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Welcome to the next installment in our “Who Gives a Chip?” series, which celebrates the everyday heroes in our community. Their passion, and commitment to ‘giving a chip,’ inspires us, and we hope it will do the same for you.
The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, Connecticut offers “environmental education for all ages.” They offer a variety of fun and educational programs that encourage adults and children alike to get outside, explore the outdoors, and learn more about the plants and animals in their own backyard. The DPNC also has a wealth of information on various types of animal encounters, and helps people understand the best way to handle them to ensure the safety of both the humans and the animals. In addition, the DPNC rescues and rehabilitates injured or orphaned animals, reintroducing them to the wild if and when they are ready. One of those beloved rescues is Mr. Wiggles, an opossum whose mother was hit by a car. He was saved and cared for by Lori Edwards, and he has become a beloved ambassador of the DPNC (he even has his own t-shirt!).
We spoke with Lori, a Preschool Teacher and Animal Care Curator, about her role at the Nature Center.
How did you get started at DPNC?
About five years ago, a former classmate of mine contacted me to ask if I would consider working here. I started teaching preschool, and I went on to present educational programs in libraries and schools, which is how I started working with the animals. From there, I took an additional position in animal care.
What kinds of things do you do each day, and how do those things contribute to the organization’s overall goals?
Every day at the preschool, I encourage the children to explore nature, and hopefully instill in them a love of and respect for animals (and people) in the world around them! That is the goal of DPNC.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the animals you’ve rescued?
Although the Nature Center’s primary species of care is raptors and birds, we always do what we can to provide information and help for the public who bring in & call with a variety of different animals! Two years ago, I acquired my CT Wildlife Rehab Certification and have been focusing on opossum. Since then, I have rehabbed a little brown bat, barred owls, red tail & red shoulder hawks, song birds, woodpeckers, recently a chipmunk, and of course, Mr. Wiggles, the baby opossum who was brought in 1 1/2 years ago after his mother and siblings were run over by a car. This year we have had 2 successful releases of juvenile opossums who came in as tiny babies. I also mentored a co-worker who is getting her certification, so I worked closely with her while she cared for our most recent release, Oliver.
What is the hardest part of what you do?
The hardest part of my job is when you lose an animal that you have worked so hard to save, or when you lose a resident animal that you have worked with on programs and loved. A little over a year ago, I had to bring our beloved barred owl to the vet and knew she wasn’t well. I got to hold her in my arms and spoke quietly to her telling her how much she was loved and would be missed. Now that I think about it, that day at the vet in Hoot’s final hours was definitely the hardest day I’ve had. I knew she needed to be euthanized but hoped the vet could save her!
What makes it all worthwhile to you?
The look on the children’s faces when they find a worm under a log or the excitement they have at getting to touch a turtle or snake is what makes teaching worth it to me. I love being able to pass on my love of nature to them that will hopefully carry through their lives!
As for the animals, it’s a successful rehab and release that makes it worth it. Some birds fly right away and I know they’re going to be all right. Other birds fly to a nearby tree, and we get to watch and take pictures before they eventually fly off. With Baby Olivia (my first successful opossum release), my coworkers and I took a hike, and they helped me find the perfect tree hollow to leave her in. It’s really a special place to work, and I love being able to spend my time with people who share my love of nature!
What would you tell someone who is looking to make a difference in their community?
I would say that you should find what you’re passionate about and go with that. My passions are animals, nature, and teaching children, and I feel fortunate to have a ‘job’ doing what I love. It all comes naturally.
If you’d like to learn more about the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, visit their website!
The awesome folks who work at DPNC love Deep River Snacks!
Mr. Wiggles loves them, too!