2 bald eagles released on P.E.I. to honour late N.S. veterinarian

To honour late veterinarian Dr. Helene Van Doninck, a crowd came together Saturday to watch the release of two bald eagles in Orwell, P.E.I.

Celebrated Nova Scotian veterinarian Dr. Helene Van Doninck died in August 2018

Two bald eagles are released Saturday in Orwell, P.E.I. The birds had each been found injured during the summer. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

A crowd of onlookers and photographers came together Saturday to watch the release of two bald eagles in Orwell, P.E.I.

They came to honour the late Dr. Helene Van Doninck.

Van Doninck was a well-known veterinarian in Nova Scotia who co-founded the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Brookfield, N.S. It is the only eagle flight centre of its kind in North America.

She died in August from ovarian cancer. 

"A very special person, very knowledgeable, very much appreciated by her peers," said Atlantic Veterinary College wildlife technician Fiep de Bie, who worked closely with Van Doninck. 

"Just giving animals a second chance and that's a philosophy that I learned from her."

One of the bald eagles during its time at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown. Students and staff created a nest for the bird before it was sent to the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Nova Scotia for further rehabilitation. (Submitted by the Atlantic Veterinary College's Wildlife Service)

Both eagles spent a month at the veterinary college under the care of the college's wildlife service before going to the Cobequid centre for rehabilitation.

Van Doninck's work 'to continue'

The two eagles were some of the last animals in Van Doninck's  care. Her husband, Murdo Messer, travelled to P.E.I. for the release.

Veterinarian Helene Van Doninck co-founded the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. She is pictured here releasing a golden eagle. (Submitted)

He said it was his wife's wish that the rehabilitation centre continue its work after she was gone.

Fiep de Bie, a wildlife technician at the Atlantic Veterinary College, worked closely with Van Doninck in the last few years. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"As we move forward, we have veterinarians who are volunteering their time and making themselves available to us and we have volunteers who are coming daily," Messer said.

"So is it moving forward differently than it was when Helene was always around? ... It's still going to continue, the important work that she started."

Eagles take flight

Messer added that Van Doninck had a love for all animals but wildlife in particular — and that eagle releases were always events she enjoyed.

Murdo Messer was married to Van Doninck and the co-founder of the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. He travelled to P.E.I. to help release the eagles. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"For her, wildlife was very important because they were kind of the underdog in the animal world and nobody was really looking after their welfare so she took it upon herself to do that," he said.

The event began with a Mi'kmaq smudging ceremony and drumming. Messer assisted in opening the cages and both eagles took flight immediately.  

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