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Dot visits with Donald Waters. Dot is among five injured raccoons Jennifer Waters is nursing.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Dot visits with Donald Waters. Dot is among five injured raccoons Jennifer Waters is nursing.

Valley's wildlife healers
Athens family part of group who rehabilitate hurt, orphaned animals

By Emily Peck 340-2408

The Tennessee Valley has its Dr. Doolittle.

Jennifer Waters' Athens home is the area hub for injured and abandoned wildlife. As president of North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators, she manages the rescue and care of hundreds of animals.

Waters says she and a 5-week-old raccoon, Dot, can communicate.

The tiny critter sits on top of her shoulder and takes food out of her hand.

Dot is among five injured raccoons Waters is nursing.

"She would have died if we hadn't treated her," says Waters.

The tiny raccoon contracted wolf worm after being attacked by a cat. The lethal parasite was removed, leaving Dot with a battle scar of stitches.

Dot isn't the only baby pawing around the Waters yard; six baby possums joined the raccoon.

Jon Harbin, a railroad employee, found the critters in the middle of a train track. A passing train killed their mother, leaving the infant possums for dead.

"Most of the people who call us are animal lovers," says Waters. "Lots of times they discover a hurt animal in their yard or underneath their house and don't know what to do with it."

That's where the 60 volunteers of the NAWF become involved. Waters says they have people trained to handle raptors such as hawks and vultures.

Waters either rescues or finds someone to rescue discovered animals.

The creatures are then put in the charge of caretakers who nurse them.

"Being president of the NAWF is a full-time job," says Waters as she receives another rescue call.

"Animals are constantly being put out of their homes," says Waters. "Their food supply is constantly in danger."

It's only after the rescuing and nursing that members of the NAWF perform their most important job, says Donald Waters, member of NAWF and Jennifer's husband.

Back into the wild

"It's a good day when you release them back into the wild," says Donald Waters. "You're not doing your job, if you're not releasing them back into nature."

It will be 11 months before Dot is ready to go home. Although the critter paws at his leg with affection, Donald Waters says he won't be sad to see her go.

"We want to return them to nature like they were," he says. "We don't want them to become too attached to humans."

They say Dot will not always be people friendly.

"She'll grow out of it in a month or two," says Jennifer Waters.

When asked why they devote so much time to animals, Donald Waters says the answer is simple.

"All you have to do is look in Dot's eyes and that'll tell you."

Jennifer Waters has been working to save wildlife for 37 years. She joined NAWF in 1999 and has been president of the organization for five years.

Although NAWF does not have a center, it is partnering with Morgan County Humane Society to build an animal rescue shelter. Jennifer Waters says they will be working hard to get the project running during the next few weeks.

To call

The North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators hot line is 883-0667.

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