Chelmsford Woman Called to Help the Injured Wild
CHELMSFORD -- The flying squirrel was barely moving when it arrived at Martha “Jane” Seeker Newhouse’s small home-run wildlife rehab in the center of town late last month.
Injured in a mousetrap in a Lowell attic and then left outside overnight, the tiny animal’s prospects didn’t look good. Newhouse syringe-fed the little squirrel for days, and her veterinarian partner treated it with pain and anti-inflammatory medications. They placed the flying squirrel with another that came in a short time later, so they could socialize and enjoy one another’s warmth.
By Thursday, Bella, as they’d named her, was ready to take her first short flight. Much to Newhouse’s surprise, Bella leapt from her hands to the nearby countertop.
“This is huge, because we were waiting for Bella to show us she could fly,” Newhouse said, expressing her pride in Bella’s progress.
If you’ve found an injured wild animal and you’re not sure what to do, Newhouse Wildlife Rescue of Chelmsford, just opened over the summer, is a free resource for help.
A former veterinary technician of six years in Georgia, Newhouse said she felt called back to helping animals after a long hiatus.
“I’ve always wanted to be a vet since I was a little kid, and I worked at a veterinary clinic when I was 16,” Newhouse said. “Whenever people would bring in wildlife, a lot of times I’d bring it home, and I think that was the part I liked the most.”
She said she always felt good about helping the wild creatures that would otherwise be on their own, left to die. Newhouse found it exciting to be able aid in their recuperation and return to the outdoors.
“It’s just incredibly rewarding,” she said. “It’s a feeling like no other.”
Newhouse took a break when she relocated from Savannah to Massachusetts 12 years ago to be closer to family in the area. Here, she met her husband, Brandon, and together they started their family and their business, Superior Kitchens and Baths.
About a year and a half ago while driving through town, Newhouse said she found a young woodchuck, dazed and motionless in the road. Upon learning the local clinic she brought it to would euthanize it, she said she decided to take it home and nurse it back to health on her own.
In about a week, the woodchuck had returned to normal, and she decided to release it in the same area she’d found it.
“It ran away and it reminded me of that feeling that I had,” Newhouse said.
Shortly after that, a friend called for help with some gray squirrels she’d found. Newhouse knew she would need to pursue a wildlife rehabilitation license if she wanted to continue.
Right around the same time, Newhouse became friends with Victoria Vasilakis, also of Chelmsford, a veterinarian at Linwood Animal Hospital in Lowell. Vasilakis happily signed on as her sponsor, and continues to be her partner in providing veterinary care to the animals.
Newhouse’s children, Christian, 8, and Leah, 2, have already seen some animals -- including squirrels, raccoons, a blue jay and a bat -- cared for and released. It was especially hard for Christian to see the raccoons he watched grow from tiny babies into adults return to nature, she said.
“But when I showed him pictures of them in the wild several days after I’d released them, he was like, ‘We did do a good thing, Mom,’” Newhouse said. “I think it’s awesome that they’re growing up with this environment and seeing that, and doing this kind of work definitely exposes us to a lot of good, caring people.”
That includes a network of other rehabbers, animal care specialists and residents who are just interested in helping out anyway they can, whether it be through donating medical supplies or collecting acorns for the animals, she said.
Newhouse’s husband has supported her efforts every step of the way. He also put his carpentry skills to use in converting a bathtub shower stall in one of their bathrooms into an indoor cage, and constructing a 20-foot-by-10-foot structure with a drainable pond habitat in their backyard for the animals that are ready to begin being reintroduced to the wild.
Vasilakis said they’ve tried to make the habitat as realistic as possible, including leaves and other natural items so that the animals get used to what they’ll have available to them upon release. With the last group, she said Newhouse hid food to encourage them to forage and even placed individual berries on the ends of branches to be as close to the real thing as possible.
Right now, Newhouse can only care for certain species at a time due to space limitations and animal health regulations, but she is hoping to add more cages to increase her capacity.
As for Bella? Newhouse plans to keep her for the winter, and find a colony to release her with in the spring.
Because the rescue is run out of her home, Newhouse does not publicly share her address but will provide it to those who call her to arrange care.
For more information, visit facebook.com/NewhouseWildlifeRescue or call 978-413-4085.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/newhousewildliferescueofchelmsford .
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.
Jane and Victoria’s tips for people who find injured animals
- If you’re unsure of an animal’s status, it’s always best to call a wildlife rehabber or veterinarian before you try to touch or feed the animal. Sometimes animals that may appear to be orphaned or behaving unusually to well-intending people are actually just fine and the parents might not be that far away, Newhouse said.
It’s better to wait, observe and ask for professional advice before taking any actions that may cause unintended harm. Due to concerns about possible rabies infection, any animal that bites a person has to be put down, no matter what, Vasilakis said.
- If the animal is truly in distress or appears injured or malnourished, place it in a box and keep it indoors in a warm, dark, quiet place until help arrives.
- Do not feed or give the animal water before it is evaluated by a professional. In some instances, especially if an animal is cold, it can’t be fed or watered until it has warmed up or it could suffer further injury, Newhouse said.
- If you want to protect small wildlife from injury, keep your pet cat indoors, Vasilakis said.