 12 years ago in the northern extremes of Canada, “probably 60 miles from Greenland,” she said.

At first, the goose was thought to have an impacted egg. Surgery revealed a gizzard impacted with sand.

“It brought her down,” Slater said.

Slater has two “educational ambassadors” that don’t leave, a red-tailed hawk and a barn owl.

“We have a separate permit to do educational presentations with the birds. That is our only money-maker.”

She requests mileage reimbursement, and a donation of $1 per person is required outside Pope County. Inside Pope County, “we request it,” she said.

HAWK operates strictly on donations. Slater wants it to be a nonprofit organization, but she doesn’t have the time or know-how to fill out the paperwork, she said.

A volunteer who can do that is high on her wish list.

“We desperately need that status,” she said, along with money.

Also on the list are mundane items such as paper towels, printer ink and syringes.

Slater couldn’t run HAWK without volunteers.

“I’m not a one-woman show,” she said.

The goal of wildlife rehab is release, and most adult animals are put back where they’re found.

“Most birds mate for life, and they have territories. Even mammals, they have territories.

“Quite literally, I have seen so many reunions. One of my most memorable was New Year’s Day.”

Slater said a hawk came in October from Clinton with an injury, and she released it on New Year’s Day to the same area where it was found.

“The bird flew out of the carrier, flew up in the tree, and within 30 seconds, another bird came. They talked and flew off together. She was yelling at him. I think she was saying, ‘You said you just were going down to the corner to get a mouse!’

“It was just incredible,” Slater said.

More information is available at, by emailing Slater at or by calling (479) 498-5147.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or