Rats! When Valentine's Day is for the birds

Plus: Your guide to the week's big stories — CMS students are heading back to classrooms; transit plan specifics take shape; feta shortage rocks Charlotte; readers share their doppelgänger stories

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Feeling un-loving on Valentine’s Day? For $14 donation, Raptor Center lets you name a rat devoured by a hungry bird of prey

Carolina Raptor Center training manager Colleen Roddick feeds a quail appetizer to Bart, a Eurasian eagle-owl, just before giving him a rat entrée.

by Mary Newsom

Of course Valentine’s Day is for lovers. But who among us hasn’t now and then had a not-too-fond thought about an ex-lover or two? Or ex-spouses? Ex-bosses?

This year, after you order the ganache truffles for your current Valentine, you can turn to your personal dark side, and use those occasional revenge fantasies about other people to support for a local nonprofit. Think rats.

The Carolina Raptor Center is offering, for a modest $14 donation, the exquisite pleasure of naming a rat that will meet a grim fate — it’ll be a meal for one of the center’s 90-some meat-eating birds — eagles, owls, hawks, falcons, vultures, etc.

The Raptor Center, based at Latta Nature Preserve in Huntersville, cares for injured and orphaned birds of prey as well as dozens of its own resident birds, many of them on display for the public and some of them trained as “ambassador” birds that visit schools and other events as a way to help educate the public about raptors.

For $14, you get a certificate with the honoree’s name — which could be forwarded to whoever is being “honored.” And for $114 you could have the pleasure (?) of actually watching a bird of prey devour your designated rat — although for Covid reasons this year that has to be done virtually.

It’s the second year the center has offered its Valentine’s Day-themed Rats for Rats fundraiser. And this year, maybe because 2020 put many people in a grouchy mood, they’ve already almost doubled last year’s donations.

The money is welcome. Like many nonprofits nationally, the Raptor Center has seen revenues drop during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as visitors and school groups have stayed away. The raptor center usually gets more than a quarter of its income from visitors and tour groups, according to Michele Miller Houck, the customer engagement director. And it had to forgo the usual $100,000 in revenue from its Talon to Table fundraiser event.

In addition, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council, which offers operating support grants to local arts, history and scientific institutions, has faced its own revenue plunge during the past decade and had to slash funding to many of those groups; the Raptor Center’s ASC grants dropped by more than half in the past 15 years, according to Houck. She says the center has been helped during the past year by pandemic-related grants and loans.

Those challenges have made creative fundraising imperative. Hence the buy-a-rat-for-Valentine’s Day campaign to help feed the owls and other birds. So far, it’s been a hoot.

“We're currently at about 107 rats named and gobbled up by our hungry raptors,” Advancement Director Kris Cole reported Wednesday. “The birds seem to find all the rats tasty no matter the name.”

Cole also makes clear that the center thinks rats are awesome animals, smart and affectionate, but — warning here: if the circle of life makes you queasy, just skip to the end of this article — rats, mice and other animals are these birds’ diet. Without them they’d die.

And here it must be said that a bit of watchdog reporting on the scene revealed that the rats (and mice and chicken) the birds eat are purchased already deceased and frozen, to the tune of about $150,000 a year. The Raptor Center gets them from a supplier that raises them humanely, says Colleen Roddick, a training manager, who let an observer watch several feedings on Wednesday. Bart, a Eurasian eagle-owl, swooped down and with his talons snatched a brown rat that the observer had declared represented a former boss. Then Bart just sat there, before swallowing it whole about 20 minutes later without an audience.

A golden eagle, Nobyl, carried her white furry meal (which the observer had named for a weak-chinned politician) to several perches but didn’t start noshing until the visitors wandered away. However, Pishi, a chic and colorful king vulture, dove into her rat (representing someone who once fired a friend of this writer) as greedily as a ravenous Super Bowl fan handed a plate of Buffalo wings.

Who are most purchasers naming the rats for? “We’re sworn to secrecy to protect the not-so-innocent,” Cole says. She admits to last year having named a rat for the ex-husband of a friend going through a divorce. She spotted a couple of Harry Potter villains, Umbridge and Voldemort. And no, she says, there haven’t been any UNC basketball fans paying to name a rat for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

However, she hints, “I will disclose that politicians are very popular! … And yes, there is one name that outshines them all.”

Mary Newsom is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.

Editor’s note: In observance of the Presidents’ Day holiday, the next regular issue of The Ledger will be on Wednesday.

Today’s supporting sponsor is Soni Brendle

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This week in Charlotte: Vaccine distribution changes, tech troubles at CPCC, CMS preps for back-to-school, who will run for Senate?

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.


  • Transit plan details: (Observer, Ledger 🔒) The city gave more specifics on its $8B-$12B transit plan this week, saying that it has started talking to state legislators needed to place a sales tax referendum on the ballot, and that 70% of new money would go toward light rail and bus service. The rest would go to street improvements, greenways and bike paths.

  • Politicians dream of the Senate: (Ledger 🔒, Axios Charlotte) The race for the U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina could get crowded in the next few months, with big-name politicians from both sides of the aisle said to be considering runs. The election is not until 2022, but organizing has already started. Republicans could include former Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, while names tossed around on the Democratic side include former N.C. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, Obama Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and — get this — Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, according to a national publication.


  • Back to school: (Ledger) Classrooms open back up Monday for tens of thousands of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools K-5th graders, as the district begins the process of opening schools. Elementary students will return for two-days-a-week rotations this week, while middle and high schoolers will attend in-person school one week out of every three starting Feb. 22. Some 60,000 of the district’s 148,000 students have opted for the CMS Full Remote Academy, which means they won’t be back in classrooms this school year.

