“My first animal I ever brought home, besides your typical dogs and cats, was a...bear cub,” says Eunice DeMond.
Guilford residents may well recognize this compassionate neighbor and founder of Guilford-based Little Rascals Rescue and Rehabilitation. Now, Eunice is also getting recognized in North Branford, where she recently co-founded Little Rascals Thrift Store. Eunice hopes proceeds from the new business will eventually help her to fund materials, food and other needs brought by her very expensive, all-volunteer effort as a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Eunice and her business partner Michelle Hubbell opened Little Rascals Thrift Store (located just a few miles past the Guilford/North Branford town line at 1999 Foxon Road in North Branford), about two months ago.
As evidenced by her bear cub rescue at the age of nine, Eunice has had a life-long compassion for animals in need—especially those in the wild.
About 10 years ago, “I started acting on that passion,” says Eunice. She began by helping a friend and local animal control officer with rehabbing critters. Five years ago, Eunice pursued certification and became a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
About the same time, Eunice founded her all-volunteer, one-person operation, Little Rascals Rescue and Rehabilitation out of her home in Guilford. She’s certified to shelter and rehabilitate small mammal wildlife. In particular, Eunice takes in orphaned infants, including squirrels, bunnies, possums, porcupines, mice, voles, and rats. The tiny critters are a quite bit different than her first furry rescue at age nine.
“My family’s originally from Nova Scotia, and we used to go down to the camps and pick blueberries,” says Eunice, who found a tiny, baby bear and brought it home.
While an enraged bear mom could have easily attacked Eunice to defend the wandering cub, Eunice says, “Apparently, mother wasn’t that close!”
Her father instantly saw the danger and the cub was quickly returned to the wild. While that trip was uneventful, Eunice’s first brush with a wild bear wasn’t quite over.
“That night, I was laying there on bottom bunk at my grandparent’s camp, and I heard the door creak,” she recalls. “All of the sudden, here comes momma bear! She had sniffed where the baby had been all day long. I was absolutely terrified. I was trying not to breathe and trying not to move. She walked in, sniffed, turned around, and walked back out. I told myself, ‘Okay, I’m not bringing any more bears home!’”
While she may not have saved a single bear since then, Eunice rescues, rehabs, and releases scads of Connecticut-based small mammals each year.
Recently, her guest list included 15 baby squirrels as well as, “...some bunnies, a chipmunk, a baby mouse, and vole, and I just released some other bunnies,” says Eunice.
In some cases, the little rescues are received at Little Rascals Thrift Store, then transported on to Guilford. Because Eunice’s volunteer work as a rehabber requires her to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she has an isolated room to care for critters in need if she is in North Branford when a call arrives.
“My cellphone is always on—always,” Eunice emphasizes. “I get calls from police departments at midnight. I get calls from people all over the state—just Google ‘I found a baby squirrel’ and the DEEP site comes up, and rehabbers’ names and contacts are listed right there. I have squirrels right now from Waterbury, Wallingford, New Haven, Durham, Killingworth, and Torrington.
As Eunice can attest, each squirrel comes at a cost; and usually, the wildlife rehabber bears the brunt of the expenses.
“We’re not paid by the state,” says Eunice. “Sometimes people who bring the babies will ask us that, and sometimes they’ll make a donation to contribute to the cost. But for the most part, we’re paying for everything—and it’s expensive! If you have a squirrel from the time it’s a newborn until it’s ready to release, it costs about $200.”
Eunice says most baby squirrels arrive from situations where either the mom was killed by a vehicle or predation or escaped ahead of tree trimming and tree cutting, abandoning the nest. The parade of baby squirrels ramps up twice a year (squirrels are born in fall and spring). Add on other baby mammals born in the spring and it’s easy to see why this is Eunice’s busiest, and most costly, time of year.
“Come springtime, we go broke from having to buy all the supplies—the fresh formulas, the new bottles, replacement nipples, all that stuff—for when the babies start coming,” says Eunice. “And then it’s all the bedding, the medications. It just it gets overwhelming because you’ve got to sink so much money in at this time of year.”
