part of this good work, become a member today.
I thought Peter's work was important enough to donate
my time and services to design, host, maintain, and market this web
site since 1998.
Rolf Hansen.com webmaster
November 7, 2010
Mitch the Eagle
After 140 days it's over Mitch is here.
Upon arrival, Peter put Mitch in with Helga a blind Bald Eagle that Peter
has been hand feeding for over 20 years.
Helga, a blind Eagle that has cataracts. Peter likes to let new arrivals
choose their own friends
Peter figured Mitch would be safe with her, but Mitch was attracted to
a Bald Eagle named Eddie, who was also shot, Peter put them together and
Mitch was quite happy in the new quarters. They got along fine and they
seem happy together.
Mitch's Kennel Came all the way from Afghanistan
This Eagle was well cared for.
There was a blessing of the eagle by Fr. Peter Chepaitis and Sr. Anna
Tantsits of Bethany Ministries part
of the Fransiscan Order.
Barbara Chepaitis being interviewed by YNN TV. Barbara was the driving
force behind getting Mitch over here to Berkshire Bird Paradise.
This is Eddie, Mitch's new American friend.
Mitch's long ordeal is over and I'll bet it is Paradise living here.
October 12, 2010
I second all the thank yous. Everyone who was on the phones on Thursday
and Friday can attest to how well deserved they are. And particularly
I want to thank Craig and Scott, for giving us an example of what it means
to be a true human - taking care of those who need our help, even when
that demands an effort beyond the call of duty, or the boundaries of normal
rules. Everyone who heard this story was moved by it and, I think, taught
by it as well.
When I saw Mitch on Friday he was lively, hopping about
his kennel, peering at me as if demanding an explanation for all the ruckus.
I'll be checking in on him throughout his quarantine period, and will
transport him to Berkshire Bird Paradise on or around November 7th. Pete
already has his aviary ready, and is very much looking forward to meeting
I'm going to pass the thanks on to the Pilots N Paws guys.
Just so you know, pilot Jerry Sica has offered his transport to anyone
who wants to visit Mitch when he gets to Berkshire Bird Paradise. Please
do let me know if you want to take him up on it.
It's been quite an adventure, and I thank you all for being
part of it!
A big Thank you
I just wanted to take a quick second and thank everyone for their
contribution to the extraordinary feat we all pulled off with Mitch.
Starting with Scott Hickman, who cared for Mitch for the first 3 or 4
we had him and was really the person behind saving Mitch in the first
Barbara Chepaitis, all of the coordination back in the states, between
Berkshire, the USDA, the US Senate, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Pilots
and Paws, and other things I probably don't know about was a near impossible
task, and none of this would have been possible without you. Senator Schumer
and Caroline Wekselbaum, thank you for helping get everyone on board with
this project. Everyone from the USDA, there were always about 15 of ya'll
cc'd on every email, but that just goes to show how much everyone from
organization contributed to making it happen. From the Avian Flu testing
the quarantine in New York to Dr. Floyd meeting me at the airport, you
really came thru. And special thank you to Dr. Cooper from the USDA for
patience and everything you did. Major Jenkins, Captain Reaves, and SFC
Dezellem for all of veterinary work they did with Mitch while in country.
Captain Reaves helped us out when Mitch was first injured and Major Jenkins
and SFC Dezellem really hooked Mitch up while he did his quarantine in
country (he might of well been staying at a Four Seasons hotel!). Elizabeth
Mader from the State Department for pointing us in the right direction
the WCS. Peter Bowles and Dave Lawson from the Wildlife Conservation Society
for helping get the export permit from the Ministry of Agriculture and
all you are still doing in Afghanistan. The many aircrews and pilots from
the Air Force and Air National Guard who helped fly Mitch all over the
to see vets and get to where he needed to get. John Williams from Pilots
Paws for flying Mitch from Virginia to New York, especially on such short
notice. My Platoon Commander while I was in country, who I can't name,
could have easily said no, but was very supportive of letting my try and
this and also helped me keep things in perspective in my endeavors. And
lastly Pete Dubacher, Susan, and everyone at Berkshire for taking Mitch
for the long haul. As Major Jenkins and I found out while we took care
Mitch, he (or she for all we know) is very easy to grow fond of and I
he will be nothing short of an awesome resident at your place.
