CRITTER CHATTER: New year brings new challenges for Don Cote’s wildlife rehabilitation project

By Jayne Winters

In light of Donald Cote’s recent recognition by the Natural Resources Council of Maine for his decades of wildlife rehabilitation work, the “Critter Chatter” column is being brought back to readers. As the new writer for this venture, I thought a good place to start would be to talk to Don about how he and wife Carleen met and started the Wildlife Care Center.
Don met Carleen Sirois at the Dairy Joy in Augusta when they were teenagers. After seven years of dating, they married in 1960, and after first living in a trailer in Vassalboro, purchased land on Route 3 and built the home where Don lives today. He worked for Coca Cola for many years and later for North Center Food Service; Carleen was employed by the Maine Dept. of Health & Human Services, in mental health and retardation. She retired in 1990 after almost 32 years of state service; Don followed in 1997. They did not have children, but they have fostered hundreds of fur and feather babies. Sadly, Carleen passed away in 2018 on her 79th birthday, April 27.
So how did they get involved with wildlife rehab? Interestingly, it began when Don read an article in a Sunday paper about a Cape Elizabeth couple raising exotic waterfowl to sell. He contacted the breeders, and over the next three years obtained his federal and state permits, enlarged the pond on his property, built a shelter, erected fencing and purchased birds from Cape Elizabeth and a breeder in Plymouth, Mass. In addition to permits, Don had to submit annual reports to the Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, listing the number and breed of birds he raised and sold, as well as those that died. Although Carleen was never really interested in birds, they were Don’s passion and she helped him with the business.
Returning home one evening, the Cotes found a sick fawn in their driveway, left by a warden. Unfortunately, the fawn did not survive, but Carleen’s heart was touched. Don was about to retire and he was making plans to replace some of his older breeding birds with new ones. They couldn’t afford to continue with the waterfowl business and start wildlife rehab, so the decision was made to let the birds die off naturally and focus on critters. New permits were obtained and cages built; food, general medical supplies and equipment were purchased.
The desire to help sick or injured wildlife is certainly commendable, but I asked Don how they learned the ins and outs of rehab. Obviously, they had gained considerable hands-on experience while raising the waterfowl, but he noted a lot of credit goes to the generosity and expertise of veterinarians with whom they’ve worked. Initially, Drs. Davis and Hersom at Pine Tree Clinic in Augusta provided medical care, but currently Drs. Darryl and Erika Praul and staff at the much closer Windsor Veterinary Clinic “answer the call” for surgeries, internal injuries, etc. In addition to observing procedures, treatment applications, suturing, medication and injection administration, etc., Don stated the clinics often donate medical books for their reference and use at home. In addition, close contact with a variety of folks at DIF&W, wardens as well as biologists, is maintained.

Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Route 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit federal and state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources and outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989. For more information, call 207-445-4326 or email

PHOTO: Carleen Cote, photo taken a year before her death in 2018. (Submitted photo)