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Nature & Nurture
Thousands of wounded wild things are brought to a Noble animal rehabilitation facility every year, where a cadre of volunteers, staff, and a selfless founder with a heart for animals do everything they can to give each one a fighting chance.
By Karlie Tipton
Photography by James Pratt
Published November/December 2014
As Hilary DeVries and Laura Kintz enter one of the sun-dappled twelve-by-eighteen-foot enclosures, more than a dozen raccoons are climbing up the sides of the metal structure or standing their ground, hissing and growling.
“They’re like kindergartners on drugs,” Kintz says.
Armed with sturdy elbow-length leather gloves and nets large enough for basketballs, Kintz and DeVries negotiate with a snarling raccoon, trying to coax it into a large dog carrier. They nudge the striped mammal with the net’s hoop. Finally, it drops in, and Kintz lobs it into the carrier.
Today is the culmination of three months of bottle feeding, mending broken bones, cleaning wounds, and everything else the WildCare Foundation staff and volunteers had to do to get this raccoon back to where it was meant to be: its natural habitat.
“Most of the time, we get the little guys in when they can’t even open their eyes,” says Kintz, WildCare’s release coordinator and a nursery team leader. “We hand-feed them, we raise them, we care for them—knowing we will only be successful when we let them go.”
Long before WildCare founder Rondi Large had plans for her Noble rehabilitation center, helping wayward animals came naturally.
At age twelve, when she was vacationing on an island in Maine, Large cared for an orphaned baby raccoon. In 1978, after she had moved to North Carolina to be closer to her future husband Tom Sanders, the couple did the same for two young screech owls until they were old enough to be on their own.
The next year, Large and Sanders moved to Oklahoma to be closer to his family. Large worked as a computer graphics and drafting department manager and helped raise three stepchildren, always with one idea in the back of her mind.
“I told my husband, ‘Once I’m ninety and retired, I’m going to work with animals,”’ she says. “He said, ‘Why don’t you save a few between now and when you’re ninety?’”
In 1984, with no formal training, Large obtained her rehabilitator permit from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and dedicated her front porch in Noble to any animal that might need her. Over the next five years, Large and Sanders took in a house sparrow, a Brewer’s blackbird, an opossum—one or two animals a year, mainly referrals by the Cleveland County game warden. Then, word spread. People, it seemed, were eager to help car-struck birds, fallen squirrels, orphaned skunks, and injured wildlife in general.
Large and Sanders saw 35 animals in 1992. Two years later, 309 came their way. In 1995, the public brought 800.
“I never imagined we would grow the way we did,” Large says.
In 1995, the WildCare Foundation was formed and officially recognized as a nonprofit. Soon after, Large decided to quit her job and dedicate herself full time to caring for wildlife on a seven-acre portion of the couple’s property.
“I told my husband I would get WildCare up and running in two years so I could have a similar salary as when I was working,” she says. “I’m still a volunteer.”
Large starts her day with a beaming smile, hair secured with a claw clip and ready to wear a new hole in her Skechers. After seven days a week and at least twelve hours a day for almost twenty years, she still hasn’t received a single paycheck. Now, though, she has help—a board of directors, three employees, a veterinarian, up to fourteen interns, and more than a hundred volunteers in and around her home.
“If there was no Rondi, there would be no WildCare,” says her husband. “From the second she finishes her coffee in the morning to the time the last staff member leaves at night, Rondi is working, seven days a week. You have to keep up or get out of the way.”
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The public can drop off distressed wildlife at the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter for WildCare pickup or at the WildCare Foundation. Oklahoma City Animal Shelter, 2811 Southeast Twenty-ninth Street in Oklahoma City. (405) 297-3100 or okc.gov/animalwelfare. WildCare Foundation, 7601 Eighty-fourth Street in Noble. (405) 872-9338 or wildcareoklahoma.org.