Wendy Hall has been rehabilitating wild animals ever since she can remember. Although she grew up in the Bronx, her family spent many weekends in the country.
"I've had a love for wild creatures my entire life," she said. "As a child, I would bring home injured animals and hide them in the basement.
"Early in our marriage, Steve and I found a raccoon with a deep gash in his leg. We had a wonderful vet who worked on wildlife gratis. She stitched up Rocky and sent him home with us. We monitored his recovery for a few weeks and released him. A few months later, we had friends visiting from Manhattan. We were eating dinner when the kitchen door started rattling. Rocky pushed the door open, and his family filed into the kitchen. The guests were totally freaked out."
Wendy Hall poses with Luna the Barred Owl. Luna is blind in one eye due to being hit by a car.
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
Steve recalls trips to the Adirondacks when he was a boy. "My brothers and I would collect snakes to bring home and release in Westchester County. One time, we built a ramshackle cage. On the way home, the snakes got loose in the car. In one of those unforgettable quotes, my Mom said to my Dad, who was no fan of snakes, 'Now dear, I don't want you to get excited, but there is a snake wrapped around the accelerator.'"
Wendy spent 30 years as a geriatric nurse and a licensed masseuse. She had always wanted to work with birds but only recently acquired the necessary permits. To become a federally permitted wildlife educator requires 289 hours of volunteer time. She explains: "I volunteered at the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences for two years, because they had an established center where I could get hands-on work with birds of prey. It was a long drive - three hours each way - but well worth it." As a volunteer, Wendy worked with the animals as well as with groups of visitors.
The Halls operate the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center on their property in Wilmington, along the West Branch of the AuSable River. The refuge is home to several raptors with permanently debilitating injuries. Because they can no longer survive in the wild, they're housed in large enclosures and provided for. In turn, they are used in educational demonstrations and talks, both at the refuge and at local schools, churches and fairs.
"Environmental education is very important," said Wendy. "We must work hard to learn all we can about this Earth - it's the only one we've got. Raptors make excellent visuals. When I'm holding a bird in my hand, people listen."
Currently, the refuge is home to great horned, barred and screech owls; peregrine falcons; red-tailed and broad-winged hawks; ravens; and turkey vultures.
"The main reason I like working with raptors is that they're an indicator species," said Wendy. "Since they're the top of the food chain, their health and well-being is an indication of the overall health of our environment."
She has noticed many environmental changes. "Many bird species like the bobwhite, wood thrush, scarlet tanager are in rapid decline due to the disappearance of their habitat and their inability to adapt to the change. As rehabilitators, we see changes in the environment through the animal population. For example, I've received several wildlife calls where great blue herons, osprey and merlin young were brought to me extremely emaciated and needed to be carefully tube-fed because they didn't or couldn't forage for food properly.
"A secondary cause of death in raptors, particularly the red-tailed hawk and owls, are pesticides and rodenticides like D-con (warfarin). The poison works by destroying the clotting factor in rodents. It takes very little time to cause fatal hemorrhaging in mice and rats. The birds eat the poisoned rodents, and the pesticides travel up the food chain, poisoning the birds.
"Another example are bats," Wendy continued. "They have been seen flying around in February when there's nothing for them to eat. If they have enough food in their system, they should be able to keep their body temperature low and remain in a state of torpor while wintering in caves. But an alarming number have been found dead in these caves. It appears the bats may have starved to death during their wintering months. At the same time, a fungal-like infection called white-nose syndrome has been afflicting the bats. It isn't clear yet whether the malady is a cause of these deaths or an opportunistic disease which attacks weakened bats. While many folks find bats creepy, an Adirondack small brown bat can eat its weight in mosquitoes every night, so the demise of bats could result in a rise in mosquito numbers, and an increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus."
Steve chimed in: "While it is true that climate change occurs naturally, it's also pretty clear that human activities are accelerating the undesirable aspects of that change. Our reluctance to act may bring us to a tipping point beyond which it won't much matter what we do. It's been 50 years since Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' and nearly 20 since Bill McKibben's 'The End of Nature,' yet we're only just starting to get past the political blame game and discussing steps we should take to preserve the Earth for our children and their children. We need to work for the health of our planet. It's the only one we have. Some folks believe we will travel out into the universe and find another habitable planet, but they have no idea how enormous, how vast the universe is. Any solutions had better start right here."
Wendy continued: "Increasingly, new homes are built in wilderness and woodlands. As we encroach on wildlife habitat, people and wildlife collide. When that happens, it's the wildlife that suffers. People complain when deer walk through their yard and eat their gardens - but it used to be their yard before we built our homes there. Often people don't recognize signs of normal animal behavior, like a pouncing baby fox learning to hunt, or the fact that bunnies may be left for several hours while their mother searches for food." Wendy encourages folks to call her, the DEC or other rehabbers in the area if they have questions about animal behavior.
In an effort to help people understand their natural surroundings and educate the public about wildlife habitats, Wendy began Habitat Awareness Day in 2007. This year, this educational event will take place on the last Saturday in May at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington. She explains: "I bring in experts in the fields of environmental education, habitat preservation and wildlife conservation. Participating in this year's program are the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society and Wildlife Conservation Society, along with Master Gardeners, North Country Wild Care, Eastern Coyote Research and Beyond Human. They can answer questions in much more detail than I can." There will be lots of fun stuff, from face painting for the kids to wildlife exhibits, organic gardening tips, raptor shows and natural food. For more information about the day's events, go to www.adirondackwildlife.org.
The Halls work with other northern Adirondack rehabbers like Donna Fletcher of Chazy and Rosemarie Maglientis of Plattsburgh. Some area vets have provided free medical services. Wendy is grateful to Dr. Sue Norman from the AuSable Valley and Dr. Dianne Dodd from Westport, the only area vet who works with rabies vector species.
"Dr. Eric Eaglefeather of Plattsburgh, N.Y. has treated numerous animals for us gratis. Most recently, he performed an extensive surgical procedure to rebuild the wing of a goshawk (a hawk in decline due to deforestation), who had impaled her wing on a tractor while catching her prey. I could not do it without the generosity of these vets," she concludes.
Wendy is in the process of applying for 501(c)3 nonprofit status. This will help recoup some of the costs.
"It covers a broad spectrum, from medical supplies to travel for educational presentations (which in the Adirondacks can be quite far) as well as rescue and transport efforts," she explains.
In addition to her passion for wildlife and the environment, she loves to play Scrabble and always looks forward to the annual Literacy Volunteers Scrabble Tournament.
Steve sums up: "We think it's a worthy cause, but it's also a lot of fun. We enjoy it."
This story was based on an interview with Wendy and Steve Hall. Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.