OUR CARETAKER and Founder
I'll bet that, someday, we'll write a book regarding our human's experience with us,
but we've been asked to write just a brief bio of Cyndi Westra, and I have been chosen as spokesperson for all her wildlife
friends. I am THOR, the Red-Tailed Hawk, and I've been her companion for 10 years now. If you think that Hawks can't
talk, just listen with your heart and you'll know.
Cyndi devotes her life to re-educating people to the wonders and necessity of wildlife. There are times when her
mother comes with us to the programs we do. She loves to sit and chat with us. Over the years, she has told me many stories
about her daughter. Cyndi started lovingly raising and nursing wildlife from the age of eight. This continued over the years,
and news of this person who took care of wildlife spread from the neighborhood throughout the small town in northern Indiana.
In 1970 she took a break, married and moved to Chicago. She had two offspring of her own, William and Mara. In 1972,
having had enough of city life, she moved to Florida and by 1976 (same as before, news spread), she became known as the "Duck
Lady of Winter Park" for her work with the local duck population.
In 1979, a divorce caused
her helping hands to stop awhile, but in 1981 she was drawn back to us. Calls were coming in regarding injured and orphaned
wildlife, and Cyndi realized that there was a serious need for a real Wildlife Rehabilitator. Armed with a library card, she
researched everything available regarding rehabilitation. But this was a new and uncharted field, so material was not easy
to find. Unstoppable, she continued to do what she could until 1983, when she discovered a wonderful pl ace that had developed
in Maitland, Florida, the Audubon Bird of Prey Center. As a volunteer at this center, she was able to acquire hands-on experience
with many varieties of species and problems, and so honed her problem-solving capabilities.
Turning Point In Life
In the spring of 1984, the Center sent her to pick up a baby owl from
Annie, a fellow rehabilitator who kept only songbirds. She walked into "Annie's house" and was mesmerized by
the floor-to-ceiling cages full of baby songbirds in two rooms. In t he middle of all this was a small Irish woman, tired
to the bone from keeping guard and keeping track and trying to feed all the teeny tiny open mouths. Cyndi found herself jumping
in to help and doing two years' apprenticeship with Annie, so that in 198 6, she received her own Federal and State Wildlife
What had started as a love of the animals had grown into an epic journey
into the world of wildlife. The dining room of her house became an I.C.U.; cages sprung up all over the yard. The phone didn't
stop ringing and the animals kept coming. This was a 24-hour-a-day job that meant working seven days a week, and monetary
payment was non-existent. The worst calls seemed to come in the middle of the night. It meant that an animal had been hit,
was still alive, and needed immediate help.
Growing and Learning
managed to continue her struggle to help the animals the best way she could, but in 1988 she came to realize that the only
way to afford really good, productive wildlife rehabilitation was to incorporate as a non-profit and become a business to
generate income. This was accomplished, and Save The Wildlife was born (though under a different name).
It was during this year that Cyndi began to notice a new problem with the animals. It was no longer just an easy
clean-it-up, set-the-bone or sew-it-up procedure. Critters with broken wings or legs would die within 24-36 hours, often after
having seizures. There were so many secondary problems developing that it left her and many other rehabilitators asking each
other questions. They compared experiences, symptoms, and problems with each other, and soon the answer became apparent. The
wildlife were being
Poisoned! A whole new Era had evolved that needed to be studied, researched
and applied. To try to discover what chemical compound was affecting an animal was like trying to hi t a bull's eye from
a mile away. There were thousands of combinations that were possible, and this brought about symptom and behavior documentation.
The M.A.S.H. Experience
It was in March of '89 that the Valdez oil spill occurred.
Cyndi could not bear to watch day by day on television and see the animals dying, so she and four associates went to Alaska
to take on a new journey of discovery. While there, she experienced firsthand the horror of massive poisoning. The different
symptoms she had seen in Florida were being experienced by the otters that she was handling. One by one they would die, and
for each one the tears would fall. Alaska was a wildlife MASH (Make shift t Animal Saving Hospital). The fatalities were heartbreaking
to the point of being gruesome. Even now, when she gives educational programs, Cyndi will sometimes tell one of her Valdez
stories, usually about Otter #109, and the tears still fall. She say s that #109's dying was the time when she tried to
build the wall over her heart to stop the hurting. But we know that she still feels our pain.
"Baby Season" was calling her home, and with much knowledge gathered, she left tragic Alaska and settled back home
again in Florida. But not for long.
Learning The Hard Way
second husband Dan is a Research Scientist, and had a contract to work in Arkansas for a specific amount of time. She packed
most of us, her treasured wildlife, in the back of her truck and moved all to Jacksonville, Arkansas for a year. WOW.... .According
to survey accounts, it was the number-one spot in the U.S. for uncontrolled environmental contamination. The damage was beyond
words. The entire town and wildlife environment was full of sick living beings.
(It was here that
Lady Hawke came to live with us. She is a beautiful female Harris Hawk who had been shot in the leg. I could tell you stories
about that Lady -- we spent six months together in a two-car garage in Arkansas.)
Back to Cyndi,
who, unsuspecting, did not know about or see the 40 different chemicals that had been manufactured in and around Jacksonville
since 1940 and were leaching out of the ground. These included DDT, Lindane, Aldriene, Chlordane, Heptachlor, and Agents Orange,
Purple, Blue and White. She was soon made aware of these conditions, did seven months of research in the environment, and
uncovered and found more Super Fund Sites or undocumented dump sites. The result of this heroic effort was the collapse of
her immune system, and the next three months were spent trying to find a doctor who didn't tell her that "your illness
is all in your head". Finally, she found a doctor who knew about chemical poisoning, albeit he was three hours away,
and the diagnosis was in: EXPOSURE.
