By EA3 Lawrence Romang, NCG 2 Public Affairs
EO1 Doug Pojeky feeds a bald eagle that came to Wild at Heart Rescue with wing damage. After a fight with an osprey and injury from electrical wires, the eagle is showing steady improvement at the rescue. Pojeky is optimistic it will fly again. Photos by EA3 Lawrence Romang
The skills Seabees learn in their rates, along with their own personal interests, can create exciting opportunities. Just ask Equipment Operator (SCW) 1st Class Douglas Pojeky.
Pojeky joined the Navy from Michigan in 1994. He has deployed all over the world, including Bosnia and Iraq, in his 20-year career. Setting his sights on retirement in December, Pojeky plans on spending it in Gulfport, Miss., where he has spent the majority of his career.
Like many servicemen, Pojeky s dedication to his country doesn't stop when he takes off his uniform. Pojeky is also president of the non-profit organization, Wild at Heart Rescue, the largest wildlife animal rescue and rehabilitation center in Mississippi.
EO1 Doug Pojeky feeds orphaned deer at Wild at Heart Rescue. The non-profit organization will release the deer before they lose their spots so they will be accepted back into a herd. Pojeky and his staff treated the deer for an eye infection that causes blindness, and can attack the central nervous system. The deer are close to being fully recovered.
He discovered this passion for wildlife while temporarily assigned to the Public Works Department, Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC), Gulfport, when he volunteered to assist with the base s Earth Day celebration.
In 2010, Pojeky contacted Missy Dubuisson, a local wildlife rescue worker and soon-to-be director of Wild at Heart Rescue, to speak during the celebration. From there, they became friends and eventually a partnership arose.
I was bringing in a bobcat, and I needed a place to put him, recalls Dubuisson. In need of a Seabee, she knew who to call. I knew Doug could create the perfect enclosure, so I called him up and told him, Get over here right now, I need a cage built immediately! Pojeky happily met her that day and constructed the bobcat s enclosure. From that day forward, they began working together. In 2012, they founded Wild at Heart Rescue.
Wild at Heart Rescue is an organization that specializes in rescuing wild animals, rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild. This has become more than a full-time job with an unexpectedly busy year for the rescue. The yearly projection estimated 1,200 animal patients would come through the rescue. They have nearly doubled that mark with already more than 2,300 animals as of October 1.
EO1 Doug Pojeky inspects an orphaned bobcat found after a forest fire in Mississippi.
"We have taken in animals from 71 of the 82 counties in Mississippi, and from 85 different cities," explains Pojeky.
The unseen rise in animals coming through the rescue is due to the increased awareness of what the organization does for the community. When Pojeky isn't nursing animals back to health, he stays busy visiting schools and festivals, promoting his cause.
Last year, we put on 243 educational programs, says Pojeky. "As word gets out, people from all over have been calling when they find injured animals."
Pojeky puts lots of emphasis on the educational programs and says the most rewarding part of the experience has been teaching the children.
"It's great to be able to change a child's life by giving [him/her] proper information and empowering [him/her] to get interested in something other than video games," he said.
Not only do the children receive information on how to call in and report an injured animal, but also on some of the superstitions surrounding certain animals. The opossum is one of the rescue s favorite patients.
"Possums are misunderstood. People have the idea that they are a rabid, nuisance animal, which just isn't the case," says Pojeky. "Their body temperature is actually two degrees too low for the rabies virus, so it s exceptionally rare to ever see a rabid one.
EO1 Doug Pojeky inspects a wild pelican that came to Wild at Heart Rescue after boaters spotted the drowning pelican. Unfortunately, the pelican suffered brain damage and could not be released back into the wild. It will now have a permanent home at the rescue.
Working out of his home, Pojeky transformed his yard into a diverse animal rehabilitation center. He built enclosures for the animals where they can get the treatment they need to be released back into the wild. The facility can hold a huge variety of animals, including injured bald eagles, orphaned bobcats, baby turtles and venomous snakes.
"Right now, we probably have 150 animals on site that we're caring for, says Pojeky. "Although during baby season, we can easily have over 300 at any given time."
There isn t an animal too large or too small that won t find help at the Wild at Heart Rescue.
To find out more about Wild at Heart Rescue, visit http://www.wildatheartrescue.org/index.html or https://www.facebook.com/WildatHeartRescue