First Posted: 8/8/2009
The voice on the other end of the line sounded frantic.
It was that of Cindy Puckett, horticulturist for the Gilmer-Smith Foundation in Mount Airy, which oversees the Gertrude Smith House on North Main Street. She related how 11 baby possums had been found on the grounds of the historic house, clinging to their dead mother.
When faced with that dilemma in late July, the same thought went through Pucketts mind that probably would run through many other peoples under similar circumstances: Who ya gonna call?
In this case, it turned out to be Linda Maines of the Beulah community, the owner of a business called Krit-R Rid-R, and a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator and damage-control agent. Of course, those are Maines official titles.
One might be more correct calling her by a name such as animal-lover extraordinaire or even Surry Countys version of Doctor Dolittle, a literary character who prefers animal patients to human clientele and even speaks in their languages.
I have always loved animals more than people I know it sounds bad, joked Maines, the former Linda Harris, who as a veteran nurse also has cared for her share of humans.
But it is the animals that capture the fascination and admiration of a person who today admits that she would have preferred veterinary school to nursing school.
I just really have a strong love for them and feel a responsibility for them, Maines, 53, said of her lifelong passion for four-legged, winged and scaled creatures big and small.
Ive never met one that I was afraid of, she added. Theyre beautiful. I love to sit and watch them I could watch them for hours.
Even Possums Special
As one might suspect, Linda Maines home on Fisher Valley Road near the Edwards-Franklin House is part living quarters and part zoo or menagerie, often filled with numerous examples of her rescues.
At one time, I had 65 birds, six iguanas, four ball pythons, one euromastic (a lizard), Maines related, her voice stopping in mid-sentence as she tried to recall the other varieties that likely were there, also. The present roster includes two exotic birds, an iguana and about 45 baby possums, including those she took in from the Gertrude Smith House.
She was over here probably within the hour to pick them up, Puckett reported later that July day when the miniature marsupials were discovered and an animal drama of sorts unfolded.
It did have a happy ending, said the Gilmer-Smith Foundation employee.
But Maines knew she had to move fast on that particular morning. Not knowing how long the mother possum had been dead, there was a good chance her babies were dehydrated. Maines arrived in Mount Airy to find that they were, and also infested with maggots.
Thus was launched a mission of mercy to stabilize the offspring and supply vital nutrition. The baby possums do not have a sucking reflex, explained Maines, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of animal physiology and behavior. As a result, she has had to insert a tube to their stomachs to supply formula and Pedialyte, a product used to restore fluids quickly.
Maines reported last week that 10 of the babies were still alive.
Why would anyone waste time on a possum, one might ask, a creature many people consider nasty and otherwise undesirable? Yet that doesnt include Linda Maines, who believes all animals have a purpose though it might not be readily apparent.
In her view, the possum simply is a species with a bad public-relations agency.
Theyre the clean-up crew, the animal enthusiastic said of the marsupial whose primary food source is dead animals. Possums also will eat other types of animals, such as rodents and snakes, which is helped by the fact that possums tend to be immune to snake venom. It also is extremely rare for them to contract rabies.
You got possums around, youre not going to have snakes, said Maines, who points out that the presence of a particular animal at some location typically relates to the food cycle present there. For example, snakes arent usually found where cats exist, since the felines eat the rodents that attract the reptiles.
Maines, whose help often is sought by residents of neighboring counties in addition to those in Surry, additionally rescues other orphaned animals such as squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and groundhogs.
It is the baby season right now, she said.
Passion Spawned Early
An interview with Maines last week was briefly interrupted by a call on her cell phone, one of several she received during the session.
The call was from someone in Winston-Salem, who informed the wildlife rehabber that her cat had killed a mother bluebird, leaving behind seven babies.
Little birds have to be fed every 15 minutes from sunup to sundown, the caller was advised by Maines, who also professes a love for animals that arent as lovable, such as poisonous snakes.
I remember playing with baby copperheads in front of Grandmas house, she said of her experiences as a young child. She had a fit over that. The grandmother, Alma McCraw, lived next door to the Maines family, which included Lindas parents and two older brothers.
Maines, who was born in Dobson, now lives in the same house she did at that time. However, the family did reside for a time in Greensboro, where her father David was a supervisor at Cone Mills, before returning to Surry County while Maines was in high school. She is a graduate of North Surry.
Ive always had animals always, she said, cats, dogs, other things that I dragged home.
My grandmother was the first who taught me my love of animals, Maines said, remembering that baby deer often were found in the fields in the rural setting where they lived.
My dad was really bad, Maines said of such actions as stopping his vehicle to get turtles out of the roadway. He would catch a baby rabbit and take it home to let us look at it, but he would always take it back, she recalled.
So I absolutely do come from a long line of animal lovers.
Nature Knows Best
Maines said her fathers practice of re-releasing animals back into their natural habitats is a main focus of wildlife rehabilitation which is stressed during courses people take to become legally certified in the field.
Everything that comes in has to be released back into the wild. It doesnt train you to be a pet owner, she said of the state certification program.
Youve got to love them enough to let them go.
