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Wildlife Rehabilitation Sanctuary

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Caring For Christ's Creatures
c/o Karen Hawkins
963 South High Street
Bridgton, ME 04009

A Guide To Assisting Wildlife Babies

Wildlife Reference Sheet

What To Do When You Find a Baby Bird

Surrogates for Raptor Species

Tips on Capturing Wildlife For Transfer to a Rehabilitator

Tips For Preventing "Human-Made" Orphans

Needed Items

A Guide To Assisting Wildlife Babies: What to do when you find them
by Ronda DeVold, B.S., L.V.T., Minnesota

Quick Reference:

* Items to always remember concerning baby animals

green button Is the baby really an orphan?
Each year (especially in the Spring), many people call us who have found a baby bird or mammal. People usually think the animal needs their help and want to bring it in. These well meaning individuals usually assume the babies are orphans.

Most babies are still under the watchful eye of their parents and are taken from them by people only trying to help. Unlike human babies, wild babies are not constantly watched by their parents and spend large amounts of time alone. (This is especially true of mammals.)

In most cases, wild animal babies should be left alone. The following is what we recommend to do in specific situations.

green button BABY BIRDS

green button 1. FLEDGLINGS People often see baby birds that are partially feathered sitting on the ground below a tree and automatically assume that they fell out of the nest and need to be helped. At this stage in a birds development, they are considered "fledglings". Fledglings NORMALLY will jump or fall out of the nest. This is their "flight training" stage. The mother bird will then continue feeding the bird on the ground until the bird is able to fly (usually only takes a few days). Unless injured, these birds should be left where they are. Efforts should be made to keep cats, dogs, and curious children away from the bird so the mother can continue to feed it.

green button Cat or Dog Danger?
If a dog or cat is threatening the baby animal, do not instantly bring the baby in. Rather, keep the pet restrained the short time the baby is there. However, if the animal has already been attacked or picked up by the family pet and is injured, please bring the baby in as soon as possible.

green button 2. NESTLINGS Baby birds that are naked for the most part (featherless or feathers just starting to come in) are considered to be "nestlings". These birds stay in the nest and the parents come to feed them there. These babies, when found, are usually on the ground directly below the nest. This occurs either because the baby fell out, blew out (common after wind storms), or was "pushed" out by a sibling. One must realize that this last behavior is actually adaptive for some species. This way, only the strongest of the brood survive and go on to raise young themselves.

green button What to do if you find a nestling that is out of the nest:

The best thing to do is to try to place the bird back in its nest if at all possible. If the nest cannot be reached for some reason, the following works very well. (This is also the procedure to use if you find the whole nest on the ground.)
Make a "makeshift" nest out of a clean Cool-Whip container or margarine dish. Make holes in the bottom of it to allow for water drainage. Line the bowl with paper towels. Then tack the makeshift nest back up in the tree as close to the original nest as possible. Finally, place the baby bird(s) into this and leave. The parents will usually come back in a short time and will feed the babies in it just like it was the original nest. (Often, you will see the mother going back and forth between each "nest", feeding both sets of babies.)
The only time we recommend bringing the baby birds in is if you KNOW that the mother is dead or if the babies are injured in any way. The natural parents do a much better job at raising their young than we could ever do. A baby bird that is featherless must be fed every 15-20 minutes from about sunrise to 10 pm! This obviously requires a large time committment on the part of the foster parent.

green button What if I already touched the birds, the mother won't come back, will she?

People often believe this to be true and therefore think they need to keep the babies. This is simply NOT TRUE and is just an old wives tale. Birds in general have a very poor sense of smell (vultures are one exception) and will not mind the fact that you have handled them (but will be bothered by your presence by the babies).

green button If you do find a REAL orphan or injured baby bird, please do the following:

1. Get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator AS SOON AS POSSIBLE; the longer the delay, the less chance it has of surviving

2. Keep the baby bird WARM and in a quiet, dark place until you can bring it in (a small cardboard box works well)

3. DO NOT give the baby bird any liquids (they get all they need from their food and very often will inhale any liquid)

green button BABY MAMMALS
These animals are usually found when the nest has been destroyed or disturbed in some way. Mentioned here are the two most common species we receive calls about.


