With all the troubles in the world today, from pandemic restrictions to police protection being reduced, it may seem silly to try and focus on ’possums and pigeons. However, local matters closer to home are forcing me to share my concerns.
Many of you know that Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary was founded by me in 2004 as a place here in Hubert to take injured and orphaned wild birds and animals for care and treatment. Onslow County was lacking a facility of this type and the need was apparent when I moved here the summer of 2003. Since I had been a practicing state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator since 1991, it seemed only natural to make sure my own community now had such a place available to them.
Growth has occurred every year since that starting time – so many hundreds of volunteers, students and interns have come to be trained to help ease animal suffering and provide a second chance at returning to life in the wild or flying free once more. The number of patients admitted has grown from less than 50 that first year to over 2,000 annually now. We began as a nonprofit organization run totally by volunteers and eventually were fortunate enough to slowly start hiring staff – part-time at first and then eventually fulltime members. Volunteers continued to be our main source of help and I have always been extremely grateful for their assistance. We welcome everyone with a passion and desire for helping animals to come out and volunteer with us and join our Possumwood family.
My goal has always been to reduce the harm being done to wildlife through interactions with humans, cars and outdoor pets. I’ve tried to increase their safety by promoting habitat preservation for wildlife and discussing humane ways to limit “nuisance animal” problems. Environmental education programs were developed and taken to all the area schools to teach students about their local ecosystems and the unique native wildlife we are blessed with here. These successful presentations have helped students achieve a better understanding of their coastal environment for over 15 years. Countless numbers of these students have grown up to pursue fields of study in the animal services and veterinary medicine fields. I am proud of the role that Possumwood Acres played in helping guide them in their career choices.
Looking over these accomplishments leads me to state that I believe Possumwood Acres has been, and continues to be, an important part of the community and has served in many ways as an exceptional resource for children, adults, students and veterans. We are always available to offer assistance at any time, including weekends, holidays, and hurricanes. This has never been a 9-5 job limited to weekdays or only sunny weather. We are here with open arms to receive the wounded and displaced animals and birds following each terrible storm over these many years and have always managed to keep our doors open despite the heavy flooding and frequent loss of power. It’s been a struggle at times, I’ll admit, but I feel that it was always worth the extra effort and hours. Tiny lives were at stake and we were helping to save them.
For those of you who have ever been here to the wildlife sanctuary, you have seen the care and love each of our animals and birds receive. I’ve been devoted to this sanctuary, the quality of care each patient receives, and the outstanding level of training offered to volunteers, interns and staff. I’ve always tried to ensure that Possumwood Acres has followed the strict guidelines and rules that regulate and govern nonprofit 501(C)(3) organizations. Under my leadership extreme care was always taken to be vigilant that our financial transparency and fiduciary responsibility are always above board and held to the highest standards.
I am asking anyone who has ever been helped by Possumwood Acres to let us know. If you feel that we are doing a fine job, treat birds and animals with kindness and compassion, and provide excellent quality education programs, tell us. I have spent my life fulfilling my dream of creating the premiere wildlife sanctuary in Eastern North Carolina. My passion and love for birds and wildlife has dictated my actions my entire life so that I have devoted my life to and dedicated my time to helping Possumwood Acres succeed all these years.
But now the time has come for me to ask for your help. I need your support. We simply do not have the manpower to continue staffing each shift and provide the necessary care due to several recent resignations. New volunteers are desperately needed. The few interns we have will be ending their internships shortly and leaving us. Internships continue to be available and offer flexible hours, with nearby intern housing available. Without volunteers and interns we will be hard pressed to provide quality care and still continue to admit injured and orphaned birds and animals. I have never had to turn away a patient in need and do not want to have to start now.
All our fundraisers were canceled due to the pandemic; all our programs and tours were canceled as well. Without funds, we cannot hire replacement staff, even part-time. Donations are down as they are for all nonprofits across the country, and we are tightening our belts even further to continue to be able to purchase the food and formula for the animals. It is getting extremely difficult to cut back any further when we are already stretched so thin. I hate the prospect of having to either cut back the hours or even let our remaining staff go if we do not start adding to our bank account reserve to continue operating. I don’t like to beg but I feel the time has come that I must if I want to see my dream for the wildlife sanctuary remain.
Possumwood Acres has been an active member of the community for a decade and a half. Now we are asking the community to help us stay open to work. Please consider making a monthly donation – easy to do through our website or Facebook site Tails of Possumwood Acres. Small amounts aren’t “missed” from your budget but will add up through the year and make a significant difference for ours. Consider making a donation that is large enough to “hurt” – and remember that your sacrifice and generosity keeps those little birds and animals from feeling pain and discomfort. If you won’t do it for me, please do it for them. You’ll have my gratitude and thanks forever.
Toni O’Neil is director and founder of Possumwood Acres Wildlife Shelter.