  • Tech trouble closes CPCC: (Observer) Central Piedmont Community College said it was the victim of a ransomware attack that forced it to close Thursday, Friday and this weekend. The school said there is no evidence that student or employee data was compromised.

Local news

  • New vaccine distribution plan: (Observer) N.C. is opening Covid vaccine appointments to “frontline essential workers” later this month, but school staff and childcare workers will be prioritized in that group. Those who work with children can get the shots starting Feb. 24, while other frontline workers including grocery store employees, firefighters and postal workers can receive the vaccine starting March 10. As usual, it’s tricky to score an appointment.

  • Raising the marriage age: (WFAE) Two bills in the N.C. General Assembly would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 in North Carolina to get married. Currently, 16- and-17-year-olds can marry if they have their parents’ consent, and 14- and 15-year-olds can get married if the bride is pregnant or has given birth and a judge signs off on the marriage. Only North Carolina and Alaska allow kids as young as 14 to get married. “It’s kind of been the state turning a blind eye or allowing statutory rape to occur, and this is their get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Buncombe County’s register of deeds.


  • Back in business: (Ledger 🔒) Many Charlotte-area business owners are eyeing returning to quasi-normal by the fall, as students appear on track to head back to classrooms and more people receive the Covid vaccine. Offices are preparing to welcome workers back, retail brokers say they’re working with more clients on new locations and event planners are hopeful.

  • Kings Drive tower: (Biz Journal subscriber-only, Ledger 🔒) A Charlotte developer submitted plans to the city for a 300-foot-high tower near Central Piedmont Community College, the second building of that height proposed along Kings Drive in the Midtown/Cherry/CPCC area in the last few months.

  • Mr. K’s up for sale: (Biz Journal subscriber-only, Axios) Mr. K’s Soft Ice Cream, a burger-and-ice cream restaurant in South End that’s been a Charlotte institution for 54 years, is up for sale. The asking price: $260,000. “What I would hope for is somebody who wants to keep it exactly as it is. I would love to have Mr. K’s around for another 50 years,” owner George Dizes told Axios Charlotte’s Katie Peralta Soloff. The Biz Journal reported there has been a “flurry” of interest in the property and that there’s a Wednesday deadline for offers.

  • First look at Atrium med school: (Ledger) Atrium Health released new renderings of its planned medical school on Tuesday. It has not yet announced a location. The Ledger, citing real estate sources, reported in December that it will be on Morehead Street on a 7.6-acre site near McDowell Street recently sold by Beacon Partners.

Good reads

  • Two views on Tent City: (Observer), (QCNerve) These two editorials, one published in the Charlotte Observer, the other in Queen City Nerve, show two very different views about the collection of homeless encampments on the northern edge of uptown.

  • 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death: (Observer) To mark the 20th anniversary of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt’s death during the 2001 Daytona 500, Observer sports columnist Scott Fowler traveled to Earnhardt’s hometown of Kannapolis to reflect on Earnhardt’s life.

  • The business of love: (WFAE) Charlotte’s wedding industry is falling on hard times during the pandemic, and brides are having to settle for exchanging vows in front of smaller crowds than they dreamed of. But weddings are still taking place — like with one couple who tied the knot on “the fifth anniversary of the day they matched on Tinder.” (Part of the “High Cost of Covid-19” series The Ledger participates in with other media partners.)

Ledger originals

  • Feta shortage hits Charlotte: (Thursday) (Friday) The hottest new trend on TikTok is a ridiculously simple feta-and-tomato pasta recipe that’s so hot, Charlotte grocery stores can’t keep blocks of the cheese on the shelf.

  • Chess capturing attention: (Monday) The pandemic, combined with the popularity of the Netflix hit “The Queen’s Gambit,” is pushing local interest in chess to new heights.

  • Sycamore pushes the envelope with new label (again): (Wednesday 🔒) The N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has rejected a Sycamore Brewing lemon-lime hard seltzer can label because it said “F— 2020.” Sycamore is appealing the decision. The company has previously drawn attention for holiday-themed beer can labels with reindeer having sex and gingerbread men engaged in light bondage.

  • Providence Road traffic (Wednesday 🔒): New townhouses planned along Providence Road near Olde Providence are raising concerns about increased traffic.

  • January’s rezonings (Monday 🔒): Every month we break down Charlotte’s hottest rezoning action 🔥 for our community of paying subscribers. Where are all the townhomes going next?

Readers share name dopplegänger stories

After last Saturday’s column by writer Colleen Brannan about name doppelgängers, several Ledger readers reached out with some amusing name-twin tales of their own.

From Leigh Dyer:

My favorite. Baywatch season 11, played by a Playboy playmate and Hugh Hefner live-in who obviously strongly resembles me. I actually interviewed her for an Observer story back in the day. There is also a male sculptor in England who shares our name but this is much more fun.

From Adrienne Bain:

I share my name with a 14 year-old girl who was murdered in Tennessee by a man who was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. To avoid capture, he committed suicide.

There are a few others with my name, but the other most noteworthy one is a women’s professional soccer player from New Zealand.

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

[There was another man with my name] living just a block away (in New Jersey). It turns out he was cheating on his wife and unknown to me a private investigator who was supposed to be following him was following me!

From Ken Buck (on Twitter):

Unfortunately I get a lot of hate tweets for the conservative congressman from Colorado who shares my name.

From Rachel Sutherland (on LinkedIn):

Keifer has a twin named... Rachel. I get inquiries all the time asking about my “brother” and Donald. The first time I got a DM about my brother, I couldn’t figure out why someone had “important information” for my brother, who works in surgical medical sales.

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith