Steamboat Springs Tracy Bye has loved animals her whole life and has been taking care of them for most of it.
When she was 8 years old, a swarm of monarch butterflies descended on her hometown of Boulder. By volume alone, many of those were hit by cars and injured. So Bye started a butterfly hospital at her house, repairing wings until the butterflies could go free.
For the past 16 years, that home animal hospital has continued, in a much bigger way. Bye runs Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center out of her house, garage and backyard.
"I've always been an animal lover, and I guess my relationships with animals have always been easy - easier than with people, sometimes," Bye said.
As a Colorado Division of Wildlife licensed wildlife rehabilitator for Steamboat Springs, Bye takes in animals of all sizes and ages and cares for them with the eventual goal of reintroducing them into the wild. It's a volunteer effort that picks up during the summer, when Bye is on break from teaching sixth-grade math and science at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
"I do everything from baby field mice to moose, and baby bluebirds to eagles. We've gotten all sorts of wildlife," Bye said. On Friday morning, Bye's rehab center housed a variety of animals, including an infant ground squirrel, two deer fawns and a young antelope calf.
Each day, Bye feeds her animals once every four hours or so. The deer and antelope get special solutions, and the tiny ground squirrel gets an electrolyte-heavy solution Bye described as "Gatorade for chipmunks." Injured animals - housed in an "ICU" in Bye's garage - might get medication, and species in pens around Bye's backyard hopefully get one step closer to getting back to their natural habitat. Bye has had as many as 33 animals at the facility at one time and sees an average of 100 in a year.
Leave wild animals wild
Born Free's inhabitants can come to Bye directly from DOW. She also often receives calls from people who are concerned about an animal they think has been injured or abandoned.
A good portion of Bye's patients have been hit by a car or in the case of a recently rehabilitated badger that was stepped on by an elk, have been otherwise impaired. But the two deer fawn in Bye's backyard came in with people who thought they had been abandoned; they hadn't been.
"People are just trying to be compassionate, and they pick them up when they shouldn't," Bye said. Young animals, particularly deer fawn, are naturally equipped to lay low and act lethargic, Bye said. Those traits sometimes make passerby think the animals have been abandoned, when often the doe is nearby, she said.
DOW has fielded a higher volume of calls about abandoned or injured animals recently, said Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager for Steamboat Springs.
"If they run across something and they think it's been abandoned, they should call us immediately, and we will look into it. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, they have not been abandoned," Haskins said. It is illegal to possess wildlife in Colorado, so people should not take in any animals on their own, he said.
"People should not pick these things up - they just shouldn't. The common ones we have are birds and fawns, and there are no real circumstances where people can be in legal possession of these things," Haskins said.
Bye and Haskins dispelled a myth that fawns can't be returned to their mothers after they've been in contact with people.
"That's hocus pocus," Haskins said. "We have people bring in fawns, and even as much as a day later they've been handled by several people, and the doe will go back and hook up with them, and they're good."
Bye can care for a wide variety of animals at Born Free but isn't licensed to take in bats or skunks; those animals bring greater risk of disease, she said. Born Free usually keeps animals for about a year, and is busiest from April to September, Bye said.