In the eyes of many animals, Sue Burton might be a saint.
Burton is a volunteer wildlife rescuer based in Williams Lake who at any moment, is ready to help when an animal is in need.
“Now I’ve come to the point where I don’t have anything alcoholic to drink anymore,” she explained of her desire to be ready to go.
“I’ve got a bear cub crate in the back of my truck 24-seven.”
Even though she has more trouble seeing at night now and waits to go out until morning in many situations, she tries to be there as soon as she can.
Her work rescuing animals in this area began in 2008, though she had been rescuing them in other places she lived, when she came across an injured muskrat in the winter on Fox Mountain.
She has been rescuing everything you can imagine since then, and word has spread she is the person to call, with RCMP, conservation officers, and the SPCA calling her up or giving out her number to those looking for help in rescuing injured wildlife and transferring them to appropriate care.
These connections took years to develop, but now she covers a large area, rescuing animals as far south as Cache Creek, as far west as Bella Coola and east and north to Horsefly and Likely at times.
With a soft spot for all animals, Burton has rescued bear cubs, injured deer, eagles, birds of all kinds and even the smallest creatures.
She has even live-trapped pack rats to relocate them to uninhabited areas and has a big rope in her horse’s water trough so anything which falls into the trough can climb out.
“I don’t care how tiny they are, to me everything has a soul and deserves to live.”
While she helps to rescue the wildlife, Burton does not keep the animals. Instead, she has relationships with animal rescue and wildlife rehab groups across the province, as well as the local veterinary clinics, which she said are incredibly helpful.
It’s “not a zoo” at her home, but she does admit when the atmospheric river cut off road connections to the Lower Mainland and she couldn’t transfer a marmot she had rescued down to a refuge, she did have to keep it for a bit.
“The broccoli habit was pretty expensive,” she joked.
Despite the time, the fuel and travel expenses, food and other costs, Burton also doesn’t get paid for the work she is doing to help the animals.
“I do it because I enjoy it,” said Burton, who said while she has a separate account for donated funds she only draws on it when she has to for things like vehicle repairs and fuel costs.
Sue Burton’s wildlife rescue habit does have a bottle deposit donation account at the Williams Lake Return-It Depot, where people can designate their empties to help support her work, and Sherri Marsh at Urban Upcycle on Fox Mountain holds bake sales occasionally to help raise some funds as well.
“It really helps with the fuel,” admitted Burton, who sometimes drives the animals she rescues to different refuges and facilities, like Orphaned WildLife Rehabilitation (OWL) in the Lower Mainland, or Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers.
The costs, which has her working a flexible, three-day-a-week part time job that allows her to rush off and attend rescues when necessary, are only one of the challenges, there are also hazards associated with handling injured wildlife.
“I have to be careful what I go get,” explained Burton, who has only once been hurt by animals she is helping.
“Those talons go through your hands like butter,” she cautioned, recalling an injury she sustained while rescuing a Merlin. But she is not deterred.
“I don’t even think about stuff like that, but they are intimidating.”
Burton, despite her own bravery, praised the courage and kindness of a man who called in an injured eagle recently near 150 Mile House.
They tracked the injured bird through the bush, and the caller stayed and helped her the entire time, even having a glove torn from his hands by the eagle’s talons.
They caught the injured bird, and he carried it back to the truck for her, and she was able to transfer it to OWL for treatment thanks to Pacific Coastal. Bandstra Transportation also helps out with getting animals where they need to go, which really helps Burton.
If the bird recovers, Burton will try to release it in the region, and will contact the man who called it in to join her.
Those moments when she can release an animal back into the wild with someone who helped make it possible are really special.
Last summer, a family told her about an injured hawk. When it and another hawk were returned to her for release, she called the family and the two young boys were able to help her release the birds.
With eagles it can be even more special, because she said many times a mate will have remained in the area and will come to greet the returned eagle.
“It’s just amazing.”
Burton said with more people out in the bush, she usually expects to be out on calls more during the holidays, but spring is the busiest time of year. Burton appreciates the support she gets from family and friends, but joked about her preference for animals.
“I’m not good with people, that’s why I volunteer with animals,” she quipped.
“I think a tiny critter’s life is nothing to some humans, but to the tiny critter it’s a great big life.”