What started as a warm-and-fuzzy human interest story about a Lancaster woman who saved the life of a wild bird has turned into a major contretemps involving the Pennsylvania Game Commission, a state Senator and a legion of angry animal lovers.
The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal last month chronicled the story of Elizabethtown resident Patti Mattrick and her little finch, Stormygirl: How she found her in her yard four years ago and nursed him back to health. How she in turn helped her survive tough times in her life.
Among the readers of the paper that day was the state Game Commission which dispatched wardens to Mattrick's house with a search warrant and seized the bird. They told her she was violating state law for keeping wild life without a license.
The game commission refused to answer the newspaper reporter's follow up phone calls seeking to find out what happened. And angry animal lovers flooded the newspaper with calls.
It took the intervention of state Sen. Michael Brubaker of Lancaster to get some answers, chief among them that the bird was still alive and living a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. But the game commission is holding firm and will not return the bird, the Lancaster Intelligencer reported.
This is not the first time the game commission has gone out of its way to seize a domesticated wild animal. The most highly-publicized case involved Nutkin the squirrel that began in 2002 when a game warden investigating a deer poaching report in Schuylkill County spotted Nutkin in her outdoor enclosure and charged her elderly owners with keeping a wild animal without a permit.
Nutkin's owners sent her into hiding rather than comply with game commission's orders and launched a legal battle to save him.
In the end, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found for Nutkin and his family.
The court wrote: "Nutkin would soon learn the shocking truth that the cheery Pennsylvania slogan, 'You've got a friend in Pennsylvania,' did not apply to critters like Nutkin."
Nutkin was obtained in South Carolina, the court said, where raising wildlife is legal.
Mattrick is not so lucky. Whether in her Elizabethtown garden or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, rescuing wildlife is an activity fraught with peril.