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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

The Wildlife Center of Venice: Guardians of the Natural World

Jul 29, 2015 05:24PM ● By Juliette Jones

 “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”   

– Pope Francis


Some months ago, my neighbor John and I took an uncharacteristic evening stroll. It was our usual habit to get the dogs out before sunset, as we are still lucky enough to share our neighborhood with wildlife, much of which is nocturnal. Street lights allowed us to see the road ahead, and suddenly we noticed something small and dark moving “oddly” at the side of the road. I picked up my mini-dachshund, knowing she would likely get her nose into the wrong place, and moved along to see what we had discovered.

Two small baby raccoons looked up at us with bright eyes like wary puppies. The weather was still quite cool, and they were holding each other, adjusting themselves protectively. Far too young to be out in the open without their mother, it was sadly obvious they had been orphaned.  

At first, I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what to do to help the situation.  I know wild animals can carry diseases, and it would have been unwise to attempt to catch them without any knowledge of how to do it safely. Besides, even if I could have caught them, what next? Then, I remembered meeting some of the folks from The Wildlife Center of Venice (WCV) at a local exposition.   

John kept his eye on the raccoon cubs while I whisked the dogs back to the house and made a call. As the phone rang, I hoped against hope that someone would answer. What a comfort to hear a voice on the other end of the line.  

The dispatcher for the Wildlife Rescue Team said she happened to have someone out in the area and advised me to toss an empty recycle garbage tub over the cubs.  However, by the time I returned to the scene, despite John’s best efforts to keep them corralled, the duo had eluded him by separating and running off into the bush.

Twenty minutes later, a team volunteer named Stephanie Boor arrived and joined us in our search effort. This continued for at least an hour and, when I was too exhausted to continue, Stephanie went on for another half-hour. When I commented on her tireless resolve, she replied that she really did this job as a volunteer because she wanted to and felt the need to continue her efforts. There are no words adequate to describe how I was moved by her authentic, selfless presence and compassion for these little animals. When she finally did leave the scene, the cubs were still nowhere to be found.

We knew their chances for survival were slim with so many predators in the area. My heart was heavy as I continued to search for them the following day.


Life of the Buddha – Prince Siddhartha’s Kindness 


Someone asked me why we would care about these raccoon cubs, “They’re pests, and there are too many of them.” This made me reflect on the story of Prince Siddhartha (Buddha’s given name) who had great compassion for people and animals. 


Siddhartha and his cousin, Devadatta were walking together in the woods when Devadatta pulled out his bow and arrow and shot a swan.  Both went to look for the animal, but Siddhartha found it first. Seeing that it was not dead, but injured, Siddhartha gently removed the arrow, used some juice from cool leaves to stop the bleeding, and gently stroked the frightened bird. When Devadatta caught up and saw this, he became angry and demanded his right to claim the animal because he had shot it down. Siddhartha conceded it would have belonged to him if it had been dead, but claimed a right to it since it was still alive. The matter went before a respected sage.  After hearing the story he replied, “A life must certainly belong to he who tries to save it. A life cannot belong to he who tries to destroy it.”    

 – Life of the Buddha Prince Siddhartha’s Kindness (


The good news is that we found the cubs two nights later near the place where they were originally spotted. This time, we knew how to catch them, and Stephanie’s husband Ben, also a member of the Wildlife Rescue Team, came out to retrieve them. Ben really knew how to handle these little critters. He picked them up wearing heavy gloves, determined their sex (both females), and then placed them together in a small cage. Ben told us that we could make a call to the Wildlife Center to check up on them and explained how injured and orphaned animals are carefully rehabilitated in a way that minimizes human contact so as to prepare them for eventual placement back into the wild.

I asked him how the volunteers are protected against rabies and found out that Wildlife Rescue team members are inoculated against rabies at the cost of about $750 per person. I found out later that some of these dedicated volunteers even pay for their own shots!  

Recently, I made a call to Kevin Barton, President of WCV and set up an appointment to visit the center and have a talk with him. 

The Wildlife Center of Venice is located on a 15 acre privately owned parcel of land, some of which is located along the Wild and Scenic Myakka River and is part of a crucial wetland habitat. WCV is both state and federally permitted for wildlife rehabilitation, and is the largest area Wildlife Rescue Team in the area serving all of Sarasota and West Charlotte Counties since 2004. They treat over 4,000 sick, injured and orphaned birds, mammals and reptiles annually.

The property is dotted with caging structures, shelters and feeding stations, many of which exist as projects constructed by volunteer organizations including the Girl Scouts, Eagle Scouts and Parrot Heads. Each day, volunteers spend their time caring for birds, reptiles and mammals – practically every species of wildlife native to our area. This entire mission is performed year round without any funding from federal, state or local governments, and functions solely on gifts and donations from the community, inclusive of caring veterinarians and business owners.  


“In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance…As a result, some species face extinction.”

– Pope Francis


The WCV is going through difficult times and challenges to their survival. They need our help now to continue to protect our area wildlife. Threats to the operation include the loss of critical wetland habitat due to city and county approval of a 151 acre, 263-home Neal Community development, ironically named “The Woods.”  This project was allowed to go forward despite the fact that it interrupts the Wild and Scenic Myakka River wildlife corridor which is essential to wildlife conservation. On a separate venue, there is also a challenge to the retention of a five acre segment of WCV property which will require ambitious fundraising efforts.


“I hope you’re doing what we all should be doing
 – that is paying attention to nature.”

– Ianto Evans

The compassionate spirit and knowledge base of the folks who make this place possible is quite beyond what most people live or imagine. It sets the best sort of local standard for the importance of environmental protection. By the way, co-founder Kevin Barton is available to make presentations to interested organizations and groups.

I’ve thought what I could say to reflect appreciation, praise and respect for these devoted guardians of our natural world. The work they do is very difficult and often unrecognized.  Together, they witness a great deal of suffering, and share in the silent rapture of befriending wild and voiceless creatures that would surely perish without their efforts. 

They have selflessly made possible a sanctuary where animals gathered in the courtyard need not fear humankind, and where a white goose “herald” named “Bass” with his girlfriend, “Lucy” announce visitors at the gate. This is a place on the earth where you will still find the enlightened human spirit toiling out of love and duty to uphold the eco-sacredness of nature.  

The Wildlife Center of Venice, Inc., would very much like to find a volunteer to donate time and skill to build and monitor an interactive website which will make possible an email broadcast campaign. 


To make a donation to WCV, call 941-484-9657, email [email protected] or visit


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