Richard Smith’s initial contact with wildlife began at age four when he got his first pet, a turtle. The little boy and the wee creature spent many happy hours playing with his toy station wagon. Richard enjoyed watching his pet propel across the hardwood floor inside the vehicle until one day his mother noticed the reptile’s back legs hanging onto the toys tailgate as if its life depended on it, and put a stop to the joyrides. It was Richard’s first lesson in the humane treatment of animals - a lesson he never forgot. By age six, like most boys, he upgraded to non-poisonous snakes, and insects, which he had no trouble locating in his immediate surroundings.
Born in Winnipeg, he enjoyed wakening to the songs of Meadowlarks, watching gophers frolicking through the long grasses diving into their burrows at the slightest threat from man or beast and studying groundhogs, best known as marmots, fattening up on vegetation in preparation for the long winter’s hibernation.
During his formative years, when visiting his uncle, he was exposed to various farm animals; he learned to milk cows, hitch horses to the plough, cook up slop for the pigs and gather eggs. A favourite pastime was watching chicks hatching in incubators.
As an adult, Richard worked in road construction with the Ministry as a Civil Engineering Technician. Work in remote areas often brought him into wildlife territories, where he encountered deer, elk, moose, a number of black bears, mountain goats, sheep, beavers, a colony of marmots, and a few skittering salamanders. One of his greatest thrills was seeing a couple of Kermode, better known as B.C.’s white spirit bears. He never felt threatened by wildlife; the crews were educated on bear avoidance and each given a can of bear spray.
Richard retired in 1993 and began looking for a new journey. His love of hockey led him to the Surrey Eagles, where his volunteer time has been put to good use in the penalty box, as a rule judge and now in security. While enjoying the game, he found the daylight hours were long and the search was on for another volunteer opportunity. An ad in the *Langley Times* sought volunteers for The Critter Care Wildlife Society.
When Richard arrived on the scene and took in the sights of raccoon, squirrel, deer, possum, otters, beavers, skunks, black bear cubs and a resident bobcat, he knew he’d found a new calling. He used the carpentry skills he learned as a lad working alongside his dad, building new pens and revamping and upgrading existing out buildings.
He began noticing the chirring from nearby raccoon “coon-dominiums” and started taking his breaks watching the antics of the masked marvels. It wasn’t long before he was hooked by his heartstring. When the next batch of orphaned kits were dropped off on his watch, he learned the rituals of bottle feeding, burping and stimulating the little critters and, for the first time, felt the joy of a neck nuzzling from a baby raccoon. Little did he know at the time that he was also getting his first raccoon hickey.
On average, Critter Care takes in more than 1,000 animals a year. These animals rely on human generosity to feed and house the sick, injured and orphaned until they are released back into the wild. Richard spends his mornings preparing donated food to feed the shelter’s guests.
“I believe that mankind has a responsibility to help other species as we help our own,” he says. “Many problems that wildlife encounters are man-made and are not a part of their genetic avoidance systems; they run into situations they aren’t prepared to deal with. All baby animals are born dependant and are not biased to who cares for them, their wants are simple - to be fed, to be kept stimulated, and to be safe until entering the independent stage, then to be released."
"I volunteer at Critter Care and for the Surrey Eagles hockey club and I have found that volunteering can be quite rewarding. You’re not taking a paying job away from anyone, and you feel darn good doing it.”
While Richard spends his days at the shelter, feeding and acting as handyman, he sees the need for educating the public on co-existing with urban wildlife and feels that the provincial government should take a larger role in protecting, supporting and educating its citizens.
“After all," he says, "the brochures all tout Beautiful British Columbia and its wildlife, which bring in the tourist dollars. It’s a pity some of the monies aren’t shared with B.C.’s wildlife shelters.”
MAY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND