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Musicians tune up for a menagerie

Orange County's real wild side 

Musicians tune up for a menagerie

Frank Heath is on vacation, taking a break at the beach from his rock-club life as the owner of the Cat's Cradle. But he calls back about this one. "He's an easy person to be friends with. He's sort of blazed a trail and started something that wouldn't have turned out anything like this otherwise."

Heath is talking about Dr. Bobby Schopler, the executive director of the Piedmont Wildlife Center, a rescue, recovery and educational program with the aim of assisting the natural world as Triangle development continues to encroach. The respect is apparent in his voice, in the way he refers to him as "Dr. Schopler."

"Dr. Schopler went to school with the purpose of focusing on wildlife, and, to me, it's really neat that he's created this environment where wild animals are being respected," Heath says.

In the fall of 2002, the Orange County Animal Protection Society's Wildlife Center closed its doors. Schopler had been a veterinarian and director at the center for five years and was instrumental both in starting it and making it a success. When the center closed, he knew he had less than a year until the busy spring, when injured animals--now with nowhere to go--would need help.

Spring and summer are the seasons when Heath tries to spend more time at the center's hospital, volunteering to help injured animals. A part-time volunteer, Heath says he really admires the people who are able to spend much more time there. Schopler, who has known Heath since they attended Chapel Hill High School, is grateful for the work of the volunteers and members.

"Frank started volunteering when it was the APS Wildlife Center, and when we decided to start a new one, he was a part of the effort," says Schopler. "Frank is dedicated to wildlife, and he's been a fantastic help for this organization."

Aside from serving as the treasurer for the center's board of directors and his volunteer hours, Heath--for the third year now--will turn the Cradle into a pro bono club this weekend for a benefit for the center. This year's benefit will stretch across two nights and will, for the first time, incorporate national acts among a standout cast of locals.

"John Hammond Jr. was going to be touring and liked the idea, and he was willing to do the show for a reduced rate," says Heath, who realizes how excited Schopler--a harmonica player himself--is to see the Grammy winner. "I guess it was just fortuitous that I was looking at doing the wildlife concert that weekend."

The same was true for Rainer Maria, a Brooklyn-via-Wisconsin trio who also agreed to do the show for a reduced fee. Bill Kuehne, the band's drummer, recognizes the need for the work an establishment like PWC does in the Triangle. The building boom has become apparent, he said, since the band started touring here regularly in 1998.

"Wildlife and the modern society in the area are trying to coexist, and organizations like the PWC are really important, especially in this day and age," Kuehne says.

Nathan Buchanan, the drummer in the angular, dynamic two-piece Bellafea set to open, agrees. Buchanan has been an environmentalist and activist since college in Wilmington. He now works at Duke University's Ecology Lab and jumped at the opportunity to play the show.

The benefit is a crucial fund-raiser for the center. Between contributions from Orange and Durham counties and Carrboro and Chapel Hill, the center is able to meet $26,000 of its annual $300,000 budget. A grant from a Center for Disease Control outlet provides $35,000, but those funds are earmarked for a new PWC program meant to identify causes of illness in local wildlife. Schopler and PWC depend on the goodwill and understanding of the community for fiscal strength. By way of an annual Walk for Wildlife and a fall auction, PWC is able to raise another $50,000, but its membership dues (a minimum of $35 each year) from its 700 supporters carry most of the weight.

"I don't know how long it will take us to be stable funding-wise," Schopler says. "We're always on the edge of wondering where our next dollar is coming from."

For Heath, this isn't just a chance to raise money. He's adamant about the center's educational goals: "I like the idea of educating people that wildlife has the same right to exist here that we do. It's just that the animals that move out will keep moving out farther and farther, and a lot of them don't make it."

For more, visit www.piedmontwildlifecenter.org . John Hammond Jr. plays Friday, Aug. 19 at the Cat's Cradle with opener Armand Lenchek, followed Saturday by Rainer Maria with Fin Fang Foom, Bellafea, The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers and Hail Social. Both start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and $10, respectively.

  • Musicians tune up for a menagerie

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