Life can get pretty crazy in the spring when Tamie Olmsted is in the thick of caring for abandoned baby raccoons.
“These two came in like Tasmanian devils from Penguin Trailer Park. They were found on the wheel well of a resident’s vehicle,” the East Freetown woman said.
Two baby raccoons were in a top cage. Three were in a cage below them. A cacophony of squawking filled the air. The animals wanted their formula.
“A little raccoon can roar like a lion,” said Olmsted, a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator for almost 10 years.
The fellow who contacted Olmsted about the wild babies had a heck of a time getting a hold of them. He was amazed to see Olmsted grab a baby by the cuff, put a bottle in its mouth and nestle it.
“These guys are what keep me sane,” said Olmsted, 59.
She is networking with others to form the New York Wildlife Rescue and Sanctuary in Cortland County. A founder and CEO of the group, she and five other board members are working on obtaining nonprofit status.
They need volunteers and donations and want to be able to obtain grants for wildlife orphans. Their website was under construction on June 11, but will be at nywildliferescue.com. They are on Facebook at NY Wildlife Rescue.
A wildlife rehabilitator takes care of abandoned babies or injured wildlife until the animals can be released.
The busy time of the year is May and June, but wildlife baby rescue can start as early as April.
“Not only are babies born in April, but the end of May and June is when people are finding them,” Olmsted said. “Babies start to wander and if the mom dies, and their eyes are barely open, they start falling out of trees … people see them out during the day. They have the misconception that people see babes out they think it has rabies.” According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, people mistakenly pick up young wild babes thinking they are orphaned. But they may not be. This is common for white tailed deer, cottontail rabbits and song birds.
If a person sees a baby raccoon, seemingly on its own, its mother could be out hunting. It may not return if a human is nearby. If a person finds an abandoned or injured wildlife, don’t interact with it. First call a wildlife rehabilitator, Olmsted said.
Olmsted specializes in rabies-vector species, animals that are known to carry rabies: raccoons, skunks and bats.
“I primarily do raccoons,” she said.
Wildlife rehabilitators are not paid and get no funding from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which licenses and trains the volunteers.
“It costs $450 to care for one raccoon, from intake to release,” Olmsted said. The animals need medicine, baby formula, blankets and toys, pads and other supplies. Olmsted makes sure her animals are vaccinated before released, and that is costly as well.
Incubators, baby bottles and heaters are needed.
A five-gallon bucket of formula can cost $240 and last four to five days. Small babies are fed four times a day. “Once their eyes are open they can go without the middle of the night feeding,” she said.
A non-profit organization could apply for grants for these supplies. And it could attract volunteers, which Olmsted could use, as she cares for 14 babies on her own. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out her volunteer base.
“I met Tamie a year ago,” said Jackie Burke of Homer, secretary of the new board. “I found her on the DEC website for rehabilitators. We had a very tiny raccoon baby by our back door, with no mama round.”
She contacted Olmsted for help. “My husband and I have become big supporters of Tamie,” Burke said.
Now Burke is working on her wildlife rehabilitator license.
Olmsted said people found a baby raccoon in a tree. They thought it was dead. It made a sound. They brought the baby wrapped in a towel in a box. It was ice cold.
“I thought it was in rigimortis,” Olmsted said. “It made a sound.”
Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor
Olmsted said this baby raccoon was on death’s door, frozen and riddled with maggots when a person brought him to her. He’ll be released in the wild in some five months.
She grabbed the baby, which was covered in maggots, and cleaned and warmed him carefully and put him in her incubator. She killed the maggots with soap and medicine and fed him. The raccoon is thriving today.
“Without her, these animals would have died a horrible death,” Burke said.
“I have worked with Tamie over the years,” said Bill Carr, investigator at the Cortland Community Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He’s known her for about half his 19-year tenure at the shelter.
He just joined the NY Wildlife Rescue board to help Olmsted. “She has been an asset for us when we find injured or ill wildlife.”
“She’s knowledgeable, diligent,” Carr said. “If you are someone that does something like that for free, enthusiastic.”
Olmsted said she needs another building at her home for the animal’s nursery. They occupy a room in her house and when they get older, go out to a pre-release shed in the yard. She has two incubators in a room on her second floor and needs one more.
Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor
Tamie Olmsted of East Freetown in her outdoor play area for baby raccoons. When the animals get to a certain age, the wildlife rehabilitator will let the raccoons hang out in the trees here.
“Baby Warm (of Idyllwild, Caliph.) organization will help with incubators,” Olmsted said. “It would be nice to apply for local grants to fund things like the building.”
Last year, Olmsted cared for fewer animals during the COVID-19 pandemic, without a volunteer base.
She has a son with a susceptible immune system and couldn’t have people in the house. Now both she and her son are vaccinated. She has 14 baby raccoons in her care.
“Last year, I had 17 bottle-fed babies,” Olmsted said.
She can spend 15 minutes to feed it and clean each animal. Then she’s on to the next animal.
By the time she finished, working alone, she had to go back to feeding the first.
Olmsted got a call June 8 from a Syracuse woman looking for a wildlife rehabilitator. Someone had taken a raccoon mom from the city 10 miles into the countryside. Then three babies were found. The woman was in a panic.
The babies had been without the mom for four days, Olmsted said later.
“Get Pedialyte, get a baby bottle,” she said. Wear a pair of gloves.
Olmsted arranged for transport of the babies to her house, she said. “I get that call numerous times a day.”