Our History

Co-Founder Dr. Helene Van Doninck hand feeds a barred owl at the CWRC.

CWRC Co-Founder, the late, Dr. Helene Van Doninck hand feeds a barred owl at the CWRC.

Helene and I met in the early 90s in St. John's, Newfoundland. I had just started working for the government and she was working at a veterinary clinic in the city. 

While working at the clinic people would often bring in wild animals, mostly birds or squirrels that had been injured and ended up on someone's doorstep. Perhaps a cat had brought something home or a bird had hit a window.

At the time, where she worked, unless the animal was releasable right away it was euthanized. This really upset Helene. She always said she didn't become a vet to kill things that had a chance at life. She did not want to be "Dr. Death."


This was especially true for all the unwanted cats and dogs that were regularly brought to the clinic for "disposal". One of the many difficult things about the job that haunted her. 


She saw that most of these small, unowned wild creatures mostly needed some basic care and could be returned to the wild if given time and space to heal. Most clinics are not setup or interested in dealing with animals that don't generate revenue. So Helene, being the person she was said "Fuck that" I'm taking them home. 


So, it was that my place on Thorburn Rd, and then our shared apartment on Frecker Drive became small havens for these injured birds. Some were adults that just needed pain meds, time and antibiotics to heal, others were baby birds whose nest had been destroyed and would need a surrogate parent. She gave them a second chance at life. This is where her focus began to turn from small animal practice, dogs and cats, to wildlife. 

It was fascinating to witness, and eventually help, care for these animals that were initially broken or orphaned become healthy and ready to live the rest of their interrupted lives. In these two photos from our Frecker Drive apartment there are juvenile starlings that Helene hand raised from chicks. (And before you roll your eyes at saving starlings, for her all things deserved a chance especially if a human was at fault in their injury. Add to that, each animal, no matter how common, was a learning experience that she could transfer skills and knowledge to something endangered. I have witnessed same techniques used on Chimney Swifts that were honed dealing with starlings). So, this was shortly after they had fledged and were learning to fly. They would fly around during the daylight but return to her at dusk and nestle into her neck and hair. Eventually they never came back to her but flew around the area for a while before moving on. I often wonder how many of her patients still survive and how many generations they have created. 

Energy is neither created or destroyed just transferred from one state to another. I think of the energy she expended in saving all these little lives and tossed back into nature. How far does that energy ripple now? If you look up and see a bird flying over, it might just be there because a new vet, in the early 90's gave a damn about its distant ancestor.

~By CWRC Co-Founder Murdo Messer

It all started with Helene.