Returning Animals to the Wild

Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, Outdoors, People
on February 4, 2001

Melissa Margetts will never forget the time she cut open the bulging stomach of a critically wounded cow elk which had been hit by a car hours earlier on top of Dallas Divide near Telluride, Colo.

The emergency roadside Caesarean section delivered a calf in obvious distress.

We grabbed her by the back legs and spun her around so the centrifugal force would get the fluid out of her lungs, says Margetts. I gave her mouth-to-mouth, and it took four minutes to get her going.

The calf, nicknamed Junebug, was nursed back to health and released into the wild.

On another occasion, she rescued a baby porcupine from its mothers womb using only her Swiss Army knife, cinnamon dental floss, and a little ingenuity.

It was my first C-section, says Margetts. I had to tie off the umbilical cord so the baby wouldnt bleed to death. I had cinnamon dental floss in the car, and I thought, what the heck.

The baby was dubbed Stickers.

Margetts, 44, founded the Rocky Mountain Ark Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Located on a 14-acre spread at the base of Mount Wilson near Telluride, the center takes in as many as 150 wild and domestic animals per season, many considered hard-luck cases after tangling with what can be the most dangerous creature of allhumans.

Our primary goal is wildlife rehabilitation and reintroduction into the wild, Margetts says. All we are is a second chance for these guys to be free.

Margetts, who once designed laser eyepieces for anti-tank weapons while working as an engineer for Honeywell, started the nonprofit Ark in 1982 after learning there was a critical need for wildlife rehabilitation in western Colorado. She gleaned much of her medical know-how from her father, a doctor who often doubled as the town vet in Telluride, a town of 1,309.

Not all injured animals can be returned to their natural homes. Those that are maimed or unable to survive in the wild are retained for education programs at schools and national parks. One is a sleek mountain lion named Ruby that Margetts uses in her mountain lion safety classes in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.

Other residents of the Ark include a bald eagle named Liberty; Chaos, a great horned owl; Spike, an African-crested porcupine; Wyle E. Coyote; a homeless donkey dubbed Jackson Browne; Elvis the mutt; and a sassy, exotic parrot named Diego, who seems to have picked up a bit of office lingo from his previous owners.

Right! screeches the brilliant blue and yellow bird from his perch.

In addition to her education programs, Margetts has established a pet lending library, which she believes may be the only one of its kind in the country. For $5, kids can get a library card and check out a pet, including chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, snakes, birdseven a tarantula in a locked viewing box.

Margetts, always thinking of ways to aid animals, never misses an opportunity to plant a seed of responsibility in the mind of a child. If you inspire one kid not to throw that plastic six-pack container in a bag without cutting it up, and he tells his son who becomes a teacher, and he tells more kids … you never know how it is going to steamroll. Waterfowl and small animals have been injured when they caught their heads in the plastic rings and couldnt work free.

The animal lover is on call 24 hours a day and often can be found behind the wheel of her green and white critter-mobile fashioned from an old ambulance and used to pick up wounded animals and bring them to the Ark for treatment.

The hardest part, says Margetts, is getting attached to animals that have the odds stacked against them. The easy part is releasing them back into the wild.

When it comes time for them to be released, she says, no media has to be therejust me alone with that animal in a field. It feels so good, and I just pack up the kennel and turn around and come back to the carand Im always smiling coming home.