Letter to the Editor: The owl on campus

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Letter to the Editor

On Friday September 13, at 6:30 a.m., I was walking on the University of Washington campus approaching Allen Library. It was still fairly dark out and up ahead I could see the outline of a large "object." As I got close, I thought I was looking at the backside of a cat. Then I saw it was an owl perched on the ground by the library. I was stunned. My first thought was that nobody would believe me so I took out my cell phone and took a video. I thought it would fly off at any moment. I began walking around it in a circle, videoing the bird from all angles. I was struck by its beauty and symmetry. 

It wasn't until after my "walk-around" that I realized this owl was sick or injured. I called 911 and reported this to the UWPD. They asked detailed questions about my location. I answered all their questions and provided my name and contact information. I then stayed with the owl to protect it from early morning bicyclists that came whizzing through. 

My timetable may not be perfect as I wasn't keeping a log but around 7 a.m., other people began showing up, including library employees. Nobody from the police department had yet appeared. I was grateful for the library people as they offered the first real support I felt in this situation. One woman said she had some caution tape and asked me if I wanted it put up. I enthusiastically said yes and a minute later, two women set up a small perimeter around the owl using existing poles and 2 orange cones they brought out. I was greatly relieved to have this new barrier but the owl still wasn't safe. Pedestrians on their cell phones were oblivious and I had to scream "Stop!" to one who would have trampled the owl. He looked up and was apologetic when he saw the bird. 

About an hour later, the first UW authority showed up. A police officer drove up on a marked SUV. But he sat in his car for about 15 minutes before he stepped out. He looked at the owl for a few minutes and then drove off. The owl was once again unprotected by any official agency. Other UW agencies showed up. UWPD had contacted Environmental Sciences and one of their reps showed up. She too looked at the owl and left. UW Groundskeeping had been dispatched. They came, looked at the owl and left. 

The owl remained unprotected and in danger. Citizens told me they wanted to capture the owl and take it to PAWs. I dissuaded them. This wasn't a sparrow that can be gently wrapped in a towel and placed on a box. This was a raptor with talons designed to rip apart other predators. But one woman was pretty insistent. I told her the owl was very dangerous even if it was sick, and it would fight to the death. She still wanted to capture it, saying it could die while we waited. I told her if the owl was so sick that it died in the next few minutes, then nothing could have been done to save it anyway. I had made up my mind to do everything in my power to talk people out of any foolish actions as it could cause them serious injury. But I also had decided that I wasn't going to physically restrain anyone either. So I continued to reason with her. I assured her that trained professionals were on the way. Something I said resonated with her and she didn't try to grab it.

The woman from Environmental Science showed up again and taped up 2 paper signs on the cones saying don't touch the owl. I was getting frustrated at this point and I asked when someone could take custody of the owl. She said they had contacted a biologist and he would be responding. I asked her when he would arrive and she didn't know and then she left again. 

I stayed there for 2 hours before I felt the owl was safely protected when the police returned and seemed committed that that time to protect it. 

In a remarkable circumstance, KIRO 7 ran a piece on TV where they said they interviewed the person who "initially found the owl." She was a woman in Bellingham. They went to her home and videoed her the back window of her house where she said she loved birds. They asked her about her spotting the owl and finding it. I don't know who this woman was but I sure didn't see her there at the scene and she certainly didn't do anything to help me protect it. I contacted the reporter and provided her incontrovertible proof her story wasn't accurate. The reporter told me I shouldn't be upset and accused me of wanting the credit. I assured her if I'd wanted the credit, I would have contacted them a long time ago. I just figured they'd found the heroine they wanted for their story and the facts of the incident didn't matter to them.

I have a personal message for UW president, Ms. Cauce:

You need to institute a policy where you are notified any time of the day when there's an incident that involves the safety of your UW community so an appropriate response can be enacted. In this situation, UW agencies came and went without any inclination to provide security for a high-profile incident. And when the UW leadership faltered, it was a handful of library employees who stepped up in their absence. In my opinion, you should invite them to your office and thank them personally. They stayed with the owl when everyone else abandoned it.

My thanks is just knowing this beautiful animal will be okay.

Thank you for listening,

Randy Yamanaka

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