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CROW founder passes away, but her legacy lives on

By Staff | May 1, 2020

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Today, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife announced that its beloved founder, Shirley Walter, recently passed away due to causes unrelated to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1968, shortly after the Sanibel Causeway was built, postal worker and island resident Walter found a royal tern which had been hit by a car on the causeway. Finding no services available for injured wildlife, she took the bird home. A small group of volunteers joined Walter, and CROW was born. In the first year, 500 distress calls were answered. From the beginning, the late Dr. Phyllis Douglass assisted Walter in her call by providing veterinary assistance. Wildlife medicine was in its infancy in the 1960s, so Walter, volunteers and Douglass all learned together, with the network of rehabilitators around Florida.

CROW incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1972, receiving its 501(c)(3) IRS exemption in 1973. The name was Walter’s idea – she wanted a bird’s name, a W for wildlife and she considered crows intelligent – the CROW acronym was born.

Over the years, CROW has grown to become one of the leading wildlife rehabilitation hospitals in the country. In addition to admitting over 5,000 wildlife patients a year, the teaching hospital’s student programs provide training for the next generation of animal care professionals. CROW’s AWC Visitor Education Center sees thousands of visitors each year who want to learn about what it takes to care for wildlife and it all started with a simple act of kindness from Walter.

“CROW will miss Shirley but she will never truly be gone so long as CROW continues her passion. Shirley lives on in every student who comes through the hospital and every patient we treat and release back into the wild,” Executive Director Alison Charney Hussey said. “Shirley’s legacy is CROW and Southwest Florida is blessed beyond measure because of her.”

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Walter’s passion for helping wildlife is carried on by the hundreds of students, volunteers and staff members she inspired over the years, including the current staff veterinarian at CROW, Dr. Robin Bast, who remembers her time with Walter fondly.

“Shirley had the biggest heart, and was a true champion for wildlife. Our friendship is something I will cherish for the rest of my career. I will think of her every time I see the inspiration on a student’s face after we’ve taught them something new about wildlife conservation,” Bast said. “She lives on in each person walking through the doors of CROW as we continue to grow the next generation of wildlife health advocates in our community and beyond. We will miss her more than words can say, but know she will never leave our hearts.”

To make a donation to CROW in her honor, visit www.CROWClinic.org/donate/tribute.

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