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Raptor rehab

Louise Shimmel ’66 shares her love for birds of prey

February 15, 2017 —Louise Shimmel ’66 has always been an animal lover. She remembers growing up with rescued bobcat kittens and a desert tortoise, bringing home classroom snakes, and catching a black widow spider in a jar. As executive director of the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, OR, where she responds to bird emergencies around the clock, Shimmel’s passion for animals is on display in a unique work environment.

Raptors

Shimmel grew up in 1950s California, playing in a nearby creek, building forts, and climbing trees. At age 12, she moved with her parents, brother, and sister to Bangladesh and later, to Pakistan. “I remember being fascinated by the vultures that would hang around dead cows, the python in the backyard, the geckos all over the walls,” she recalls. Shimmel enjoyed many social freedoms in Pakistan, such as parties and dating. This experience was vastly different from what she would encounter when she moved back to the States and entered the more austere environment of Abbot Academy in the early 1960s.

“The single-gender education was definitely a shock to my system. I felt pretty isolated at first, but then I made good friends and studied hard. I remember the rhythm of the days at Abbot: morning chapel, tiffin, classes, the ‘tea dances’ where they lined you up by height,” says Shimmel.

After graduating from Abbot, Shimmel attended Stanford University. She traveled, worked on Wall Street, earned a graduate degree in business from the University of Chicago, spent four years in international banking, and served as an editor for a nonprofit. But it wasn’t until she found an abandoned squirrel in her yard and nursed it back to health that she realized how much she dearly missed the connection she had had with animals when she was a youngster.

“I was 36 by then, but it was finally crystal clear to me that this was what I was supposed to be doing.”

So Shimmel joined a fledgling animal rehabilitation group, eventually becoming president. In 1990 she left to start the Cascades Raptor Center, wanting to focus solely on raptors and education.

“Raptors are a fascination for most people, no matter the age or culture, so they provide a great window for learning,” she says. “Just seeing a vulture spread its wings to sunbathe becomes a perfect teachable moment.”

Acting as a resource for state and federal wildlife agencies, Shimmel has served on the board of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. Her staff serves on national and international professional association boards in both rehabilitation and education.

“What I loved about it when we started [the center] was the birds and sharing my passion for them. What is fulfilling now is seeing what I have created—with lots of help—grow and come closer to the vision I had in the beginning of a place where birds are well cared for and returned to the wild when possible, and where people come to become intrigued.”

—Katie Fiermonti

This article was originally published in the winter 2017 issue of Andover magazine.

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