CRITTER CHATTER: Wildlife rehab means hard work with no profit

By Jayne Winters

Donald and Carleen Cote established the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Care Center in Vassalboro in the mid-1960s. What did that involve?
To rehabilitate wildlife, you must hold a valid state of Maine Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Permit. In addition to completing a Departent of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife application, you must also take an exam and meet several requirements. A Federal Rehabilitation Permit is also required if you wish to rehab species such as migratory birds and threatened or endangered species, which are managed under federal regulations. You can find information, visit the Maine IF&W website and search for “wildlife rehabilitation.” They have a pamphlet, “Wildlife Rehabilitation:Is It for You?” that provides a good overview of what’s involved in rehabilitating wildlife.
By 1964, the Cotes had received all five federal and state permits necessary to raise waterfowl and rehab wildlife. As their names and quality care became familiar with local wardens and veterinarians, wildlife “patients” increased. Initially, Carleen was able to care for the few babies that required frequent feedings by bringing them to work, and her retirement in 1990 eased the pressure since she was at home to answer the phone, take in wildlife and provide care around the clock.
Mammals eventually outnumbered birds, and the Cotes found it difficult to find time for all, especially baby birds, which demand considerable one-on-one time. In 1997, they met with Diane Winn and Marc Payne, founders of Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. Although the Cotes continued to care for birds, many were — and continue to be — transferred to Avian Haven.
In 1998, at the suggestion of several friends/supporters, Carleen submitted paperwork required for Duck Pond to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Simply put, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is an organization that has been approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt charitable organization. These typically include advocacy groups for human rights, animal rights, land conservation, environment, general emergency relief, etc. They do not earn profit and are primarily supported with donations from people like you and me. Besides the federal tax exemption, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit can receive grants, can provide tax deductions to individual donors, may receive special postage rates and other discounts.
Nonprofits still have to file tax reports annually, documenting every purchase related to the organization. In the case of Duck Pond, any unused animal-related purchases, like cages and food, cannot be sold; they must be given to another nonprofit. In addition, if the nonprofit closes, its remaining assets must be given to another charity.
The work the Cotes have done for 55 years – yes, 55 years! – is not simply feeding sweet baby animals until they’re well enough for release. It’s also hard physical work, 24/7 feeding schedules, ordering supplies, extensive travel in all kinds of weather, and commitment to tedious, required paperwork. No one makes a salary. No one gets reimbursed for time or gas. Every dollar donated to the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Care Center goes directly to the care of the animals: the orphaned fawn, the injured raccoon, the starving bobcat.
Donald Cote operates the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center at 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro. For more information, call 207-445-4326 or email

PHOTO: An injured immature eagle that arrived at the Wildlife Care Center. (Submitted photo)