Cottontail rabbits make their "nests" in small depressions in the grass. The nests are lined with fur from the mother and loosely covered with grass. They are frequently disturbed by people when they are mowing their grass or raking. In addition, dogs and cats find these nests and often kill or injure the babies.

If a nest is found or distured, please do the following:
Replace the baby rabbits back in their nest and leave them there unless they are injured or if you KNOW that the mother has been killed. Many people just assume the mother is dead because they "have been watching the nest all day and have not seen the mom come back at all". This is normal. Female cottontails only come to feed their young early in the morning and at dusk. This decreases the chance of alerting predators to the nest's location. If you are not sure if the mother is coming back to feed them, try placing a string over the nest. If the string has not moved by the following morning, she has not been back. If the babies are cool and appear very hungry, bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep them in a warm, dark box in some towelling in a quiet location.

It is crucial with cottontail babies to bring them in only as a last resort. Baby rabbits have a high death rate when hand raised, due in great part to the stress of handling by humans. People are NOT doing the babies any favors by attempting to raise them themselves. It usually only ends in sadness and frustration. Again, they need special diets, care, and antibiotics if they are to have any chance at survival.

Also, when baby rabbits are about 5 inches long, they are totally on their own and away from their mother. These rabbits do not need to be brought in unless they are injured. (If you have to chase the rabbit to catch it, IT DOES NOT NEED TO BE RESCUED!!)

green button 1. BABY SQUIRRELS

These are often found after a nest has blown down from a storm. They are best placed into a box set at the base of the tree. The mother will usually come retrieve them when people are not around. Keep dogs, cats, and children away. It may be necessary to keep them overnight and try again the next day. It is best to call your local wildlife rehabilitator for instructions and advice as to if the baby needs to be brought in. If you are requested to bring in the baby, make sure you keep it in a warm and quiet area (usually in a box with towelling) until you can get it in.

green button Always remember the following:

1. A young animal's best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural mother. It is important to make every effort to try to return the young to its mother. ONLY after all efforts to reunite them have been exhaused should the orphan be removed from the wild. DO NOT try to raise the baby yourself.

2. All birds (except Pigeons, European Starlings, and House Sparrows) and most mammals are protected by law and it is illegal to have them in your possession without proper permits from the federal and state government.

3. Proper care and nutrition are crucial to the survival of the baby and any deficiency will more than likely cost the animal its life.

4. Baby animals easily imprint onto whoever is feeding them and steps are needed to prevent this. An animal that is imprinted on people cannot be released back into the wild and usually must be destroyed.

NOTE: We frequently have people bring in babies they have been trying to raise themselves that are now having problems. These animals often have metabolic and nerve problems from an improper diet. We can save many more if we get them in right away.

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Wildlife Reference Sheet
Compiled by Robyn Graboski, L.W.R., state Wildlife Rehabilitator

This reference sheet was compiled to assist people that receive calls about distressed wildlife. The information compiled was primarily designed to help determine if a baby animal or bird needs attention during "the baby season", and what to do once it is determined an animal needs help.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Under game commission regulations, it is illegal for an unlicensed individual to possess a native wild animal.

It is important to contact the proper authorities as soon as possible for assistance, such as a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission. Not just because it is illegal to possess a wild animal, but because many animals need attention immediately.