I know the work isn't over and Mitch isn't at Berkshire yet, but I'm
confident he will make it there shortly. Literally hundreds of hours of
everyone's time and energy went into this and I think this is something
we can all feel really good about. I'm off to hit the beach with my dogs!
It took 107 days,
and this final week was packed full of logistical nightmares. Mechanical
failure in the plane bringing Eagle Mitch to the US from Afghanistan delayed
that repeatedly, while we kept trying to arrange transport from Virginia,
to Newburgh, NY, where he'll stay with USDA for a 30 day quarantine period.
But we did it, and now I can actually use the phrase, 'the eagle has landed,'
and mean it. Of course, there's one more leg to the journey because after
his quarantine he'll go to his home at Berkshire Bird Paradise
He'll arrive there just about in time for Veteran's day, appropriately
enough, and if you visit their website, your donation can help keep Mitch
To get Mitch into his new digs, I had the help of the amazing Pilots
N Paws where regular men and women volunteer to be heroes for animals
that need rescue, and the people who are trying to rescue them. Pilot
Jerry Sica responded to my call right away, and stayed with us through
many shifts of schedule. Then, like a real hero, when the schedule shifted
to a time he couldn't make, he helped me find someone who could get the
John Williams, also part of Pilots N Paws, delayed his motorcycle vacation
to get up way too early and be in Norfolk at 6 am.
At 5 am, when I called down to Norfolk for a status update, they were
a go for NY. And for the first time, I got to actually speak with the
Navy SEAL who cared for Mitch.
"I just had to hear your voice," I said.
"Yeah," he said. "We've had lots of emails, but no talk."
Our conversation was less than a minute, but I realized how worried I'd
been for him as well as Mitch, and how very much I wanted this to turn
out well for all concerned.
When I left my house, the sky was dark and full of stars. By the time
I got to the Berkshire Spur the sky was getting rosy, and mist curled
over the land, illuminated and pearly in the dawn. Yeah. A good day.
At the aviation terminal in Newburgh, I got to see the plane touch down,
and ran out to help John and his friend C.M. Funk unload the crate that
held Eagle Mitch.
I could hear him hopping around, and took a peek in. He stared back at
me, not at all worried or confused. Maybe a little truculent, as if he
wanted to know why dinner was delayed. "You're a very handsome bird,"
I told him, which was redundant. Clearly, he already knew that.
The ride home was filled with light. Sunlight, after days of rain. The
light of leaves turning gold and orange and brilliant yellow. The lightness
of flight, possible only when you've hollowed out your bones through hard
and good work.
I have a million thank yous to say, and will say them all in the next
few weeks. For now, to all those who helped, those who cheered, those
who took part in any way, you know who you are, and I am grateful to you.
Of course, I'll be writing a book about it all, and I'd love to hear from
you. This story had a lot of moving parts for me, some quite complex,
but I'm curious to know what it meant to you, why it mattered, what your
thoughts are. Please do leave a message on my guestbook letting me know.
Below are some photos from the day. Guestbook
Pilots N Paws is a group of volunteer pilots who transport rescue animals
where they need to go. I'm glad they had a beautiful day to fly.
If you read my book FEATHERS
OF HOPE, you know that I've always wanted to see a bird I rescued fly.
I guess this is one way of doing it.
It's not the
greatest photo in the world, but the smile is one of my happiest. I kept
seeing the Navy Seal who cared for Mitch, running with his dogs on the
beach, home at last, after saving an eagle.
Thanks to Senator Schumer and Constituent Liaison Caroline Wekselbaum!
