What do you do with a cougar that has two broken legs?
If you’re Helen Jameson, a Blewett farmer who has cared for thousands of animals since 1966, the answer is simple: you put its legs in casts, source roadkill to feed it, and take care of it until it’s ready to return to its natural habitat.
“I’ve been taking care of the wildlife so long it’s just a way of life for me, and hopefully I’ll keep doing it until the day I die,” Jameson told the Star, after it was announced that she would be this year’s Citizen of the Year.
“I’ve been bitten and clawed by just about anything that can bite or claw you. I’ve taken care of cougars and bobcats and deer and moose and elk, not to mention thousands of birds.”
And it’s never gotten old.
“There have literally been hundreds of these animals who have come into my life, and I’ve loved every single one of them.”
Jameson’s mission in life began when a conservation officer came on to her property to set up a bear trap five decades ago. After informing him that the bears weren’t bothering her, and that she wouldn’t allow it, the conversation led to the animals in his charge that nobody was willing to take care of.
“I said I would do whatever I could, and he started bringing me birds and other small animals. I wasn’t keeping them as pets, though. You care for the animal properly, give it food and have as little contact with it as possible.”
The ultimate goal is always to release them back to the wild, so she doesn’t give them names or get too attached. And as word of her work got out there, more and more people started to contribute. For years she ran a weekly milk drive with Save-on Foods that ensured the animals were fed properly.
But as she gets on in years — Jameson lost her husband two years ago — she’s questioned whether or not she can continue this work. After the conservation service took a bear from her property, an incident that deeply upset her, she considered giving up.
“It sort of knocked me for a loop. I was on my own and really in a bad place, and I thought I just didn’t need it anymore. But I’ve recovered from that, and once again I’ve accepted what’s been dealt to me. I’ve got a good relationship with the conservation officers now and I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”
When she learned she had been named Citizen of the Year, Jameson could hardly believe it.
“It makes me quite excited. I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to nominate me. I think this is going to be a really great experience where I can meet more people, and they can realize how important it is to try to save our wildlife,” she said.
“We don’t want to lose any one of our species, we want to look after them all.”
The Citizen of the Year gala will be held at St. Joseph elementary school on March 31. It is the 53rd time the award has been handed out by the Knights of Columbus, with the Nelson Star coming on as a sponsor in recent years.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and dinner is at 6 p.m. The evening will be hosted by former Nelson Star editor Bob Hall.