Nestled in an ordinary home in an ordinary neighborhood in Odessa, is an extraordinary mission-oriented animal rehabilitation organization. Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife is a non-profit, volunteer-powered organization serving Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties. State-and-federally-licensed rehabilitator Kris Porter has opened her home to creatures of all kinds to get them back on their feet (or paws, I guess) vowing to do what is best for the animal. While she admitted it can be difficult to release her adorable animal friends, the Owl’s Nest Sanctuary has earned the trust of the Tampa Bay community for putting Florida wildlife’s best interest first and Kris Porter takes that mission seriously.
Kris Porter said she “can’t remember a time when animals weren’t a part of my life.” Even our phone interview was punctuated by her gently redirecting nursing animals. She credited her grandfather and father for instilling her love for animals even while her mother harped on her for bringing them home – a habit she has yet to break. She grew up in Pennsylvania but moved to the Sunshine State to attend the University of Florida and to encounter her first love: whales and dolphins. Porter majored in marine mammals and graduated in 1991, landing a job interview with Sea World in San Diego. Interestingly, a budding romance kept her from getting on the plane. Instead, she got married and then worked 11 years at Busch Gardens in Tampa as lead zoologist in the animal nursery working with everything from birds to panda bears.
When her daughter was born prematurely, Porter resigned to care for her own. Years later, she eased back into animal rehab by raising squirrels and rabbits. Within four months she had her licensure in place. “It progressed very quickly,” she reminisced. Owl’s Nest Sanctuary opened 3 and a half years ago and has grown to over 60 volunteers.
Rehabilitation proved to be a team effort. Owl’s Nest works quickly to respond to requests from Florida Fish and Wildlife. Porter reported receiving 20-80 calls daily from the community. “I’m not sure how it was all happening [before Owl’s Nest]. A lot of animals must have just died which is unfortunate,” Porter said with a sigh. Collaboration has been key. Porter spoke about connecting with groups to get animals rehabbed and released: the first legally raised coyote named Uno in Jacksonville, seven rare spotted skunks—two from Peace River Sanctuary in Punta Gorda, and even Ollie the otter who was found in a local parking lot and went all the way to the Denver Aquarium for care. Denver Aquarium still advocates for funding support. Porter said every time she sees a donation come in from Denver she thinks, “One little otter did all that!” The tender stories of their animals in recovery have had far reaches.
Owl’s Nest Sanctuary’s work in St. Petersburg has been vital. “St. Pete is one of my strongest volunteer areas,” Porter said. In January of this year Porter’s team worked with 7 ailing pelicans in Coffee Pot Bayou. Porter had Busch Gardens run bloodwork on the birds to find the cause to be botulism and red algae. Porter remarked how impressive it was to see the community rally together to rescue the birds which stood as the icon of our great city.
How can we continue to help? Porter shared their biggest needs for funding and education. A boat is needed to reach coastal animals in distress. Feeding all the animals can be an expensive endeavor as well. Porter was most passionate when speaking about education needed for all water communities such as removing hooks when catching and releasing and refraining from littering. One pelican had seven fishing hooks in his stomach when x-rayed back in January. Cutting lines and tossing fish to birds can puncture their lungs. Coastal cleanups reveal a shocking amount of dangerous garbage including balloons which are deadly to sea turtles.
When looking to the future, Porter sees an even greater impact. Owl’s Nest received two acres for flight cages donated by Westcoast Morgans horse stables in Odessa. An architect donated his services by drawing blueprints, but funding is still needed to make them a reality. Large birds of prey such as bald eagles and hawks require 100-foot cages to flight-test before being released back into their natural habitat. Currently, volunteers must drive 8 hours round trip to have birds flight-tested at another facility. “Will my volunteers do it?” Porter questioned and then answered herself, “Oh, yeah; without question, but to have it locally would certainly be ideal.” Porter’s response highlighted her volunteers’ commitment to do whatever it takes to help an animal in need.
For more information, visit owlsnestsanctuaryforwildlife.com.
(Featured Photo by Douglas DeFelice/Prime 360 Photography)