She cites survival rates of 75 to 90 percent for most of the animals she takes in for later re-release into forests. No matter how difficult a species can be to care for and keep alive, I always just see it all as a challenge, Maines said.
A common problem she encounters in her work with animals is people not understanding that it is improper to try to domesticate wildlife. For example, they might take in fawns whose mothers have been killed by cars and want to keep them because theyre so cute.
But they dont realize that deer in captivity can become dangerous, especially during rutting season, and have been known to attack and kill people.
Also, fawns will imprint with humans rather quickly. You never get one and keep it by itself, added Maines, who has housed as many as 76 young deer at a time, which lessens their interaction with people.
It is important to prevent the deer from bonding with humans and not becoming totally dependent on them until theyre ready to be released, therefore enabling them to survive on their own.
A fed deer is a dead deer, she said.
Wild rabbits are cute and cuddly, but also quite difficult for humans to sustain, Maines said.
Meanwhile, certain wild species, including raccoons, are illegal to keep.
Theres just no substitute for natural habitats and instincts, according to Maines. They know better what they need to eat out in the wild, she said. We can do all these studies, but our knowledge is not better than what they know.
Dealing with people who dont understand that can cause burnout among wildlife rehabbers, Maine says. The animals are easy its the people you have to deal with that give you such a hard time.
In her role as an exotic animal rescuer in addition to a wildlife rehabber, Maines takes in pets such as macaws, parakeets and other birds; snakes; or iguanas. Often people have acquired these animals through gifts or other means, then decide theyre too much trouble to care for, she said.
Training Is Key
Maines admitted that she aided animals for years unaware that certain requirements were involved. I did not realize that you had to be legal to do wildlife rehabilitation, she said. Youve got to have those permits.
After learning of that fact, the animal enthusiast said, I immediately went home that night and called about becoming certified. That led to taking classes in Winston-Salem once a week for 10 weeks. Along with increasing her knowledge of animal rehabilitation, it was wonderful finding other people like me who are passionate about saving animals, Maines said.
Now she assists others in attaining the same goal. I do teach wildlife-rehab classes. I can help people become certified in North Carolina, said Maines, who also has served as a volunteer with the county animal shelter.
We are always needing rehabbers. There are some wonderful rehabbers around the state its not just me.
While the Krit-R Rid-R segment of her work is operated as a business, Maines says 100 percent of its profits are redirected into the wildlife-rehabilitation end. If she has to physically go out and remove an unwanted animal from a house, for example, theres a charge. At other times, she tries to talk people through a situation by telling them what needs to be done over the telephone.
Along with travel expenses related to rescues, the costs of feeding animals can be significant, including 100 to 150 pounds of dog and cat food per week.
Everything Ive got eats dog and cat food, she explained. It all comes out of my pocket, or donations.
A lot of people are really nice about making donations to help cover (expenses), Maines said. A man in Winston-Salem once gave her a $1,000 check after a deer rescue. That was the biggest donation Ive ever gotten.
Grocery stores and other businesses also supply outdated fruits or vegetables, with Maines pointing out that animals love overripe produce. They give us stuff they are going to throw away anyway, she said.
Fundraisers also are conducted occasionally to support the animal efforts, including a yard sale scheduled in the near future.
Maines relies on her pickup, which is decorated with colorful pictures of animals, and a Ford Focus for her missions, in addition to lots of cages. I took cabinetmaking for a year at Surry Community College so I could learn how to make cages, she said.
You do what youve got to.
Animal Rights Abound
Despite high-profile cases such as the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal and other incidents of abuse and neglect which occur, Maines believes animal rights are at a good state in American society today.
That is evidenced by an increasing number of organizations devoted to animal issues and preservation. Weve got so many fighting for the rights of animals, probably more than we do fighting for kids, she said.
Groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are known for controversial activities such as disrupting fashion shows and throwing paint at fur coats to draw attention to the practice of animals being slaughtered for luxury clothing.
But Maines said of such tactics, if thats what it takes (to save animals), then Im all for it. Her reasoning is that these activities sometimes are needed to counter the abuses that do occur.
Maines has clashed with hunters at times, saying she takes issue with claims that their activities constitute sport. Thats especially the case with raccoon hunters who use dogs to tree their prey.
Its not fair for the animals the animals dont have a chance, Maines said of standard raccoon hunting. She also counters a frequent argument from deer hunters that what they are doing is needed to address overpopulation of those animals. But Maines believes that if people would just leave the deer alone, their population would balance itself out naturally.
I wish people would take time to stop and look at them, she said of deer in the wild.
On the other hand, Maines has high praise for farmers, who tend to appreciate the role of animals. The farmers are absolutely wonderful in Surry County, she said. They seem to recognize the importance of wildlife more than anyone else.
Maines two children have inherited their mothers appreciation for wildlife. A son, 28, lives in Wilmington and is as big an animal lover as I am, she said. Maines 18-year-old daughter works at PetSense in Mount Airy.
When asked to name her favorite animals, Maines responded in a way that suggested they were too numerous to list:
Whatever Ive got in my arms at the moment is the cutest Ive ever seen.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.