SEAFORTH, NS — Heavy traffic is not a common occurrence in Seaforth, but it was a welcome sight for the staff and volunteers at Hope for Wildlife rehabilitation center on Saturday as hundreds of visitors lined up for the long-awaited return of its popular open house .
Cars lined the sides of Hwy 207 between Three Fathom Harbor and Grand Desert as supporters of the center and fans of the Hope for Wildlife TV show featuring its founder Hope Swinimer and her team flocked to see its latest patients and residents, and see the changes that have taken place there in the three years since COVID put a pause on holding the annual event.
There was certainly no shortage of things to see, with chipmunks and owls in outdoor enclosures — not together, of course — orphaned baby raccoons and baby squirrels in the nursery and Fenton Farmhouse recovery center, and a new ICU building with birds, mammals and turtles healing from recent surgeries.
— Stephen Cooke (@NS_scooke) September 10, 2022
“We’ve really missed not being able to have the open house through COVID, but we’re back and it’s going really well today,” said Swinimer during a rare break from talking to eager and inquisitive visitors. “A lot of changes have happened here so it’s been really nice to show the public what’s been going on.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is we do and why we do it, so it’s the perfect opportunity to invite the public in and show them how we do our medicine and explain why we rehab the animals, and why orphaned and injured wildlife come here to begin with.”
Changes since the start of COVID
Since the last open house in 2019 — and the filming of the final season of the TV series which aired in the first half of 2020 — upgrades to animal enclosures to make them bigger and more secure, a large solar farm and new recovery units are examples of how the Seaforth facility has grown in recent years.
The ability to make these improvements comes from public support. Before the pandemic, the annual open house was a reliable and valuable fundraiser and an educational event for Hope for Wildlife.
Remarkably, during the pandemic, Swinimer says the center saw its intake grow from 4,500 patients a year to 7,500, which means it requires a lot more food, medicine and supplies to treat those animals before they’re released back into the wild.
“People seemed very giving through COVID, which was surprising because a lot of people weren’t working and that kind of thing, and it was lovely to see that kind of support,” she says.
“This year, I think people are really worried about the price of gas, and the cost of living, and inflation and mortgage rates, and this past year has been our roughest year in the past 10 years. So this open house might help in that way.”
Visitors from far and wide
People certainly came from far and wide to show their support and take a peek behind the usually closed doors of the former farm property. Digby couple Phil McInnis and Darien Fair grew up watching the show, and took the opportunity to stop by with a group of international students on their first visit to Canada.
The pair also had first-hand experience of what Hope for Wildlife does for Nova Scotian animals on a daily basis.
“We were visiting Fort Anne a while back and saw a baby deer laying out in the open hot sun and didn’t know what to do,” said Fair, as a trained falcon circled overhead.
“We called Hope for Wildlife and they advised us on what to do, and that it was OK to leave it there because that’s where the mom had left it,” added McInnis. “It was a very interesting educational experience.”
These hyper squirrel buddies will soon be back in the wild, thanks to @hopeforwildlife which sees its popular open house event return today for the first time in 3 years in Seaforth until 4 pm pic.twitter.com/J1boXWFa3D
— Stephen Cooke (@NS_scooke) September 10, 2022
Veterinarian Dr. Sherri Cox from the National Wildlife Center has a seven-year relationship of working with Hope for Wildlife and the veterinary interns who receive valuable experience from treating the wide array of animals who come through its intake center and operating room, “from moose to mice, and turtles to terns.”
“It’s protecting our ecosystems, the environment, animals, certainly wildlife, so it’s important to show the public just how important the work is that Hope does,” says Cox.
“Wild animals don’t have owners, they have no one to really speak up for them, and we are stewards of our environment. We have an opportunity to help these animals who have no voice, so we can eliminate their suffering, help restore their health and get them back into the wild where they belong.”
A beautiful day to appreciate nature
The beautiful weather and festive atmosphere with live music, food and activities like a chance to hang out with mermaids or cuddle a cute donkey were also key elements to drawing such a huge crowd to Seaforth on Saturday. It also provided an opportunity for wildlife protection and nature-supporting groups like the Nova Scotia Wildlife Carvers Association and the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute to present displays illustrating their efforts, from colorful carved birds and mammals to the institute’s ongoing efforts to preserve the province’s bat population .
For Swinimer, the open house is a great way to reconnect with the public and the environmentalist community and to reinforce Hope for Wildlife’s educational mission that we share this world with other creatures who deserve to be treated with respect, and given a helping hand when needed .
“I hope (our visitors) take away the beauty of nature, and how beautiful this property is,” she says. “For them to be outside and enjoying it is important to me, and it reconnects them to the natural world.
“Even though we have some domestic animals here too, it’s really all about bringing people closer in the name of caring for other living things. That’s one of the biggest messages, and we also want them to learn about the problems that cause the wildlife to come here to begin with, and what can be done to prevent these injuries from happening.”