THE EAGLE COMING TO NEW YORK AFTER BEING RESCUED BY NAVY SEALS IN AFGHANISTAN
– SCHUMER CUT THROUGH RED TAPE TO ENSURE EAGLES PASSAGE BACK TO
Navy Seals, Stationed in Afghanistan, Rescued And Cared for Mitch the
Eagle after He was Harmed
Barbara Chepaitis, Author and Advocate, and Schumer Cut Through Red Tape
to Secure Safe Passage to America for Mitch
Schumer Weighed in With Personal Letter and Helped Secure Exemption to
Blanket Ban on Imported Birds
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that Mitch, an eagle
rescued and cared for by Navy Seals in Afghanistan, is on his way to a
bird sanctuary in the Capital Region. After rescuing Mitch, a Steppe Eagle,
the Navy Seals contacted Pete Dubacher, owner of Berkshire Bird Paradise
in Petersburg NY, seeking his help. Barbara Chepaitis, author of Feathers
of Hope, a book about the bird sanctuary, immediately went to Senator
Schumer’s office in an effort to secure Mitch’s passage to
the United States.
"We hit some serious obstacles while trying to help these young men
rescue their eagle, but I knew Senator Schumer would support their efforts,"
Ms. Chepaitis said. "We absolutely could not have done this without
Schumer was able to cut through the red tape and expedite Fish and Wildlife
paperwork along with the necessary health testing for Mitch with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA), so the eagle can transition to a permanent
home at Berkshire Bird Paradise. He will arrive in the United States the
first week in October.
“This is a great story about our caring soldiers and generous New
Yorkers, I was happy to help give this effort a last boost and get Mitch
here,.” Schumer said. “Some regulations at the USDA almost
held this up but at the end of the day we were able to cut through the
red tape and give Mitch a home right here in our backyard.”
During a routine patrol, the Navy Seals saw Mitch being shot on a rifle
range. The Seals were able to rescue the eagle and tend its wounds, ensuring
its survival. The service members cared for this Steppe Eagle, whom they
named ‘Mitch,’ building him a cage and feeding him as he healed.
They soon discovered that Mitch's wing was permanently disabled, and through
some research learned about the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburg
NY where director Pete Dubacher offers haven to birds from around the
world, including many permanently injured eagles.
"I was in service during the Vietnam war," Dubacher said, "and
I started rescuing birds at that time, so I know how tough it is for these
young men to do what they did. Senator Schumer really stepped up to the
plate for them, and for Mitch. As a veteran, I can't thank him enough."
A current ban on the import of avian species from Afghanistan due to threat
of Avian flu almost prevented the possibility of bringing Mitch to safe
haven. Schumer, through a personal letter, made it possible for Mitch
to receive a one-time exemption once it was assured that he was disease-free.
"Of course, we all want to preserve the health laws, but we also
knew that Mitch was a special case, destined for a sanctuary rather than
public market. Senator Schumer's letter made that clear, which meant those
at the USDA who wanted to help were able to move forward," Ms. Chepaitis
said. "Everyone involved is very excited at being able to see this
to a happy conclusion."
Mitch is currently slated to come to the U.S. the first week in October,
where he will undergo precautionary tests until he is transferred to the
Berkshire Bird Paradise, where the thousands of schoolchildren who visit
every year will have the opportunity to hear a very special story, of
a very special eagle.
The text of Schumer’s letter is below:
August 3, 2010
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Re: Steppe Eagle from Afghanistan
Dear Ms. Smith:
Last month, my constituents Barbara Chepaitis and Pete Dubacher told me
the incredible story of Navy SEALS stationed in Afghanistan who had rescued
and were caring for a wounded Steppe Eagle. The SEALS sought the assistance
of Mr. Dubacher of Berkshire Bird Paradise bird sanctuary in upstate New
York to find a permanent home for this wounded bird, who had been shot.
With the help of my office and the persistent efforts of Ms. Chepaitis
and Mr. Dubacher, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an import permit
and the Afghan Government has issued an export permit for the eagle.
Unfortunately, there is currently a ban on the import of avian species
from Afghanistan, due to the threat of avian flu. My constituents are
seeking a waiver of the ban on the import for this particular bird. I
would urge you to issue this waiver, after thoroughly evaluating the bird
to ensure that it is disease-free, that it undergoes the required quarantine
and poses no threat to US species. I strongly believe that this bird merits
special consideration based on the extraordinary circumstances surrounding
his rescue by US Navy SEALS. This unusual story has received media attention
and serves as an inspirational reminder of the heroism of US Armed Forces
deployed around the world.
