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The Morning Journal
August 4, 2007

Bald Eagle soars to freedom

By Richard Payerchin, Sandusky Bureau Chief

MARGARETTA TOWNSHIP -- A bald eagle was set free yesterday in a release that also paid tribute to two friends of the Back to the Wild animal rehabilitation center.

Back to the Wild founder Mona Rutger was joined by Sherry Wertz and her daughter, Jennifer Wertz, at Resthaven Wildlife Area in Margaretta Township to release the female eagle, which spent more than four months recuperating at the shelter which treats injured wild animals.

This year the Wertzes lost their husbands, who died weeks apart. ''They were just lovers of nature,'' Rutger said.

Yesterday's release brought together about 30 Wertz family and friends and Back to the Wild volunteers, who had more than a few tears in their eyes, as the eagle took flight over the water.

Sherry's husband and Jennifer's father, Jerry Wertz, was a volunteer at the Ohio Veterans Home and his wife said he supported her efforts to rescue abused or abandoned cats. He died at age 69 after a brief bout with aggressive cancer.

Jennifer Wertz' husband, Tom Koba, was a Civil War history enthusiast and documentary film-maker who produced a promotional video to help with fundraising efforts of Back to the Wild. He died in May at age 61 from a sudden, massive heart attack.

The eagle was one of a pair found March 21 by Terry and Michelle Fitzthum, who were walking along Sandusky Bay when their yellow lab, Ike, came upon a crippled, bleeding eagle, south of Port Clinton. As the couple headed home, hoping to call someone to care for the bird, they found the second wounded eagle, Michelle said.

''It was an exciting evening,'' Michelle said. ''I've never seen them up close like that before. They're awesome.''

The female birds had fought each other so badly, neither could fly, Rutger said.

''It was a territorial battle between two females,'' Rutger said. ''They really punctured muscles and did a lot of damage.''

One eagle had a hurt shoulder and was released about two months ago in Port Clinton.

The other needed more time to recover and recondition its muscles to fly again, Rutger said. The eagle had a white head and tail, meaning it was at least six years old, but its exact age is unknown.

Rutger credited the Fitzthums for their work and Dr. Marianne Socha of Huron, who donated veterinary care for the birds.

When the eagle was ready to return to the wild, Rutger said she wanted to invite Sherry and Jennifer Wertz to thank the family for their help to the center.

''She was just a staunch supporter and her husband was a true activist in environmental issues,'' Rutger said of Sherry Wertz. Rutger met Jennifer Wertz and her husband through the elder Mrs. Wertz, and the other couple also became friends of Rutger and her husband, Bill.

Rutger released the eagle at Pond 8 at Resthaven, a state wildlife area, at the request of state wildlife officials.

Rutger, wearing leather, arm-length gloves, carried the bird to the end of the concrete dock as Sherry and Jennifer Wertz walked just behind.

They paused as the bird looked around for a few minutes. Rutger warned the group that a release can have mishaps and is not always ceremonious, but the crowd was quiet, even reverent, in the sanctuary of nature.

Like a mother might nudge a fledgling out of a nest, Rutger waited for a breeze, counted to three and hoisted the bird up.

The rehabilitation worked. The eagle caught the wind, flapped its wings and flew to a perch among the tallest branches of a tree on the far side of the pond.

Rutger turned and hugged Sherry and Jennifer Wertz.

''I'm covered with goose bumps from head to toe,'' Rutger said. ''It never gets old. That's beautiful. That's where she belongs.''

For more information on Back to the Wild, a nonprofit organization that relies on volunteers and donations, visit www.backtothewild.com.


Reprinted courtesy of The Morning Journal, Lorain, Ohio.