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Finding fulfillment helping animals

By Lee Roscoe, Barnstable Patriot

888 days ago   Article ID# 1467899
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American Humane Society

HYANNIS, MASSACHUSETTS (Barnstable Patriot) - To understand Joe Fellows’ love for animals one need only look to Jada, his rescue greyhound companion, and his volunteer service with the American Humane Society.

Last year’s Memphis floods found the Marstons Mills resident in Tennessee rescuing animals.

Since mid-January, Fellows has been part of the army of volunteers assisting with the largest set of dolphin strandings Cape Cod has ever seen.

A 20-year veteran of the Mashpee Fire Department, Fellows also has a love for humans. Before that, he taught scuba diving out of Harwichport.

It was there he began to save stranded animals, in the 1980s. The effort wasn’t structured then on the Cape, although New England Aquarium started formalizing rescues of stranded animals including sea turtles in 1968. Folks would see beached marine mammals, most often pilot whales, averaging no more than 15 at a time, but more likely one or two – and try to save them.

“One time we moved a pilot whale on a truck down Route 6, keeping it wet with tarps, for release at a cove in Eastham; not a sight you often see!” Fellows said.

The Cape Cod Stranding Network was founded in 1998 and officially merged with the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research in 2007. It is one of 14 organizations in the New England Regional Stranding Network, all overseen by NOAA. Fellows stayed involved, giving about 15 hours a month.

“Volunteers are dedicated and put in a lot of work for free. For instance, this guy Pete who is in his 70s drove all the way from Rhode Island for five days in a row recently to help with the common dolphins.”

When the strandings started, Fellows was in New Mexico for firefighter training.

“My heart was aching for the animals I saw struggling on TV,” he said

According to IFAW as of Feb. 17, 179 dolphins have stranded with 108 found dead, 71 alive. Of those found alive, 53 were successfully released.

Fellows said the common dolphin strandings are the largest he personally has seen. He leaves it to the professionals to determine the cause, which he speculates is partly geography.

“Wellfleet Harbor is a Cape within the Cape,” he said, “a hook within a hook, especially around Great Island – with a channel which runs way up into shallow water, trapping marine mammals on a changing tide, so they cannot swim out.”

Fellows monitored animals from Wellfleet to Barnstable. Two weeks ago he was in Wellfleet as a “pair of eyes” all day, while a group of agencies – IFAW, New England Aquarium and one from New York State – manned Zodiacs to corral five more dolphins and herd them back out to sea, as had been done the day before with some 50.

Concurrentlyon the Barnstable harbor side of Sandy Neck, three common dolphins were found dead and two live dolphins were rescued and released off Town Neck Beach in Sandwich.

Fellows has most often been involved with beached harbor, grey and harp seals. When IFAW receives a phone call from a passerby or vigilant volunteers who patrol beaches, they in turn call a phone tree which phones yet more volunteers to see who is available.

“On my own or with a partner, I go to assess,” he said. “If the animal is alive, we usually leave it alone.

Helping an 800-pound grey seal back into water can be problematic, and often seals simply like to haul out on the beach to rest."

Dead animals get assigned a number, and notes, photos and tissue samples are taken. After being ID’d with a non-toxic paint stick, flags and tape are placed.

“After, nature will have its way…nature consumes it,” Fellows said.

He is part of a core group of about 20 “terrific” volunteers from the Upper Cape, supplemented by students and interns, who are trained to help at the lab at Woods Hole where some animals are taken for necropsy.

“Sometimes animals show lesions and parasites. They even have strokes,” Fellows said. “It’s very interesting for someone without that kind of background to be allowed to help professional coordinators such as Dr. Michael Moore and Misty Niemeyer, who in turn appreciate us, depend on us.”

There are other things he could be doing, but that’s not where his heart is.

“I have a choice not to do this, but I keep coming back,” Fellows said. “It gives me a sense of fulfillment.”

Copyright 2014 Barnstable Patriot   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 888 days ago   Article ID# 1467899

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