<b>FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS | </b>By Katie Murdoch Herald writer
It’s the images of a hummingbird feeding her babies and the shock of yellow and lime green when the sun hits their iridescent wings just right that most don’t get to see – or even realize is there.
So one PAWS naturalist uses his photography hobby to educate people about wildlife, teaching them to see animals through another lens.
“The things that happen under our noses is incredible,” said Kevin Mack, who has been with the nonprofit animal rescue center in Lynnwood for 17 years.
Four years ago, Mack started writing an internal publication to further educate his co-workers about wildlife and reiterate their mission of rehabilitating animals. He also started keeping a blog to reach more of the community when PAWS relaunched its website three years ago. The blogs cover stories about wildlife and information about PAWS’ wildlife center.
“Kevin’s blog and his videos give people a chance to ‘virtually’ hop the fence,” PAWS spokesman Mark Coleman wrote in an email. “Kevin takes them along on a journey, an adventure. He shows us things that all around us every day, things that we never noticed, or never understood.”
Mack’s recent photos of a hummingbird family was another step in his effort to teach the community about wildlife that is local but likely goes unnoticed – or flits away too quickly to observe.
In late February to early March, he noticed a hummingbird gathering spider webs and lichen to build, and camouflage, a nest that was hidden in the bushes.
He spent the next weeks capturing images of the hummingbird, chronicling her feeding her young, getting screeched at for more food and watching the flurry of young birds flapping their tiny wings.
“It’s a reminder to people of what we’re working for at PAWS, which is to see animals healthy and living in their habitat,” Mack said. “If we can see how they live, it helps us care for them better in captivity.”
At PAWS, staff rehabilitates sick, injured and orphaned wildlife before releasing them back into the wild; the shelter also houses homeless cats and dogs. Staff members work with 2,500 to 3,000 sick, injured or orphaned animals per year.
“It’s nice for people to be able to see some of the wonderful animals we work with every day,” Coleman said.
PAWS staffers educate and advocate for animals. Their education department reaches more than 5,000 children per year in the classrooms, volunteers work at a booth set up for fairs and festivals, and the nonprofit each year fields more than 10,000 phone calls seeking help for cats and dogs and looking for solutions to wildlife conflicts, Coleman said.
The center is there for people who rush in with animals they found injured on the side of the road as well as for families who can’t care for their pet because they lost their home.
“We won’t judge them, or criticize them. We’ll simply help them,” Coleman said.
Getting an up-close view of wildlife is tricky, even for those who work with them.
Staff balance caring for animals without getting too close.
“Our staff works carefully to shield them from exposure to humans while they’re in our care, so most people will never see the result of the work we do,” Coleman said. “When we have animals that choose our campus to make their homes, we get this rare opportunity to share it.”
Mack started working at the Lynnwood-based facility in 1995 following an internship there. It’s challenging to see animals suffering, he said. “The benefit is you help them restore their lives.”
Valerie Leonard coordinates PAWS’ online communications, including Mack’s posts.
“Kevin helps educate all of us in a very gentle way. You don’t mind Kevin schooling you, because he has such a huge heart for animals,” Leonard said.
Mack’s laid-back and friendly demeanor comes across in his writing and readers pick up on that, she added.
“I want to get wildlife in the forefront of people’s minds,” Mack said. “The more we know about them and how they live, we’ll be better neighbors to them.”