CRITTER CHATTER: Does it need to be rescued?

by Jayne Winters

We all know that April showers bring May flowers, but for wildlife rehabbers, April also brings desperate calls from well-meaning citizens who are concerned about young animals that appear to be alone. I’m sharing another post written by Carleen Cote regarding the issue of whether to rescue or not:

With the return of warmer, sunny days, our feathered friends are returning from their southern hiatus and the native wildlife are beginning to move around. This is an appropriate time for a reminder about whether or not young wildlife that appears to need rescuing really do need human intervention.
White-tail fawns probably are being rescued when they should have been left where they were found. A very young fawn will not move until given a signal from its mother. The doe does not remain with her fawn at all times; she leaves to feed herself and may not return to the fawn for several hours. A young fawn also has no odor, so if it is found by a dog, coyote or other potential predator, it’s only by accident, not from a scent.

If, when out walking in the fields and woods, you should spot a fawn, do not immediately assume that it needs to be rescued. Mark the spot where the fawn was spotted and leave. Return after a few hours or the next day. If the fawn is in the exact same spot, then it is probably safe to assume that something has happened to the doe. Contact a game warden and follow the advice given.

If you find a young bird on the ground and no nest can be found, make a substitute nest from a berry box or basket; be sure there are holes for drainage and hang it in a tree close to the spot where the bird was found. The adults will respond to the feeding calls of their youngsters.

If cats are prowling or stalking any birds, especially when there may be young birds in a nest that cannot survive without being fed, the cat should be confined rather than removing the birds. Fledglings – young birds that are feathered and out of the nest – need time to master the art of flying. Though they may spend time on the ground, this is not necessarily an indication they need human intervention. Observe whether there are adult birds flying around as they could be the parents, either bringing food to the young or coaxing them to take their first flight.

There are times when rescue is necessary such as when an adult female has died, but her young survive, or when young animals have been observed for some time, but no adult arrives to care for them and lead them to safety. If you do rescue wildlife, as cute as they may seem, bring them to someone who has the necessary permits and knowledge to give them a greater chance of survival. If you are in doubt about the need to rescue any bird or animal, or have any questions about the little critters we all enjoy and for which we are concerned, please call. We’re happy to answer any questions or advise you as to where you might get an answer.

Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit federal and state permitted rehab facility which is supported by his own resources and outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. EMAIL:

CRITTER CHATTER: Let’s go shopping!

by Jayne Winters

If we’re to believe the groundhog’s prediction that spring will come early this year, it seems appropriate to share a post written by the late Carleen Cote, published in May 1997. Seasons change, but often planning for the next one remains the same. I leave it to Carleen to remind readers what March is like for wildlife rehabbers:

“During the cold, snowy days of winter, gardening aficionados are known to gather around them vegetable and flower catalogs with color photos of wonderful succulent vegetables and beautiful flowers, and sit down to dream of warmer days when they can go outside and get that rich garden soil under their fingernails. This is the time of year when we gather the animal care equipment catalogs to determine what we’ll need to care for the wild critters that will begin to arrive with those wonderful warm spring days! Unlike the gardeners who know exactly what they want to plant in their gardens, we deal with the unknown: which little critters will arrive, how many will we get, what will be their ages, and what treatments will be necessary?

“We know we’ll need to stock up on milk replacers for the rodents, carnivores, and fawns. Since these milk replacers are somewhat different in composition from mothers’ milk, we have to anticipate that there might be intestinal upsets leading to diarrhea. Untreated diarrhea can lead to dehydration and even death, so we must have a supply of anti-diarrhea medication, electrolytes, and acidophilus (both paste and powder). These not only stop diarrhea, but re-establish a balance of essential fluids and beneficial bacteria in the gut so foods can be digested.

“We try to anticipate the types of injuries we might encounter and what medications we will need: antibiotics (powdered, liquid, spray, and creams), mange treatment (dips and sprays), powders and sprays for fleas, ticks, and lice; bandaging materials for wounds; and cleaning, disinfecting, and deodorizing solutions for cleaning pens and cages.

“For the many newborns that arrive at the rehab center, we’ll need nipples of various sizes, especially for fawns: softer ones at first, then stiffer ones for when their suckling power increases, to prevent their choking if the milk flows in too much, too fast. We prefer to use a syringe with a special nipple rather than a pet nursing bottle for all animals except fawns. So, how many syringes to order? Some years we’ve used up to 100!

“Next, we shop for the birds that will find shelter with us. On the list are meal worms, dog food, crickets, mice, all varieties of berries and other fruits, bird seed, and scratch feed.

“We can’t forget the items to protect the human caregivers: disposable rubber gloves (by the case); gloves to provide protection from bites, scratches, and raptor talons; antibacterial hand soaps; and band aids. One of our most important protectants: every two years we get pre-exposure rabies vaccinations.

“The items are selected, ordered, and paid for by the end of March so that everything will be in place to care for those first little critters which arrive in spring and depend on us for care and nourishment until they are released back into the wild.”

Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center, on Rte. 3, in Vassalboro. It is a nonprofit federal and state permitted rehab facility which is supported by his own resources and outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. EMAIL:

CRITTER CHATTER: Winter break at the center?

by Jayne Winters

I think most of us would agree that, so far, Central Maine has experienced a fairly mild winter, especially in snow accumulation. Donald Cote, of the Wildlife Care Center, in Vassalboro, has had to plow access to the wildlife enclosures only two or three times; snow-blowing and shoveling have been minimal. Icy paths, however, still need sanding, and we must attend to frozen water tubs and mucking out pens.

When I stopped in at 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday in mid-January, Don had been up since a chilly 7 a.m. and was just coming in after inspecting a section of deer fencing which needed repair. He readily admits he’s had to be careful due to limited range of motion in one shoulder, but has a number of folks he can call on to help with physically demanding projects. In addition to monitoring fence and building maintenance, a typical morning includes preparing food and formulas for breakfast feedings, changing hay and towel beddings, dispensing medications, and changing dressings. Later in the day, attention is given to washing and disinfecting food dishes, as well as doing several loads of laundry for soiled blankets and towels. Any time during the day he may need to respond to rescue calls, transport injured wildlife to the vet, or pick up food donations from Hanna­ford, Wal-Mart, animal shelters, etc. He does try to leave Wednesdays open for his own personal business and appointments, but being on-call 24/7 requires patience, understanding, and flexibility in the schedule. Round Two starts again as the dinner hour nears!

In addition to the ducks and geese, residents in January included three young opossums, two young porcupines, one skunk, two chipmunks, three coyotes, and about a dozen each of racoons, foxes, and deer, all of which require tending at least twice a day. Many are carry-overs from last fall because they were too young or not well enough for October release; the remainder are fall and winter rescues from vehicle hits, natural injuries and home “invasion” critters seeking food and shelter from the harsh elements.

January is also the time for submitting annual state and federal reports, with license renewal applications due every two and five years, respectively. Don doesn’t have a computer, but one of the center’s volunteers assists him with report preparation, copying, etc. Volunteerism takes many forms, but more on that in another column.

While the volume of wildlife rehab work slows down during the winter, there is never a day off at the Wildlife Care Center. Wildlife rehabilitation takes a special kind of person, one who is dedicated, compassionate and selflessly committed.

Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit federal and state permitted rehab facility which is supported by his own resources and outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326 EMAIL:

CRITTER CHATTER: What is involved in caring for wild animals for rehabilitation?

by Jayne Winters

Last month I re-introduced readers to Donald and Carleen Cote, who established the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Care Center in the mid 1960s. What did that involve?

To rehabilitate wildlife, you must hold a valid State of Maine Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Permit. In addition to completing a Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (DIF&W) application, you must also take an exam and meet several requirements. A Federal Rehabilitation Permit is also required if you wish to rehab species such as migratory birds and threatened or endangered species, which are managed under federal regulations. For more information, go to Wildlife Rehabilitation, Is It For You? (PDF) on the DIF&W website, which provides a good overview of what’s involved in rehabilitating wildlife.

An injured eagle recently brought in to recover.

By 1964, the Cotes had applied for and received all five federal and state permits necessary to raise waterfowl and rehab wildlife. As their names and quality care became familiar with local wardens and veterinarians, wildlife “patients” increased and although, initially, Carleen was able to care for the few babies that required frequent feedings by bringing them to work, her retirement in 1990 eased the pressure as she was at home to answer the phone, take in wildlife and provide care around the clock. Mammals eventually outnumbered birds and the Cotes found it difficult to find time for all, especially baby birds which demand considerable one-on-one time. In 1997, they met with Diane Winn and Marc Payne, founders of Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom; although the Cotes continue to rescue and care for birds, many are transferred to Avian Haven.

In 1998, at the suggestion of several friends/supporters, Carleen submitted the paperwork required for Duck Pond to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We hear this phrase often, but I’m not sure how many readers know just what it means. Simply put, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is an organization that has been approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt, charitable organization. These typically include advocacy groups for human rights, animal rights, land conservation, environment, general emergency relief, etc. They do not earn profit and are primarily supported with donations from people like you and me. Besides the federal tax exemption, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit can receive grant monies, can provide tax deductions to individual donors, may receive special postage rates and other discounts.

Nonprofits still have to file tax reports annually, documenting every purchase related to the organization. In the case of Duck Pond, any unused animal-related purchases, e.g., cages and food, cannot be sold; they must be given to another nonprofit. In addition, if the nonprofit closes, its remaining assets must be given to another charity.

The work the Cotes have done for 55 years – yes, 55 years! – is not simply feeding sweet baby animals until they’re well enough for release. It’s also hard physical work, 24/7 feeding schedules, ordering supplies, extensive travel in all kinds of weather, and commitment to tedious, required paperwork. No one makes a salary. No one gets reimbursed for time or gas. Every dollar donated to the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Care Center goes directly to the care of the animals: the orphaned fawn, the injured raccoon, the starving bobcat.

