BUY THE BOOK
Use this PayPal button to buy Life Along the Apalachicola River directly from me for $15 + $4.99 shipping.
I’ve always believed the world could do with fewer activists and more people of action. That’s especially true when it comes to wildlife. Plenty of folks are willing to protest against wearing fur, hunting animals, eating meat or whatever the latest trendy issue happens to be. But there are precious few willing to devote their lives to actually helping ill, injured and orphaned animals.
Betsy Knight was one such person and her passing in February was a great loss for her human friends and family as well as for the extended family of wild creatures she helped and healed over the past 40 years. Betsy was the executive director of the Big Bend Wildlife Sanctuary and one of Florida’s most active rescue professionals.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about nursing the occasional baby bunny or squirrel back to health. Betsy rehabilitated and released animals like black bears, whitetail deer and various birds of prey — critters that were quite capable of maiming or killing her. And at 73 years old, she was doing that well past the age when most folks would have called it quits.
People who care about bears should also know that Betsy’s work shaped Florida’s official policy for handling orphaned cubs. Before her, a lot of folks thought that bear cubs raised by humans couldn’t be released into the wild. It was Betsy Knight who proved they could.
Betsy’s passion was helping animals, plain and simple. In her field, she was outspoken, but not obnoxious. She was self-confident, but not self-righteous. Most important, she didn’t demand respect; she earned it with hard work, every day.
And here’s a twist: Betsy was also a hunter. Some might see that as a contradiction, but to her it was common sense. She knew humans must be both protector and predator. She also understood that hunters play a vital part in managing wildlife populations and funding conservation efforts.
To Betsy, hunters and wildlife share a common enemy in unrestricted development and habitat destruction — actions she fought as an educator and advocate. Her grace, charm and sharp wit made her a natural in that role.
I often think about Betsy when I see some teary-eyed celebrity asking for money, or some B-list starlet posing nude for PETA. Their gestures are shallow at best and self-serving at worst. By contrast, Betsy’s legacy is her deeds, not her words. That’s why her work will live on long after Hollywood’s attention shifts to the next shiny object.
As much as I’ll miss Betsy, I take comfort knowing that if angels really have wings, she’s probably mended a few already. And if animals get to go to heaven, they’ve got a friend waiting when they get there.