Retirement ends call of the wild for local woman

MILFORD – There are no more squawking baby blue jays and jittery little squirrels in the kitchen. There are no more crates of masked-eyed raccoons or black and white skunks in the back yard.

Only the usual birds and squirrels visit the dozens of feeding and watering stations at Lorraine Carson’s Highlands Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on Adams Street. A shy little Netherlands bunny near the woodstove in the kitchen is the only animal in the house.

Until last year, Carson was the person to see if you found a sick or injured animal. Now she is retired after 33 years as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

It’s been a year since her friend David Wheeler came in with heavy equipment to pull apart cages she built decades ago. That was an emotional time, “quite heartbreaking,” she says, but looking back now she doesn’t regret closing.

It got to be too hard, especially working 16-18 hours a day in the summer, said Carson, who is 69.

“You get a bunch of baby birds, and they have to be fed every half hour, starting at first light. It was time for a break. My newest cage is about 20 years old. Every fall we did major repairs. There was no end to it,” she said.

Of the nearly 10,000 birds and animals she cared for over 33 years, she confesses to special affection for the adult geese because they are so “full of character.”

Among the mammals, the raccoons were the most fun.

“Nothing misses their attention,” she said, remembering one man who volunteered to help; “You never saw him without his baseball cap,” but one day it was gone, and he said the raccoons had ripped it off his head.

And baby skunks she calls “the most gentle, kind-hearted little things.”

She loved them all, even the baby fisher she fed with a medicine dropper.

Maybe her most satisfying experience came after a woman brought in a young red fox that had been hit by a car. The woman put the animal in the back of her car and didn’t bring it to Carson until 18 hours later.

“This poor soul was blind, deaf and totally paralyzed on the left side,” she said, “but something in me wouldn’t let me put it down.”

Day and night she cared for the fox, turning it on its side every few hours, feeding it two kinds of medicine, cleaning the excrement that covered its fur.

“That animal eventually recovered and I released him” into the wild, on private property in New Boston, she said.

Six months later Carson went to visit her New Boston friend and found the fox was thriving.

At a feeding station on the property, Carson saw the animal she didn’t give up on playing with another fox.

Side by side

There must still be an aura of welcome and safety at Carson’s place because several wild animals continue to visit.

A pair of silver foxes still come over at night from the house across the street, and the foxes and their kits have worn a path through her lawn to get to her ground feeding station.

Skunks, no doubt some that Carson had raised, are still around, too.

One summer night she saw a skunk wedged between two silver fox kits, all three eating the dry dog food.

One of the young foxes then went to the watering tray and back to the food and the fox and skunk “sniffed, nose to nose. No fear, no antagonism, just friends!” Carson said with delight.

Carson got started in 1976 after she set up her yard as a wildlife habitat and bought a book on wildlife rehabilitation.

“It was full of wrong ideas. So little was known at the time,” she said.

Soon enough, along came an orphaned baby squirrel, and then more.

“Many times I had 35 baby squirrels, all needing bottle feeding. And oh my gosh. And it’s not something you can hurry. They take their time.”

At the time, there was no state license for wildlife rehabilitation and a federal license was difficult to get, so Carson got a permit from the New Hampshire Audubon Society, and then her federal license.

Among the public there was “a sudden increase in interest in wild animals, so the state came up with a permit process and now you can’t (keep wild animals) without” a state permit.

With 60 to 70 animals in the height of the summer, she began to need volunteers to help with all the work.

“For a long time I had enough volunteers, but it started to slack off the last couple years. I really burned out from days on end with no help at all,” she said.

Carson’s retirement means that the nearest wildlife rehabilitator is in Henniker. Anyone with a wild animal that is visibly injured or sick can call Maria Colby at her “Wings of Dawn” center at 428-3723.