Debbie Souza-Pappas realized that when she moved to Price years ago and began a new career in wildlife rehabilitation. She has successfully treated hundreds of birds and small mammals since opening Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation in 1994.
“This is my calling,” said the former medical technologist. “This is what I should have been doing all along.”
It’s hardly a lucrative profession. Souza-Pappas’ facility gets by on a shoestring budget and the real payoff comes when she releases a raptor or other species back into the wild.
The cover photo on Second Chance’s informational pamphlet shows a golden eagle taking wing near Moab on Christmas Eve 2005. Grand County is one of the rehab center’s busiest areas, she said.
Souza-Pappas cares for 250 to 300 “patients” a year, often working around the clock seven days a week.
“I don’t get to punch out at night,” she said. “In this kind of work, unless you are in a huge facility with lots of volunteers, that’s not the reality. This is a lifestyle. A hobby is something you get to do when you want to. When an animal is in need, it needs care right away.”
The 52-year-old wildlife enthusiast gets help from Connie Waddell, who is covered under Souza-Pappas’ state and federal permits. Lots of people express interest in volunteering, but soon disappear when they realize how much work is involved.
The two women receive animals from many sources – private citizens, government wildlife agencies, state highway patrol and sheriffs’ offices. The critters are housed in outdoor pens built to federal requirements. When baby birds are hatching, even more room is needed.
“Every nook and cranny in my house becomes a nursery,” Souza-Pappas said.
Her love of wildlife developed early.
“I was raised by a very compassionate grandmother who was always talking about animals. She hated zoos because she thought the animals were suffering. I learned there are very few people out there who are doing this.”
Souza-Pappas often gets calls to rescue animals from long distances away. Visits to a veterinarian authorized to treat wildlife require a 150-mile round trip.
And occasionally she has to transport a species to one of the other seven rehabilitation sites in Utah that has more expertise. Reptiles, for example, are usually passed off to a center in Kanab, Souza-Pappas said.
All that driving has taken its toll on the center’s aging truck, which she said is “on its last leg” with 240,000 miles on the odometer.
“We need to have a vehicle,” Souza-Pappas said. “We are out in the middle of nowhere most of the time, and we need a good safe vehicle.”
That’s in addition to the cost of erecting pens, doing several loads of laundry each day to have clean towels, and feeding the animals.
“It’s like, ‘Where is the money coming in for food tomorrow?’” she said.
Those who would like to contribute to the nonprofit center may do so by sending checks payable to Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation to the center, 725 North Carbonville Road, Price UT 84501. Donations are tax-deductible.
Besides taking animals under her wing, Souza-Pappas also is concerned with the health and safety of animals that roam the countryside on their own. That includes her long-time effort to outlaw baited traps in Utah.
“They sit there and suffer with broken bones, starving to death,” she said of trapped animals. “It’s a cruelty issue. And those traps catch whatever goes by – your dog and cats.
“Grand County outlawed them years ago and they are the only ones in the state. I’m thrilled they stepped forward and did that.”
She said Utah law requires trappers to check their traps every 48 hours, but she believes many disobey that statute.
Lead poisoning is another hot-button issue for Souza-Pappas. She said hunters often shoot prairie dogs, leaving them on the ground to be eaten by eagles or other scavengers.
“[Those scavengers] die a horrible death” as a result, she said.