More than a mascot

Jackie Valley

Kent State’s quest for a golden eagle ends with a blind, rescued bird

Mona Rutger, founder of Back To The Wild, debuts Flash, the first live Golden Eagle to serve as Kent State’s mascot in more than 10 years. DANIEL DOHERTY | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

A collision with a truck in California left a wild golden eagle severely injured and without a mate. Now, she has a home near Sandusky and is Kent State’s new live mascot, “Flash.”

Flash made her first courtside appearance at the men’s basketball game against the University of Akron Jan. 23. Tomorrow, she will visit again for the women’s basketball game at 2 p.m.

Kathy Stafford, vice president for University Relations, said characteristics associated with Kent State’s mascot, such as “soaring to new heights” and “strength,” spurred the quest to find a live golden eagle.

“We have a mascot that lends itself very well to the kind of characteristics we want to have as students, faculty and staff, and as a university,” she said.

Flash is part of the Back to the Wild Wildlife Rehabilitation and Nature Education Center, a non-profit organization in Castalia, where more than 2,500 wild animals are treated each year.

Mona Rutger, founder and director of Back to the Wild, said she agreed to let the golden eagle represent “Flash” after securing a federal permit and ensuring that the welfare of the eagle came first.

So far, Rutger said the eagle has responded very well to her gig as “Flash” – an opportunity she sees as mutually beneficial since her injuries prevent her from returning to the wild.

Rutger said federal law mandates that injured birds of prey that cannot be returned to the wild must be euthanized if they cannot be placed into a home with educational programs.

“We feel we can keep that animal alive, providing a good quality of life and let them benefit other wildlife,” she said.

Stafford said some sort of an educational component will accompany each of Flash’s appearances at Kent State. She added the university is also looking into ways for Flash to visit beyond sporting activities, such as the city’s Kent Fest.

“It’s not just about us having a mascot,” she said. “It’s for assisting in her efforts to take care of these animals and to provide education about them to the broader community.

“For us, it’s a real partnership.”

Rutger said the educational programs by Back to the Wild, including ones tied to Flash’s visits to Kent State, aim to teach children the impact humans have on the environment.

The goal, she said, is to raise more awareness because “If you aren’t aware of it, how are you going to change your actions?”

Kent State paid an initial $5,000 to Back to the Wild to help cover costs for the care of the golden eagle, in addition to a $1,000 yearly payment, $750 for each photo session and $1,000 for each time Flash visits the university.

Rutger said the center, which spans 30 acres of open fields, relies completely on public support and private donations to cover its expenses. It cost $200,000 last year to operate the center.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].