She became too sick to stay in that environment and moved
back to Florida. Three days after her move, the experimental incinerator in her town began to burn 30,000 barrels of Dioxin-contaminated
waste (this was right next to Little Rock Air Force Base ).
Living With Chemical Sensitivity
Remembering how sick Cyndi was for months after our return, I know why we didn't do many outside programs, and
I remember her being in the hospital for treatment and outpatient treatment for a long time to come. She almost died from
an attack of Acute Pancreatitis, and since she didn't drink alcohol and didn't have an ulcer, the stated cause was
"unknown origin". But she knew that all the chemicals coating that environment had caused an immune system failure,
central nervous system disorder, short term memory dysfunction, allergies, food sensitivity, and the mono she had experienced
17 years ago now comes and goes.
Doctors who understand these problems are hard to find in Florida,
but she did find one such person, and under his guidance was almost her old self again by the end of 1992. It was then that
we started to do more school programs and shows, but she b egan to notice a change occurring spontaneously during the programs.
She would stumble over words, lose her train of thought, get a metallic taste in her mouth, or a raging headache.
Cyndi started documenting symptoms with surroundings, and this lead to a realization of the things which brought
about sensitivities and allergies. She was and is unable to be inside many buildings or stores for long periods of time because
of th e chemicals that are hiding there, being used as insecticides, cleaning products or preservatives. She found herself
being outside much of the time -- in a clean, natural environment, she felt good. So now many of our programs are done in
the outdoors. Gone are the days of going to the mall. All fast food and most restaurants are iffy, and a visit to the grocery
store has to include a tissue to put over her nose when the household "chemical soup" aisles are near.
New Door Opens
But amidst the bad, comes the good, and a wonderful opportunity
came our way in 1993. Jungle Adventures, a local natural and native theme park, offered to become our corporate sponsor. Because
of this, Save The Wildlife was able to develop the "World of Wings" program. A large, beautiful aviary was built
around trees on our new island home in the park in 1994. Then Cyndi could begin to enhance and enlarge our family group and
to collect beautiful Birds of Prey from across the country. One of our G olden Eagles and an American Bald Eagle came all
the way from California. Each one of them is like me, permanently disabled, never to fly free again, feeling the air under
Now, getting two Golden Eagles, two Bald Eagles, three Red-Tailed Hawks, two Harris
Hawks, three Vultures and a Sandhill Crane to tolerate being near each other is not an easy feat. Personally, I'm a very
easygoing kind of guy and nothing much bothers me. But there are a few in our crowd who are a little "Psycho", like
Peter Pan (a wacky male Harris Hawk), who thinks he's Batman and hangs upside down from the top of the aviary.
A really "confused" bird is Kaley, the Sandhill Crane, who is so imprinted that he thinks he's a person.
The end to his freedom to roam and an exile to the aviary came after he tried to court the neighbor's wife and attacked
her husband. The message on our answering machine was, "Please come and get Freddy Krueger!!". When Cyndi comes
in to clean and feed him every day, he presents her with gifts of twigs and fish heads, then flaps his wings and dances. This
gives Cyndi her morning aerobics session , and gives us a good laugh to start the day. I could go on about each one of my
roomies, but those are stories for another time.
of 1995 found Cyndi four months away from becoming an ordained minister. With most of the studies done, she found an opportunity
to go out West and gather up more animals. She came to us one day and announced that she would be gone for two weeks . Dan
(her husband), Michelle (our Vice President) and other nice people would be taking care of us while she was gone. We knew
that she needed the break and were happy that she could get away. It had been a hard year with mental, emotional, spiritual
and physical trials. The trip would do her good. After we all joined in to say the Prayer of Protection, she was off on another
Cyndi could not know that she was about to
embark on what is sometimes called the "Awakening". We were a little concerned about her driving across the country,
but I assured everyone that she was a good driver -- after all, I was with her all the way to Arkansas and back. Lady Hawke
told us the story of how she helped Cyndi get over her fear of mountains. Lady was a Master Falconer's bird who was shot
in the leg and couldn't hunt on her own. In order for Cyndi to get to where Lady was kept, she had to drive deep into
the mountains, and the thought of this frightened her. There was fear of falling over the side, or something like the idiot
who tried passing another car and was in our lane. We thought we were goners! That trip into the Arkansas mou ntains and her
determination to do the best she could overcame all the future fears.
It was a long two weeks,
not seeing our human -- we are all quite fond of her. Without her, a decision would have been made to have most of us "put
to sleep". The Eagles would have been placed somewhere, but the rest of us don't have that protected s tatus. The
number of permanently injured wildlife runs into the hundreds of thousands yearly, and if a licensed facility doesn't
take us in for education, we are destroyed. This is why we are quite protective of, and devoted to, our "Human".
Cyndi was officially ordained a minister on Oct. 18, 1995. The ministry
she has chosen is sure to take us all on a wonderful adventure. She will not have her own congregation, but share with every
faith and belief. She believes the basis of all religion is the belief in a God, our Creator, the Universal Force and Energy.
Cyndi's ministry is to be a combination of them all. She calls it "Environmental Spirituality". The Ministry
name is PAWS, that stands for People Are Worth Saving, we have to have hope in making a difference for the future.
We hope you like our "Human" as much as we do -- she is a special person. If you have any ideas or a thought
to contribute, you can e-mail her at the address below.
2009 will be full of adventure and growth
since we have moved our Corporate Headquarters to North Central Florida near The University of Florida with a new and much
larger facility. We're very excited about our future plans and look forward to providing a wonderful wildlife and
OH BOY I HAVE A WHOLE YEAR OF UPDATING TO DO!!!1