Behind-the-scenes with PAWS’ wildlife rescues (and, ideally, releases)

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EVEN NORTHWEST natives who spend a lot of time outdoors get only occasional glimpses of wildlife — the prominent white head of a bald eagle above a snag, or a curious seal trailing a kayak.

All the animals’ instincts tell them to keep their distance or stay out of sight. That’s a challenge for the staff at PAWS Wildlife Center in north Lynnwood, but also one of the greatest rewards. PAWS provides emergency veterinary care to thousands of injured or orphaned wild animals each year.

The animals are typically frightened and wary of the humans on hand to help them. They’re cared for with as little interaction as possible. They won’t thank the staff for its skill and compassion. Returning these beautiful creatures to the wild is the team’s reward.

THE FULL STORY: PAWS treats and rehabilitates thousands of animals at its wildlife center in Lynnwood

Photographer Dean Rutz and I got to shadow the PAWS veterinary staff over several weeks in late fall. We were on hand when an orphaned bear cub was sedated and transported for an MRI, and again when staff checked on the progress of recovering seabirds, baby raccoons and a fierce-looking great horned owl.

With humans invading their natural habitats across the region, these animals face daily threats; thousands are brought to the center each year. The specialized care they receive allows many to heal and resume their lives.

The highlight of working on the story was when Dean and I accompanied a PAWS naturalist on the release of some of the rehabilitated animals. In the case of an owl struck by a car, Dean set up two radio-controlled strobes to help him capture the photo, just at dusk. The flashing strobes caught the owl’s first strokes as it rose and headed off to circle a nearby field. We were close enough to see its variegated feathers, to hear the wind rush through its mended wing.