Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007
Volunteers rescued a swan which had crash landed at a sewage works at Uckfield today (Thursday).
Southern Water staff from Uckfield’s water treatment works called East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS) after the swan was still in the tank after two days, concerned that it could not get out.
Rescue co-ordinator for East Sussex WRAS, Trevor Weeks found his swan hook was 2ft too short to reach the centre of the tank so he was joined by Duty Co-ordinator Maz Marriot from Brighton to help out.
‘I had to climb into the overflow gully which runs around the edge of the tank which was slippery and make moving round the tank quickly difficult, the last thing I wanted was to fall into the central tank, which was rather deep and smelly!
‘This was a difficult rescue, as our swan hooks were just too short to reach, and the further you try to reach with a swan hook the harder it becomes to control them,’ said Trevor.
Initially the rescuers tried to corner the swan against the rotating arm but the swan got wise to the idea and climbed over, so they then tried a net drapped across the arm so the swan could not climb over. Several attempt were tried but the swan was still too clever at avoiding the swan hook.
‘We had to use a second net.
‘The swan, the swan managed to get under the net on a couple of occasions, but we eventually suceeded when the swan tried to climb through the net and we were able to pull the swan to the edge and capture the swan.’explained Trevor.
Trevor ended up with soaked clothing trying to catch the swan and had to have a shower afterwards.
The swan was found to be fit and healthy and was released onto a lake on the site where there were two other young swans of a similar age.
‘Our thanks to the Southern Water staff for there help with this rescue, there is no way this swan would have managed to fly out of its own accord as the tank was too small. The swan probably crash landed after experiencing turbulance crossing the by-pass and landed in the tank by accident,’ said Trevor.
Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007
Tiger ran away from home three years ago.
Kittens of a stray cat, Tiger and his brother, Bruno, were adopted as newborns by Marie Watkins and her family. Bruno belonged to Watkins’ son, Tiger to her daughter.
As the kittens — Tiger, white and gold, and Bruno, a black-and-white tuxedo — grew up, their human family kept them in collars and name tags with three different phone numbers. Still, the cats kept losing their break-away collars and the vital information they contained. Then, Bruno disappeared. Upset by the loss of Bruno, the Watkins made Tiger an indoor cat. But an open window and a loose screen was all he needed to get out of the family’s home near Westgate Park.
“We searched high and low for that cat for about six months and didn’t find him,” Marie Watkins said. “We even searched in the woods around Westgate.”
The family moved from the west side of Dothan to the city’s south side about four months ago.
Jean Dykes has been feeding and caring for stray and feral cats in the woods surrounding Westgate Park since 1997. Three years ago, a white and gold male joined the colony under Dykes’ care. A tag on a collar told Dykes the cat’s name was Tiger. But the new cat lost the collar before Dykes, a volunteer with Felines Under Rescue, could get close enough to get any additional information.
As fate would have it, circumstances came together recently to reunite the cat with his long-lost family. A Sunday Dothan Eagle story about Felines Under Rescue’s effort to control the stray and feral cat population in Dothan included a photograph of Tiger.
“We thought he was gone for good,” Watkins said. “We looked everywhere; we really did.”
The Watkins contacted Felines Under Rescue, met Dykes at Westgate Park and took their cat home. Watkins’ daughter, now 15, is already planning to take Tiger with her when she goes to college.
“I put him right in my daughter’s room,” Watkins said. “Within five minutes he jumped up on her chest and just started purring and drooling. He was always a drooler.”
For Dykes, seeing Tiger find his way home was bittersweet.
“I miss that boy,” Dykes said. “He was one of the first ones to meet me (at feeding times), and I’d scratch his head and he’d roll over on his tummy.”
Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2007
A 2 foot sand shark coming close to the beach of Coney Island, New York, has been rescued from a mob of swimmers by a Coney Island lifeguard.
“They were holding onto it and some people were actually hitting him, smacking his face. Well, I wasn’t going to let them hurt the poor thing.”
Marisu Mironescu, 39, held the shark in his arms and carried it, backstroking out to sea, where he let it go. He describes the shark as largely harmless.
“He was making believe like he’s dead, then he wriggled his whole body and tried to bite me.”
The group of about 75 to 100 swimmers was probably a bit spooked by the shark due to prior events.
Saturday a 5-foot thresher shark washed up on Rockaway Beach, sending hundreds of swimmers out of the water.
“We had a little bit of a punctuation mark at the end of summer with ‘Jaws’ junior showing up and frightening people,” said Adrian Benepe, the city Parks Commissioner.
