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Vet, 73, helped critters get home

May 3rd, 2003, 08:22 AM
Vet, 73, helped critters get home

Second career was devoted to wildlife
By Claire Martin, Denver Post Staff Writer

Veterinary surgeon Herman Dieterich died Monday of a heart attack as he worked on a holding pen at the Colorado Division of Wildlife's animal rehabilitation facility near Del Norte. He was 73.

Dieterich moved to Colorado with his wife, Susan, in 1988 after a career as a large-animal veterinarian and surgeon who co-founded the first animal surgery program in Texas. The couple became state-sanctioned wildlife rehabilitation volunteers, taking in orphaned and injured animals and birds.

Over time, the Dieterichs built what became the Frisco Creek Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, with an operating room, X-ray facilities and an exam room.

Herman Dieterich's main duties were in the hospital. He operated on injured elk, deer, bears, mountain lions, eagles, hawks, owls, antelope and the occasional moose. His wife fed the animals and mucked out their pens, careful to keep an emotional distance.

"Herman and Susan both are very particular about not acclimatizing these animals to humans," said Jeff Madison, the division's area manager for Monte Vista.

"They never talked to the animals, and they wouldn't allow anyone else to talk to them. They run this center with the interest of the animal paramount. If you mess too much with rehab animals, they lose their fear of humans and have a hard time once you release them. The Dieterichs worked real hard against doing that."

The Dieterichs didn't even name their own pets - not conventionally. They called their tawny dog Red Dog, and their black cat was Black Cat.

The Dieterichs also took in orphaned cubs and injured yearling bears, tagging them before releasing the animals back into the foothills and mountains. They built sturdy holding pens where the bears stayed until they were healthy enough to be released.

Five years ago, the Dieterichs became involved with the Division of Wildlife's plans to reintroduce Canada lynx, a short-tailed wildcat that disappeared from Colorado in the early 1970s. The reintroduction program involved live-trapping lynx in Canada and Alaska and releasing them in Colorado.

The Dieterichs, along with the wildlife biologists in charge of the program, learned the hard way that relocating a lynx is easier said than done.

After four of the first five relocated lynx died of starvation, the Dieterichs and wildlife management supervisor Rick Kahn decided to keep the live-trapped lynxes for a few months before releasing them.

"Fattening 'em up," Dieterich called it. They kept the lynx from December to April, modifying their black-bear holding pens for lynx.

"That's really why this project is working so well now," Kahn said. "If this project is successful, and I think it will be, I can't fathom how we would have done it without the Dieterichs."

Dieterich was a big man who wore coveralls that usually were filthy with lynx scat and bits of hay. People who saw him chewing tobacco as he walked down the street in Del Norte or Monte Vista often mistook him for a farmer. At Division of Wildlife meetings, he rarely said much.

"But when he did open his mouth, everyone shut up and listened," Kahn said.

The day he died, Herman Dieterich was working outside on his property, converting the holding pens to handle the orphaned and injured bear cubs he expected would begin arriving soon.

"He died where he wanted to be, with who and what he wanted to be - just not when he wanted to die," said his son Dirk Dieterich.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Frisco Creek Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit organization, P.O. Box 488, Del Norte, CO 81132.

Survivors include his wife, Susan; sons Dirk Dieterich of Colorado Springs and Dana and Dusty Dieterich of Dallas; daughter Dawn Dieterich of Dallas; stepson Jame Farrar of Royce City, Texas; stepdaughter Michelle Shannon of Garland, Texas; sister Evelyn Crump of Lindale, Texas; and seven grandchildren.