The Woman Who Cares for Wild Animals

The photos on Jamie’s cell phone aren’t like most people’s.

Between the usual shots of family and vacations there are images of an impossibly cute flying squirrel, a woodchuck snacking on lettuce, a baby squirrel asleep on a stuffed Eyeore doll, and countless more of just Jamie’s hand holding a baby bunny, squirrel, or opossum. It’s just a sampling of the thousands of wild animals that have come in and out of Jamie’s life over the past 11 years.

“Just a few of the reasons we do what we do,” Jamie said of the photos. What she does is volunteer with Anderson Humane’s wildlife department, where she spends most of her time feeding and caring for wild animals who have been brought in because they’re injured or orphaned.

“I’ve always loved wildlife,” Jamie said. “I’m an environmentalist and I love the outdoors.” So when she retired 13 years ago and eventually saw an ad in a local paper asking for volunteers at Fox Valley Wildlife Center (which merged with Anderson Animal Shelter in 2020 to form Anderson Humane), she was intrigued. She went to the first informational meeting and pretty much never left.

Now, every Friday you can find Jamie at our South Elgin shelter cleaning enclosures for opossums and chipmunks, or feeding formula to baby squirrels with a syringe and nipple. “We try to make them as comfortable as possible,” she said. “We’re not mom, so these feedings are different and weird at first.”

She and the other volunteers feed and treat the animals with as little handling as possible, no matter how tempting it might be to cuddle or play with the adorable babies. “We don’t want them to get comfortable around people,” she said. “The goal is to keep them wild and get them released.”

Jamie has been part of some releases in recent years, mostly of squirrels and cottontails who are ready to return to the wild. She said cottontails usually hide under something until they get their bearings. “But squirrels, when you open the cage they are happy to run away and up the first tree they come to,” Jamie said with a laugh. “It’s rewarding to be part of a release, to help them go live the life they were meant to live.”

One of the few animals Jamie gets more interaction with is Lucy, Anderson Humane’s Canada goose Animal Ambassador. “I love Lucy!” Jamie said. Apparently Lucy is rather fond of Jamie as well and notices if too much time lapses between her visits. “If I haven’t seen her in a while, Lucy will come up to me and scold me. I’ll just say, ‘Let’s go get a treat,’ and once I feed her some romaine lettuce or grapes, she’s fine.”

Asked what keeps her volunteering with Anderson Humane’s wildlife team week after week, year after year, Jamie said, “It’s what I do. It’s who I am.” She also understands the importance of the work. “We need these animals out in nature doing what they were created to do.”

Plus, she gets to impress her friends and grandkids with all those great photos on her phone, many of animals they’d never get to see that young or close otherwise. “Wow, is that cool?” many of them will respond. Jamie knows it is. Not only does she get to be around these incredible animals, she gets to help them survive.

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