Friday, Aug. 31, 2007
“Smile for the camera will you,” says Charles Carr holding his beloved Boston Terrier. “Tell them, ‘I’m glad to be home.'”
Carr is smiling today, because after more than two months of searching, he finally found his Skipper.
“It’s wonderful to have him home.”
You might remember when Skipper went missing from Carr’s Ocean Springs business. Carr offered a $2,000 reward and even produced this commercial ad which ran on WLOX. Carr says that ad and his long search produced a lot of leads, and even a new pet, but no Skipper.
“We had a lot of leads and we checked out several of them. And in the process, I looked in the pound and I found this dog we now call ‘Chief.’ He was about to die and be gone over the hill and put away.”
But this week, he finally got the call he’d all but given up on. It came from a Gulfport woman named Ramona Hatten.
“She said that someone that worked for Ingalls in Moss Point had given him to her.”
As promised, Carr paid her the reward, no questions asked.
“She was very nice and brought the dog back and she has a Boston female of her own.”
And Skipper isn’t giving any details about his adventure either.
“He’s keeping a tight upper lip,” says Carr. “He will not rat them out.”
But Carr doesn’t care, because out of this long and heart wrenching ordeal, he and his wife now have two dogs to call man’s best friend.
“Skipper used to sleep in the bed. Now Chief, the pound dog, he likes to sleep in the bed. And last night it was a fight to see who’s bed got both of them. I ended up with both of them.
All Jim Collom had left to do was pick up a guitar and sing as he rode off into the sunset.
Collom, an Oregon State Police trooper, turned cowboy Saturday by lassoing and rescuing a black-tailed deer that fell into an abandoned mine shaft outside of Jacksonville.
With the help of Arild Barrett and his two sons, Collom was able to toss his makeshift lariat around the buck’s velvet antlers and haul the deer out of the 20-foot-deep shaft.
“After we pulled it out, there was a half-minute there where we thought the deer was dead,” Collom says. “We took the rope off. Then it woke up, stumbled around a bit and took off.”
The 8-foot-diameter pit is the same place where Collom helped rescue another deer three years ago. It is one of several old mines along a public trail system on city-owned land managed by the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.
While hiking the trails Saturday afternoon, Barrett and his sons, 10-year-old Nicholas and 13-year-old Benjamin, stopped to read some interpretive signs about the vertical shafts.
The boys decided to take a short side trail to a large shaft, where they stopped at the rim.
“My brother said it would be hard to get out if you fell down there,” Benjamin Barrett says. “Then my brother looked down and saw a deer in there.”
The family beat feet down the path and tried unsuccessfully to rustle someone out of the closed Jacksonville Police Department office, Arild Barrett says. They went home and called OSP, then met Collom and Senior Trooper DeWayne Price at the trailhead 30 minutes later, Barrett says.
They found the frantic buck not too keen on seeing his would-be rescuers.
“I don’t think the deer had been in there very long,” Collom says. “It was full of energy and there was only one pile of poop in there.”
The Barretts held back tree branches to give Collom a chance to play cowpoke.
“It probably took about 20 minutes before I could get a lasso around his antlers,” Collom says.
Though all present helped hoist the deer to its eventual safe release, Collom credits the Barretts for ensuring one more buck remains in the woods this summer outside of Jacksonville.
“Without their help, that deer would be dead,” Collom says.
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007
A Long Island Border Collie is being hailed a hero after helping his owners rescue two boaters who capsized in the Amityville River.
Randy and Christine Ronback adopted the pooch named Smooch two weeks ago to keep geese off of their lawn.
And although they hadn’t had the dog for very long, they thought it was a bit unusual when Smooch began barking incessantly Sunday morning.
It turns out that Smooch was trying to get her owners attention. Outside their lawn overlooking the Amityville River, an empty kayak drifted toward the Great South Bay.
A man and woman struggled in the water as they tried to catch up to the kayak, police said.
Thanks to Smooch’s non-stop barking, Randy Ronback noticed the kayakers.
Ronback then jumped in his rowboat and paddled out to the couple in distress.
Ronback, a marine contractor by trade, used a crab net to rescue the man and then pull the woman on board.
The couple was treated at a local hospital and later released.
“She was the alarm and it was a good one,” Ronback said.
Smooch will be rewarded with a steak and extra dog biscuits.
Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007
Spencer the pit bull, discovered a year ago starved and dragging a 10-foot chain through a midtown Mobile neighborhood, is living the good life these days in Tennessee, his caretaker said.
“He’s a healthy boy now,” said Jessica Huggins.
Spencer’s not in Utah, where Mobile city officials thought he was being sent after a heavily publicized court case about his fate.