* Mammals

* Birds

* Catching an Animal

* Do's and Don'ts of Transporting


green button MAMMALS

green button Rabbits
A young rabbit is on it's own if the fur is fluffy, the ears are standing, and it is the size of a man's fist. In some cases it can be put back where you found it. If it was brought in by a dog or a cat, it is probably injured (although it may not appear to be) and needs special attention. Although possible, rabbits are an unlikely carrier of rabies.

green button Moving a Rabbit Nest
It is not recommended to move a rabbit nest. There has been minimal success with moving a nest and the mother finding it. If you can wait usually 1-2 weeks, the babies will be gone and you can continue with your plans. If you must move the nest, try to place it close to the original spot.

green button If A Rabbit Nest is Disturbed or Moved
Replace all of the fur inside the nest and cover the nest well with dry grass. The mother may return to care for her young. If a baby is placed back in a nest, touch all the babies so they all smell the same. The mother will not reject the babies if you handle them. There has been good success with placing rabbits back in the nest and the mother returning later and taking care of her young.

green button Monitoring a disturbed or moved rabbit nest
Before moving the babies from the nest, check to see if the mother rabbit returns. Chances are you won't actually see the mother returning bacause she usually feeds her babies during the night. Check the babies bellies before and after an evening has past. Their bellies should be full in the morning. Also, place a couple strands of string over the nest to see if the nest was disturbed. These are indications that the mother was there. If at all possible, it is best to let the mother rabbit raise her babies. Rabbits are hard to raise!

green button Adult rabbits
If you can get near one, something is wrong. Use only the box method for catching and transporting.

green button Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
These babies often play in the woods under their mothers care. Before disturbing them, observe from a distance to see if the mother is indeed watching over them. It's best to leave them alone unless there is an obvious problem. If the mother has been killed, the babies may wander out of the den because they are hungry. They may be crying, look weak or sickly. In this case, the babies need attention. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. These animals are the most common carriers of rabies!

green button Adult Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
These animals are very dangerous and should only be handled by professionals. It is recommended to call either a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission for assistance.

green button Squirrels
If a baby is found, it probably needs attention. If a baby is seen on the ground, it probably fell out of a tree and most likely has a concussion. If the mother has been killed, the babies may wander out of the nest because they are hungry. These animals are unlikely carriers of rabies.

green button Chipmunks
It is very unusual to find a baby. If one is found, it probably needs special attention. If the mother is killed, the babies may wander out of the nest because they are hungry. These animals are unlikely carriers of rabies.

green button Groundhogs
It is very unusual to find a baby. If one is found, it probably needs special attention. If the mother is killed, the babies may wander out of the burrow because they are hungry. Sometimes, the babies are washed out of the burrow during a rain storm. Although rare, these animals have been found to carry rabies.

green button Opossums
These animals are on their own when they are about 8-10 inches long (not including the tail.) If one is found smaller than 8-10 inches, it probably needs attention. Orphaned babies are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. These animals rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature.

green button Bats
Bat pups are usually found in July and early August. Many times bat pups will fall out of trees or housing during a storm. Also, bat pups are found in buildings when they have wandered from the colony. Babies that are furred look very much like the adults except they are smaller, and do not fly well. These babies need assistance. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. Bats are a known carrier of rabies.

green button Adult Bats
Bats found inside the house other than in July are not babies and can sometimes be released directly outside. Please call a rehabber for assistance when there are bats found inside the house, especially in the dead of winter, to determine if the bat can be released or needs attention. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. Bats are a known carrier of rabies.

green button Bear and bobcats
These animals can be very dangerous and should only be handled by professionals. It is recommended to call the Game Commission for assistance. Even babies can be dangerous. If the babies are newborn or they don't have their eyes open, they can be taken directly to a rehabilitator if it is certain the mother is not returning. Otherwise, it is best to call the Game Commission. They are much better equipped to handle these animals and take them to the proper facility.

green button Deer
Fawns are often found lying quietly in a field. If you find one and it is not crying, leave it there and check back in 12-24 hours. If it is injured or crying, then it needs special attention.

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green button BIRDS

The statement, "if you handle baby birds, the mother will reject them" is NOT TRUE!

Feathered song birds or fledglings
Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.

Nestling song birds (partially feathered)
If the baby bird is bright, alert, and opening it's mouth for food, you can put it back in the nest. If it is not gaping (opening it's mouth for food) or is cold, it may need special attention. In addition, if a bird is injured, it needs help and cannot be placed back in the nest. Birds that are cat caught are assumed to be injured although they may not appear to be. If a bird is featherless, it needs heat. Holding a featherless baby bird in your hand will warm it effectively (SEE DOS AND DON'TS)

Since some baby birds need to eat every 1/2 hour or so, it is important to contact a rehabilitator as soon as possible for instructions if it cannot be put back in the nest or the mother is gone.

