Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary no longer accepting injured birds

Some birds like to drop into the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and just hang around.  Others, like a duck that had been shot with an arrow, rely on the sanctuary's hospital to help save their life.  

It's that mixture that attracts people to the sanctuary,  which has been along Gulf Blvd. on Indian Shores for more than 40 years.   A couple from Chicago was visiting the sanctuary Thursday for the first time.

"It's kind of a nice mix because you get the combination of the birds that are being rescued, the ones that are being tended to, as well the ones that just walk in," said Thomas, who declined to give his last name. 

But news that the sanctuary is no longer accepting injured birds has visitors wondering about its future.  Anne Rudy of Indianapolis has been coming her for more than twenty years.

"I feet sad that they're not going to be able to do that anymore," an obviously deflated Rudy said.

Times have been tough financially at the sanctuary for years.  And not accepting more birds is a move sanctuary Director Ralph Heath says they have to make.

"Because we're having so much problem to make sure we have enough money to make sure all the birds are well-fed that we currently have in possession," Heath explained. 

Last year the IRS filed three liens totaling nearly $200,000 for unpaid payroll tax.  Also the Department of Labor concluded some employees hadn't been paid for weeks.  A total of nine employees were paid more than $21,000 in back wages.

And just last week, a creditor filed foreclosure papers on the Starkey Road property the sanctuary uses to house birds. 

"I wouldn't say it's another nail in the coffin.  It's definitely a very large bump in the road, " Heath said.

Lynn, from Chicago, said sadly, "It would be a tragedy to have a place like this to close down."

Heath and other sanctuary employees are hopeful that through donations and a large community donor, the sanctuary will remain open.

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