Critter Stories

Freddy the Fisher, or What to Do with Spam

We learned early on that, regardless of age or political persuasion, almost everyone enjoys getting close to wildlife. On Valentine’s Day 1976, we had a full house for a program about furbearers with maybe a half-dozen critters on hand from various sources. A couple of them made quite the story.

Freddy the Fisher hitches a ride on Flip Nevers. (photo © Meade Cadot)

Freddy the Fisher with his caretaker, Flip Nevers.
(photo © Meade Cadot)

A fisher named Freddy was an orphan raised by Flip Nevers of the NH Fish and Game Department. Because the fisher always seems in need of good PR — and was being over-trapped at that time (as it is again now) — I asked Flip to bring Freddy for our program. Everyone loved seeing Freddy draped over Flip (the way a fur “coat” should be worn…) I, as well as several others, wanted a photo op.

Flip said Freddy spent a lot of time in his backyard fruit tree, so he agreed to take Freddy out and put him in one of our heirloom apple trees. That was a mistake! Putting myself in Freddy’s paws, what Freddy saw was great habitat . . . and off he bounded! That was the start of an agonizing couple of weeks.

I set out live traps below the Harris Center and had notices put in local papers. That resulted in an irate phone call from one neighbor: “How dare you release a fisher ‘cat’ that could do harm to my horse?” I tried in vain to convince her that a twelve-pound fisher was of absolutely no threat to her thousand-pound horse!

Freddy the Fisher in a midwinter snow drift. (photo © Meade Cadot)

Freddy the Fisher in a midwinter snow drift.
(photo © Meade Cadot)

I feared the worst for Freddy since it was midwinter and he had never had to catch his own food. But then I received a phone call from Sunny Hulick, who lived a mile or so from the Harris Center:

“Mr. Cadot, I have a strange animal at my bird feeder, and I’m feeding it hot dogs.”

That just had to be Freddy! So I grabbed a live trap and took a can of Spam from our emergency pantry. I put half a can in the trap for bait, and in from the woods came Freddy. Unfortunately, he escaped with the goods; however, he was so hungry, he came back for the second half. This time I got him, much to the relief of Flip’s family — and me!

Who’s in Your Bathtub?

A beaver spends the night in the Harris Center bathtub. (photo © Meade Cadot)

Pro tip: don’t leave a beaver in your bathtub overnight if you care about your wainscoting! (photo © Meade Cadot)

Over the years, the Harris Center has hosted many wild guests. One was a live beaver, which came from the New England Aquarium. An Antioch student who had been interning there brought us the beaver for an educational program, but because of her class schedule, she and the beaver arrived a day early. What does one do with a beaver spending the night? Back in the early days, there was still a bathtub in the upstairs bathroom at the Harris Center [it was removed during the green building renovation in the early 2000s], and so in went the beaver. But it was able to climb out of the tub, and the next morning we found that the windowsill had become a midnight snack!

Several years later, a fellow walking along the Ashuelot River during a bitter autumn cold wave came across the tracks of a shuffling loon! The poor bird had been frozen out of the river and was trying to go overland, an impossible feat for an animal whose feet are situated so far back on its body. Before day’s end, the loon was — you guessed it — in the Harris Center tub! That evening, there was considerable splashing and yodeling, but the loon survived. The next day it caught a ride to the New Hampshire Seacoast, where it was happily released back into open water.

Now Bear with Us…

The black bear population throughout New England began to rebound in the 1980s. The public’s interest in black bears grew too, and from the late 1980s through the 1990s we had a number of Get-the-Bear-Facts programs, including several with live bear cubs. Usually it was a cuddly, first-year cutie who won the hearts of children of all ages.

Jim Fowler of Mutal of Omaha's Wild Kingdom brings a wild visitor to the Tonight Show. (photo © Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom)

Jim Fowler was known for his wild guest appearances — such as this one on the Tonight Show — but nobody was quite prepared for what would happen during his memorable bear program at the Harris Center in 1993.
(photo © Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom)

But the program in April of 1993 was a little different. As I recall, there were at least 200 people in the audience — seated outside by necessity, most in chairs on the Harris Center’s lawn — when Jim Fowler of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom shared the platform with a couple other bear specialists. (Many in the audience, including me, remembered that TV show, one of the few featuring wildlife way back when we were young.)

As it turned out, the only available bear was well into his second year, not so cuddly, and beginning to look like the bruin he’d soon become. And right while Jim was pontificating, the bear leaned over and chomped into Jim’s leg! There was a huge and audible gasp from the audience, and our trustees in the crowd were probably thinking lawsuit. But Jim quickly calmed the waters by thumping his leg with his knuckles and saying, “Don’t worry, it’s wooden.”

Tony the Tiger in Peterborough

One time the stars aligned when two of our favorite author-supporters were both releasing books related to tigers: The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans by Sy Montgomery and The Tribe of Tiger by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. Well, it just so happened that at the time Glen and Kathy Eldridge had a family-friendly wildlife zoo in Greenville, with many of the critters actually living in their house — including a tiger! So we hired the South Lodge of Sargent Camp (the name at that time) and had a wonderful evening of readings from the two books, culminating with an appearance of a beautiful, and large, live tiger.

But for me, the memorable part of the occasion was seeing Glenn driving around Peterborough in his truck before the program and watching the reaction of people he passed on the street — to a tiger riding shotgun!

—Meade Cadot