Pigeons and Doves
If baby doves are found on the ground, it is usually difficult to find the nest to put them back. Doves make very poor nests which get blown down easily. Pigeons usually don't make nests. Juvenile pigeons are fully feathered and very docile, and rely on their parents for a long time. If you're not sure the bird needs attention, call a rehabilitator.

Adult birds
If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.

Birds and rabies
Rabies has been produced in birds experimentally, however, it has never been found in wild bird populations.

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Small song birds can sometimes just be picked up, but occasionally, one cannot. A very effective carrying case for "small birds" is a cardboard box or a paper bag with paper towels on the bottom and the top folded down.
For hard to catch birds or larger birds, use a box or a sheet to throw over the bird. If catching a raptor or a bird or prey, use leather gloves in addition to a towel or sheet to protect yourself from the bird's talons. If a sheet or towel is used, place the bird in a cardboard box, then unwrap the bird as soon as possible so the bird doesn't overheat.
Do not keep a bird of any kind wrapped in a blanket or any type of material for long periods of time. Birds can overheat very easily and die from being wrapped up too long, especially in warm weather. In addition, do not hold an adult bird in your hands for any longer than necessary. They can also overheat in your hands.
If a box is used to catch an animal, slide a piece of cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to injure the animal in the process. Use extreme caution when using a net with birds, because it may damage the feathers. It is not recommended to put wild birds in wire cages because they may damage their feathers.

It is recommended not to pick up any baby mammals with your bare hands with the exception of rabbits which should be placed directly into a cardboard box.
Mammals can be caught by carefully throwing a box or a sheet over the animal. The sheet can be brought up around the animal and tied together to contain the animal for transport if a box is not handy to place it in. Or the animal and the sheet can be placed directly inside a cardboard box.
If the box method is used (box is thrown over the animal), slide a piece of cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to injure the animal in the process. The box method is recommended for adult mammals to prevent from being bitten; however, proceed with caution. If the animal is unable to move or shows signs of injury, use the box method. Keep the animal as still as possible while moving it.
It is recommended to call a professional to catch injured adult mammals because they can be dangerous. Use only the box method for adult rabbits. Adult rabbits will sometimes kick frantically when handled, even when they are seriously injured, and can break their backs in the process. Nets can also be used to catch mammals.
It is not recommended to pick up any mammal, especially adults, with your bare hands. They may bite out of fear.
Bats should never be picked up with bare hands. Use gloves to pick up the bat or scoop it into a cottage cheese container or a shoe box. Put the container or box under the bat and gently scoop the bat into the container with the lid. Poke very small holes into the box lid with a pencil. Please remember that some bats can squeeze through a 1/2" space.

Once the animal has been contained, ***DO NOT HANDLE IT***

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green button Do's and Don'ts of Transporting

DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed in the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a soft cloth on the bottom of the box.

DO: Keep the box in a warm, quiet, dark place, away from family pets. Many times wild animals are in shock and at the very least scared. The best thing to do is to keep them warm and quiet until they get help.

DO: If the animal is injured, cold, or featherless/hairless, put a heating pad on LOW under half of the box, with a folded towel in between the heating pad and the box. Small creatures that cannot move need to be checked to see that they do not get too hot. Call a rehabber for guidance if you're not sure this is necessary.

DO: Try to get an animal help as soon as possible. Some birds need to eat every 1/2 hour. If you cannot get an animal help in 2 hours, call a rehabilitator.

DON'T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.

DON'T: Put green grass under an animal. It takes the heat out of them. Drying grass can be toxic to rabbits.

DON'T: Give any animal anything to eat or drink, especially cows milk. Baby birds can't digest milk and may die. Many baby mammals are lactose intolerant and may develop diarrhea.