Huggins, 26, said Spencer lives with her and several other dogs at her home in Jasper, Tenn., near Chattanooga.
Spencer’s surprise trip to Tennessee started on Hunter Avenue in Mobile late in May 2006.
That day, city workers were called to pick up the wandering dog that was so emaciated he could walk between the bars of a wrought-iron fence. They took him to the Mobile Animal Shelter, which has a policy of euthanizing pit bulls because they are considered too dangerous to adopt out.
Many pit bulls are bred and trained for fighting.
All that was known about the dog was his apparent name: The leather collar around his neck had “Spencer” stenciled on it. No one came forward to try to claim him, possibly for fear of being accused of cruelty.
Media reports about Spencer and his scheduled euthanization prompted an outcry from the public, sparking a court case on his behalf.
Under an agreement announced last June 17 by Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, the dog was handed over to the Best Friends Animal Society in southern Utah. Best Friends runs a no-kill retreat for cats, dogs and other animals on several thousand acres.
Jones said that the outcome was “the best solution.”
As part of the agreement, Best Friends lawyer Russ Mead released Mobile from any liability for Spencer.
“Spencer will become a Best Friends dog, which means we will take full responsibility for him for the rest of his life. He will always have a home at our sanctuary,” Mead wrote in a letter to Mobile Animal Shelter Director Bill Fassbender.
Last week, Jones told a Press-Register reporter that he was unaware Spencer had ended up in Tennessee. But he said, “If he has a good home and the dog is not being euthanized, that was our purpose, to keep the dog from being euthanized. And if he has a good home, then I think that’s best for everyone.”
The mayor said he wasn’t angry about the turn of events and saw no reason to renew the court case. “Of course, we don’t have any way to enforce the agreement other than that they said they would make sure the dog has a nice home,” he said.
Mead said last week that Huggins has been a volunteer at Best Friends for years and is well-respected.
Huggins came to Mobile, Mead said, with the intent of booking a flight for her and Spencer to the resort in Utah, but the dog was in such bad condition that it was not safe for him to be caged and put on a plane.
Instead, she took Spencer to her home in Tennessee to nurse him to health, Mead said. Best Friends paid for the dog’s veterinary care.
“We checked on him every couple of weeks,” Mead said. “If he needed medical attention, we paid for it.
“Jessica (Huggins) bonded with him, fell in love with him, and he fell in love with her. They are buddies,” Mead said. “They bonded, and he turned into a perfect dog. She is with him, and we are comfortable with that.”
Mead said that if something goes wrong and Huggins cannot keep Spencer, he will always have a home at the animal sanctuary in Utah.
Huggins said her drive to Tennessee with Spencer took about eight hours. She said she put the dog in a crate and on a bed of blankets to make him more comfortable. “The blankets were soft. He took a deep breath and sighed,” she said.
“When I stopped to take a nap on the way back, I took him out of the crate, and he took a nap beside me.”
Spencer weighed about 40 pounds at the time, but he now weighs a healthy 65 pounds, Huggins said. He has also been neutered.
At this point, Huggins said, she is providing only a temporary home for Spencer while a Memphis group called the Hearts of Gold Pit Rescue tries to find him a permanent place. But, she said, she would gladly keep him if the group has no success.
Huggins said that when she picked Spencer up in Mobile, he was suffering from heartworms and a “horrible upper respiratory” problem.
Huggins said that she was once mauled by a mastiff dog she was caring for, but she does not consider mastiffs or pit bulls to be dangerous breeds. “It’s the individual dog, not the breed,” she said.
Spencer has not shown aggressiveness toward people, but he does become aggressive around other male dogs, Huggins said.
“It took him nearly a month for me to get him over being scared,” Huggins said of Spencer. “To this day, he has never growled at or barked at a stranger, and I’m still working on his confidence.
“He is just content to be rubbed and is so affectionate. He didn’t know what affection was at first, and he didn’t know what to do. He is totally different now and is absolutely wonderful.”
Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007
BARRINGTON – Barrington residents recently helped save a screech owl that had somehow positioned itself in the most un-owl-like of places. On Sunday, June 10, residents spotted a peculiar object in the middle of Dana Road: a baby screech owl, which had fallen out of its nest.
According to Christopher Zingg, one of the first residents to notice the creature, the owl appeared okay, but would not budge from its spot.
In the ensuing rescue effort, the residents made calls to local wildlife authorities and placed sawhorses around the owl to protect it from oncoming cars. According to Mr. Zingg, a Crossways resident, they eventually enlisted the help of Barrington Land Conservation Trust members Helen Tjader and Charlotte Sornborger, who suggested the residents contact the local Audubon Society.
