Ideally, Ellen Jareckie of Shelburne would like to see Vermont create a state-wide hotline for people who find injured animals. Recognizing that such a position is unlikely to be created any time soon, she’s doing the job herself.
Twenty years ago, Jareckie became a certified wildlife rehabilitator, specializing in orphaned songbirds but also working with mice and the occasional baby squirrel and rabbit.
“After 15 years I got completely burned out,” she said, “and I gave up my state and federal permits, but then, like a nitwit, I substituted one activity for another and filled up all my spare time.”
Jareckie realized that other wildlife rehabilitators were so overwhelmed with calls, particularly in the summer months, that they didn’t have time to answer their phones. Despite having given up her permits, Jareckie was still getting calls as well. People were happy to reach a live person and she was willing to help.
“With wildlife, it’s pretty urgent,” Jareckie said. “If you find a baby bird dying of dehydration, time is of the essence. I began taking calls and telling people how to keep the animal alive until they could reach the rehabilitator.”
Although Jareckie has never advertised her services, she can get as many as 50 calls a day. Additionally, she rehabilitates starlings, house sparrows and pigeons, as well as baby mice and rats since no permit is needed for those animals.
“I prefer the maligned creatures,” she said. “Every animal suffers regardless of its size. Some people say we shouldn’t take care of house sparrows because they aren’t native but we’re the ones who brought them here and we’re the ones disturbing the environment.”
The 60-year-old Jareckie works closely with Sharon MacNair at Green Mountain Animal Defenders. If there is an injured bird which needs to be transported to Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), MacNair is the one who finds volunteer drivers.
“They play a vital role in getting animals to licensed rehabilitators,” Jareckie said.
She also helps people learn how to deal with so-called nuisance animals. “
The death penalty really isn’t necessary in most of those cases,” she said, recalling how as a child she pasted pictures from Vogue Magazine on her window to prevent a robin from attacking his reflection which he perceived to be a rival bird.
Since 1980, Jareckie has had a mail order business called House-Mouse Designs, creating cards, calendars, clothing and accessories featuring anthropomorphic mice and occasionally other animals.
“When I was a kid, my father dug up a nest of baby mice and I hand-raised them,” she said. “That’s how it all started.” Almost 40 years in the business hasn’t put an end to her creative juices.
“Whenever I think I can’t dream up another design, I realize there are an unlimited number of ideas out there,” she said. “I don’t let my mind close me into a box. Usually I just think about things humans do and convert that into an image.”
It’s been years since Jareckie took a vacation and she has given up a lot of potential income because of the time she spends taking care of injured animals.
“I dislike suffering so much that I’m compelled to do this,” she said. “I’m willing to trade income for the satisfaction of knowing I’m helping an animal recover.”