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Animal advocate Hope Swinimer to receive honorary degree from Saint Mary's University

Swinimer is best known for her rehabilitation work at the Hope for Wildlife centre in Seaforth
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Hope Swinimer holding a pine martin at her rehabilitation centre. (Katie Hartai/HalifaxToday.ca)

A Nova Scotian woman who has helped nurse thousands of injured animals back to health is being presented with an honorary degree from Saint Mary's University later this month. 

Hope Swinimer, who runs the animal rehabilitation centre Hope for Wildlife, is "grateful and fulfilled" to have been chosen. 

"This honorary degree, it sort of validates all the hard work of the staff, the interns, the volunteers, everybody here at Hope for Wildlife," she said in an interview with NEWS 95.7's Sheldon MacLeod. 

"It made me feel good because I realized that perhaps the message that I've been working so hard to convey is out there in the public and they were very aware of it,"

Since 1997 she's helped over 40,000 injured and orphaned animals from over 200 different species. 

Just this past year, the centre took in more than 4,400 patients. 

"From a very young age, science was my thing and I would spend hours as a youngster studying and reading about behaviours and just the science of nature, so a great deal of my time was spent learning about the natural world," said Swinimer. 

She took in her first rehab animal in 1995 while working at the Dartmouth Veterinary Hospital - a robin that had been attacked by a cat.

Nursing the bird back to health sparked a passion for animal rehabilitation in Swinimer, who later that year became certified in basic wildlife rehabilitation. 

With just a few cages in the backyard and a room in her house as a nursery, Swinimer rehabbed about 40 animals in her first year. 

As demand for her unique skills rose, so did the need for space. The privatized rehabilitation centre, the first of its kind in Nova Scotia, was taking in 200 animals each year. In 2001 it moved to its current location in Seaforth.

Hope for Wildlife now accepts over 4,500 wild animals per year, and over 20,000 callers are assisted through its wildlife helpline. Thousands of visitors are also welcomed to its facilities for guided tours

"Our mission really is to connect people back to their natural world, getting them to understand and cut down on the number of conflicts between people and nature, and I feel that that's the important part that Saint Mary's was very aware of when they called me," she said. 

In the summer of 2017, Hope for Wildlife opened its onsite Country Clinic which acts as a fully functioning wildlife hospital, and employs student interns to work and learn about wildlife rehabilitation. 

"Every day, life is different here at Hope for Wildlife and there's never a day that goes by that we don't learn something about the science of nature. It truly is amazing," she said. 

"It teaches you so much and I think that's what a lot of the students that come here go away with realizing that its one thing to study for five or ten years, but then to actually put it into practise, it's really quite special." 

She says the on-hands learning for both students and visitors "makes all the difference in the world." 

The centre also shares its rehabilitation stories through its television show, which will have its ninth season air in March. 

In 2019, Hope for Wildlife will install 109 solar panels onsite to reduce their ecological footprint, lower electricity costs, and help move the farm from fossil fuels to green energy.

Swinimer will receive the honorary degree on Friday, along with Chief Executive Officer of The Armour Group Limited, Scott Armour McCrea.




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