Dr. and Mrs. Doolittle’s animal rehab

Editor's note: While the events of this story have been successful for this family, wildlife experts advise against handling or caring for wildlife, injured or otherwise.

May is National Be Kind to Animals Month. Basin Electric Lead Inventory Analyst Linda Binstock, her husband, Derek, and their daughters are shining examples of what it means to truly care for all creatures, great and small. The Binstocks are members of Basin Electric Class C member Capital Electric Cooperative in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Linda and Derek Binstock and their daughters.

Linda says she has been an animal lover her whole life. When she was growing up, her family always had a cat or two that came to live with them either from the pound or as a stray. That continued when she left home, adopting a dog while still in college then another right after. When one of them ruptured a disk in her back, Linda flew the dog to Minneapolis for surgery – while on a college student’s fixed income. When the dog didn’t make it after the surgery, she loaded up her car and drove from Montana to Minneapolis to pick her beloved dog’s body up to lay it to rest.

It's no surprise that when she got married, the man she chose was an animal lover, as well, and for years they cared for an adopted pet or two while raising their daughters to do the same. Little did Linda know, though, that her husband would one day become a real-life Dr. Doolittle. 

It all started in 2020 when Derek found an injured dove under a tree in his neighbor’s yard after a storm. Not finding the mother bird anywhere in sight, he took it home, warmed it up, and researched how to care for a baby dove. “I learned that baby doves don’t eat bugs and berries like some other birds – the mother feeds them crop milk from her mouth, so I made a contraption to imitate the process and it worked,” he says. He cared for the bird for about a month before it was ready to be on its own. He said in a social media post, “I hate to set her free but know I have to. It (letting her go) was the end of a chapter. She flew off with a bunch of other doves in the neighborhood. I saw her hanging out by the feeders today. She is happy with her new crew.”

He no sooner let the dove go when he saw another one laying on the ground with a damaged wing. Though he didn’t think the bird would survive, he gauzed up the wound, bound up its wing, and brought it into their garage. “He kept getting better but he hated me,” Derek says. “I named him Lieutenant Dan (after the Forrest Gump character) because he had a broken appendage and he was ticked off at me for saving his life. I’m hoping someday he’ll find God and thank me, but I won’t hold my breath.” Derek fed the bird and tried to help it fly. After a couple of attempts, it showed him it could move its wing, so he worked with it in the garage for about a month before successfully releasing it to live with the other doves in the pine trees in their yard. “He came back for over a year – I knew it was him by one of the distinct markings on his neck,” Derek says.

Lieutenant Dan.

For the next two years, Derek brought many animals into the Binstock rehab center – everything from a hairless baby mouse Linda found dying in the summer heat in a parking lot, a squirrel with a broken back she found on their boulevard, a baby blue jay, a fish that lost its dorsal fin, a finch, robins, and pigeons.

A baby blue jay a friend's daughter found under a tree during her birthday party.

Some of the animals lived and some of them didn’t, but Derek cared for each one until its last breath or until it could be released to live on its own. 

The baby mouse Linda found was so small Derek had to dip a tiny paintbrush in a goat milk compound to feed it. It was one of the animals that did not survive. Linda said she just didn't want it to die alone in the heat. One of Derek's bird friends makes itself comfortable on his shoulder while he feeds the mouse.

Of all the animals that have been housed in their garage, his two favorites were Skweekz and Acorn.

Skweekz was a baby pigeon that, when Derek was bartending for North Dakota Countryfest, an outdoor music festival, flew into the bar area just before about 10,000 people came through the main gates.

He put the bird somewhere safe so it wouldn't get trampled until he could look for its mother after the next concert was over because it couldn't fly yet. He had no luck finding a nest, so he brought it home and fed it using the milk feeding apparatus he used on that first dove.

Skweekz the pigeon.

Skweekz was the complete opposite of Lieutenant Dan. From the virtual iPad walks Derek took it on, to its milk then solid feedings, to its “spa days” when Derek would wash it, to tucking it in every night, the bird loved Derek like a mother.

After about two months, Skweekz started flying better and Linda could no longer park in the garage because it was the bird’s domain.

As the summer wore on and got hotter, Derek’s niece called and had found two baby squirrels in her yard.

After several days, the mother never came back and they couldn’t stand to see them suffering alone anymore, so one of the Binstock girls went and picked them up and brought them home where Derek cleaned and hydrated them.

While one did not survive, the other did, and he named it Acorn. 

Baby Acorn.

“The poor thing was famished,” he says. “After it ate, it squeaked really loud until I made it a little bed and tucked it in. That’s why I named it Skweekz.” He said the spelling was just to be clever.

“I had to figure out how and what to feed it, and no place in town had anything small enough (its eyes weren’t even open yet) so I bought the smallest bottle I could find and cut it down. Skweekz got jealous when I fed Acorn and would come perch on my shoulder.”

He fed them each four times a day – early morning, when he came home for lunch, at suppertime, and before bed. 

As time passed and Skweekz got better at flying, the time between flying away and coming back got longer and longer. Eventually the time came when it didn’t come back.

“I do see her around from time to time,” Derek says. “I know it’s her because she flies like the coyote in an ACME flying suit on the old Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner show because I taught her to fly – not her bird mom.”

Acorn continued to rule the garage, complete with the squirrel condo Derek built using cardboard boxes, chicken wire, and tubing. He made himself at home, running up Derek’s leg when he came home from work and helping himself to a fun-size Almond Joy Derek had in his pocket.

The whole family loved Acorn, and one of their daughters even dressed up as a squirrel for Halloween.

Acorn helped himself to some Halloween candy in Derek's pocket. He let the squirrel eat the almond off the top. 

He knew Acorn’s instincts were starting to kick in when the squirrel started communicating with its tail like he learned squirrels do in the wild. “I was learning everything right next to him,” Derek says. “He’d go outside when the garage door opened, but he would always come back. But one day, he saw a squirrel outside and he automatically went wild and never came back. He shows up around here every once in a while. I know it’s him because after having him for five months, I learned the way he eats. That, and that he isn’t as graceful as the other squirrels.”

Derek says when he finds an animal that seems to need help or when someone calls him about a seemingly abandoned animal, he always tells them to wait, because more often than not, the mother will come back for it. He says the zoo cannot take wild animals in because of concerns with diseases, so he tries to do his best to help the ones who need it most.

Poppy, a baby rabbit, and Wheezy, a baby dove.

“It’s crazy how attached the animals get to him,” Linda says of her husband. “I’ve always loved animals so I have a lot of respect for the heart he has for them. He is a great example to our daughters and all those who see the compassion and dedication he has for all living things. The work he does truly makes the world a brighter place.”

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