DON'T: Handle raccoons, skunks, fox, or bats. If anyone gets bitten, scratched, or licked (hence, possibly exposed to rabies), that person may need to get expensive rabies shots. In addition, the animal is at risk of being euthanized to be tested for rabies. **For your sake and the animals please bring them to, or contact a wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.

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What To Do When You Find a Baby Bird
by Peggi Rodgers, LWR, Oregon

So you've found a baby bird. Now, what do you do with it?
Before I answer that question, let me dispel a few myths. Keep in mind,
the first choice is ALWAYS to return the offspring to the parents if possible.

Q. Won't the parent birds know I've touched the baby and reject it?

The majority of birds do not have a highly developed sense of smell. They will not "smell" a human and reject the nestling if you replace it in the proper nest.

Q. The baby has feathers but can't fly. It must be sick or fallen from the nest, right?

This is not necessarily true. Several species of birds (i.e. jays, towhees, American Robins) continue to care for their young and, in fact, finish the fledgling's education at ground level.

Q. I found a duckling swimming in the pond. I know they need water, so I filled a bathtub and put it in the water and gave it bread. Is this ok?

Downy waterfowl are protected by oil from their mother's oil gland. They do not have the ability to generate this oil on their own. If they are placed in water they cannot get out of, they will eventually become waterlogged and die.

Bread is a common misconception. Adult birds have gravel in their crop that allows bread to be broken down for digestion. Young babies do not have the benefit of gravel and, as a result, the bread will become compacted in their crop. This can cause death.

Q. I brought a baby bird into the house and turned on classical music to soothe it.
Is this ok?

Contrary to popular belief, music does not "soothe the savage beast". Baby birds are wild animals and as such have no experience with, nor need for music. This will, in fact, frighten them and add to their distress.

Now, back to the original question. What do I do with this cute, little baby bird?

1. Determine its age. Does it have feathers?

If not and you know where the nest is located, replace the hatchling in the nest. The parents will take it from there.

If it is feathered and not obviously injured (broken wing, leg, etc.), clear all pets and children away from the fledgling and observe it for an hour. Chances are the parents will return for it. They may be waiting until all the hoopla has died down before approaching the youngster.

2. I tried all that, I don't know where the nest is and/or the parents haven't returned. What do I do now?

Carefully pick up the baby and put it immediately in a small cardboard box or plastic food container large enough for the bird to stand up in or move around a bit. (Try to have the container ready before you pick up the bird; this will reduce stress on the animal.) Use facial tissue, toilet tissue or paper toweling for padding and cover the container LOOSELY with a towel leaving a small gap at the edge for good air circulation. Place the box in a warm, QUIET area of the house and call your local wildlife rehabilitation center (see below) for further instructions. Do not offer the bird food or water until you have spoken with them and avoid peeking at or disturbing the bird.

3. Well, I think this baby I found is a duck. Do I do the same thing?

Absolutely. Always observe a young waterfowl before picking it up. These birds are doting parents and will respond to a lost offspring. They do know how many babies they have. Because of this, they'll backtrack until they find the errant youngster. If you listen, you'll hear the duckling/gosling calling for its parents.

If you're sure the duckling/gosling is an orphan, follow the same steps as above. Place it in a padded box/container, covered with a towel, and put it in a warm, QUIET place. You'll want to use a deeper container for ducklings as they will jump. Immediately call your local rehabilitation center for further instructions.

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Surrogates for Raptor Species

Proper imprinting requires the presence of an adult conspecific: things that will NOT do the trick include keeping a baby in a box that permits no visual contact with human caregivers (imprinting to humans may be avoided, but there is no opportunity for proper imprinting), feeding the baby with a puppet (the bird will imprint to the puppet) and fostering the baby with another species (the bird will imprint to the wrong species). References for these statements and more information about imprinting can be found in Chapter 9 (the bird chapter) of the NWRA Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation. If someone admits a baby raptor but is unsure of the species, a digital photo could be posted . . . or alternatively, any of the centers listed below could identify it and, if necessary, transfer it to a facility that has the appropriate surrogate.
Phone Numbers:
Acadia Wildlife Foundation: 207-288-4960
Avian Haven: 207-382-6761
Center for Wildlife (ME): 207-361-1400
Chewonki Foundation: 207-882-7323
Elaine Connors Center for Wildlife (NH): 603-367-9453

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Tips on Capturing Wildlife For Transfer to a Rehabilitator

If you spot an animal, particularly a young or juvenile animal, that appears to be deserted or in difficulty, do not catch it right away. Take 20 minutes or so to observe it's behavior.

