Michelle Ray has â€œonly 40â€ wild animals living in her Lincolnton house and a piece of advice â€“ donâ€™t try this at home, folks.
â€œIt consumes your life â€“ thatâ€™s for sure,â€ said Ray, who has been an animal rehabilitator since 1993.
Possums, squirrels, box turtles and bunnies populate Rayâ€™s home â€“ both inside and out. They come to her after run-ins with dogs, cats and cars, and she does her best to help them heal and send them back into the wild.
A hospital administrator at Monroe Road Animal Hospital, Ray decided to become a rehabilitator while working as a veterinary technician.
â€œThey were coming in and a lot of veterinarians wonâ€™t take wildlife â€“ itâ€™s a liability,â€ she said.
After being licensed, Ray began taking the animals to her own home.
â€œIâ€™m not trying to save the squirrels form extinction, God knows,â€ she said. â€œI just donâ€™t like seeing the individual animal suffering.â€
Over the years, Ray has helped rehabilitate â€œevery species in the state except for a beaver.â€ The work has its ups and downs.
â€œWhen I first started, it was really hard,â€ she said.
Many animals come to her house with no hope of survival and have to be euthanized.
â€œYou learn that youâ€™re doing the best thing for the animal,â€ Ray said.
Others, however, heal. Just three weeks ago, Ray made a huge release of animals into the wild. She had had nearly 80 animals in her house.
â€œI was ready to go crazy,â€ she said.
The animals are kept in cages in three different rooms. There is also an outside location including a box turtle habitat where eggs have been laid.
Some of the animals who cannot be released in the wild become educational animals. Ray has state permits for these animals, which she takes to schools and the South Mountains Nature Day.
She emphasizes that these animals are not pets and that itâ€™s illegal to keep an indigenous wild animal as a pet in North Carolina.
The animals can carry lice, mites, parasites or have rabies. They also become aggressive. Ray not only knows how to sew up animals â€“ â€œI learned to sew myself up a while ago.â€
She says some people find animals and think â€œthereâ€™s nothing to it than saying â€˜God itâ€™s so cuteâ€™ and feeding it milk out of the refrigerator.â€
On the contrary, each baby animal requires a different formula and near-constant care. Ray travels back and forth to work with upwards of 10 baby animals in crab cages.
She also depends on the help of her boyfriend who works third shift and can care for the animals when she canâ€™t.
While it may be a time-consuming endeavor, Ray still loves the work after all these years, and sheâ€™s glad she became involved in it.
â€œI was interested in it, and I enjoyed doing it, and I felt like I was helping,â€ she said.
For more information call Michelle Ray at (704) 905-3551.
by Sarah Grano