That’s why Eunice and Michelle decided to open Little Rascals Thrift Store. The two met as bus drivers for Guilford Public Schools (Eunice still drives a route).
“I always wanted to do something to help supplement the wildlife rehab and this idea came along kind of by accident,” says Eunice. “A friend ended up losing her home and wanted to get some personal items out of a storage unit, so I offered to bid on the items for her. But it turned out you had to bid on the whole 48-foot trailer! So I called Michelle and asked her if she wanted to go in on it with me. Then we said, ‘What do we do with the rest of this stuff? We’ll open a store.’”
Word of Little Rascals Thrift Store got out to the wildlife rehab community on social media (find Little Rascals Thrift Store on Facebook) and friends and supporters began adding inventory to help get the new businesses off the ground. Michelle continues to attend storage auctions to bring in new inventory, while fresh donations also continue to arrive from folks who stop by the shop.
“We have just about everything in here, in fact, we were hoping to add on next door because we have some larger furniture coming in,” says Eunice (the next door space has another occupant lined up, she says).
For Eunice, a little relief in the animal rehab expense department would be welcome.
“Formula is expensive. A one-pound can is $20, and I’m buying it in 5, 10, and 15-pound containers,” says Eunice. “But it’s actually cheaper when they’re on formula. When you start adding the strawberries, the whole nuts, the bananas, and more, it adds up! I add $50 to $60 to my grocery bill for greens, fruits, and vegetables. I’ll buy 50 pounds of nuts in bulk at time.”
Eunice receives some donations of materials which are a great help to her, from bird cages (to rehab tiny babies inside her home until they are hearty enough for the outdoors) to fencing and outdoor cages. But more contributions are welcome. Right now, she’s working to re-fence her outdoor enclosure and build three new enclosures, estimated to cost about $1,500. Items on her rehab material wish list range from chain link fencing to dog kennels, unused bird cages to kibble, and towels to baby wipes to pieces of fleece.
Sometimes, donations arrive in spades, including two from Bishop’s Orchards of Guilford in recent years. Eunice has had the opportunity to cut and keep hundreds of sunflowers from which she, family, and friends harvested thousands of seeds for critter feed.
“I get permission to go in and cut sunflower heads and we’ve trucked away thousands of pounds,” says Eunice. “Michelle’s yard was full; my yard was full—I have a picture of my sister sitting in 20 x 20 tarp covered with sunflower heads.”
Eunice often captures critters in cute photos, including several sold as note cards at the shop. Another of her photos, in the store’s entrance, could be titled “Squirrel with Pumpkin.” The photo was snapped after Bishop’s donated 500 pounds of pumpkins that helped Eunice feed a small army of rescues.
One expense Eunice is always very grateful to have covered is the cost of veterinary care for injured wildlife, thanks to the generous contribution of services from Branford Veterinary Hospital veterinarians Robert Schaper and Scott Gavaletz.
“Dr. Schaper and Dr. Gavaletz and everyone at Branford Veterinary Hospital are amazing people,” says Eunice. “They do whatever’s needed to save the rescues, and then they come to me to heal and be fed until they’re ready to release.”
Eunice has picked up many skills in her years assisting small Connecticut critters in need. She can insert a microscopic feeding tube into a teensy baby opossum (the marsupials also need to kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, in small felt pouches, for many weeks) and she’s a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to common questions about baby animals found in the wild.
“I’m constantly learning,” says Eunice. “I hated school, but after I graduated, whatever field I was doing, whether it was restaurants or the medical field, I always thrived on learning something new. I think that keeps you young and it keeps your mind strong. So if somebody walks in and asks me about an animal, I can pretty much tell them almost anything about it. If not, I’ve got the resources to look it up.”
As for taking in any more baby animals right now, “I’m full up,” says Eunice, adding the full house is typical because the number of baby animals in need is at its peak right now.
“There are actually quite a few of us rehabbers in the state, but there are also a lot of animals in need,” she says.
Little Rascals Thrift Store, at 1999 Foxon Road (Unit 2027) in North Branford, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; call 203-315-1991 for more information. To contact Little Rascals Rescue and Rehabilitation in Guilford, email email@example.com or call 203-623-5116.