Into the wild: Dayton woman heals animals and returns them to nature
Appeal Staff Writer
The 2-week-old rabbit shivers as Evelyn Pickles scoops it out of an incubator and sets it on a scale.
These cottontail rabbits get nervous so easily, she says. Too many voices overwhelm them.
After she weighs the animal, she sits down to bottle feed it.
Mike Cassidy, her partner at the Dayton Valley Wildlife Reststop, has just gotten back from checking on the owls outside.
“The Great Horns would love to have him for breakfast,” he says, motioning to the rabbit.
Pickles baby-talks the animal and pets it on the head. She asks it how scared it is.
After it has been drinking for a while, its eyes start to relax.
“(Rabbits) are the ultimate prey animal,” Pickles says. “Everybody eats you when you’re a rabbit.”
Since starting the rehabilitation center in 1998, Pickles has worked with many other animals besides rabbits: hawks, owls, deer, lizards, marmots, antelope.
Government workers and people who happen to find injured animals in the area bring them to her. Birds that have been hit by cars, for instance, or rabbits that have been attacked by dogs. Pickles takes these animals and rehabilitates them so they can be released back into the wild.
In the office behind her house and where she keeps the rabbits, there is a picture of a fawn she helped heal from a hoof burn.
“I’m not a happy deer,” the caption under the picture says.
Pickles also has two trained volunteers who help with the animals. One of them, Fred Lanman, said he especially likes working with the great horned owls.
“They’re cool,” he said. “And they’re ornery. They’re always ornery.”
When he feeds them, they make clicking sounds and flare their wings if he gets too close, so he tries to keep his distance when he brings them their meals of dead bay chickens.
“An owl will bite you, and it will also claw you,” he said. “It’s got some terrible talons.”
Aside from feeding and treating the animals, however, workers at the center try not to handle the animals. The goal is to release the animal back into the wild as soon as possible with the ability to hunt or forage for itself, and it needs to keep a fear of humans to do that.
The center prepares animals to do this in different ways. Workers teach red-tailed hawks to hunt, for instance, by putting live mice in a kiddie pool of grass and twigs.
But the most rewarding part of the work for Pickles is releasing the animals back into the wild. She usually frees the rabbits by rivers and the birds out by Old Fort Churchill Road. The animals stay at the center on average from six to 12 weeks.
When it’s time for them to go, however, “they get out of the box and they’re gone.”
The center encourages people to call if an injured animal is found, but warned against unnecessarily orphaning young animals. For instance, Pickles said it is an “old wives’ tale” that a mother bird will reject a baby bird if it’s been touched by a human. People also sometimes find a young animal alone and assume it’s been abandoned. Most of the time, however, the mother is nearby and just looking for food.
To reach the center, call 246-0470.
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at email@example.com or 881-1212.