GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 1, 2013

Rescuing a wildlife rescuer

Wildlife guru fights potential change of scenery

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

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GLOUCESTER — Anyone on Cape Ann who has found an injured gull, placed a pet exotic bird up for adoption, or seen the release of a rehabilitated owl, crow or baby bird probably knows Jodi Swenson.

”I’m the bird lady,” Swenson said, standing in her home that doubles as a rehabilitation lab now named Save Cape Ann Wildlife, Inc. She swings her arm to gesture sweepingly at a shelf of figurines, birds of glass and clay and metal, all different species, ages, and size snuggled into a cluster on the kitchen shelf.

Lumpy the pet pigeon — in his psychedelic flight suit, a fancy name for bird diaper — coos and croons at momma Swenson and the Cockatoo she adopted from a home, the former owners unable to care for the exotic bird, clanks and slinks along her metal cage, greeting the room with a hello attached to her own name, Yaya.

But the woman known around Cape Ann for rehabilitating countless birds, maybe even 250 babies every summer, and hanging onto those birdies in need of a home, could use a little help herself now. The house she rents was recently foreclosed upon and, though her landlord is working to modify the foreclosure, Swenson needs a plan for buying the house on a short sale in case it does hit the market.

Swenson’s animal rescue work, for which she is permitted while also applying for approval as a federally recognized nonprofit, would be tough to relocate into a new rental.

”It’s going to be difficult to find someone who will allow all of this,” Swenson said

”All of this” includes at least three wooden shed-like structures for baby bird rehabilitation, countless injured fliers during the summer season, birds that need to stay indoors during the colder months to be wintered over, and a handful of formerly unwanted, now loved pets.

“I get all the rejects,” Swenson said with an echoing laugh. “I try not to get too attached, but sometimes they stick around.”

Luckily, community members and Swenson supporters from around the country, many of whom she has helped with their own birds’ issues and ailments, have reached out to support Swenson, some by organizing fundraisers in Gloucester, and over 600 others by signing an online petition asking Bank of America, the bank foreclosing on the house, to pause and avoid forcing the subsequent closure of Swenson’s non-profit based in the home.

The outreach has shown Swenson the slight sense of isolation she sometimes develops when busy pouring her energies over injured birds in the busy, is actually false.

”I’ve got relationships with people all over the world that I didn’t even realize,” Swenson said. “They bring me the bird, and I just zone in on the bird, but it turns out the people remember me as the person who helped the bird.”

In that spirit, The Hive on Pleasant Street will collect $5 from each person who attends a concert fund-raiser there Feb. 23 at 6 p.m., with all proceeds donated to Swenson’s cause. The featured bands include Choke Up, Airstrike, Downer, Pigs, Racetrack Romance and An Endless Skyline.

Giuseppe’s Ristorante on Main Street will raise funds, too, on March 13, with 10 percent of all sales from 4 p.m. to closing on that day benefiting Swenson’s work.

Between money coming in as donations and money spent on feeding, medicating and caring for sick birds, Swenson just about broke even this year, she said. Her work repairing fine china reels in extra income. Money collected at these fund-raisers could help Swenson put a down payment on the house, if that becomes necessary.

Swenson’s most recent rescue, a gray phase Eastern screech owl found struck by a car in Rockport, was ready for release Tuesday night, just days after the Rockport animal officer presented Swenson with the case.

Swenson wrapped the full-grown owl gingerly in a pink fleece blanket the size of a washcloth earlier Tuesday afternoon. She teased his beak open and slipped a syringe of anti-inflammatory medicine into his mouth, emptying it down his throat.

A small bottle of that medicine, which Swenson said “lasts forever” on small birds but goes quickly on larger birds like seagulls, costs $40. Veterinarians often chip in giving free exams, but Swenson reluctantly admitted she still pays for medication.

The choices Swenson made to care for ill and injured animals at the beginning of her rescue career may be costly and have put a ding in her credit, but have also allowed her to keep going forward, rescuing countless numbers of birds from humming birds, to gannets, to pigeons, along the way.

”I had to choose between bills or saving an animal,” Swenson said. “Guess what I chose.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.