Two members of the Audubon Society, Dr. and Mrs. Fletcher, responded to Dana Road and checked the owl’s health. They determined that, while unhurt, the animal was too young to fly, and placed it back in the nest, where it was later rejoined by its mother, Mr. Zingg reported.
Friday, Aug. 24, 2007
A HELPFUL little dog came to the rescue of an elderly neighbour who had fallen in her garden.
West Highland terrier Maisey sensed all was not as it should be as she was playing in her owner’s garden in Wootton Bassett.
Owner Ann West always knew the four-year-old was clever, but Maisey got a chance to prove it about three weeks ago.
Ann first noticed the dog becoming agitated when she started barking and pawing late in the afternoon.
“Maisey kept scratching my leg. She kept pawing me to the point where I got annoyed with her. I thought she was playing up. She kept persisting even though I told her to be quiet, which isn’t like her,” said the 53-year-old.
Ann became concerned by Maisey’s turmoil and switched off the radio, which allowed her to hear her next-door neighbour calling for help.
She rushed to the aid of Betty Stevens, who is in her 80s, and found her lying in the garden distressed.
“She was shaken after the fall and was worried no one would hear her and she would be lying there for a long time,” said Ann.
“I helped her back into the house and she was fine. I told her about Maisey alerting me and she said I love your little doggy and I am so proud of her’.”
Ann always believed Maisey to be inquisitive, but was still surprised by her sensitivity in picking up on her neighbour’s predicament. “She is a bright and active little dog,” said Ann.
“She is quite sensitive to things like the telephone ringing or the mobile phone running out of charge.”
Maisey shares quite an adventurous life with fellow pet terrier Teasel.
Both dogs have taken to the sky in their owner’s plane, which is flown by Ann’s partner John Pasternak.
The normally self-assured dog only loses her bearings when she is about 3,000ft off the ground.
“Maisey is an inquisitive little dog – she knows where she is all the time, but gets confused and excited when we go flying when she sees the birds,” said Ann.
Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007
It took two hours and three different emergency service agencies to rescue a family of ducks from a Sherwood Park manhole early Wednesday.
It was about 6 a.m. when Corey Chantler and his wife spotted a pack of ducklings on Sherwood Drive struggling to get up on the curb. As the couple approached the creatures to help, seven of the eight ducklings fell down a storm drain.
Worried for the ducklings’ safety, the pair called police, who tried to pick them out with a shovel. That didn’t work, so eventually they called a Strathcona County work crew, which came by with a bucket and rope. In the meantime, workers blocked off two lanes of traffic in order to co-ordinate the rescue.
“So many had fallen down there, and the mother was wandering around trying to find out where they were,” Chantler, a 22-year-old electrician, said Thursday. “We didn’t want her to go home with one of eight babies.”
The county workers managed to get two of the ducklings into a bucket, but that left five still swimming in the manhole. Eventually, firefighters showed up, but by then the ducklings had swam down a pipe to another storm drain. The firefighters flooded the drain, which brought the creatures to the surface and allowed them to rescue four of the ducklings. The last one ended up in another pipe, but Chantler said he got assurances the duckling would pop out in a nearby lake.
Once rescued, the mother and ducklings trotted happily under a fence to a nearby golf course. By then, it was after 8 a.m., meaning Chantler was late for work.
Asked if it’s normal for firefighters to rescue animals, Strathcona County deputy fire chief Darrell Reid said the case was unusual.
“Typically, our criteria is that if people are putting themselves in danger in order to rescue an animal, then we would respond,” he said. “Once in a while, these things happen.”
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
A GIRAFFE that nearly died during an emergency caesarean section has delighted keepers at Longleat Safari Park by giving birth naturally.
Eleven-year-old Imogen, a Rothschild giraffe, has given birth to a strapping five foot baby boy after an anxious 15-month pregnancy.
Two years ago she underwent groundbreaking emergency surgery in a desperate bid to save her life following severe complications in her first pregnancy.
She is believed to be the first giraffe to have undergone such an operation and her brave battle and subsequent recovery captivated millions of viewers on the BBC documentary series Animal Park. Head keeper Keith Harris said: “This little boy is an absolute miracle. Not only in that his mum survived the emergency caesarean but also that she then got pregnant again.”
He added: “He’s a little on the short side for baby giraffes but apart from that he’s fit and healthy, in fact they’re both doing so well that we’ve already returned them to the main herd,” added Keith.
Longleat has one of the most successful breeding groups for giraffes in the UK.
Last year they celebrated the arrival of their hundredth captive-bred baby and Imogen herself was born at the award-winning safari park back in 1996.
Monday, Aug. 20, 2007
A missing cat has been reunited with her owner….more than TEN years after she tip-toed out of her Hampshire home.
Patricia Charnet’s cat Lynx went missing in February 1997, never returning after she went out into the garden at her home in Hook.
Mrs Charnet finally gave up hope she would ever be reunited with domestic short haired tortie-tabby Lynx after five years.
However, amazingly, earlier this week the elusive Lynx, now aged 12, was found by a farmer in Carterton in Oxfordshire…60 miles from Hook.
Carers at animal charity BlCat Missing For 10 Years Reunited With Ownerue Cross were able to use a microchip inserted in Lynx’s back 10 years ago to trace her back to her astonished owner.
Mrs Charnet, originally from France, said: “I really can’t believe it. It’s so strange for her to be back with me.
“It’s like a small miracle because she was missing for so long and also the fact that I haven’t moved home, because if I had then Blue Cross would never have found me. I never imagined that I would see her again.”
When Lynx went walkabout Tony Blair was yet to enter Downing Street and Princess Diana was still alive.
Mrs Charnet added: “I remember she came in to eat on an afternoon around February or March in 1997, and then she went into the garden. But she never came back.
“I still hoped we would see her again for about five years, but after that I gave up hope.
“Then when Blue Cross rang and said they had my cat because of the chip, I simply couldn’t believe it. If we hadn’t had her chipped we never would have seen her again.”
Lynx’s activities and whereabouts for the last decade remain a “mystery”.
Mrs Charnet believes someone may have had taken her in.
She said: “We will never know what she got up to, unless someone comes forward. If only she could speak, I’m sure she’d have quite a story.”
Mrs Charnet, who has lived in the UK for 20 years, said: “I thought it might be strange to have her back, but it really is like she has never been away, she’s eating loads like she always used to.
“She’s settled back in so well – she really is a wonderful cat. It’s brilliant to finally have her home, though my other cat doesn’t think so – there’s been a lot of hissing.”
Mandy Jones, head of companion animal welfare at Blue Cross, described the reunion as “remarkable”.
She said: “We take in quite a lot of strays and I’ve heard of some going missing and then going back to owners after couple of years. But I have never seen a cat back with its owner after ten years.
“Often there are sad stories with cats because they go missing and owners can never even know what happened to them.
“This shows the importance of having cats micro-chipped – we’re always so happy to get them back to owners.”
Friday, Aug. 17, 2007
A lifesize two-tonne pilot whale, made of rubber, is helping to train groups of marine rescue volunteers in Gwynedd.
The course in Barmouth is being run with groups involved in rescuing seals and dolphins that become beached or injured.
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue Group (BDMLR), which tried to rescue a whale trapped on the Thames in London last year, is running the training.
The course aims to form a group of volunteers to be on 24-hour standby.
Wales coordinator for the BDMLR Phil Lewis said: “The north Wales coast receives a number of strandings of marine mammals each year and we are keen to boost the numbers of trained medics to respond to these strandings.”
The course includes lectures on marine mammal biology and first aid and then practical exercises on rescue techniques at the nearby beach.
These include handling injured and stranded animals, first aid, assessing injuries and the refloating of dolphins and whales using the rescue group’s specialist equipment.
Three different inflatables will be used during the course, including a dolphin and a seal pup.
Mr Lewis added: “The water-filled inflatable mammals we use are so lifelike that when the course has been run in the past, members of the public have offered to help, thinking they were real!”
He said that the group dealt with around 12 live strandings a year.
“Some are due to disorientation, some are through sickness, some could be pure accident where they have taken a wrong turning out at sea and come into an area where there’s no feeding for them,” said Mr Lewis.
“We learn a lot with every rescue that we attend, we always learn from things.
“We know from an assessment we can tell whether or not it is a reasonable thing to put the animal back into the water to refloat it or whether or not it does need to be humanely put to sleep.”
Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007
Seventeen endangered miniature kangaroos are being returned to their native habitat in the forests of Indonesia’s Papua province.
The tiny creatures, which are a rare species of kangaroo called dusky pademelons, were rescued from homes in Java island where they were kept as pets.
They had been mostly purchased as pets at illegal animal markets.
Indonesia’s forestry ministry says the kangaroos will undergo a period of rehabilitation in Timika before release into the Nayaro forests, a protected area just hours away from the Papua town.
Little is known about the creatures, which weigh up to 18kg and are about 75cm long with browny grey coats and a pale belly,
Their habitat is mainly in the forests of Papua and Papua New Guinea.
Conservationists say the illegal trade in animals remains a threat to many species in Indonesia.
Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007
Hurricane season means extra work for Karen Clark. As a licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist specializing in Sciurus carolinensis, Clark spends her time rescuing and rehabilitating squirrels at her property in Plant City. “The wind just knocks some of them right out of the trees, ” said Clark, 42. “Especially the babies.” In just one day after Hurricane Frances in 2004, Clark took in 200 injured squirrels. While Clark has been an animal lover her entire life, she only became involved in squirrel rescue about 10 years ago. On a field trip to her son Will’s school, Clark noticed the children had found a newborn squirrel that was struggling for life. Always the one to take an injured animal home, Clark rescued the baby, named him Rocky and nursed him to health. She quickly became enamored with the species and put the word out that she would take more injured ones in for rehab.
News of her work spread, Clark was licensed by the state, and the rest is history.
Depending on their injuries and needs, Clark begins most of the squirrels’ treatment in her northwest Tampa home, and then moves them to their property in Plant City. There, she and her husband, Bill, an embryologist, own Lovely Lita’s Sheltering Tree Sanctuary, a 10-acre property where she can release the rehabilitated squirrels.
Those that cannot be set free because they would become instant prey due to their injuries are housed in cages in an air-conditioned, three-bedroom double-wide mobile home.
Clark drives 40 minutes each way, every day, and spends about 80 hours a week tending to the squirrels’ needs. When she gets babies, the hours increase as each one must be hand-fed daily for five weeks.
Her patients include squirrels born with deformities, hit by cars, suffering from rat poison, or bitten by dogs or cats.
“Cat bites are the worst, ” said Clark, referring to bacteria in feline saliva that causes a deadly infection in squirrels. “If we don’t get them on antibiotics immediately, they just won’t make it.”
Dr. Lee Duke, owner of Companion Animal Hospital in Thonotosassa, has worked with Clark for several years, performing operations and prescribing medications to hundreds of Clark’s squirrels, and he admires her greatly.
“You know sometimes I see them as tree rodents, and other times they’re just real affectionate little critters, ” Duke said. “Karen has a heart a mile and a half wide, and she’s devoted her whole life to these little guys. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for them.”
The work is not always easy. Although Clark has nine pet squirrels that are accustomed to human interaction, she has also been bitten many times by wild adult squirrels, which, she noted, is fairly typical behavior.
And while squirrels don’t typically have rabies and she has only gotten one infection, she said that the same teeth used to crack nut shells can inflict extremely deep and exceptionally painful bites.
Also, because the work is so time-consuming, she almost never gets one day off, never mind a vacation.
On occasion, Kathleen Hall, 65, another licensed rehabilitation specialist who has focused on squirrels for more than 20 years in Tampa, help Clark.
And recently when Hall was sick and needed assistance with her own patients, Clark was right there.
“It’s all about the love of these animals, and Karen is just super, ” Hall said. “She did a great job for me here, and I’m happy to back her up when I can.”
Of course, on occasion Clark has had to contend with those who perceive her to be the “crazy squirrel lady.”
She’s even had neighbors complain to wildlife officials when she puts nuts out for the local squirrels on her front lawn, although she was quick to point out that feeding squirrels is not illegal. But the jabs and jeers don’t faze her, she said.
“I’ve reached a point in my life where I know that some people will appreciate my work, others don’t, and everyone is entitled to an opinion, ” she said.
And her family’s support keeps her going.
While Lovely Lita’s is a nonprofit foundation, Clark has little time to solicit donations, so her husband is the primary source for funding. Between medicines, operations, food, housing and all associated costs, the Clarks spend about $80, 000 per year to run the sanctuary.
Even her son Will, 17, a junior in the performing arts magnet program at Blake High School, is completely supportive of his mom’s work, although he does concede it’s not necessarily a vocation he’d choose for himself.
“I have an immense respect for her and her dedication to such a rare cause, and try to help as much as I can with what little time I have myself, ” he said. “We all have our own battles to fight. Her battle is the health and wellbeing of these furry little guys.”
At first, ranch owner Deb Hoyt kept the horses that were skittish and ill-tempered away from the teenagers who came to her farm for healing.
Her rescue program for abused and neglected horses was separate from her therapy program for at-risk youth.
But the teens tended to be drawn to the most troubled horses.
“This is something I never expected,” Hoyt said. “We just – wow – the kids just kind of seem to know the horses who are like them.”
Hoyt runs Healing Hearts with Horses for free, working as a waitress all winter to pay for the hefty expense of horse care.
She doesn’t know the histories of the youths – just that they’re from group homes run by Children & Families of Iowa in Des Moines and Youth Homes of Mid-America in Johnston.
She doesn’t know which youths have no family to turn to, which ones have behavior problems, which are recovering from a crack cocaine habit, which were sexually abused, which have shown a weakness for weapons and law-breaking.
But she comes to understand a little about each teen during weekly visits to her outdoor horse arena.
One girl started crying when she was introduced to a mare that had recently had a miscarriage, although Hoyt had told no one that. Hoyt was mystified by the girl’s tears.
“She said, ‘I just feel like this horse is really sad,’ ” Hoyt said.
The girl later revealed one of her deepest secrets: She’d had an abortion.
“No one knew,” Hoyt said. “But she felt a kinship with this horse right away. I was just blown away by it.”
PROGRAM TAMES WILD SPIRITS
Hoyt’s equine-assisted psychotherapy program is less about learning how to ride and more about boosting confidence through learning to halter, groom and gently control a horse.
“Our rule is: If you can’t clean a hoof, you can’t ride,” she said.
In one lesson, she teaches how to “join up” with a horse. It starts with sending the horse away and ends with establishing, in a respectful way, that the human is the boss. Once the horse shows acceptance, it will follow wherever the teen walks, without a lead rope.
“Some are just tearful. ‘The horse likes me.’ They’re usually the kid nobody likes,” Hoyt said. “I tell them, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or skinny, what color you are, the horses know if you’re a kind person. They can feel that.’ ”
Hoyt, 49, used to be a foster parent. In 16 years, she took in all kinds, from fire starters to animal killers. She tallied one dead goat, two dead rabbits, one dead cat and one hamster with its tail cut off, thanks to two boys and one girl.
“They looked and acted like normal kids, but they had anger issues,” she said. “They didn’t know where to go with their anger, so they took it out on animals.”
Grooming horses can calm a child’s spirits, she said.
“And they needed a lot of calming,” she said.
She paused, took a bite of an unpeeled carrot from the eight pounds of carrots she had purchased that morning, and added: “We found it’s pretty hard to kill a horse.”
Hoyt always wanted to develop a horse therapy program for youths outside her own family, but as a mother of eight who was running a child care plus a dog-and-cat rescue effort, she told herself she didn’t have the time or money.
Then the cancer was discovered in winter 2003.
During the chemotherapy and radiation to wipe out the rectal tumor, Hoyt had a God moment.
“If I live … ” she vowed.
YOUTHS LEARN HOW TO TRUST
During the program’s pilot project in spring 2004, a pony named Snazzy had fallen into a depression after Hoyt got rid of her sister, Jazzy, and preferred to be left alone. The two sister ponies had been together since birth, but Jazzy had drifted into a habit of eating to the point of sickness. Jazzy needed to be corralled in a dry lot, so Hoyt gave her to someone who had such a pen.
A boy named Shawn was instantly attracted to the moody Snazzy.
“I told him, ‘That pony is naughty, so we don’t use her, but you can pet her,’ ” said Hoyt, whose cancer has not recurred. “He said, ‘Well, I’m naughty sometimes, too.’ ”
Hoyt agreed to let him work with her – and Snazzy surprised Hoyt with her sweet-tempered behavior.
At first, Shawn clung to the pony, hunched over the saddle horn.
“I told him, ‘When you’re ready to trust, let me know,’ ” Hoyt said.
It came out in therapy while Shawn worked with Snazzy that he knew what it was like to be split from a sister. He said his foster parents had adopted his sisters, but didn’t want him. His new foster parents were interested in making him part of their family, but felt some reluctance because of his behavior problems.
“One day he said, ‘Deb, I’m ready to trust,’ and he just closed his eyes and put out his arms and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I said, ‘Who are you ready to trust?’ He said, ‘You.’ I said, ‘Who else?’ He said, ‘Snazzy.’ ‘Anyone else?’ ‘My family,’ he said.”
Shawn was adopted by the family. Hoyt hasn’t heard from him in a while but hopes he’s doing well.
Snazzy became one the best therapy animals Hoyt owned. A year or so later, the pony, who had always been a clever escape artist, slipped out of her pen. She ran down the highway, was hit by a passing vehicle and died.
Another gentle pony, Willie, is doing his best to take her place.
Earlier this month, a girl who was terrified of animals had her first session at the farm.
Offered a chance to pet a powder-puff gray kitten, the girl shook her head and backed away. “Does he have claws?” she asked, and wrapped her arms around herself.
Hoyt paired the girl with Willie.
