GRAY — “Bittersweet” is how Maine Wildlife Park game-keeper Pam Richardson sums up her relationship with the animals she takes in. 

“Most of them would not have made it without us,” she said.

Deer, moose, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and birds of all kinds owe their lives to the family of animal lovers.

“It started when I was a little kid,” Richardson said. “My mother would often find snakes or mice under her pillow. I would put them there to keep them warm after finding them injured in the woods or on the side of the road. She wasn’t happy about that.”

Richardson’s daughter Nikki Young is the assistant game-keeper at the park. Her other daughter, Megan Richardson, is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, often volunteering at the park with her mother and sister. The three like to spend time together with their “orphans,” sometimes at the family compound on Little Sebago Lake or at camp on Flagstaff Lake. 

For the past few months they have been nursing several young moose. Because of the special needs and late-night feedings required, Pam Richardson takes them home with her at night. One did not survive; one is back at the park, and Ashley, who was found in Ashland two days after her mother was killed on the highway, recently spent her last night at Pam’s house before the heart-wrenching separation began in earnest.  

“It’s so hard to not have friends come over and see how cute they are,” Richardson said. “They get mad but understand that human contact must be limited. For now, I am pretty much (Ashley’s) surrogate mother.”

The young moose never strays more than a few feet from Richardson, she said.

“It got to the point where I would head to the living room at night and she would beat me to the couch and lay down on the floor. I’d drape my hand over the side onto her and that’s where she would stay until her 2 a.m. feeding.”

To get Ashley back into the wild, she will be sent to another rehabilitator in a more remote area to “wild her up” in hopes of being released, Richardson said. “She has become so used to humans that if she is released, it will be in a no-hunting zone.”

Richardson said she tries not to get attached to the animals, but sometimes it’s hard not to. Ashley, she said, will have a special place in the hearts of those who cared for her.

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