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August 22, 2012

The Healing Ground: Fund for Animals Wildlife Center Is Desert Oasis for Animals on the Mend

Sick, injured, and orphaned animals recover at Southern California sanctuary

All Animals magazine September/October 2012

  • Kathy Milani/The HSUS

by Michael Sharp

The tenants living above Bill Freeman’s garage in the high desert town of Ramona, Calif., looked out their back window one June evening just in time to catch a curious sight.

A small bobcat kitten had climbed over a chain-link fence, walked out from the orange and tangerine trees, crossed a putting-green-perfect strip of lawn, and crept over to the swimming pool—where she was now taking a long drink.

Beyond the backyard is a sizeable ravine, and the Freemans are no strangers to seeing bobcats and coyotes in their neighborhood. But this was a first. Or rather, two firsts: Not once in 10 years had they seen a bobcat within the fences of their backyard, and never had they seen a wild animal drinking from their pool.

For the rest of the weekend, the Freemans kept their Labrador retriever away from the yard. Returning from church on Sunday, they saw the kitten. And by Monday, there were two of them out there, sharing a drink. Worried that they were moving slowly, that their fur appeared unkempt, that there was no sign of a mother, Bill Freeman snapped pictures and emailed them to Ali Crumpacker, director of The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center nearby—one of five care centers across the country operated in partnership with The HSUS. “I knew they were a good resource of what to do,” he would say later.

More than 380 injured and orphaned animals came through the Wildlife Center last year, and staff learn that a day can quickly change course with a box of baby crows arriving at the front gate or a phone call reporting that a skunk’s been hit by a car.

On this day, it’s the email from Freeman.

More than 380 animals passed through the Wildllife Center last year. Staff learn that a day can quickly change course.

“You can see the patches of loose dead fur sticking up, so they have not been groomed,” says Crumpacker, reviewing the pictures on her computer screen. “And they’re squinting in both pictures, which to me is going to indicate that they’re covered in fleas and they have ticks on their eye-lids, which again mom would have ripped off. So either mom’s really, really unattentive, or she’s gone. And they’re obviously way too young to be on their own.”

Soon, three staff members pile into a pickup truck, bound for the Freeman house. The plan is to set live traps for the kittens and then wait to hear back from the family. But as they walk around back, one of the bobcats is crossing the grass. She pays little mind to the newcomers, continuing her quest to the edge of the pool and another long drink.

The rest happens quickly. With her two colleagues blocking possible escape routes, animal care specialist Kim D’Amico—or “KimBa” as she’s known around the center—moves quietly toward the bobcat, a large net in her hand. “I knew I only had one shot,” she’ll say later. And she nails it, dropping the net down, keeping the little bobcat out of the pool. The kitten jumps straight into the air. Caught.

The bobcat is moved to a carrier and driven back to the center. Staff members are just preparing to sedate and examine her when the call comes over the radio: The second bobcat kitten is in a trap.

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