No leaving a beaver

By Mark Baker | Awards, Local News | |

A rodent in need finds helpful caretakers to rescue it and nourish it back to health

Spectators including rescuer Patty Stevenson, second from left, watch as Bella the beaver returns to the wild along the Willamette River in Eugene. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

Spectators including rescuer Patty Stevenson, second from left, watch as Bella the beaver returns to the wild along the Willamette River in Eugene. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

There are beaver tails, and then there are beaver tales. And this is the tale of a beaver who got stuck in Duckville before being rescued by a University of Oregon graduate student who grew up in Corvallis, graduated as a Beaver but is now a Duck.

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“I’m an animal lover,” said Patty Stevenson, a UO graduate student in landscape architecture who received her undergraduate degree from Oregon State University in 2000. “I couldn’t have rested until I knew someone was taking care of her.”

Stevenson has volunteered for wildlife refuges and a horse rescue operation, so her heart naturally went out when she saw a beaver stuck in the metal fence along the riverside bike path behind the Valley River Inn in Eugene one night five weeks ago.

A crowd of people had gathered around the creature that had blood trickling down its back, likely from dog bite wounds, and some had even sought to free it by trying to push it through the fence.

“I was trying to just convince people to leave her alone,” Stevenson recalled Wednesday, as she stood on the bank just north of where she had spotted the beaver. On Wednesday, Stevenson and others released the beaver back into the Willamette River after giving the animal more than a month of medical care and TLC.

Stevenson’s treatment of this beaver is much better than someone, possibly a Beaver fan, treated a duck in Albany on Dec. 3 – the day of the Civil War football game in Eugene between UO and OSU – spray-painting it orange and tying its feet with duct tape. The duck ended up at Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Corvallis, which is where Stevenson took the rescued beaver that volunteers would name Bella.

“We’re not supposed to name our beavers,” said Chintimini volunteer Barb Robinson, who along with her husband, Don Robinson, would nurse Bella back to health at their Alsea home.

Why not name them?

“Because they’re not pets,” Barb Robinson said. “She’s actually ‘Beaver No. 15,'” she said, referring to the 15th rescued animal Chintimini received this year.

After she saw the stuck beaver, Stevenson called two friends and fellow UO graduate students, Sara Robertson and Shannon Eldredge, and had them search online for phone numbers to call. Stevenson tried the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the police, Willamette Wildlife Rehabilitation in Eugene and Chintimini.

Reta Anderson, a volunteer at Willamette Wildlife Rehab, had already received a few calls about Bella’s plight, and was en route to the scene with a carrier cage. Meanwhile, a couple of Valley River Center security guards got a cardboard box and helped Stevenson lift Bella up and swivel her hips to get her through the fence and into the box.

Anderson then put Bella in her pickup, and later transferred the beaver to the custody of Stevenson, who drove Bella to Chintimini in Corvallis.

“Patty was the only one who would stay with her (at the riverbank) until I could get there,” Anderson said.

At Chintimini, tubes were put in Bella to help drain infections from the abscesses on her body likely caused by dog bites, Barb Robinson said. Then, the Robinsons took Bella to Alsea and fattened her up, feeding her willow, yams, rodent food, apples and pears.

“No wonder she didn’t want to leave,” Stevenson said Wednesday, after the 45-pound Bella had finally crawled out of her cage about 11:30 a.m. and slowly crept into the Willamette River at a boat dock behind the Regal Cinemas movie theater multiplex.

“This is her sleep time,” Barb Robinson said. “She’s up all night.” Beavers are nocturnal, she explained.

“Does it smell like the right river?” Stevenson asked Bella right before the beaver slipped below the water’s surface.

A family of mallards could be seen swimming nearby. Ducks and Beavers together again.

First place award for best short feature story in the 2011 Society of Professional Journalists’ Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest.