homepage logo

CROW hospital director loves educating the public

By Staff | Sep 1, 2015

After 20 years of becoming a veterinarian, Dr. Heather Barron still cannot wait to go to work every morning.

“When I came for my job interview, as I was driving over the causeway, I saw 30 osprey on the way here,” she said of going to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. “Then I pulled into the parking lot here and there was a wood stork causally strolling around and a great heron and all these beautiful birds . . . rosette spoonbills. I was like wow, I have only seen pictures of these, but none in real life.”

Barron said laughing that there was no need to have all these ambassadors greet her at the door . . . “I will take the job.”

“It was a marriage made in heaven for sure,” she said of taking the hospital director position three years ago.

Barron attended the University of Georgia veterinarian medical school where they focused on wildlife and specialty medicine. She remains on the faculty at the University of Georgia College of Veterinarian Medicine where she continues to learn from some of the best minds in the field.

A dive vacation in the Cayman Islands led Barron to meeting her husband, a paramedic, who was training others on the Cayman Island and eventually a job at St. Matthews University.

“When our kids were born, we have three kids, we decided we wanted to come back to the States, so our kids are raised as Americans,” she said.

Barron, born and raised on St. Simons Island in Georgia, fell in love with Sanibel because it reminded her of her childhood.

“This island looks a lot like what St. Simon’s looked like. It just spoke to me. This is how I want my kids to grow up,” she remembered thinking.

Since arriving at CROW, Barron has educated the community about wildlife and rehabilitation, all through collaboration and cooperation with others.

Early on she began the project, “If You Care, Leave it There.” Three years ago the case load for baby animals was 80 percent. Because she began educating individuals, it has shrunk to 43 percent.

“We are seeing a lot more critical care patients because people are more knowledgeable to the animals. Now they are like ‘there is this team over at CROW to fix the unfixable and do the unthinkable,'” Barron said.

Sanibel Scientist was created, a yearly meeting, with such groups as CROW, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, The Sanibel Sea School, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the City of Sanibel and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“The scientist from all these different facilities, we get together and we talk about what we are doing and help each other because we really want Sanibel as a whole to be a healthy environment,” Barron said. “When you are thinking about conservation medicine, you have to realize we are all a really important cog in the wheel and none of it is going to be what we want it to be unless we really work together.”

Another example of educating and working together as an entire community began two years ago. CROW received money from a grant they were accepted for in April last week for the project “Clear Your Gear.”

“We are going to be educating anglers in the area about the dangers of monofilament line and other fishing gear that is left in the environment,” Barron said.

Signs will be posted at local piers to share how individuals can avoid problems involving wildlife and fishing line. Monofilament recycling bins will also be placed throughout the island for the lines to be thrown away. A new section will be added at CROW’s Visitor Education Center to further educate the public on avoiding problems that are tied to the environment.

“It is great because the Sanibel Sea School already started this program because they got monofilament recycling bins on the causeway,” she said. “This will allow us to have the money and team effort to really expand that. We hope to eventually expand that to all of Lee County.”

An official logo is in the works, as well as website and Facebook page for the initiative.

A partnership began after coyotes were being spotted on the island in 2011. The partners are looking at what kind of impact the coyotes are having on the islands imperial species such as sea turtles, as well as documenting what kind of diseases they are seeing with coyotes.

“It’s not just about taking in the wildlife after it’s injured. We are about preventing the injuries before they ever happen,” Barron said.

Education also expands beyond Sanibel Island through seminars, presentations and the first of its kind – a textbook.

“The book is the first definitive textbook ever written on North American wildlife rehabilitative medicine,” said Barron, who is one of five senior editors working on the project.

The textbook explores rehabilitative medicine on common North American species, such as the river otter or box turtles. She said she believes this is a good time to publish a book because of the “One World, One Health” concept.

“If you have wildlife that is ill and you are seeing the same thing over and over, sometimes that is an early warning signal that there is something wrong in the environment,” Barron said.

The book, which is comprised of 35 noted, respected wildlife veterinarian authors, is tentatively set to hit the shelves in the beginning of 2016.

“They shouldn’t be patching animals up and sending them back out into the wild. That is certainly primarily what we do, but my vision is much greater than that. It really hinges around the One World, One Medicine concept. That is really going to be what the book is going to be about. Not just how you fix up an Eastern box turtle that was hit by a car, but it is going to play to the larger message of what diseases are out there in wildlife and what does that mean for the world as a whole.”

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.