“Are you the bird lady?” Many years after she was forced, due to failing eyesight, to give up caring for injured or orphaned birds, Maureen would get phone calls such as that and was able to direct the caller to the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network.
I met Maureen in the early ’80s when a mutual friend suggested I might like to join a small group of volunteers dedicated to rescuing wild creatures. Especially during the spring months, these devoted animal lovers had cages and baskets and boxes in their homes, filled with babies that had fallen out of nests or were orphaned or injured and which they nurtured until they could be released back into the wild. Maureen, who ran her own business from home, often had more than 50 birds and small mammals to clean, feed, and medicate.
As word got around and ever more people heard about the group and brought them birds and mammals they found, it became evident that a more structured system was needed. In 1988 Maureen and 10 volunteers, including me, incorporated as a nonprofit organization; in 1999 we rented a small storefront at State Street and Ontare Road, staffed by volunteers, where people could drop off creatures in need of care.
When I first knew Maureen, she had a flock of ducks and several chickens in her backyard, also four or five rescued dogs and several cats. All had free access to the house, and it was not unusual to encounter a chicken just having laid an egg in an upholstered chair in her living room, which was also her office. She was never happier than when surrounded by animals and always managed either to find a home for strays or to keep them herself.
Meanwhile, Maureen also continued to volunteer as a boardmember and to care for the overflow of birds the center could not accommodate. The organization was still struggling, holding fundraisers and appealing for funds. One of the volunteers kept seabirds in a small backyard pond until another volunteer was able to build a larger one on her property. Maureen, who had been rescuing birds for many years, taught us what she knew, but we all were learning on the job and realized it was no longer good enough. At long last, after several larger fundraisers, first one, and after a time several, staff members had to be hired.
Our dream of a center, where not only songbirds but also small mammals and seabirds could be taken in and treated, was finally realized in 2004 when the generosity of a donor made it possible for us to buy a property large enough for our needs, located in Goleta.
Besides loving all creatures, Maureen was also a good and loyal friend to many humans. She was always the one who remembered the birthdays of all her fellow volunteers and arranged birthday lunches or dinners. It was Maureen who knew when one of us was ill or grieving and got the word out that help was needed, and she provided as much as she was able.
Not that she was a full-time saint. Maureen could also be opinionated and cantankerous and was not afraid to speak her mind when she saw what she considered rude or unjust behavior. Raised with a strong work ethic, she had no patience with business employees who fell short of her expectations. “If they can’t do their jobs properly, they should not be there,” she would declare. When she could no longer see well enough to care for baby birds, she reluctantly retired from volunteering, but she kept dogs and cats close to her to the end.
Like so many of us, Maureen was an immigrant. She came from England in pursuit of a better, more prosperous life. She began by working as a secretary before she met her husband, and they bought a house in Santa Barbara. After separating from him, she continued to live there until she died at Serenity House on February 24, after surgery for a broken hip. I was privileged to spend the last hour of her life with her. She will be very much missed.