The first task: Put the halter on. Hoyt doesn’t tell the teens how to halter a horse. She wants the kids to build confidence to tackle the unfamiliar, without instruction. She wants them to experience successes in tasks that are intimidatingly outside their comfort zone.
The girl watched another teen do it, followed the advice to “fake confidence,” then haltered Willie in less than one minute. She was soon ready for a full-grown horse – and took a shining to MayDay.
“Of all the horses,” Hoyt said later. “I never would’ve picked that horse for her.”
HORSE’S ATTITUDE MATCHES TEEN’S
MayDay has the massive build of a draft horse. She’s two hands higher than the rest of the mares in the herd. She was born on the Hoyt farm two years ago on May 1.
“She was a mistake,” Hoyt told the girls. “She wasn’t bred intentionally.”
Her mother, Midnight, arrived at the farm pregnant and with a scar encircling her belly from some unknown horrific injury. She has a temper and has learned to fight back when people make her angry.
“She does not like men,” Hoyt said. “You can’t get a whip anywhere near her or she’ll go berserk.”
After three years of Hoyt’s care, Midnight is mostly cooperative, but won’t let anyone ride her.
“Underneath all that baggage is a neat horse,” Hoyt said.
MayDay, meanwhile, has some of her mother’s strength of character. When Hoyt was relocating a herd from one pasture to another, MayDay flipped out. Like children in foster care or anyone else, they can become agitated when moved around against their will. The 1,200-pound horse bulldozed Hoyt from behind and stepped on her hand.
“Even the best horses are unpredictable,” Hoyt said, cradling the brace on her bruised hand.
The girl who is scared of animals did fine with MayDay, cruising all the way to the “carrot time” that Hoyt ends each session with.
When the boys arrived a few days later, the horses were segregated. The dark-colored horses were harassing the light-colored horses so much that Hoyt put them in separate pens.
MayDay, however, was bent on picking on any horse that came near her. When she nipped at Felicity, it caused an outcry and the stomping of feet – from the horses and two nervous boys.
Brandon, the boy who selected MayDay, and Tony, who selected Felicity, reported the bite to Hoyt.
“And what did Felicity do?” Hoyt asked them.
“Walked away,” Tony answered.
Hoyt nodded and patted Felicity’s neck. “Good choice,” she told the horse.
MayDay continued acting like a hyper child. When Brandon tried to halter her, she danced away, or chomped her teeth on the halter lines for some tug-of-war, or sniffed Brandon’s shirt, or snorted hot breath into his face. She chased a bushy-tailed cat named Snickers, led Brandon to the drinking bucket so she could splash at the water, and, twice, reared up on her hind legs.
“She’s being obstinate,” Brandon told Hoyt, who encouraged him but didn’t assist him.
“Are you obstinate?” she asked Brandon gently. “Sometimes horses mirror how you are.”
Each time Brandon said he was going to call it quits, he instead invented a new strategy.
“Good horsey,” he crooned, carefully blowing away the flies plaguing MayDay’s eyes. “Goooood horsey. Yeah, I got a mind of my own, too.”
He kept in mind Hoyt’s lesson that if you approach a horse head-on, that’s a sign of aggression. “Want to be my friend?” she had said. “Be at my side, don’t be in my face.”
Standing to MayDay’s left, Brandon held the horse’s neck firmly, slipped the halter over her nose and around her ears, and fastened the buckle. Done.
FINAL LESSONS: LIFE AND DEATH
All of Hoyt’s horse lessons have a tie to life.
In one exercise, the kids each had to persuade their horse to jump over a low, horizontal pole without touching, bribing or talking to the horses – or each other. One group of girls grew frustrated as all the horses ignored them right up until the end of the session. Staff at the group home said the girls were abuzz all week plotting strategies.
The next session, the girls silently worked as a team. They moved the jump so it was between a brush pile and a fence railing, giving the horses nowhere else to go but over. They tied ropes together and used the line to chase the horses toward the jump. They knew that once they got one horse going, all would follow.
One summer, Hoyt told a some kids, including a girl who had attempted suicide, that they should say goodbye to Rio. An ex-roping horse with no teeth, lame legs and a damaged neck muscle, Rio had lost his will to live.
Hoyt told the girls the veterinarian would put him down.
Some girls wept. They all snuggled Rio’s thin frame and petted him repeatedly.
The next day, Rio wandered to the barn for some food. The vet came with the euthanasia supplies and was startled to see that his downtrodden demeanor had evaporated.
The next week the girls cried out to see Rio alive. They held a bake sale to buy special feed and lavished attention on him, and his appetite resurged.
The next spring, Rio settled down in a pasture and passed away peacefully.