Caring for creatures: Maine’s small-scale animal rehabbers tell their stories

Posted March 08, 2014, at 5:49 a.m.
Wildlife rehabber Nancy Fox holds a skunk on Oct. 6, 2011, at her home in Surry. The skunk was brought to her as an orphaned baby a month prior.
Courtesy of Nancy Fox
Wildlife rehabber Nancy Fox holds a skunk on Oct. 6, 2011, at her home in Surry. The skunk was brought to her as an orphaned baby a month prior.
A skunk checks out its new outdoor cage on Sept. 9, 2011, while being rehabilitated by licensed wildlife rehabber Nancy Fox at her home in Surry.
Courtesy of Nancy Fox
A skunk checks out its new outdoor cage on Sept. 9, 2011, while being rehabilitated by licensed wildlife rehabber Nancy Fox at her home in Surry.
A baby squirrel is hand-fed a formula by wildlife rehabber Sandra Stone at her home in Frankfort.
Courtesy of Sandra Stone
A baby squirrel is hand-fed a formula by wildlife rehabber Sandra Stone at her home in Frankfort.
Sandra Stone feeds a fox she's rehabilitating at her home in Frankfort.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
Sandra Stone feeds a fox she's rehabilitating at her home in Frankfort.
Isabella Farrington, daughter of licensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington of Poland, releases a bullfrog that the family rehabilitated after being caught by a dog in 2008.
Courtesy of Adam Farrington
Isabella Farrington, daughter of licensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington of Poland, releases a bullfrog that the family rehabilitated after being caught by a dog in 2008.
icensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington of Poland, Maine, and his children pose with a snapping turtle that his family are rehabilitating in 2008. The female turtle had been struck by a car and its shell had to be wired and fiberglassed. The turtle was able to lay her eggs while being cared for by the Farringtons, and they hatched. The turtle was released into the wild after her shell healed.
Courtesy of Adam Farrington
icensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington of Poland, Maine, and his children pose with a snapping turtle that his family are rehabilitating in 2008. The female turtle had been struck by a car and its shell had to be wired and fiberglassed. The turtle was able to lay her eggs while being cared for by the Farringtons, and they hatched. The turtle was released into the wild after her shell healed.
Nick Farrington, son of licensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington, looks down at an orphaned skunk his family is rehabilitating in 2008 at their home in Poland, Maine. The skunk was later released into the wild.
Courtesy of Adam Farrington
Nick Farrington, son of licensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington, looks down at an orphaned skunk his family is rehabilitating in 2008 at their home in Poland, Maine. The skunk was later released into the wild.
Isabella Farrington, daughter of licensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington, holds a great horned owl in 2006 at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. The owl is imprinted on people, so it is considered unreleasable and lives at the park.
Courtesy of Adam Farrington
Isabella Farrington, daughter of licensed wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington, holds a great horned owl in 2006 at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. The owl is imprinted on people, so it is considered unreleasable and lives at the park.
A skunk being rehabilitated by Sandra Stone at her home in Frankfort eats with the home's domestic cats.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
A skunk being rehabilitated by Sandra Stone at her home in Frankfort eats with the home's domestic cats.
The grandson of Sandra Stone, a licensed wildlife rehabber for Maine, feeds a baby white-tailed deer that's being rehabilitated at Stone's home in Frankfort.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
The grandson of Sandra Stone, a licensed wildlife rehabber for Maine, feeds a baby white-tailed deer that's being rehabilitated at Stone's home in Frankfort.
A young white-tailed deer being rehabilitated by Maine wildlife rehabber Sandra Stone stands in an enclosure at Stone's home in Frankfort.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
A young white-tailed deer being rehabilitated by Maine wildlife rehabber Sandra Stone stands in an enclosure at Stone's home in Frankfort.
Sandra Stone of Frankfort bottle feeds a raccoon she's rehabbing at her home in Frankfort. Stone has rehabilitated animals for the past 30 years.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
Sandra Stone of Frankfort bottle feeds a raccoon she's rehabbing at her home in Frankfort. Stone has rehabilitated animals for the past 30 years.
Young raccoons crawl on wildlife rehabber Sandra Stone as she bottle feeds them at her home in Frankfort. In her old horse barn, she'’s cared for deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, squirrels and fishers for the past 30 years.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
Young raccoons crawl on wildlife rehabber Sandra Stone as she bottle feeds them at her home in Frankfort. In her old horse barn, she'’s cared for deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, squirrels and fishers for the past 30 years.
Young raccoons crawl on wildlife rehabilitator Sandra Stone as she bottle feeds them at her home in Frankfort. In her old horse barn, she’'s cared for deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, squirrels and fishers for the past 30 years.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Stone
Young raccoons crawl on wildlife rehabilitator Sandra Stone as she bottle feeds them at her home in Frankfort. In her old horse barn, she’'s cared for deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, squirrels and fishers for the past 30 years.
Isabella Farrington, daughter of wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington, holds a baby possum in 2011 at their home in Poland, Maine. An adult female that was struck by a car and was brought to Farrington for rehabilitation. During the process, she surprised Farrington by giving birth to this baby possum and 11 other babies. All were later released in a safe area.
Courtesy of Adam Farrington
Isabella Farrington, daughter of wildlife rehabber Adam Farrington, holds a baby possum in 2011 at their home in Poland, Maine. An adult female that was struck by a car and was brought to Farrington for rehabilitation. During the process, she surprised Farrington by giving birth to this baby possum and 11 other babies. All were later released in a safe area.

