Wildlife rehabilitator sees them all
The busy season has arrived for wildlife rehabilitators like MelodyEcho Thurlow of North Norway.
In the spring and summer of each year, there can be baby birds, squirrels and raccoons to raise, as well as injured adult animals - skunks, turtles, frogs, and more - to nurse back to health.
Thurlow takes care of them all. It's something she's been doing in one form or another her whole life.
She grew up on a farm in Turner.
"If an animal was in trouble, we provided for it," she said.
One of her first "cases" was a gray squirrel. "My brothers and sisters and I were walking through a pasture. We saw a squirrel, and it ran for a tree. Our dog took off after it and caught it," she said.
They freed the squirrel from the dog, but the rodent couldn't move its back legs.
So the children took it back to the farmhouse, and under the guidance of their mother, began to nurse it.
The squirrel started out in the house, but the door was generally kept open. The animal learned to drag itself around with its front legs, and began to come and go from the house to the outdoors.
"It was allowed to come and go as it pleased through any opening it found handy - doors and windows, or piggy back on the dog, or any of our family members," she said. "We never held it, or trapped it."
A year went by, and gradually the squirrel regained the use of its legs. But it continued to stay around the farm.
"She had nests of babies," said Thurlow.
The squirrel lived a long life for its kind - six years - and died of old age.
As Thurlow grew to adulthood, she continued to informally take in animals in need, most often birds.
"I've always loved birds," she said. "My mother could sing [whistle] any bird out of a tree. They would come down and sit with her."
As wildlife laws became stricter to prohibit the keeping of wild animals without a permit, Thurlow realized she needed to formalize her caregiving.
About a dozen years ago, after taking a test and meeting other requirements, she obtained a permit from the state to be a wildlife rehabilitator.
Her phone hasn't stopped ringing since.
There was the large female snapping turtle someone found with the top layer of its shell sheared off. "I didn't know what had happened to her," said Thurlow.
But she kept the reptile for three months until enough of the bone grew back for her to go back to the pond. "I was happy to let her go," said Thurlow, noting the animal had lived up to its name.
Then there was a fawn with a broken leg, hit by a car, that she and her daughter cared for over a weekend until they could get it to a vet. Sadly, the deer couldn't be saved and had to be euthanized.
But there have been many happier experiences with orphaned fawns.
As young deer in her care grow, she allows them to roam outside her rural home. When her granddaughter comes to visit, "there's nothing more fun than watching a little deer play hide and seek with a little girl," Thurlow said.
A relatively new but increasingly more common "patient" is the wild turkey. The large birds often suffer injuries from cars. But it's usually not from being struck. "More often they get caught in the wind from a car and get rolled," she said.
Her rural location allows her to utilize the "free release" rehabilitation method. "As soon as the animal knows to come to me for food, I can let it go outside," she said. As the animal roams the nearby woods more and more, it acclimates back into the wild and eventually can go on its way, she said.
In addition to treating injuries, Thurlow is also adept at recognizing illnesses in animals. A lethargic robin brought to her last week was dead on arrival, but still she examined it closely to determine what happened. She found tiny marks indicating a cat had the bird in its mouth, and while the injuries were minor, the bird was doomed from the start, she said.
Cats carry bacteria in their mouths that are deadly to birds, said Thurlow. When the bacteria enter the wound, or are transmitted by mouth as the bird preens itself, the animal is infected, she said. "They're dead within 72 hours," she said.
While spring and summer are the busiest times, wildlife can turn up during the coldest part of year, too.
In the middle of winter, she'll hear from someone who went out to the woodpile for an armload of logs, and unwittingly brought into the house a hibernating snake or salamander.
I'll keep them for the winter in a aquarium in my basement, where it's cold enough," she said.
One winter she took in a snow goose from Albany. Rescued from thin ice on Hutchinson Pond, "it stayed all winter," she said.
As she took the goose outside more frequently, she kept an eye over her shoulder. The bird had developed a nasty habit of nailing her in the backside with his beak. "I was black and blue all the time," she said.
Guidelines for helping wildlife
Thurlow, who is one of the geographically closest rehabilitators to the Bethel area, has suggestions to help anyone who may come across a (possibly) abandoned baby or injured adult.
She can provide written guidelines particular to birds or mammals, but there are some common themes.
A baby bird or mammal found by itself may or may not be abandoned.
If the animal appears healthy, finders should look around for a nearby nest or den. If one can be found, place (using gloves) the animal back where it belongs. Or make a substitute nest with an open container, placing it in a tree or bushes.
Observation from a safe distance over a few hours should determine whether the parents are visiting. If not, or if the animal appears sick or injured, it's time to call a rehabilitator.
In cases of reptiles or amphibians, Thurlow suggests simply calling a rehabilitator with questions.
She is one of only a few rehabilitators who accept reptiles and amphibians in addition to birds and mammals. She can be reached at 527-2310.
For other information on rehabilitators and wildlife, go to www.maine.gov/IFW/wildlife/rehabilitation/listofrehabbers.htm