Wildlife Rehabber Retires After Lifetime Of Caring
Last updated 9/21/2020 at 3:30pm
Jeanette Schmitt’s neighbors are going to miss her dearly now that she’s moved to Asheville in her retirement – her bird neighbors that is.
Schmitt recently retired from her 44-year career as a wildlife rehabber, which, she said, was her life’s passion.
She’s recently moved into a senior living facility with her husband from her previous home in Pisgah Forest, where she ran her wildlife rehabilitation business and fed the many, many birds around her house.
“The Carolina wrens would call me. They would sit outside on the railing and they would just scream like, ‘Get out here, give me some food!’” Schmitt said. “And then they would just hang out on my front stoop. They had like a coffee clutch. They would all gather together, you know, talking to one another and then, eventually, they would fly off. I would give them little treats of food just to make them happy.”
She did the same for the crows nearby.
She would call them with her special crow caller and they would fly from miles around with their families.
“They did that for years,” she said.
A life-long animal lover, Schmitt said she originally started in the field as a veterinary technician working in Long Island, N.Y. She found her passion for wildlife, however, when she realized that most animal hospitals have little interest in helping wildlife.
“What really got me interested in wildlife was that the hospital that I worked at in Long Island, any time we’d get any type of wildlife in, the doctor would always euthanize everything,” Schmitt said. “He’d say, ‘Oh broken wing? That will never heal right.’ He would euthanize it. Broken leg? ‘No that will ever work.’ He put everything down. Everything…And so once I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh’…so I swore that I would probably devote a good part of my life helping them because they had no one.”
And devote she did. Schmitt estimates she saved thousands of birds throughout her career, often for little or no money.
She focused mainly on birds, but also helped small mammals, as well, when the injuries were dire.
Schmitt said since they weren’t people’s pets, wildlife animals did not make money for veterinarians.
Often she would help people who found hurt animals on the side of the road or on their property. She was their last resort to find the animal help. These people, Schmitt said, were “just wonderful.”
“People that rescue wildlife, they usually care about everything,” she said. “They care about wildlife; they care about people. They care about a lot because you know a wild bird is just a wild bird, but most people could care less about it.”
Schmitt has an endless supply of stories of birds she helped saved, and one thing Schmitt said most people don’t realize is that birds are highly emotional creatures.
“Birds have a lot of feelings,” Schmitt said. “Birds, once they know you’re trying to help them, they recognize you. I mean crows can recognize faces. All the birds that are released, they knew who I was.” She said that birds even mourn for their dead.
The feeling of releasing a bird back into the wild after she’d helped rehabilitate them, Schmitt said, was a feeling like no other.
She told several stories of badly hurt birds that she’d painstakingly helped restore back to health.
The work was constant, she said, oftentimes 12-14 hour days spent feeding, cleaning, warming, medi-cating, stretching, strengthening and singing to the birds.
Schmitt told one story of a hummingbird she helped rehabilitate, which was particularly difficult as hummingbirds are extremely delicate.
She ended up taking it to the family’s back yard who had brought the hummingbird to her, and upon release the bird flew straight back to the same tree the family had seen it flying around it’s whole life.
She told another story of a crow she had helped save who had spent significant time in her outdoor cage. Schmitt said the crow would spend its day cawing to the other crows in the area and they would caw back.
“They’re very family oriented, and they take in other crows. They kind of group together,” she said. “So, I let him go. He flew out on a branch, made a couple of calls, and one crow from my neighborhood flew down on the left side, and then another crow flew in on the right side and they flew off together.”
One story Schmitt said stuck in her mind in particular was the story of a young boy who brought her an injured bird with his family.
The boy had prosthetic feet, Schmitt said, and his mom said he was really worried for the animal.
“When he came into my house, he said, ‘You know, we have this injured bird,’ and his mom said, ‘Yeah he’s really concerned with the bird.’ And I said, ‘Well thank you for being so kind.’ He said, ‘Yeah I have problems too, but I can do fine.’ So I said, ‘you know what, where there’s life, there’s hope.”
And that has been Schmitt’s motto for the past four decades: where there’s life, there is hope.
Schmitt said she misses her rehabilitation work terribly, but is happy to be able to spend more time with her husband, their 16-year-old-dog and African Grey Parrot in retirement.
She hikes 2-3 miles every day with her dog.
She said she would still help any animal she saw that needed it — even if she had to sneak it into her retirement home.
NC Wildlife Resource Commission (Raleigh): (800) 662-7137; http://www.ncwildlife.org/injuredwildlife.aspx;
Appalachian Wild (Asheville area) (828) 774-8912; (828) 633-6364; Edith Allen Wildlife Sanctuary (Canton)-(828) 646-8639; Carolina Waterfowl Rescue (Indian Trail) (704) 668-9486; May Wildlife Institute (Banner Elk) (828) 898-2568, (828) 898-7188;
If unable to find help, call your local veterinarian for further information.