Twenty years ago, an 11-year-old boy named Isaac found an injured baby crow in the woods of his hometown, Chester, Maine, and he did what many children would do — he brought it home to his mother.

In order to help the bird, his mother, Evelyn, knew she needed to obtain a state and federal wildlife rehabilitation license — so that’s what she did.

“It was a lot easier then than it is now,” said Evelyn Jordan, who described the process as a couple tests and interviews.

Two decades later, she is still rehabilitating small birds, typically a dozen a summer.

“Grackles, robins, cedar waxwings — things like that come my way,” Jordan said. “I’m just trying to keep a little creature alive. I really don’t make a dent in the wildlife population.”

Jordan is one of many licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the state. Each county is home to at least one wildlife rehabilitator, and Cumberland County currently has the largest pool of rehabilitators — 13 — according to a list provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

A number of the wildlife rehabilitators run centers such as Avian Haven in Freedom, Birds Acre in Ellsworth and Acadia Wildlife Foundation on Mount Desert Island. But there are a number of individuals who play a smaller role, caring for just a few animals at a time. They bottle-feed baby skunks in their kitchens and raise orphaned fawns in their barns. Then, when the animals are ready, they release them back into the wild.

“People are compassionate and want to do something,” Jordan explained. “I feel that’s more the role that myself, the small ones, play.”

While Jordan specializes in birds, Sandra Stone of Frankfort prefers helping critters with fur. In her old horse barn, she’s cared for deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, squirrels and fishers for the past 30 years. It all started when her neighbor brought her a family of baby raccoons.

“I started taking care of them and thought, well, if I’m going to do this, I guess I better get licensed,” Stone said. “So I contacted the state to see what I needed. I had to have a game warden come and inspect my place, and I had to go take a test in Bangor and have an interview.”

Spring and summer are the busy times, she said. One summer, she had to take care of 13 baby raccoons at once.

“The raccoons are really easy to get attached to because they’re like little people,” Stone said. “I have to take them down to the barn fairly early because they’d just as soon live with me in the house.”

“When they’re ready to go, I just leave the cages open in the barn. I leave food down there, and they keep coming back until one day, when they’re ready to be on their own, they don’t.”

While Stone has her share of success stories, not all of her patients survive.

“It’s hard when they die,” Stone said. “But you have to look at it as, well, if you didn’t do anything, none of them would make it.”

Like many wildlife rehabilitators, Stone isn’t paid for her services, but sometimes she receives donations from the people who bring her the animals. And the local veterinarian has helped her at no cost over the years.

Many of Maine’s wildlife rehabilitators have been on the job for decades, and their stories tend to pile up over the years.

Nancy Fox of Surry recently retired after rehabilitating animals for about 50 years.

“I’ve only been licensed for the last 20 or 25 years — whenever it came out that you needed a license,” said Fox, who says her best rehabilitation story is about a certain skunk.

About 15 years ago, a young boy from Ellsworth witnessed his neighbor’s dog attack a skunk. A wildlife lover, the boy chased the dog away and crawled under a porch to retrieve the injured animal.

“This little boy had a pet skunk. His father had a special license to keep a skunk,” Fox explained. “So he knew how to handle skunks and talk to them.”

Without being sprayed, the boy was able to place the injured animal in a box and transport it to a nearby rehabilitator — Nancy Fox.