Next month we’ll get to the day-to-day operations!

Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a nonprofit federal and state permitted rehab facility which is supported by his own resources and outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326 EMAIL:

Critter Chatter returns: The history of the beginnings of the Wildlife Care Center

by Jayne Winters

In light of Donald Cote’s recent recognition by the Natural Resources Council of Maine for his decades of wildlife rehab work, the Critter Chatter column is being brought back to readers! As the new writer for this venture, I thought a good place to start would be to talk to Don about how he and his late wife Carleen met and started the Wildlife Care Center.

Don met Carleen Sirois at the Dairy Joy, in Augusta, when they were teenagers. After seven years of dating, they married in 1960, and after first living in a trailer in Vassalboro, purchased land on Rte. 3 and built the home where Don lives today. He worked for Coca Cola and later, North Center Food Service; Carleen was employed by the Maine Department of Health & Human Services, in mental health and retardation. She retired in 1990 after almost 32 years of state service and Don followed in 1997. They did not have children, but I think they would admit to having fostered hundreds of fur and feather babies! Sadly, Carleen passed away on her 79th birthday, April 27, 2018.

So, how did they get involved with wildlife rehab? Interestingly, it began when Don read an article in a Sunday paper about a Cape Elizabeth couple who raised exotic waterfowl to sell. He contacted the breeders and over the next three years, obtained his federal and state permits, enlarged the pond on his property, built a shelter, erected fencing, and purchased birds from Cape Elizabeth and a breeder in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In addition to permits, Don had to submit annual reports to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIF&W), listing the number and breed of birds he raised and sold, as well as those that died. Although Carleen was never really interested in birds, they were Don’s passion and she helped him with the business.

Returning home one evening, the Cotes found a sick fawn in their driveway, left by a warden. Unfortunately, the fawn did not survive, but Carleen’s heart was touched. Don was about to retire and he was making plans to replace some of his older breeding birds with new ones. They couldn’t afford to continue with the waterfowl business and start wildlife rehab, so the decision was made to let the birds die off naturally and focus on critters. New permits were obtained, cages built, food, general medical supplies and equipment purchased.

The desire to help sick or injured wildlife is certainly commendable, but I asked Don how they learned the ins and outs of rehab. Obviously, they had gained considerable hands-on experience while raising the waterfowl, but he noted a lot of credit goes to the generosity and expertise of veterinarians with whom they’ve worked. Initially, Drs. Davis and Hersom at Pine Tree Clinic, in Augusta, provided medical care, but currently Drs. Darryl and Erika Praul and staff at the much closer Windsor Veterinary Clinic, “answer the call” for surgeries, internal injuries, etc. In addition to observing procedures, treatment applications, suturing, medication and injection administration, etc., Don stated the clinics often donate medical books for their reference and use at home. In addition, close contact with a variety of folks at DIF&W, wardens as well as biologists, is maintained.

Part II will look at a typical day at the Center, including travel, volunteers, expenses, and what it means to be a nonprofit.

Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3, in Vassalboro. It is a nonprofit federal and state permitted rehab facility which is supported by his own resources and outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326 EMAIL:

CRITTER CHATTER: Duck Pond animal rehab center still going

by Amy Messier

Greetings fellow wildlife enthusiasts! My name is Amy. Many of you know me as the volunteer with the apron who showed up at the Wildlife Care Center, in Vassalboro, about 14 years ago and never left. This has been a very sad year for us at the Center since we lost our beloved Carleen Cote. She passed away with heart illness back on April 27 (ironically, her birthday), not long after she had decided to stop writing the monthly “Critter Chatter” articles that were enjoyed by so many.

The late Carleen Cote holds the “Spirit of America Award” presented to the Wildlife Care Center in 2015. (Contributed photo)

Her husband, Donald, and I have discovered that many people are under the impression that we are no longer in business. This could not be farther from the truth. We are still here doing what we’ve always done, which is taking in injured and orphaned wildlife mammals, young and old, healing them when possible and releasing them back to the wild. Our passion for what we do is just as strong and dynamic as it has ever been. So for those and various other reasons, I have decided to take up the pen and bring you information, anecdotes, pictures and stories from the Center.

Please also note the email address at the bottom of this article. Feel free to write with comments and questions. If there is a particular Maine wild animal that you would like more information on, you can request it and I will do my darned best to write about it. I would like the articles to be yours and ours. After all, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all of you. Donald, Debbie, Jeff, all of our wonderful volunteers and I thank you so very much for your past and continuing support.

I hope you will look for next month’s article. I have decided to start, where else, at the beginning – what to do when you find an animal…from the animal’s viewpoint! See you then.

Donald Cote operates the Wildlife Care Center, along with volunteer Amy Messier and other volunteers. The Center, located on Rte. 3, in Vassalboro, is a nonprofit facility, supported entirely by the Cotes’ own resources and outside donations. Call them at 445-4326, email or write to 1787 N. Belfast Ave., Vassalboro, ME 04989.