Swenson has been taking care of wild animals, sick or injured, since she was growing up in Minneapolis and rescuing animals from the family cat and her two older brothers.
"When my brothers used to give live mice to their snake, I'd kidnap the mice and put them in my closet," she said. "They had to start feeding it frozen mice. I was probably 11 then."
Twenty-eight years later, now living on Pleasant Street, Swenson is still rescuing small, helpless animals. Swenson, who moved to Gloucester in 1993, has become the neighborhood animal caretaker. Known to some as the "Bird Lady," she receives calls almost every other day from residents who have seen animals that are injured or seem to have lost their way. She said in June alone she took in 25 animals, most of them birds.
"But I've had squirrels, raccoons and even a family of mice once," she said.
Swenson takes the creatures into her second-story condo, cares for them and, depending on their condition, either releases them into the wild or takes them to the New England Wildlife Center in Weymouth.
Most stays are brief. Last summer, however, a young seagull was her guest for nearly two months.
Swenson had gotten a call from Beth Williams, who owns a business next door, saying an orphaned baby seagull was stranded on her roof. Swenson climbed up to the roof and rescued the seabird.
"She became imprinted on me and liked people, so I was worried to let her go" she said, because "people around here are mean to seagulls."
The gull eventually wound up at the wildlife center, which got it ready for life in the wild.
Liz D'Arcangelo, senior veterinary technician at the wildlife center, said that since last year, Swenson has been bringing in gulls.
"It is nice to have her on the North Shore taking care of the guys up there," said D'Arcangelo, whose offices are more than an hour from Gloucester.
Swenson rarely names the animals she takes in, though there was a sparrow she named Bubbles, and her daughter Maizi named the seagull Sam. Swenson tries not to get too attached to the animals, but sometimes it is hard not to.
"Just last week I had a little baby turkey. He was wicked cute," she said, then played a video of the bird from her red cell phone."I had to get it away, I was going to fall in love."
As many as 12 birds at once have been in the two-room loft Swenson shares with boyfriend, Roland Leger, her 11-year-old daughter and two dachshunds, Lulu and Greta.
None of them seems to be bothered by the stream of animals in and out of their doors.
"I don't mind it at all; it is good to know they are all taken care of," said Leger, a tattoo artist in Malden who has done many of Swenson's 14 tattoos and eight piercings. "The birds even sound beautiful."
Williams, Swenson's business neighbor, said she finds seagulls annoying and messy but thinks Swenson's actions are wonderful and unselfish.
"It is nice to know someone is willing to do that," she said. "It is an awful lot of work and a lot of money, all coming out of her pocket."
Swenson, a conservator at Swenson Schroeder Restoration, a china, porcelain and pottery restoration shop, estimated she spends hundreds of dollars caring for the animals.
"Just going to the wildlife center, with tolls and gas, costs me about $23. Plus I miss a day of work," she said.
People who call Swenson have usually learned of her by word of mouth, though she has left her number at area animal shelters and with veterinarians. She even includes a cue on her cell phones for an "animal-related emergency."
Swenson believes the city has a need for what she does and hopes to be certified to keep animals for longer periods to rehabilitate them herself.
Daughter Maizi, who helps feed worms to the young birds and no longer needs tweezers to pick them up, inherited her mother's love of animals.
But there is one animal not allowed in the house: Maizi's pet millipede.
"I'm not huge on those things," Swenson said. "Just like reptiles, they fascinate me, but I don't like them. Probably because they don't love you back."