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Remembering Deb

Deb Sheaffer, Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Veterinarian, passed away on July 5, just a little more than a month after she learned that the cancer she had battled so bravely last summer had returned. Our deepest condolences go out to Deb's husband Ron, her children, Nate and Mary, and all those who knew and loved her.

Remembering Deb

Deb Sheaffer with Bald Eagle

By Bob Sallinger

Deb Sheaffer, Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Veterinarian, passed away on July 5, just a little more than a month after she learned that the cancer she had battled so bravely last summer had returned. Our deepest condolences go out to Deb's husband Ron, her children, Nate and Mary, and all those who knew and loved her.

Deb was Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Veterinarian for 12 years and volunteered at the Wildlife Care Center since the early 1990s. More than that though, she was a vital part of our community, patiently and kindly working with volunteers, staff and the public and caring for tens of thousands of injured wild animals.

In the 1990s Portland Audubon did not have a veterinarian on staff. We depended on the generosity of a number of local veterinarians who donated their skills to help wildlife. Deb was the vet I called when I knew it was too late at night to call any other vet, or when I needed somebody to accompany me on an outrageous animal adventure, or when we had a particularly strange and wonderful animal that other vets might politely and awkwardly decline to treat with the explanation that they “don’t actually work on porcupines…or skunks…or bears…or rattlesnakes…and no, they had never heard of an aplodontia…but best of luck.”

Deb was always game. She was never a woman of many words, but you could tell she was excited by the way her southern accent would suddenly become more prominent and her voice would get higher as she announced “well that sounds interesting…I’ll come up.”

One rainy Sunday night I called her to come tranquilize a half grown deer that had suddenly revived and was trying to kick the walls of our building down. We needed to knock it out and transport it to a prison work camp in the coast range where the inmates rehabilitated deer. As we puttered up the dark, steep roads of the Coast Range in my VW bus, the deer started to wake up. “Doesn’t this thing go any faster?” she inquired. “No,” I informed her. “You are in a VW bus going up a mountain…speed is not one of its attributes.” “Well,” she informed me, her southern accent now quite prominent “as a veterinarian, I would advise you to go faster.” We and the deer ultimately arrived intact, but on the way home as we were puttering up the other side of the rainy mountain, we ran into two inmates who had jumped the prison fence earlier in the day, thumbs out looking for a ride. Deb said, “As your veterinarian, I would advise you not to stop.”

Deb joined Portland Audubon’s staff in the dual role of Care Center Operations Manager and as our first Wildlife Veterinarian in 2003. We didn’t advertise the position—we knew who we wanted and I offered her the position over a lunch of bad Chinese food with the promise that we would pay her half as much and work her twice as hard as her current job, but that she would see a lot of cool animals, get to work with great volunteers, and have lots of adventures.

During her time on staff, Deb treated more than 30,000 injured wild animals, mentored hundreds of volunteers, and answered tens of thousands of wildlife questions from the public. She taught Junior Wildlife Camps and presented research on lead toxicity and wildlife diseases at major conferences. She cleaned cages, swept floors, and stitched the netting on flight cages back together after eagles tore it apart. To the end, even when she was battling her first bout with cancer, she worked crazy hours and a quarter of a century after she first started volunteering, was still willing to go out in the middle of the night after an injured bald eagle. She was the rare wildlife rehabber with a deep conservation ethic—she wanted to fix the injured animals in her care but she also wanted to fix the problems that caused their injuries. She was a healer and teacher and a mentor, but she was also a warrior in the fight to save our imperiled planet. In recent years, she formed a dynamic duo with Lacy Campbell, seamlessly running the Care Center together. One of the things she spoke of near the end was how proud she was of Lacy, who will now have primary responsibility for managing the Care Center.

Deb brought a patience and grace to the chaotic world of the Wildlife Care Center. She never was one to talk about herself, even at the peak of her fight with cancer, but she knew how to listen, to the public who needed wildlife advice, to volunteers who looked to her as a leader and teacher and mentor. There was one exception though—she would quietly tell you that Nate and Mary were the best kids in the world and how proud she was of them.

She dreamed of one day building a new Care Center, one that could escape the physical limitations of our current facility and provide state of the art care and research for more wild animals, increased opportunities for volunteers, and create life changing opportunities for people to connect with wildlife.

Five weeks ago, Deb walked out of the Wildlife Care Center with a headache and never came back. Those who knew and loved Deb know that she really isn’t gone. She will live on in all the people she touched, all the love she put into the Wildlife Care Center, and all the wild birds she put back into the sky.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations in honor of Deb be made to Portland Audubon's Wildlife Care Center. You can also see Deb here, in an OPB story on the Wildlife Care Center.

Deb and Lacy
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