I know I can count on your cooperation in reviewing this matter and advising
me of your findings as expeditiously as possible. Should you have any
questions, please do not hesitate to contact Caroline Wekselbaum in my
New York City Office at (212) 486-4430. Thank you in advance for your
cooperation and attention to this matter.
Albany Times Union
Red Tape snarls Eagle’s rebound Troop unit keeps trying to get bird
from Afghanistan to Grafton sanctuary.
By Paul Grondahl
An eagle shot by an Afghan soldier that is being nursed back to health
by elite U.S. fighters has hit new bureaucratic snags as the soldiers
labor to get the bird sent to a Rensselaer County bird sanctuary for long-term
Since the story of the eagle was published July 1 in the Times Union,
it’s been one step forward and two steps backward as boosters on
both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a U.S senator, try to negotiate
a thicket of U.S regulations and multiple federal agencies.
“I applaud the effort of the soldiers and the compassion they’re
showing for the eagle even they’re in harm’s way themselves,”
said Peter Dubacher, who runs the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Grafton.
He has agreed to take the eagle, who will likely never fly again after
its wing was shattered by a bullet.
Dubacher, who has cared for more than 20 wounded eagles in the past 30
years, was moved by the plight of the eagle and the bird as a symbol of
American freedom and can-do spirit.
“These guys are trying to do something positive in a dangerous war
zone,” Dubacher said, “We have to keep working through the
obstacles and roll with the punches until we find the right person in
power who can make it happen.”
With the help of a Wildlife Conservation Society staffer in Afghanistan
, the required bird export permit was secured from Afghan government officials.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife authorities were helping to expedite the complete
process but a new obstacle emerged: the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
concern about avian flu.
“It would be easier to move those mountains I’m looking at
right now than to get that eagle here,” said Barbara Chepaitis of
Altamont, currently teaching creative writing at Western State College
of Colorado in Gunnison, the foothills of the Rockies.
Chepaitis, a catalyst behind the stalled eagle mission, is the author
of “Feathers of Hope,” a book about Dubacher and the bird
sanctuary recently published by SUNY Press. She has aides of Sen. Charles
Schumer, D-NY, working on trying to unravel the red tape and she has been
in contact with officials from USDA, Fish & Wildlife and the White
The USDA has a ban on any bird imported from Afghanistan due to fears
of avian flue. USDA officials rebuffed Chepaitis’ efforts to pay
for testing and to agree to a mandatory quarantine period. They suggest
shipping the bird to a foreign country that does not have an Afghan bird
ban, waiting 90 days until the bird establishes residency and applying
for an import permit from the USDA.
“I’ve been arguing all along that this is a rescue going to
a sanctuary and not a bird import going into the general population, so
different rules should apply,”
The steppe eagle, a large bird of prey common in Afghanistan, was shot
last month of a rifle range at in Afghanistan. Navy SEALs were training
Afghan soldiers when the eagle landed on the rifle range. An afghan soldier
shot and hit the bird, said the Navy SEAL.
The soldiers and others in his unit – which also includes Navy SEALs,
Army Rangers and former Army Special Forces now employed as military contractors
– gathered up the bird, bandaged its shattered wing, built a cage
and helped with the eagles’ convalescence.
The soldiers named the eagle Mitch, after a snake in the raunchy comedy
movie “Road Trip.” They feed it chicken and make do with limited
Dubacher told them how to install carpet in the cage and leave a bowl
of water in which the eagle will soak its feet to counter sores and inflammation.
“While I wish Mitch wasn’t in this situation, it is nice to
have something to take care of like this. The soldier wrote in an e-mail.
“He kind of takes the edge off everything.”
The soldier and his unit are scheduled to return to the U.S. in about
“We just hope that the bureaucratic problems don’t get in
the way of doing the right thing and getting this eagle to a better place.”
By Paul Grondahl
– staff writer - Albany Times Union
An eagle wounded in the wing by a bullet in Afghanistan is being nursed
back to health by elite U.S fighters, despite limited supplies and the
daily dangers they face in the war-torn country.
