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Releasing eagles helps this animal caregiver remember American principles

Patti Stangel, founder and owner of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release, rural Colfax, releases a bald eagle Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 near Elk Mound. The bird was returned to Stangel after treatment at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. Photo by Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

COLFAX, Wis. — Almost a week after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history and other similar instances in the past several years, Jan Price of Baldwin said viewing the release of a bald eagle seemed to her an appropriate, much needed reminder.

"Eagles are so majestic, you know. And when I look at them, I think of freedom and America, especially after the last week and in the last year with all these shootings," Price said. As she explained, "You see that beautiful bird fly away, and it makes it all feel a little better."

Just outside Elk Mound on Sunday morning, Oct. 8, Patti Stangel, founder and owner of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release in rural Colfax, released a female eagle back into the wild. The nonprofit headed by Stangel nurtures injured animals ranging from opossums, rodents and rabbits to large carnivores, raptors and raccoons back to health so they can return to the wild. Stangel's services extend across 20 counties.

The eagle spent a night with Stangel near the end of August when she received a call that the creature had been hit and injured near Elk Mound. After more than a month of care at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, the eagle was returned to Stangel for the release in an exchange that took less than five minutes.

In the 20-plus years Stangel has had the nonprofit, which sits next to her home, she said she's helped more than 20,000 animals and released numerous eagles and animals of all kinds. Because "you never know what you're going to get" within a year, Stangel said she's released as many as 13 eagles in one year or as few as two or three.

Price, who volunteers to help raise funds for the nonprofit, said through the years, even when Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release lost its federal funding, she has remained inspired by all Stangel does for the animals "out of the good of her heart."

"She's just an amazing person; she really is," Price said. "I don't know if anybody else would give what she does to mankind. It's just amazing. ... I don't know of anybody who would put in the time and work involved."

What Stangel said she loves most about her job is not getting or caring for the animals — it's when the animals are well enough that she's able to release them back to where they belong.

"If they look at me with those big eyes, I just fall apart because I fall in love with every one of them I get," Stangel said. "And still, I'm glad to see them go."

The eagle let go Sunday didn't seem too pleased about being released. It loudly exercised the notorious high-pitched screech the animal is known for as Stangel attempted to get her into position to fly away, she admitted through chuckles after the release.

As odd as that may seem, Stangel said it's a good thing — and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I love them angry," Stangel said with a laugh, explaining if they don't put up a fight then "something's wrong."