When Peabody firefighter John Spofford pulls up to the station to start his shift, he’s not alone. In the back of his pickup truck are raccoons in cages, or sometimes rabbits or other small animals. He carries a bag of baby bottles filled with formula.
Spofford, 51, is a licensed wildlife rescuer. He lives in Salem and also has an auto repair shop in Peabody.
“When I’m away from fighting fires and away from the garage, I like to go home to the animals,” he said.
Spofford specializes in rescuing small, orphaned mammals and cares for them until they’re ready to re-enter the wild. That means up to 50 animals live in cages in his basement or backyard for months at a time. Young raccoons are usually with him from April until September or October.
Critters that need close monitoring go to work with him. The raccoons aren’t allowed inside the station, per order of the chief, so Spofford checks on them periodically throughout the day and gives them their bottles.
“There just never seems to be enough people involved with wildlife,” he said.
In fact, many animal control officers and other animal activists are not licensed for wildlife rescue and rehab; there are only 50 to 60 in the state, Spofford said. As a result, the most common recourse for orphaned wildlife is euthanasia.
Training and certification are needed, he said, because these animals — from coyotes to river otters — are not pets. He limits their contact with human visitors for that reason; only he and his daughter Shannon interact with the animals regularly.
Rescuers are trained to spot signs of illness, particularly rabies, and to care properly for young, healthy animals. Spofford even underwent pre-exposure to rabies, which is a vaccination that greatly reduces the chance that he’ll contract it from a rabid animal.