California Wildlife Center honors departing director

There were many tearful good-byes on Saturday at a going-away party held in honor of California Wildlife Center (CWC) Executive Director Cindy Reyes, who will be leaving at the end of the month after nearly nine years. She’ll be moving to Florida with her husband, who was offered a promotion too good to pass up.

Dozens of local volunteers, staff, donors and board members, past and present, showed up to thank Reyes for her years of service overseeing an operation that has rescued, transported, rehabilitated and released thousands of native birds and animals during her tenure.

Reyes first joined the California Wildlife Center in 2004 as the facility’s marine mammal rescue coordinator, shouldering additional responsibilities as hospital manager in 2007 before taking charge of the entire facility as executive director in 2009.

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CWC has grown bigger every year since its inception in 1998, and is now the only wildlife rescue organization in Southern California with a staff veterinarian (Dr. Duane Tom), and one of the few with a handful of paid staff to run the animal hospital and marine mammal rescue. The vast majority of functions, from high-level accounting to basic animal care, are still performed by volunteers. 

CWC board president Victoria Harris will step in as temporary executive director until a permanent replacement is found for Harris, whose last day is Feb. 27. 

“[Harris] has been a gift and we’re never going to find anyone like her,” Harris said. 

A search committee comprised of board members is currently in the process of sifting through resumes from more than 60 applicants for the position, Harris said. 

Cathy Case, head of Shadow Oaks Wildlife Care, wrote in an e-mail that “Cindy Reyes has done a magnificent job as the executive director of California Wildlife Center. Under Cindy’s guidance CWC has become our area’s most respected and comprehensive wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center, providing exceptional care to all native wildlife.” 

Some of Reyes’s parting words to the group that gathered at CWC last Saturday to wish her well were, “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made…I can’t imagine life without this place.” 

A conversation with departing executive director Cindy Reyes: 

Cindy, what are you planning to do once you move to Florida? 

“I’m planning to volunteer at a couple of [wildlife] organizations on the Gulf side of Florida that work with sea turtles and manatees while I explore job opportunities on the East Coast. I’ll stay in the world of wildlife rehabilitation and get acquainted with all the East Coast species. I’m looking to do field work again and I also want to keep up my grant-writing skills.” 

What’s changed at CWC during the nine years you’ve spent there? 

“Everything has changed. It doesn’t seem like the same organization as when I came here. Now we have staff, a very solid volunteer force and more enclosures. Last year, we took in over 4,000 animals, so demands have become greater on the staff, the volunteers and the resources. But I’ve been blessed to be part of the whole process, and the board of directors has trusted me to move the organization in the direction I thought it should go.” 

What challenges lie ahead for CWC? 

“We’re running out of space. We’ve increased the types of animals we take in, adding skunks and raccoons, for example, and we’re the only organization doing songbirds and deer. Two local groups that used to take in songbirds aren’t doing it anymore, so we’ll be getting them all. So, the next step for CWC is to acquire some additional flat land somewhere. We’ve reached our maximum potential here. We need more outside space for aviaries, in particular.” 

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