But because of
an international treaty covering endangered species and U.S. wildlife
regulations, their efforts to have the injured eagle sent to a bird sanctuary
is Rensselaer County has hit a bureaucratic snag.
he will be killed soon unless rescued,” Special Warfare Operator
1st Class _______ of the Navy SEALs write in an email from Camp ---------
in Afghanistan. “He tires to fly, cut cannot get off the ground.
Its living conditions are the best with what we have, but not great. It
is a cage the size of a small walk-in-closet with rocks on the bottom
and a shelf with a ramp”
White wrote seeking
the assistance of Peter Dubacher, who runs Berkshire Bird Paradise
in Grafton, NY and who has taken in 20 wounded eagles over the past three
decades. White found Dubacher’s website and sent an urgent request
for help since he fears for the eagles’ fate once his unit returns
to the U.S. in about two months.
that the crew relieving us will want to put the effort into caring for
it and we do not have the authority or capability to bring it back with
us,” White wrote.
I would be honored
to help the eagle because I am so proud of the bravery of our soldiers
who are willing to stick their necks out for a bird,” said Dubacher,
a former Army cook who served in the late 1960s in Panama, where he bought
parrots being sold as pets in the vegetable stands of Panama City and
set them free.
it’s become sort of a mission impossible to get the eagle out of
Afghanistan because of all the bureaucracy. I told the boys over there
not to get their hopes up to high,” Dubacher said.
Based on a photo
of the wounded bird White e-mailed, Dubacher identified it as a steepe
eagle, a large bird of prey common in Afghanistan, a migratory bird that
traverses a wide habitat of deserts, steppes and savannahs form Africa
to India and all across Central Asia and Europe.
a dull, brownish color and not very pretty to look at,” Dubacher
said. “it’s not in the same class as our bald eagle, but the
effort and care the soldiers put into saving the bird is remarkable.”
The stepped eagle was shot earlier this month on a rifle range, where
Navy SEALs were training Afghan soldiers. According to White, the afghan
soldier had one bullet left in his rifle, the eagle landed out on the
rifle range “and he decided to take a shot at it, and unfortunately
The SEALs gather
up the battered, bloody bird, bandaged its wing and helped it convalesce.
the e-mail from Afghanistan, Dubacher enlisted help from Barbara Chepaitis
of Altamont, an author and creative writing teacher who has just published
with SUNY Press a book about Dubacher and his bird sanctuary titled. “Feathers
of Hope.” It is being shipped to bookstores this week.
the office on Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY and an aide checked with the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where officials were not optimistic about
bringing the eagle stateside.
my heart out when I found out we can’t help these soldiers in a
dangerous situation who just want to help a wounded bird. It’s almost
as if the eagle has become a little piece of their soul.” Said Chepaitis,
whose book explores connections between humans and birds.
her book with an Emily Dickinson poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers/That
perches in the soul:/And sings the tune without the words,/And never stops
Tom Alvarez, a
spokesman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Office’s Northeast regional
office, outlines a litany of regulations that are aligned against bringing
the steppe eagle to Rensselaer County.
a treaty signed at the Convention on International Trade and Endangered
Species, CITES, comes into play. It regulates endangered species, including
the steppe eagle, which is listed as a bird of “least concern”
with an estimated population worldwide of 10,000 birds. The treaty requires
that a permit for export is issued from Afghanistan, where steppe eagles
are prized for hunting among falconry devotees. It’s unlikely the
Afghanistan government would make such a permit request a priority while
war is raging, Alvarez said.
To be allowed
to enter the U.S. in addition to the CITES export permit form the host
country, the eagle needs a U.S. wildlife conservation act permit and an
appendix 2 permit. Such permits take at least 90 days to process, Alverez
said. And there are concerns about parasite or diseases the bird may carry.
“U.S. troops have to follow the rules like everyone else,”
Alvarez said. “This isn’t going to be easy, but there are
Alvarez said Schumer’s
aides were working with officials in the U.S. Wildlife’s legislative
affairs office to try to streamline the process.
who has manged to rescue and rehabilitate numerous eagles given up as
lost causes – one poisoned by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, another
mauled by a grizzly bear – is ready to give the Afghanistan eagle
a good home.
