In 1968, shortly after the Sanibel Causeway was built, islander Shirley Walter found a Royal Tern which had been hit by a car on the causeway. Finding no services available for injured wildlife, Shirley took the bird to her Sanibel home. A small group of volunteers joined Walter, and CROW was born. In the first year, 500 distress calls were answered. From the beginning, the late Dr. Phyllis Douglass provided veterinary assistance. Wildlife medicine was in its infancy in the 1960's so Shirley, the volunteers and Dr. Phyllis all learned together, with the network of rehabilitators around Florida.
In 1972 CROW incorporated as a non-profit organization, receiving their 501 (c) (3) IRS exemption in 1973. The name was Shirley’s idea – she wanted a bird’s name, a W for wildlife and she considered crows intelligent – the CROW acronym was born.
Forced to close down in 1976 by new city ordinances, CROW existed in name only for one year. In 1977, the late Adelaide Cherbonnier offered her Captiva home as a temporary location until CROW was given 10 acres of the Sawbridge tract along Sanibel Captiva Road. With a $35,000 mortgage to build its facility, CROW won city approval and the wildlife clinic became operational in 1981.
An interview with CROW Founder, Shirley Walter
CROW founded and operated from Shirley Walter’s West Rocks Sanibel home.
Number of patients: No records
CROW incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) organization.
Number of patients: 241
City of Sanibel was incorporated.
Number of patients: 458
CROW closed at Shirley’s home; 88 different wildlife species were seen.
Number of patients: 181
CROW existed in name only and the search for a new location began.
Number of patients: 482
Moved to the Captiva home of Adelaide Cherbonnier.
Number of patients: 401
Obtained 10 acres of Sawbridge family property on Sanibel Captiva Road.
Number of patients: 658
Raised funding and constructed the original clinic building with a third floor apartment and moved into the new location from Captiva.
Number of patients: 609
Staff housing opened with three rooms; two rehabilitators live on-site.
Number of patients: 688
VERT (Volunteer Emergency Rescue & Transport) program instituted.
Number of patients: 1,338
Hired first veterinarian; installed surgery room; X-ray machine, hand tanks for developing films; stainless steel cages in clinic; Student Extern program began.
Number of patients: 1,479
Original Robert E. Schneider Education Pavilion built; Daily educational programs began.
Number of patients: 1,614
Veterinary internship program began.
Number of patients: 2,251
Fellowship Student program began.
Number of patients: 2,720
“Commitment to Compassion” capital campaign begun; Hurricane Charley devastated Sanibel and Captiva; CROW student housing destroyed; added Associate Veterinarian position.
Number of patients: 3,416
Student program continued uninterrupted; Remote housing provided by friends of CROW.
Number of patients: 3,730
The George E. Batchelor Student Housing completed and occupied by students.
Number of patients: 3,700
Construction of the Visitor Education Center and hospital began. CROW treated 164 different species and a record number of patients.
Number of patients: 4,146
CROW celebrated its 40th anniversary with the opening of a new state-of-the-art veterinary hospital and the 4,800-square-foot Healing Winds Visitor Education Center. The Visitor Education Center (VEC) features innovative visitor displays, interactive exhibits, live patient videos, wildlife presentations and special events. Proceeds from an on-site gift store benefit patient care. CROW’s wildlife hospital includes diet preparation areas, a laundry room , reptile room, pediatric ward and surgery room with a viewing window.
In addition to treating more than 4,000 patients, CROW unveiled renovated sea turtle facilities and announced several new ventures to more effectively share news and success stories with supporters. In addition to introducing a new e-newsletter, the organization launched a new website that more fully highlights the range of educational programs and services offered. CROW also implemented wildlife partnerships to better educate the public about saving wildlife through compassion, care and education.
CROW received recognition and first place distinction from the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program. CROW won the award for its role in protecting and caring for wildlife native to the Gulf region and toward achieving and preserving healthy and resilient coasts in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.