Orphans On Four Legs, Two Legs Or Broken Wings Find Refuge The Whites' Wildlife Practice Is Gratifying, If Not Lucrative

November 04, 1990|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

SILVER RUN - A squirrel, a crow, a pheasant, two geese, a chipmunk and a rabbit call her Carroll farmhouse home.

But Patty White swears she's entertaining few non-human visitors right now.

"This is the end of the season," said the county's nurse for injured and orphaned wildlife. "I generally have between 300 and 400 animals a year."

In addition to the wild animals they "foster parent," the Whites own several dogs, cats, cockateels, horses and goats.

The 29-year-old native of Prince George's County has loved animals all her life.

"I was one of those kids who was never allowed to have any (animals). I would walk the neighbors' dogs every day for free," she said, adding that she finally "begged her way into" a dog as a high school senior.

Soon after she moved to Raleigh -- where her husband, Patrick, attended North Carolina State -- White immersed herself in caring for animals.

"It didn't take us long to get a menagerie after we were married," her husband said.

During her part-time work cleaning houses, she met a woman who taught her the basics of rehabilitating wild animals.

After Patrick graduated, his job as an estimator for Chapel Valley Landscape brought the couple to Westminster seven years ago while they waited to build a home on their farm.

"The first day I worked here, I knew we had to live in Carroll County," Patrick said.

At their Bond Street residence in downtown Westminster, White began nursing the county's sick wildlife on her own, without charge. They then moved the operation, second in size statewide only to the Chesapeake Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary in Anne Arundel County, to Silver Run in 1987.

After about 10 years of practice, White can prepare a variety of baby formulas, set broken wings, stitch wounds and even tube-feed animals if necessary.

"After all these years, you learn to tell what's wrong," she said. "Most of the time, I can diagnose pretty closely what's wrong."

In fact, veterinarians and humane societies across the state have been known to send referrals her way.

"I think every vet's office in the world has my number -- places I've never even heard of," she quipped.

Many animals people find should be left alone, White said, since they're often babies the mother has left while she searches for food.

"When you find wildlife, before you pick it up, call me," she said. "We try to get them back (to the nests) and let Mom do the work."

Patrick agrees.

"People mistakenly believe that if they get the animal here alive, it will survive," he said. "Although we do the best we can, the parents have a lot better chance of raising them than we will.

"It's better to let nature do what nature is supposed to do."

The parents will eventually come back for the babies, White said, adding that baby birds who fall from nests can be picked up and placed back inside.

"It's an old wives' tale that the parents won't come back and raise them (if humans touch them)," she said.

While people usually have only the best intentions in feeding hungry animals, giving one the wrong type of food can be deadly, she said.

"I had a woman who had found an owl and had been feeding it tuna fish," she said, adding that the bird became ill. "Now, did she really think an owl eats tuna in the wild?"

There are also those cases that White cannot or is not allowed to handle. For example, Dr. Nicholas R. Herrick of the Bond Street Veterinary Hospital surgically sets broken wings on birds of prey.

"(He does) the surgery and then brings them here to recuperate and be let go," she said. "Any problem I have, I know I can call him to help out."

Carroll County Humane Society Director Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff said it is illegal to rehabilitate raccoons, foxes and skunks because they are the top three carriers of rabies in Maryland.

"They might look like nice, healthy babies and you wouldn't know (they had the disease)," Ratliff said.

The Chesapeake Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary is the only facility allowed by law to rehabilitate deer since they quickly become accustomed to humans and could eventually become easy targets for hunters. Calls White receives about wounded deer are referred to the sanctuary.

"Deer are raised (by the sanctuary) in a situation where they don't see people," she said. "As soon as they can jump the fence, they are free to go."

Despite the financial support of Carroll's Humane Society, which donates $500 to the Whites every year, their free service is far from profitable.

While some individuals may donate money or supplies after leaving an animal in White's care, expenses primarily come out of her own pocket.

"(The Humane Society) does what it can," she said, adding that donations are always appreciated. "I didn't get into this to make money.

"I'd like someday to just break even."

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