Karen Rose didn’t understand why a Wall Street-type like herself who never really took to the outdoors started rescuing small animals, but she knows why she does it now. Karen runs Monty’s House Wildlife Rehabilitation, a licensed, non-profit 501C-3 small mammal rescue organization that rescues and rehabilitates squirrels, opossums, rabbits, and many other abandoned and neglected mammals at her home in Shaftsbury until they are ready to be released back. into the wild.
“It all just kind of happened. I remember I was in my pantry sometime in the spring of 2017, listening to a gnawing sound above my head. I knew something was living up there, so I put out a no-kill trap and caught a red squirrel. Then I did what you’re not supposed to do. I brought it to another zip code and let it go. I saw five little creatures hopping around inside my mudroom four days later. My heart sank when I realized what I’d done. They were my first rehab. A year later, I found a small gray squirrel in my chicken coop, so my dad built a small squirrel box to keep her safe until she was ready to be set free. I wound up naming her Monty.
“Something in the universe was sending me a message, so I looked into what it would take to do this, and soon after, I got licensed and started Monty’s House.
“I lost my younger brother when I was 23. He was 20 when he died in a rock-climbing accident. My brother was much more of an earthy, animal person than I was. He loved animals and volunteered at a wildlife center in Western Massachusetts. I always thought it was crazy that he was so thrilled that he could go scoop poop and clean cages, but he was so proud of what he was doing. I couldn’t understand why he did what he did. We were very different people back then. Years later, I came to the realization that these things sometimes present themselves, and you’re faced with this moment in your life, a decision on what you’re going to do and who you want to be. The universe had shifted. This is not who I was when he knew me. I was an economics major, and in my head, I was going to be the next Gordon Gekko without the insider trading. I was going to conquer Wall Street. I am now a different person than who I was. I know somewhere he’s laughing.
“I was 23 when he died, and when something like that happens, you drill into what’s important in life. The rest of that stuff wasn’t important, Wall Street and fancy cars, all of it. Making that kind of money was no longer the end-all of what it’s all about. Whatever I thought would hold that status, it all disappeared.
“I just released a porcupine last weekend. She came in last Fourth of July, so I named her Indy for independence. A few months ago, a guy told me he’d hit a mama opossum late at night, and he turned around to find babies, so he asked if he could drop them off to me. He pulled up to my house in a rusted-out beat-up pickup truck and handed me a Happy Meal box full of six baby opossums. He said it was all he had to carry them in. I named them the Happy Meal Gang.
“This job, it never ends. I got licensed in October of 2018. I took in my first animals in May of 2019. It hasn’t ever ended since. This winter, I have a porcupine, squirrels that came in late, an injured opossum, and several others that came in over the winter. They stay with me over the winter so I can be sure they have a fighting chance when they’re released.
“All these critters that come through here would have a very different story if I couldn’t do this. There’s a trust there. Some deem squirrels as pests. They deem woodchucks as pests. But at the end of the day, they all have their role. I do feel like I’m doing my part. If not for me, who?
“There are plenty of people that say, ‘Let nature take its course with these animals,’ or that ‘if a mother is killed, the natural order is that the litter dies, that they become food for other creatures.'” But I think they deserve a chance. When you ignore it, you know what the result will be. When an animal comes up to you, it’s asking for help. If you can give it a shot if you can help, why not?
There’s a moment just before I release these creatures back into the wild, after all the weeks and months that I spend with them, that tugs at my heart. But there’s also this immense pride that I did what I could to help. I think people are generally driven to do good. In whatever way that sorts out for you, do that. For me, this is what I’m driven to do. If you had told me years ago that I would be doing this, I would have told you you’re out of your mind. I feel like if I can make a tiny impact in saving some of these creatures who are vital to our ecology and play a small part in a much bigger picture, I’m happy and proud to do it, even in my tiny corner of the world.
“I hope my brother is colossally proud of what I’ve become.”
Vermont Voices is an ongoing column about the people of Southern Vermont in their own voices.