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Judy Schwartz, 60, wildlife rehabilitator, dies in crash

One of only two licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the county, she cared for animals of all species.

Published January 5, 2006

Judy Schwartz never said "no" when a call came in about an injured animal needing help, said a friend.

BROOKSVILLE - Judy Schwartz died trying to help animals, which is no surprise to those who knew her well.

She was always helping animals.

"Ninety percent of the time she was out driving around, she was doing something with animals," said Jim Jablon, a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator like Mrs. Schwartz. "She literally gave up her life to spend 16 hours a day taking care of wildlife."

Mrs. Schwartz, 60, died Wednesday (Jan. 4, 2006) from injuries suffered in a traffic accident the previous evening near U.S. 41 and Spring Hill Drive, south of Brooksville.

No details of the accident were available from the Florida Highway Patrol, but Jablon said Mrs. Schwartz's 20-year-old Chevrolet pickup appeared to have been struck on the driver's side by another vehicle. At the time of the accident, she was hauling coolers full of frozen mice she had bought to feed injured owls and hawks at her compound south of Brooksville.

Jablon and Mrs. Schwartz were the only two Hernando residents licensed to take on the all-consuming volunteer job of rehabilitating wildlife. Though he cannot explain the source of Mrs. Schwartz's concern about animals, Jablon said, "I understood her real well. It's just something inside a person that drives them to want to help the less fortunate. In her case, it was animals, not people.

"She was a frail, middle-aged woman who worked like a horse. She never ate; she lived on Pepsi. She just wanted to take care of animals, even when she was sick."

Her husband, Irv Schwartz, said his wife had lived most of her life in Pinellas County, where the two of them owned and operated several Burger King restaurants. She persuaded him to move to a rural area off Powell Road 12 years ago so she could work with injured wildlife.

"Moving up here gave her the opportunity to do it," Irv Schwartz said. "She always loved animals, and was just 100 percent devoted to them, and I'm sure she is with them tonight."

As is often true of caregivers, her death has left many victims. Jablon and other wildlife workers spent Wednesday scrambling to find homes for the 40 or so animals that were temporary or permanent residents on her property.

Some of them are domesticated, including iguanas and chickens and ducks hit by cars, that can be placed with ordinary residents. Jablon encouraged anyone interested in taking in one of the animals to call him at (352) 279-3600.

The wild animals Mrs. Schwartz cared for, including several species of tortoises, hawks and owls, must be placed with qualified volunteers or rehabilitation facilities until they are healthy enough to return to the wild.

The volunteers and facilities are taking on that responsibility, just as Schwartz always did, Jablon said.

"She never said no," Jablon said.

"I mean, what are you supposed to do, when the Sheriff's Office calls and says there's an animal that's been hit on the side of the road? Do you say, "Sorry, I'm watching (television), I can't go?' A lot of people can, but I can't. And Judy definitely couldn't."

Dan DeWitt can be reached at or 352 754-6116.

[Last modified January 5, 2006, 01:18:19]

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