As a young fellow growing up in southern Maine, I found myself living in a homestead that was shared with a variety of wildlife critters. All of them were in desperate need of a little tender-loving-care.
My mother was a self-appointed wildlife rehabilitator who would willingly accepted any wild creature in need of that tender-loving-care from anyone who brought these wild animals to her. The care was done at her own expense. It was nothing more than sheer dedication and the love of wildlife on her part. Her activities had the full approval of the warden service and its members. After all, they were the ones who provided her with these critters. It seemed as if there was a steady barrage of wild animals and birds roaming freely in our house and even outside in our door yard.
Over the years we had all kinds of wild creatures sharing our home as if it was theirs. Just to name a few, there were countless fawns; an occasional young bobcat, an otter, a few young skunks, a couple of woodchucks, porcupines, a litter of foxes, several rabbits, and even a fisher named Fritzi.
Fritzi the fisher, was by far one of my favorites. For some reason we had bonded in a trusting relationship similar to that between a young boy and his faithful dog. He was just a few days old when we received him. The results of some well-meaning individual dragging him home from the woods. He was near death, and had to be fed by an eye dropper with the proper mixture of milk and other ingredients. Nutrients that would hopefully allow him to survive. We all took our turns in the feeding ritual. And survive he did! I often would awake at night finding Fritzi cuddled up next to my pillow, or sleeping at the foot of my bed where he was sharing a space with one of the raccoons who also were in rehab and who often slept on my bed at night too.
The area game wardens recognized my mothers nursing expertise, as they seized upon the opportunity to rid themselves of some of these young creatures they found in distress. Mostly young orphaned critters that for some reason had been separated from their mother and would die if left alone.
Mom was by no means a trained technical or medical expert in her field. But amazingly she possessed a keen knowledge of properly caring for those creatures she inherited. In those days the wildlife department didn’t require the strict qualifications and the many requirements that we see today placed upon those who were willing to tackle the needs of caring for orphaned or injured animal
Rabies was seldom heard of during that era. The biggest medical issues facing a few of those critters we raised was an occasional case of distemper. Distemper was a virus that often attacked the respiratory system of animals, and more often than not would lead to their demise.Distemper more than once claimed the life of an animal or two dropped off at our so-called den.
Mom treated every critter brought into our home as though she was the surrogate mother. She did her utmost to raise them, eventually letting them return back into the wilderness where they truly belonged.
Every spring we could count on a variety of wild critters brought to us by the local wardens covering the southern Maine districts. Every one of them had become great family friends. Living and experiencing those memorable times in amongst those wild beasts trusted into our care along with witnessing the professionalism of the lawmen who delivered them. I could listen to their adventures and stories forever. No one adventure was ever the same, and those men were truly an inspiration to this young lad. I knew right then and there, I wanted to dedicate my life to being a game warden just like them.
I wanted to live the good life and to serve the public in the same manner that they were.
In addition to all the wild critters coming through our doors, there were several owls, hawks, partridge, ducks and songbirds that somehow filtered into the menagerie throughout the years. I never knew from one day to the next just what type of wildlife I’d be helping mom with next. She’d check to see if they were male or female, so that she might appropriately name them. They all seemingly had their own separate little personalities. Each of them being a story within itself.
As I look back in the diaries, I find memories of “Dolly,” a fawn that was only a few days old when we inherited her. And then there was “Bucky” a small buck deer recovering from a leg would as he became the king of our back yard and took over security in our barn, allowing only those he recognized to enter through the doors.
There were several raccoons. A long list of the four-legged masked bandits. there was “Little Willie,” and “Big Willie,” two rather entertaining and mischievous critters, that constantly kept us busy. Or there was “Katie and George,” a brother and sister duo that were raised to adulthood from within the den.
I particularly recall one wiry-little raccoon, named “Tater-Bug”. Tater-Bug could easily have been the source of an entire book by himself. He was a rebel in every way! Tater-Bug was nicknamed the wanderer, as where on more than one occasion we had to rescue him from some far away location where he had strayed. Eventually he miraculously ended up at someone’s house, hoping for those same free handouts of grub and care that he was getting at home.
Thank God, most folks around the area knew about him, rather than thinking he was sick and dispatch him, they’d either call the local animal control officer or the game wardens, who in turn would call us. We’d then jump into the car and rush to rescue him from yet another one of his jaunts off into new territory.
In addition to the many furry critters we had hanging out in the den, there was “Hooty” a full grown, Great Horned Owl. Hooty had free rein inside our house from just before Christmas until mid February as mom nurtured him back into good health after he theoretically consumed some rat poison at a local above ground dump.
My brother found both “Hooty,” and an Arctic Snowy Owl laying on the ground at the Berwick dump in York County. They were weak and near death when he brought them home. A quick was made out of a couple of large cardboard boxes with hot water bottles and liquids at their disposal, ingredients that were either going to save them or not. From all appearances it looked rather doubtful that they’d survive the night.
The Snowy Owl didn’t, but when I checked the box early the next morning for the Great Horned Owl, he was no where to be found. We searched every room in the house looking for Hooty, wondering where in the blazes he could have disappeared to. Finally another check throughout the area I noticed those big yellow eyes and his head bobbing up and down, as he peeked out from the bottom branches of our decorated Christmas tree located near the bay windows of our living room.
How many folks do you suppose could lay claim to the fact that they had a live Great Horned Owl perched as a decoration within their Christmas tree? Those wildlife critters and my mothers tender-loving-care along, with knowing and respecting those dedicated wardens in Southern Maine during the early years of my youth, are what provided me with a host of memories that I shall never forget.
I hope to share many more with you in the coming days.