In the case of a young or juvenile animal, it may simply be waiting for a parent to return. Remember, adult animals will often leave their young to hunt for food and truurn within a short period of time to feed/care for the offspring.

If you believe the animal is injured, call a rehabilitation center near you BEFORE you pick up the animal. Injured wild animals can be dangerous and need special handling. Keep an eye on its whereabouts and describe its condition to the rehabilitator you reach on the phone. They will give you the proper course of action to take for that particular animal.

If, however, you are unable to reach a rehabilitation center for advice, a good rule of thumb is to wear appropriate clothing and safety equipment. use common sense: if the animal has teeth (like raccoons, opossums), a sharp beak or talons (like hawks), wear gloves and eye protection. Place an injured animal in a covered box (with air holes punched in it), and keep it in a warm, QUIET place. Do not try to administer first aid, offer food or water to the animal, and avoid lifting the lid to check on its condition. The less it sees of you, the less stress it will experience, and the better its chances for recovery will be. Call a rescue/rehabilitation center or, if you're traveling, deliver it to the nearest rehabilitation center, Fish & Wildlife office, or police station. In most cases, these people will be able to direct the animal to an appropriate rehabilitator.

Remember, most species of birds are protected and therefore it is not legal to keep them unless you are licensed to do so. Beyond the legalities, these animals require specialized care and diets to grow up healthy and strong. It's important to turn them over to an experienced person as soon as possible.

In most areas, Wildlife Rehabilitation is governed by Fish & Wildlife or Wild Game agencies. Although some areas do not have established shelters for wild animals, there are rehabilitation individuals who provide home care. Again, Fish & Wildlife offices, humane societies, animal control agenies, and often state or local police will be able to provide you with phone numbers and/or addresses.

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Tips For Preventing "Human-Made" Orphans

Keep your cat indoors (especially during May and June)

Keep your dog well attended

Check tree branches for nests before pruning

Check the grass for nests before mowing

Educate children to respect young wild animals and to leave them alone

Install chimney caps and window well covers to prevent animals from nesting in them or becoming trapped

Leave healthy young wild animals where you find them and call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice on what to do

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The following items are always needed and greatly appreciated:

The following are constant use items:

Paper towels
Duct tape
Heating pads (new or used)
Small food and water bowls
Scrub brushes
Dishwashing Liquid
Old laundry baskets
Laundry detergent
Lamb Milk Replacer (from Paris Farmers Union)
Purina Dog and Cat Chow
ES BILAC puppy powdered formula

The following are a few urgent needs for Summer months:


The following are items needed for Summer / Fall months:

Privacy fencing
Cage building (Eagle Scout projects!)
Floor sealer/paint for concrete floors
Large utility sink
Small dormatory refrigerator
Copy paper
Copier services
Home Depot/Lowe's Gift certificates
Large rakes, shovels
Lawn trash bags
Laminate flooring
Ferret hammocks
Cinder blocks or bricks
Cordless power drill
Donation boxes
Donation box collection sites
(If your business can keep a collection box out, GREAT!)

To anyone who is handy with simple woodworking....
I still need squirrel boxes !!! Can you help?
Suggestion - (This would be a good Boy Scout project)

(A printable page)


If you live in or near Bridgton, Maine and wish to deliver donated items, please call 27-647-3734 to arrange a time.

Leave a message stating your reason for the call, and a return phone number. I will call you back as soon as possible. If you wish to mail a package, please send to the following address:

Caring for Christ's Creatures
963 South High Street
Bridgton, ME 04009

Thank you for your generosity!

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