An Owl in the Family: January 11th, 2012

Neesa: Owl Moon’s first owl. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Hello! My name is Natasha Lewandrowski. I am Suzanne Shoemaker’s daughter. I’ve been with Owl Moon from the beginning, but I’ve recently become more involved through collaborating with my mom on this blog. Usually she writes the posts, and I help her edit them and manage the site. However, this week my mom is busy finishing end-of-year reports to keep Owl Moon up and running, so I am stepping out from behind the scenes to bring you a story about the origins of Owl Moon Raptor Center.

Sixteen years ago, when I was ten, my mom and I began volunteering at Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg, MD. It was the sort of unique educational opportunity that was only possible because my mom forwent a traditional career in order to homeschool my brother Callum and I. She believes in the value of hands-on learning. Thus, through scouring opossum cages and syringe-feeding orphan squirrels,* I learned about the animals that shared my neighborhood and my mother discovered her calling as a wildlife rehabilitator. A wildlife biologist by training, my mom has always been interested in working with animals. During my childhood she worked as an animal control officer, a veterinary technician, and a cheetah interpreter for the National Zoo. When she was a kid my mom wanted to grow up to be a rabbit, she told me. Given her current companions, I’m pretty sure she’s glad she didn’t!

At Second Chance my mom met Gary, who became her mentor in falconry. She also met Neesa; a yearling barred owl with a bum leg that prevented him from returning to the wild. Neesa became my mother’s first raptor. Having an owl in the family is actually a lot less cool than it sounds. Wild animals do not make good pets. In fact, they make barely tolerable roommates! I took to wearing a bicycle helmet when I did my laundry to protect my head from Neesa’s dive-bomb attacks. After my parents bought their first house, my dad built two large flight cages (called mews) in the backyard. I think his original idea was that we would get the laundry room back. Instead, it allowed for full scale rehab operations to begin and the official founding of Owl Moon Raptor Center!

Having a rehab clinic in the house made for some interesting times during my teenage years. Whenever I brought a new friend over I would inevitably have to explain why there was a cup of frozen mice thawing on the kitchen counter. If they were grossed out by the mice, however, it was quickly forgotten when they met the patients. My husband, Dustin, still remembers how the first time he went to my parent’s house for dinner, half the freezer was occupied by a bald eagle.

Dustin and I moved out to Seattle in 2007. My mom and I talk frequently on the phone, and she always gives me the updates on her current patients. Even 2000 miles away I feel like I am getting to know her birds. I feel excited when she releases one, and sad when she loses one. Each bird’s story is unique. I kept telling her, “mom, you need to write these stories down,” but with all those birds to take care of she never found the time.

Then, last October, my mom asked me to help her design a calendar to raise money for OMRC. As I was working on the layout it occurred to me that the calendar really should have a web address on it where one could go for more information. Just one problem, Owl Moon didn’t have a website. Setting up the site itself was easily done, but I needed my mom to write the content for it. Now my mom can be a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to projects (just ask my dad when her quilt will be finished), but she’s also a perfectionist; so instead of asking her to write the content I wrote it myself and sent it to her. She sent it back “fixed” the next day. Then she sent it back even more fixed the next day…and the next.

Now that the blog is up she is having a lot of fun relating the weekly stories. I’m having a lot of fun too; helping her and following along every week with you. Thanks for joining me today! Next week we will be back to our regularly scheduled program, which I hear has to do with a hawk trapped in a Sam’s Club and a late night rescue!

-Natasha Lewandrowski

* The syringes have nipples rather than needles on them.

5 thoughts on “An Owl in the Family: January 11th, 2012

  1. Erika says:

    I am really enjoying the blog. The photos are beautiful, and Suzanne’s (and this week, Natasha’s) commentaries are fascinating and fun to read. Just wanted you to know that your efforts are appreciated!

  2. Elizabeth Lacey says:

    Such a good read! Interesting to learn how Suzanne got involved from the beginning and Natasha’s view of it growing up within it. I bet those stories could be funny if all were written down!

  3. Janet Cura says:

    Oh Natasha, thanks, this is awesome! Josh and I appreciate all you do to help your Mom get the word out. The site is great, the blog, pictures, and the calendar are interesting, informative and beautiful! I know how hard your Mom works, and when things don’t go well with a ‘patient’ it takes a toll on her. Hearing the positive feedback about the site and the blog is helpful for her I know. I am so proud of you both! Love you, Auntie Janet

  4. Joseph Villarrubia says:

    That was funny, insightful, and informative Natasha. A very good read! Nothing more refreshing than to hear from my favorite rehab center. We haven’t met, but I worked with your mom awhile ago, and still do when I can get out from under by increasingly heavy bookbag. I didn’t know you both worked on this, but “two heads are better than one.”

    PS “procrastinator” is not the word for Suzanne! :O

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