One afternoon this spring, in the middle of a day at Central Illinois Bank in Bloomington, a teller looked out the front door.
She saw a frantic mother standing at the door, in obvious need of help, and ran out to witness a scene of great peril.
“So I came out quickly,” says Chase Cavalera.
As everyone watched, Cavalera got into a position and lowered himself down.
Into a storm sewer.
Yes, it was a family of seven ducklings who'd fallen through the grate.
“The mother ...” says Cavalera, “walked right up to the (bank’s) door, as if she knew there would be help there. It was amazing!”
Wading in storm water, Cavalera handed up the seven ducklings, one-by-one, to the elated mom.
Then, having completed his rescue and readying to leave, he heard a faint “peep” from a nearby manhole. That's when Cavalera called out, a duckling's head popped up from a pipe down in the manhole and Cavalera dove in to get her out, too.
“So I went to get out seven ducklings and I rescued eight,” he says.
You’ve heard of a horse whisperer, a sheep herder, a dog trainer.
Chase Cavalera is an animal rescuer.
He is a new-age Tarzan.
“Last night, I got a call late that someone had two raccoons that needed to be trapped,” he says. “So I set up a cage and got them both, and I brought them home, and they had a late-night dinner at my place. Then I took them out (into rural McLean County) and released them back into nature.”
That, too, is an aspect to Cavalera.
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He doesn’t kill anything “unless it has to be done.”
Age 44, personable, funny, offbeat, wildly enthused, by day a personal trainer/swim instructor at a Gold’s Gym in Bloomington, Cavalera might be the very Webster definition of a “character,” as in the noun that describes someone who is “uh, OK, not typical."
A Facebook profile photo shows him shirtless, in a comic yet heroic Moses-like pose, along the blue sea in Maui, appearing to hoist a large boulder over his head, his flowing blonde locks swept by the crisp sea air.
"As my mother tells it, there were thunderstorms almost every day of her pregnancy with me," says Cavalera. "I’m sure a psychoanalyst would say that may be why I enjoy a bit of chaos.”
Besides daring duckling rescues, he’s untangled geese caught in fishing line, extricated large snapping turtles in sewers, coddled a baby owl in a “wicked thunderstorm,” aided an injured hawk, helped a duck who laid her eggs in an atrium at Gold’s Gym, saved opossums, bunnies, birds, squirrels, frogs, “a turtle in traffic,” an iguana and undergone “countless” raccoon recovery missions. (See all the pictures on today's Flick online blog.) One rescue was in such cold that the set of baby raccoons was thought to be dead, of hypothermia, before being revived by Chase and girlfriend, Olivia Muniz, who used heat vents and massage on the way to rehab.
In an age when agencies don't have the time, staff or money to do such anymore, he does his rescuing, and next morning, posts on Facebook, in groups called “Saving Our Wildlife in Bloomington-Normal and Surrounding Areas” and “Local Tarzan’s Compassionate Wildlife Solutions” that in time have more than 1,000 followers and have made Cavalera highly known.
Perhaps the most unusual: Pushed by a passion, Cavalera does it for free.
“I take donations and have a GoFundMe campaign,” he says. “But until the city, state or county recognizes me as a necessary entity, I do it `pro bono’ ... because I find there is really no one in our area committing to this cause.”
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., "moving around a lot” but raised predominantly in the Heritage Lake area near Mackinaw, it was there that his family built a log home and Cavalera ran through the woods with the dogs, swimming, fishing, climbing, swinging on vines, finding turtles, tadpoles, frogs, snakes.
“I was the kid with ticks and fleas from time to time,” he says.
And some 40 years later, nothing's changed.
"He's for real," says Matt Fraker, a Twin City veterinarian who, along with other area vets like Torry Steffen and Randy and Susan Brunswick, is oft on the receiving end of the animals Cavalera saves. "He has a great personality, a real passion and a quirky interest in rescuing animals. Through Facebook now, EVERYBODY knows how to reach out to Chase ... he's putting miles on his vehicle."
Says Cavalera: “I am the investigator, the negotiator, the trapper, the ambulance, the short-term nurse ... and yes, that guy you see picking up road kill. I do that, too.”
He then adds, “Back in first grade, I remember the teacher asking what I wanted to do when I grow up, and I replied 'a cop, a doctor for animals ... or a superstar!' ”
Yes, a wily, winsome answer from a downright whimsical guy.
And interestingly, he’s also become all of those. Just ask those ducks.
Flick is at firstname.lastname@example.org