“Pete has devoted his life to saving birds and he can guarantee
that the eagle will have a safe haven for the rest of its life.”
Chepaitis said. “That eagle is not a terrorist. We should grant
it political asylum.”
If you were a
soldier in the Vietnam war, would you spend your money and your time setting
captive birds free? If you were serving in Afghanistan, would you stop
to save a bird that was shot? Pete Dubacher did when he was in service
in the Vietnam era. Two US servicemen in Afghanistan did the same just
a few weeks ago. Now they need your help.
For 35 years
Pete has been running Berkshire Bird Paradise, a sanctuary for more than
1200 birds, many of which are permanently disabled. His residents include
18 disabled eagles, which breed and raise young that are later released
into the wild. When Pete was in service in Panama, he saw caged birds
caught from the rainforest for sale in the markets. Feeling bad for both
the people and the birds, he chose a solution that's typical of him. He
bought the birds and set them free.
Because of that
experience, he very much wants to help two young servicemen stationed
in Afghanistan who rescued an eagle after it was shot. In spite of difficult
conditions, these young men have continued to care for the bird, building
it a cage, feeding it, doing whatever they can to keep it alive. But it's
clear that the bird will never fly again, and they're worried that it
won't survive beyond their deployment. They asked Pete if he'd take it
in, and help them get it to the US.
Yes, and yes.
Of course he will. However, that's where the hard part begins. Pete knows
how difficult it can be to bring a bird into the US, so he called me,
asking for my help. I'm author of the book Feathers of Hope, which is
about Berkshire Bird Paradise and the human connection with birds, and
I'm a long-time admirer of his work. Knowing that we'd need political
and media support, I called Senator Schumer's office, and found a young
woman who is very eager to expedite this. She contacted Federal Fish and
Wildlife, whose first response was 'no.' You can't 'import' eagles into
the US. Not under any circumstances, because they're - um - protected.
I contended that
we're rescuing, not importing, and that rescue is protection, but fortunately
we don't have to wend our way down that slippery slope. As it turns out
the bird is a Steppe eagle rather than a golden or bald, and so it falls
under different rules and regs. Caroline at Senator Schumer's has found
some very nice people at Fish and Wildlife, and we're trying to get through
the paperwork and permits as quickly as possible, because the bird is
beginning to develop some problems and we don't want it to die of red
As we wait, we're
seeking help in two different ways. Send emails to Fish and Wildlife in
support of Eagle Mitch, wounded in the war and waiting to come home. Encourage
them in their fine work of speeding this along. Or email the White House
to do the same. Or if you know anyone in the media who would be interested
in this story, let them know as well, because media coverage will grease
the wheels of transport. And speaking of transport, we might need that
as well. . . .
In my book I
talk about how we long to save what's wild because that also honors what
is wild and free in ourselves. Even to try to save a bird is, in many
ways, to save your soul. I want to honor what's wild and free in these
boys, and in this eagle. The young men did a most admirable, compassionate,
and human thing in a difficult situation. My goal is to see that they
get exactly what they want as their reward.
Hello, I am active duty in the military and currently on deployment in
Afghanistan. The reason I am writing you concerns and injured Eagle that
our camp has in our possession that I fear will be killed soon unless
The eagle was
shot by an Afghan soldier at a range one day. I was not there at the time,
but apparently he had one bullet left in his rifle and the eagle landed
down range and he decided to take a shot at it, and unfortunately hit
it. It was hit in it's wing and was not able to fly. We (the Americans
on this camp) took it in and nursed it back to health, but I don't think
it will not fly again. I'm not medically qualified in anyway, but it's
bandages are off now and when we let it out of it's cage we built for
him, he tries to fly, but cannot get off the ground.
It's living conditions
are the best with what we have, but not great. It is a cage the size of
a small walk in closet with rocks on the bottom and a shelf with a ramp.
Like I said before,
I fear that if it is not rescued out of this place, it will not live much
longer. We redeploy back to the states in about 3 months and I doubt that
the crew relieving us will want to put the effort into caring for it and
we do not have the authority or capability to bring it back with us.