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W’ton couple turns home into natural refuge for injured, sick wild animals

May 1, 2008
HEATHER SACKETT, News Staff Writer
WILMINGTON — Tucked in the woods at the end of a long drive, by the banks of the Ausable River, is a wildlife sanctuary that is currently home to a blind barred owl, a finch with conjunctivitis, a wolf, Madagascar tomato frogs — and a couple humans as well.

Wendy and Steve Hall, of Wilmington, have turned their 60 acres of property into a natural habitat for injured or sick wild animals that need rehabilitation, constructing pens and cages that serve as temporary housing. The prized specimen living at the Hall’s right now is Luna, a barred owl that was hit by a car and as a result is blind in one eye.

Because its vision is limited, Wendy explained, hunting for mice is pretty much out of the question and the owl would probably die if left on its own. However, Luna, so named because she was found on the night of a lunar eclipse, is in perfect health otherwise.

Wendy, a nurse in Manhattan for 30 years before relocating to the Adirondacks permanently, recently received her state permits to rehabilitate birds. She said caring for animals was what she always wanted to do.

“I love all animals,” she said. “We try to make people aware of how important it is to set up a habitat for critters on their own property, no matter how small.”

Wendy is a member of North Country Wild Care, a network of rehab-ers spanning from Albany to the northern Adirondacks that cares for and, when appropriate, re-releases injured or sick wildlife. Animals, like Luna, that can’t survive on their own because their health is compromised, but are not sick enough to be euthanized, Wendy uses as an educational tool. She takes the animals, which she calls “ambassadors,” to local schools to teach programs about conservation and biology — free of charge.

“No matter what age group I’m presenting to, I emphasize that it’s the circle of life,” she said, referring to how human actions affect wildlife populations.

Wendy said spring is the time of year when North Country Wild Care can expect an influx of baby animals, sometimes from well-meaning people who believe they are helping. When people bring her animal babies, Wendy tells them to put the creatures back where they found them.

“This is called ‘baby season,’” she said. “The best thing to do is leave them alone and keep an eye on them for a few hours to see if the mother comes back. These animals are wild and they need to be wild.”

The best way for people to help, Wendy said, is by working to save animals’ natural habitats.

“There’s an urgency for wildlife conservation,” she said. “There are certain priorities we really need to focus on in this society.”

The other main attraction of the Hall’s menagerie is a timber wolf from Florida named Cree. Wendy said they were given Cree when he was just a pup.

“He’s so gentle, he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said.

Cree behaves more like a domesticated dog than a wolf, although except for the Halls, he still retains a healthy fear of humans and some nights he can be heard howling at the coyotes, Wendy said. Since he was adopted, he has become “imprinted” on the Halls and their pet dogs, which means he views them as his family, a part of his pack. Ironically, Wendy said Cree even acts submissively to the Halls’ tiny pug, Rosie.

The Halls welcome with open arms anyone who has an interest in wildlife and habitat conservation. They rent a nearby cabin to Adirondack vacationers, but only with the understanding that the visitors respect nature. Wendy recalled a time she scolded a group for leaving disposable coffee cups in the driveway.

“We didn’t think they would be back the next year, but they were,” she said.

The Halls will be hosting a Habitat Awareness day this fall with guest speakers. Attendees will be able to meet whatever animals are current residents, as well as walk the interpretive trail that abuts the river and view the “wild” wildlife that has made its home on the Halls’ property, like ospreys and great blue herons.

For anyone that wants to become involved in wildlife rehabilitation, Wendy cautions that it’s a full-time job. Although they may technically be retired, there’s still plenty of work going on at the Halls’ home.

On Tuesday Steve was constructing another large cage that will soon house an injured red-tailed hawk. The Halls are also expecting a screech owl that was hit by a car, as well as trying to coordinate the release of a bobcat.

“You start small, but you get drawn into the environmental issues. You should only attempt it if you are completely retired, like my husband and I,” she joked.

Article Photos

Wendy Hall holds Luna, a barred owl that is blind in one eye as a result of being hit by a car. Hall takes Luna to area classrooms as an ambassador for wildlife conservation.
Heather Sackett/News



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