MARQUETTE – If you ever wanted to snuggle with a snowy owl – but not too close – now is your chance.

The Harvey-based Chocolay Raptor Center is planning an online auction for the privilege of handling a snowy owl and releasing it back into the wild.

The event teams the raptor center with the Women’s Center in Marquette for the fundraiser for Harbor House, a shelter for abused or homeless women and children, which needs maintenance and repairs.

Jerry Maynard, co-founder of the raptor center, said the 1-year-old female snowy owl, which flew to the eastern Upper Peninsula from the Arctic in early January, was found too emaciated and weak to hunt.

The owl was found near Deer Park, located between Grand Marais and Newberry, he said.

Fortunately, the owl has been nursed back to health well enough to be released.

“She survived,” Maynard said. “I didn’t think she was going to live because she was totally emaciated.”

The bird was tube-fed at the raptor center, and as of Friday, weighed 4.1 pounds.

The online auction will be on the Chocolay Raptor Center Facebook page. Opening at noon March 25, the minimum bid will be $400, with bid increments at $25. The bidding will close at 8 p.m. March 30.

The release is planned for 2 p.m. April 3.

A photograph will be taken of the winner with the owl, and the public will be invited to the release.

The top bidder must be at least 18 years old, in good health and willing to sign a liability waiver. The winner also will need to visit the raptor center on the Friday or Saturday before the release to be trained how to safely handle the owl.

Training will be with the raptor center’s resident great horned owl, Sage, giving the winner the opportunity to handle two owl species.

Beth Casady, executive director of the Women’s Center, said her club, the Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club, wrote and obtained the starter grant for the raptor center and provided hands-on support for the mews, or cages.

“I have seen the raptor center blossom from its inception,” Casady said.

The Women’s Center, she said, serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and their families, from Marquette and Alger counties. It has around-the-clock response teams, access to emergency services and a 24/7 crisis hotline.

Its emergency shelter, Harbor House, is for the protection of women and their children in domestic violence situations. The Women’s Center provides foster care placement of pets for survivors of domestic violence with a collaborative project, SASAWIN, with Northern Michigan University and the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter.

It also provides individual and group counseling, advocacy, information and referral services for clients.

Funding, according to Casady, comes from state contracts, but they pay only for staffing.

“We are dependent on fundraisers and the generosity of individuals and organizations in our communities to help us pay for the shelter and the costs involved with running it,” Casady said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.