If the animals could talk, they would thank Patti White Carroll woman nurses wildlife back to health

June 08, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Trembling inside a cage at Patti White's secluded house is a rabbit with a dislocated hip.

The rabbit, less than 2 months old, is one in the assortment of injured and orphaned animals that populate Mrs. White's homestead in the hushed hills of Carroll County.

Considering this menagerie, Mrs. White says: "I guess you could just say I'm an animal lover."

Indeed she is, but she's much more. She's a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who cares for birds and small mammals in her home.

She spends long hours and her own money treating and nurturing animals that might otherwise suffer and die.

"We take so much away from wildlife," Mrs. White says. "We bulldoze their habitats. We fill in the wetlands. This is my way of giving something back."

She is 32 and wears an oversize T-shirt and corduroy pants. Her modest house is furnished in the same comfortable, broken-in manner.

"I'm not a materialistic person," she says. "I don't need a fancy house, or a fancy car, or brand-new furniture. It's not my goal in life to live like that. I'd rather be happy."

She's happy raising her two sons, working in the garden, riding her horses and caring for the animals.

On this day her collection of the infirm includes the rabbit as well as one crow (broken wing) and one adult rabbit, two squirrels and eight ducklings (all orphaned).

This is in addition to the cockatiel, parakeet, four dogs, three cats, three horses, four chickens and two goats that live here year-round. Of these 18, Mrs. White says, 10 are former patients.

Nicky Ratliff, director of the Carroll County Humane Society, refers people who have found animals to Mrs. White.

"This is something she cares a great deal about," Ms. Ratliff says. "This is her volunteerism, same as somebody who volunteers at school or the hospital. This is her passion."

The Carroll County Humane Society gives her $500 a year to help buy food and equipment, and she gets a small contribution from Piney Run Park in southern Carroll.

She accepts donations from people who bring her animals.

But each year, she says, she probably spends $4,000 of her own money on the animals. "I don't try to keep very good track of that," she says, "because if I did I'd get depressed."

Fourteen years ago she was 18 and cleaning houses in North Carolina. A co-worker was a wildlife rehabilitator and took baby birds and squirrels to work and fed them in the car between houses.

Mrs. White was hooked immediately; she trained with the woman three years until her husband, Pat, graduated from college.

In 1982 they moved back to Maryland -- they had grown up in Prince George's County -- and settled in Westminster. Mrs. White obtained a license from the Department of Natural Resources for treating wildlife.

Without a license, it's illegal to rehabilitate or confine wildlife. Mrs. White is one of about 140 licensed rehabilitators in Maryland.

In 1987 she and her husband, a landscaper, bought eight acres in northern Carroll County, about a mile from the Pennsylvania line, and built their house. They're still building, and now Mrs. White's infirmary occupies the shell that one day will be their new living room.

She takes in about 350 animals a year. People bring them after being referred by veterinarians, pet stores, Piney Run Park and the humane society.

"Say somebody finds a baby bird, and they don't know what to do with it," Mrs. White says, "They call the humane society. But [at the humane society] they don't even let them finish their sentence. They say: 'Call Patti White.' "

She works closely with the Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary, the rehabilitation center in Bowie, and with Dr. Nicholas R. Herrick, a veterinarian in Westminster. Dr. Herrick sends the baby animals that people bring to him.

"If it wasn't for Patti," Dr. Herrick says, "about all we'd be able to do is try to tell the people how to raise the animals themselves. Most of the animals probably wouldn't survive."

Mrs. White says 60 percent of her birds and 80 percent of her mammals live. Those percentages include the severely injured ones she puts down right away.

She treats only those that can recover fully. A squirrel with a broken back that's been hit by a car, she says, has no chance.

When her patients are fit she releases them -- usually on her property surrounded by woods and farmland. She seldom sees them again.

But one animal stayed, a mockingbird she raised after it fell out of the nest. She released it five years ago.

"He's one of the few birds we gave a name to," Mrs. White says. "He'd sit up on top of the roof and say 'dew-ey, dew-ey, de-wey' over and over again."

Once a year Dewey makes nests in the trees next to the house and fathers a clutch of babies. He hops behind Mr. White as he tills the garden, feasting on bugs and worms.

When the Whites moved here six years ago, there were no mockingbirds around to sing. Now there's a chorus, including one lucky bird on the roof, whose "de-wey, de-wey, de-wey" is a tribute to the animal lover below.

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