Not many people can claim they lived with a bald eagle for 13 years.
But longtime wildlife rescuer Una Freed could.
Freed, 79, passed away recently and a memorial service is set for Nov. 22 at Woodlawn Mount Cheam Funeral Home chapel at 1:30 p.m.
Local resident Verna Pigou remembered Freed’s kindness and her compassion for creatures of all kinds, but especially birds.
“She didn’t choose them. They came to her, often left on her doorstep,” said Pigou. “She find a box but she wouldn’t know if it contained kittens or a spitting raccoon.”
For years she had a raptor’s licence, which allowed her to house and care for endangered birds of prey. Freed grew up on a farm in southern Manitoba and learned everything she knew about animals and bird by doing it hands-on.
In an interview with the Chilliwack Progress in 2000, Freed said it all began one winter day in 1979.
“An eagle was hit with a shotgun blast out near Hemlock Mountain,” Freed said. “The SPCA sent it here and that’s how this all got started. The word has gotten out and I’ve got quite a reputation.”
With a special “rehabilitators’ network” permit from the Canadian Wildlife branch, she had cared for every kind of baby animal imaginable over the years from deer to coyotes, possums, and more. The birds ranged from eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, to crows, robins, doves, starlings, and Stellar’s jays.
At one point she had a pot-bellied pig and even a baby beaver in residence.
Pigou worked with a local vet for years, and would do support work for Freed as well.
“Her trick was canned milk for any mammal babies she ended up with,” said Pigou.
She’d feed them, heal them and set them free. She never babied them.
Almost every kind of bird ended up at Una’s old place on Bailey Road.
“She would carry them like they were a purse. Beaks, or sharp claws were no matter. Even the eagle would be under her arm, with talons tucked in.”
She never wore gloves.
“The birds just seemed to relax with her.”
A big barred owl wouldn’t leave.
“She tried to let him go, but he came back. She ended up taking him into the schools to educate children about wildlife,” Pigou remembered.
The only critters she never took in were bears or snakes.
Free was the wildlife person for more than three decades and all her work was paid for with donations, and the u-pick blueberry farm she and her husband ran.
At one point she felt dejected from so many animals that passed away, and Pigou tried to raise her spirits.
“I told her with a success rate of 50 per cent was phenomenal, and she’d find the best way to release the animal back into the wild after it had healed.”
Freed also was involved in a range of activities from volunteering at the Royal Canadian Legion, to the Chilliwack Fair where she exhibited bantams and judged horticulture, as well as Girl Guide, foster parenting and participating in the annual Christmas decoration context.
“This kind of activity shows what people can do when they get involved in their community. It just amazed me,” Pigou said. “Una was a character and a half.”