“The dog had blinded one of [the skunk’s] eyes and bit him on the hip,” Fox said. “I gave him a dish of raw egg and milk and cat food, and he stayed in the box in my kitchen until he recovered some and started walking better. Then I put him outside in my backyard in an old chicken coop, and his injuries gradually healed. One day, he went into the woods, and I didn’t see him for a couple of months.

“Then, one day, I was taking clothes in from the line in the early evening, and a skunk came out of the woods. I brought him water and cat food and sat down on the grass. He drank all the water, had a few bites of food and crawled up on my lap. I patted him for a while, then he left.”

Over the years, Fox says many of the animals she has cared for originally were found by children. And when it’s time to release the animals into the wild, she often includes the child who found the animal in the experience.

“One little boy found a baby grey squirrel in the middle of the road in Blue Hill,” she recalled. “When I went to release it, I took it back to the graveyard across the road where the boy found it. We put it up on a tree limb, and he released it.”

Jack Knight had rehabilitated moose, deer and bear at his home in Bridgton for about 25 years.

“I wanted to focus on certain animals so I could give them more attention,” said Knight, who built a fence around a 2-acre, wooded area in his backyard to house the large animals. “I’ve raised an awful lot of animals.”

Knight is adamant about treating his patients as wild animals, not pets. When he feeds an animal, he takes care not to look it in the eye and, if possible, he stays out of sight completely.

“The less contact those animals have with humans, the better off they’re going to be,” Knight said. “It’s quite the process, and if not done correctly, the animal will pay. You cannot become attached to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t love them.”

If an animal becomes used to humans, it can become a nuisance in residential areas, Knight said. This behavior puts the animal in danger of being struck by a vehicle or shot.

While an animal is in his care, he tries to feed it food naturally found in the wild.

“Fawns love hemlock and young maple branches,” he said. “And moose eat a lot of fir. I try to get as many Christmas trees that I can in the fall and put them in the pen with the moose. They’ll eat them right up.”

One problem Knight has witnessed is when people wrongfully assume an animal is orphaned.

“The mother will leave her fawn for a day or more to go off and feed herself,” Knight said. “Fawns will not move basically until you step on them, and people will assume they’re orphaned. The best thing to do is just leave them. I can’t express enough to leave wildlife alone. Nature has its way.”

This problem worries many wildlife lovers, including Adam Farrington of Poland, who learned about animal rehabilitation while working as assistant superintendent at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.

“I’ve rehabilitated pretty much everything from squirrels right up to bear cubs,” Farrington said.

Farrington, who worked at the Westbrook Police Department several years ago, is serving in the Army National Guard and is an agency program coordinator at Camp Keyes in Augusta. But he still manages to rehabilitate animals from his home, with the help of his family and friends.

“It’s important for the kids to be around,” said Farrington, a father of four young children. “It teaches them to put back into nature what we take out. We’re a hunting and fishing family as well.”

To earn a State of Maine Wildlife Rehabilitator Permit, one must complete an application and score higher than 80 percent on a competency exam. And there are additional requirements: evidence of a working relationship with a licensed veterinarian, evidence of adequate facilities for the species you intend to rehabilitate and knowledge or resources available to wildlife rehabilitators, such as workshops and websites.

The state permit is valid for two years, but it will be renewed if the rehabilitator abides by regulations and submits an annual report by Jan. 31 each year.

A federal permit is required to rehabilitate some species, such as migratory birds and threatened and endangered species.

“I think it’s harder to become a rehabber now than when I started, which is good and bad,” Farrington said. “I’m a little concerned for the future. I wonder, with these new regulations, if we won’t have a very big pool to replace the retiring rehabbers.”

For people who want to be involved in wildlife rehabilitation but don’t have the facilities or knowledge, Farrington suggests becoming wildlife transporters, people who transport injured and orphaned animals to rehabilitators.

“They help drive this chickadee 50 miles away or this raccoon 20 miles … It’s a huge help,” Farrington said. “And rehabbers are very open about sharing what they’re going to do for the animal. You can learn a lot that way. It’s a way to get your foot in the door.”

To learn about how to become a wildlife transporter, visit maine.gov/ifw/education/wildlifepark/volunteers.htm. To learn the process of becoming a Maine wildlife rehabilitator, visit maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/human/rehab.html.

 

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Adam Farrington works full-time at the Westbrook Police Department. He worked at the police department several years ago but now works at Camp Keyes in Augusta as an agency program coordinator.

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