1503 Critter care at Langley

Caring for Critters: One Year at a Wildlife Rescue Centre
by Nicholas Read

Victoria: Heritage House, 2021
$19.95 / 9781772033878

Reviewed by Caileigh Broatch


Caring for Critters starts at the beginning of Nicholas Read’s year-long volunteer service at Critter Care, a wildlife rehab centre in Langley, British Columbia, and the book logs his 12-month visit. The centre started in 1984 in a spare bedroom but has now grown into a five-acre animal rescue and has cared for over 50,000 animals since opening its doors. Gail Martin, the founder of Critter Care, noted the need for a mammal rehab centre in British Columbia’s lower mainland and, with the help of donations, volunteers, interns, and seven employees, they have cared for and released thousands of animals back into their natural habitats.

Home Away from Home, Read’s previous book, explored the ways animals are taken from their environments and spotlighted the people who helped them regain some semblance of normal life. In that way, Caring for Critters is a perfect partner to the previous book. This time Read’s narrative concentrates on a singular centre to create a 128-page profile. What sets Critter Care apart from other centres in BC is that they are the only such homes for larger animals: coyotes, bears, deer, and even cougars.

Entrance to Critter Care, Langley, BC

The book follows an obvious, albeit simple, format: 12 sequential chapters following the calendar year. Each chapter is influenced by the season. In the spring the babies arrive, in the fall animals are released back into the wild. Read’s diary-like format and friendly tone creates a deeper connection between animal and readers. In the later season, Read writes “For kids, September is a time of beginnings. New teachers, friends, classes. At Critter Care, it’s the opposite: a time of good-byes.”

Otter pups at Critter Care

Some animals who are homed by the centre, like Miss Dame, an elderly river otter, make recurring appearances throughout the book. Miss Dame (short for Dame Judi Dentures) is one of the first critters readers are introduced to. In February she gets new teeth, in March she has babies, in September she escapes back into the wild. “When she was rescued last December, she was barely alive, thin as a daffodil stem, and with teeth so worn she had to eat pablum.” The recurrence of familiar faces throughout the year, their challenges and triumphs, engages readers and the bond that is created puts personal stakes on the animals’ well-being and release.

While the facility is able to care for larger mammals, it also cares for small ones that British Columbians may recognize from their own backyard: rabbits, skunks, and yes, otters. While the facility may sound like a utopia for injured, abandoned, and orphaned animals, it sees its fair share of challenges.

A sleuth of bears at Critter Care

“Critter Care,” Read writes, “dedicated itself to mimicking nature as faithfully as possible.” The bear “caves” are sealed with felled trees for winter hibernation, and young otter pups learn to fish a man-made fishing hole. Despite creating a safe, man-made habitat for animals to recover, Critter Care staff and the animals they care for can’t escape BC’s sometimes brutal elements — hot fiery summers and crushing cold winters.

Raccoon received at Critter Care in leg-hold trap

The first chapter of Read’s book, “January,” is a quiet start. Critter Care endures one of BC’s cold, grey winters — temperatures that chill bones and freeze fur. Like flipping a calendar, there is only so much that Critter Care can anticipate and plan for the next month. There’s an air of unpredictability to book; you can never truly know what’s around the corner.

The animals at Critter Care are mostly young, mostly injured, and by spotlighting the animals’ raw vulnerability as they grow up or learn to survive, one cannot help but feel their heart stutter. You’d have to be a monster to not “aww” at a picture of baby otters — but Read doesn’t hold back on the reality of the situation either. Where there is vulnerability in the life of wild animals comes brutality, too. Not everything is bottle-fed and cuddly. Animals die. Some are beyond help and euthanized, and some are drowned by their mothers (as is the case with one of Dame Judi’s pups).

Feeding a beaver kit
Nicholas Read

Every story needs a villain, and the antagonist in Read’s book rears its head more than once over the course of the year. Read takes issue with the Conservation Officer Service, a provincial government department that has the legal rights to shoot and kill wild animals who pose a safety risk to the public. The need to place blame on the conservation officers, when the novel promotes the work of the privately owned Critter Care, is occasionally heavy handed. While the emotional investment and simplistic writing invites the younger audience in, the “frustration and tension between the two organizations,” as Read puts it, may introduce harder questions, and invites debate on the balance between human and animal safety. The issues he broaches in Caring for Critters exist outside of the Langley facility, and the discourse encourages his readers to take a look at their own animal conservation efforts and encourages a compassionate approach in their own neighbourhoods.

It is clear throughout the book that Read has a fondness for Critter Care, the people who attend to it, and for all the animals that passed through their door. The strength of Read’s immersive writing, paired with the full-colour pictures of cute animals (often cuddling toys or each other), makes for an emotionally charged story that invites humans to slip into the paws, or feet, of the other beings that inhabit this planet.


Caileigh Broatch

Caileigh Broatch is a writer from Vancouver Island, with a BA in creative writing and journalism from Vancouver Island University. Her work has been published in Portal Magazine and The Nav (VIU’s student magazine, where she was the features editor from 2018-2020). Her studies have taken her to investigate Canadian literature, gold panning, ghosts, and killer whales, among more academic topics. Editor’s note: Caileigh Broatch has also reviewed books by Nancy Hundal & Angela Pan, Denyse WaissbluthBarbara SmithAJ DevlinPJ Reece, and Susan Scott for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

VIP helicopter service at Critter Care

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