Wildlife volunteers needed more than ever, as one faithful island volunteer is retiring

May 9, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – After 16 years of service to the Boca Grande and southwest Florida community, Blanche Vedette is turning in her animal rescue badge.

From 2005, Blanche, co-owner of the Loose Caboose, has been a volunteer rescuer with the Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida, formerly the Wildlife Center of Venice. 

With running a popular restaurant and managing a private rescue of her own, there just isn’t enough time to continue with the invaluable service that she provides. 

“Sometimes there are two and three calls in a single day,” said Vedette. “It does get very difficult. It has caused issues because they have had to wait for me to get done with work. I work in the restaurant and don’t just sit behind a desk. I don’t always have the freedom to leave, so they need rescuers, somebody to go out and capture the birds and animals that need help.”

Vedette anticipates that her last week will be the third week of June. The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida will be looking for volunteers to fill her shoes. 

“They would train them. It’s done through the Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida, which is in Venice,” she said. “Let them know that you would like to volunteer to replace us out here and they’ll get it taken care of. There is training and they’ll teach you how to capture raptors and things like that because you do have to be careful.”

It is a volunteer position, so there is no compensation, but the rewards are immeasurable. 

“I love the owls, they’re my favorite,” Vedette said with a smile. “But I had done a bat rescue once. It was off island by Dolphin Drive. I had to take it to the Wildlife Center and I had him in a kennel. When I was trying to let him go, he was climbing up my glove, so I slipped the glove off and left the whole thing in the kennel. The next night, I got to take him back to release him.”

Working in animal rescue takes skill and can be challenging, but it also has its amusing moments. 

“There was a place on the island, I won’t say where it was. I did have assistance with that one. The bat was in the bathroom and there were very high ceilings. I had to climb on a step stool and the bat was very difficult to catch. The assistant was helping to hold the ladder so it wouldn’t slide in the bathtub, all while she was wrapped in the shower curtain to help protect herself from the flying bat,” Vedette laughed. “I had my shots, it was a healthy bat, and he was successfully released.” 

When one hears “animal rescue,” thoughts go to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. When asked about intimidating experiences, Vedette said, “Alligators. You always have to be careful about alligators. I’ve jumped in the water and I’ve swum in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve been climbing through mangroves in the bayou. I’ve helped with a couple of alligators before, not on island, but I did help with one who had been hurt by a weed eater, laying in a ditch. The lawn guy didn’t see it, so it had been injured and they were trying to get it out to the Wildlife Center.”

The Boca Grande community is grateful to Blanche for her years of service, sacrifice, and the care she has given to the birds and animals in southwest Florida. 

For information, call The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida at (941) 484-9657.