Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 51

December 19-25, 2002

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Christmas Words for Voiceless Creatures

They won’t be talking on Christmas, but we will be — and
we will be working. They’ll get a little something extra that day.
—Ted Kitzmiller: Noah’s Ark Wildlife Center, Annapolis

Since I was old enough to believe in Santa Claus, I was also old enough to believe that on midnight as the jolly old man in red made his rounds, animals in the house, the barn and in the wild could and would talk.

It added more excitement to the holiday.

Mother knew there was little cause for worry of contradiction of her stories either of St. Nick and his gifts or of animals briefly being able to talk. When one is of the age to believe in either or both, drowsiness comes well before the magic hour.
In the morning of the big day, sister Ruth and I knew that there was a Santa. The stockings were filled, under the tree there were gifts, the glass of milk left for him was empty, and the cookies that were on a small plate next to the empty glass were gone. How much proof does a youngster need?

There was not so much visible proof that Queenie, our frisky brown mixed-breed dog, had spoken at midnight; the same with cats. But we knew they had because Mother told us so. She had heard them; Queenie asked for a bone and the cats for a bowl of milk.

There on the floor not far from the filled stockings hanging from a shelf was a bowl emptied by the cats. Where was the bone? Queenie had eaten it, we were told. Mother said it was so. So it was so. How much proof does a youngster need?

Of course, Santa’s visit rated tops with us. For weeks we had waited impatiently for his annual trip with his eight reindeer (it was a few years before Rudolph with his nose so bright came on the scene). But how I wanted to hear the household pets talk, and the things I wanted to tell them.

I can’t recall which belief — animals talking or the visit of Santa Claus — went by the wayside first, but by the time both did, Ruth and I were encouraged by Mother to hype them because two younger sisters, Lorna and Ticy, and brother John were following us.

I do know that as I got older and clothes, books, scarves and mittens comprised my gifts, it dawned on me that if I had my druthers, I would have preferred that animals, especially the household pets, talked than Santa had made his rounds. It also became obvious that’s what Mother had in mind when she regaled us with stories of the magic hour and her conversations with Queenie and the cats.

Christmas Spirit Needs No Words
Ah, to be young and innocent forever, to believe in Santa Claus, to think there is that brief moment when all animals are capable of conversation. We do talk to animals, primarily to household pets, but the response is little more than a bark, a meow, a wagging tail, a sloppy kiss or maybe a quizzical look. And sometimes, mostly with cats, they just plain ignore us.

We wonder what they would tell us if they could talk — and what they’re trying to tell us in their pleading looks, meows and barks. The lack of two-way verbal communication is the chasm between man and animals.

But let’s get back to the real world as we come to Christmas ’02.

In many homes, our household pets enjoy extra rations; the same with livestock, and the birds, squirrels, rabbits and other creatures that visit feeding stations on our lawns and fields.

Christmas is a time for giving — giving to all who bring pleasure to our lives, and we realize that just in the act of giving we receive additional pleasure — whether the recipient is a spouse, offspring, parent, sibling, friend, perhaps a total stranger in need, a songbird at a feeder within view or a whitetail deer at a feeding station out of sight far back in the woods.

At Noah’s Ark, Santa’s 365-Shift
Such is the spirit of Christmas, but among many, the spirit of giving goes beyond the holiday. Take Noah’s Ark Wildlife Center on the Broadneck Peninsula, Annapolis.

Christmas Day will be special for 50 wild animals and birds recuperating there, with treats like chestnuts already set aside for ill squirrels. But for the Ark’s wide assortment of wildlife patients, most every day is a Christmas of sorts, and the Santas are volunteers who offer their time, dedication and love to all in their care.

The Santas are also those who make donations to finance this busy rehabilitation center, businesses and individuals who contribute time and materials to convert what was a big garage to a state-of-the-art wildlife clinic and operating room. And let us not overlook Velvet and Ted Kitzmiller, who founded Noah’s Ark and still supervise its operation — from personally giving and overseeing care for the animals to raising the funds to keep the Ark afloat.

No, the animals can’t talk, but if they could, think of what they would say about the Kitzmillers, their band of volunteers, the donors, the county government and the many others who make it all possible.

One at Noah’s Ark is the small screech owl that suffered serious head and eye injuries when hit by a motor vehicle. Like the other 50 birds and animals now at the Ark, it won’t even know it’s Christmas, never mind a time when folklore has it that it should be capable of talk. But, says Ted Kitzmiller, it can look to a little extra rations and care on the holiday. And maybe, just maybe, by New Year’s Day, it will be back on the wing in the wild.

Several hawks also are on the road to recovery and once again will fly. There are squirrels, ducks, rabbits, opossums, geese, songbirds of many species and so much other wildlife — most destined to return to life as normal in their natural habitat.

Of all the adult animals and birds brought to the ark, half regain their health and return to the wild. Of the newborn, the recovery rate is 90 percent. Consider that this year alone, more than 1,500 “patients” have been cared for, and you realize why, on Christmas Day, Ted and Velvet will be making their rounds.

“It’s something that has to be done,” says Ted, a plumber by trade, who got into serious wildlife rehabilitation when he saw a newspaper advertisement seeking a plumber to do some volunteer work at another wildlife facility. He got hooked, so did Velvet, and slowly they started Noah’s Ark out of their Pasadena home, took courses, read anything available on the subject and did some on-the-job training.

They have recruited veterinarian services, emergency and diagnostic, on a volunteer basis, have set up operating facilities, have provided appropriate cages and pens for various species, and are available on a 24-hour basis if need be for an animal or bird that needs immediate attention.

But all needs aren’t satisfied by the volunteer route. There is medication, special food, utilities, appropriate facilities for animals requiring special cages or pens and so much else. Maybe the birds and animals don’t realize it’s Christmas time, but we do.

Ted urges us to feed wildlife not just this Christmas Day and not to forget they also need water. The more healthy the birds and animals, the less likely many will need the services of the Ark. And, he didn’t ask, but we can help big time by donating to Noah’s Ark Wildlife Center, 380 Broadneck Road, Annapolis, MD 21401. Any questions, call 410/626-7700.

Make this a special Christmas for one and all.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly