Falling in love with her first wildlife rescue of a baby flying squirrel, Francie Hodges, 50, cannot imagine giving the cold shoulder to any helpless animal that appears in her path.
From a young age, Ms. Hodges’ heart has beat strongly for deserted and weak animals. Her passion has blossomed into a full-time wildlife rehabilitator serving East Texas, today.
Accepting the call to help animals back to health is her burning desire.
“It gets in your blood, and you just can’t help it,” Mrs. Hodges said. “It’s a big undertaking, financially draining, time-consuming and messy, but it’s worth it.”
Squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and baby river otters are a few of the countless creatures that have felt the warmth of Mrs. Hodges’ arms. Her phone line is open to any and all rescue missions that involve the need for shelter and food for both small domestic and wildlife mammals.
“She never says no,” said Dawn Fairchild, a state-permitted wildlife rehabilitator since 2008. “She will help any way she can … I could call her and say, ‘There’s a flying squirrel in Tyler,’ and she says, ‘Yes! Yes! I will take it.’
“She is so caring, and I know she is diligent and has a true passion for saving lives the way she does.”
Caring for these creatures comes with a big price tag. With special food formulas, medicine, vet visits and medical supplies, rehabilitators such as Mrs. Hodges are not funded by the state but survive on donations and their own wallets.
They spend between $130 to $300 a week, depending on the type and number of species.
Mrs. Hodges also is a wife and mother of two young men.
The animals’ lives can be fragile and a ticking clock, and meeting their demands can be time-consuming.
“It’s the hardest work you will ever do because it’s 24-7, seven days a week,” Ms. Fairchild said.
Mrs. Hodges customizes her patients’ care.
No bigger than a size of a quarter, baby squirrels, for example, require hours of daily care until they can survive on their own in nature.
“I don’t let them get imprinted too much,” Mrs. Hodges said. “You have to be careful not to have them around people too much.”
But the ones headed for adoption someday get treated to kissed noses and rubbed bellies.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” Mrs. Hodges said. “I have always liked animals and had pets growing up. It’s just one of those things.”
Ms. Fairchild added, “I would never hesitate to put any baby (animal) in Francie’s hands.”
Mary, a Boston terrier and mother of eight puppies, is the newest addition under Mrs. Hodges care. With a history of abuse, the dog, originally from Houston, at times has to be reminded with a sweet tone and gentle touch that “everything is OK.”
“She looked at me with these eyes, (saying), ‘I know you are really going to help me. I’m really in need of your help,’ and we just had this connection,” said Mrs. Hodges.
Like Mary, hundreds of animals’ hearts imprinted with Mrs. Hodges’ love leave to new homes.
“It’s the good feeling I get knowing I’m helping others and I’m helping animals,” Mrs. Hodges said.