PRETTY PRAIRIE — Abbie Wisdom-Williams and her husband, David Williams, rehabilitate hundreds of animals each year and release them back into the wild out of their home near Pretty Prairie.
All except one, anyway. His name is Skunkerdunk.
“He’s my baby,” Wisdom-Williams said of her 4-year-old skunk.
Wisdom-Williams is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, adopting the young offspring of killed or injured wildlife and then releasing them outside her home. Most frequently, she and her husband get raccoons, possums, squirrels, foxes, deer and skunks – her favorite.
Rehabilitators “volunteer their time and money,” said Michael McGinnis, a conservation officer with the department. “Without them, almost all injured animals would have to be euthanized.”
Wildlife, Parks and Tourism used to oversee about 50 certified rehabilitators. Regulations put in place in the past 10 years require inspections from conservation officers, classes and tests to stay certified. Now, there only 13 rehabilitators in Kansas.
One of Wisdom-Williams’ most recent arrivals was a fawn whose mother was killed May 30 by a vehicle near I-235 and West Street. On impact, the doe gave birth to two fawns, one of which didn’t survive.
Two Kansas Highway Patrol troopers met Wisdom-Williams in Goddard to hand off the fawn to her care. The fawn was unharmed but is still skinny, Wisdom-Williams said. She hopes it’s a girl.
McGinnis said there is a misconception that when a person sees a baby animal alone, it needs to be rescued. Sometimes a mother deer or raccoon will leave her young to find food.
“It will look like they’re abandoned, but usually they aren’t. … Their best chances of survival are being in the wild with their mother,” McGinnis said.
If an animal is injured or orphaned, Wisdom-Williams said, many people will want to drop it off at a zoo. The Sedgwick County Zoo does not rehabilitate wildlife, said Ryan Gulker, deputy director at the zoo.
“When you do rehabilitation, the time and resources that it takes … are pretty extensive,” Gulker said. “Taking an animal that is injured or a baby, and raising that thing or releasing it back into the wild is not the same thing as taking care of a tiger or a pelican on a daily basis for the rest of its life.”
Instead, the Sedgwick County Zoo refers the public to Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, which will then suggest a licensed rehabilitator, such as Wisdom-Williams.
A dog and a raccoon
Wisdom-Williams and her husband moved near Cheney Lake 15 years ago to begin rehabilitating animals. They weren’t married yet, and all they had was a dog and a raccoon named George, which they didn’t want to release in the Wichita city limits.
The younger skunks and raccoons stay indoors inside a pet carrier with blankets and a heating pad. It’s a full-time job keeping the animals nourished with feedings every two, three or four hours.
“That’s a huge time commitment,” said Gulker, the zoo official. “I have great admiration for those people that do that.”
Last year, the couple said, they rehabilitated three deer, nine foxes, nearly 60 skunks and about 30 raccoons and squirrels.
They still have time, though, for full- and part-time jobs in order to afford formula, cleaning supplies and other items for the care of their animals. David is the maintenance supervisor at Cheney State Park during the day, and Abbie manages the west gate of the lake on evenings and weekends.
“The only date night we get is going to Wal-Mart on Sunday nights,” she said.
And maybe Spangles for dinner, if they have time.
Stewards of wildlife
The most frustrating part of the job, Abbie Wisdom-Williams said, isn’t coaxing baby animals to use the restroom or animals that try to fight back.
“They can’t tell you how they feel or what hurts,” she said. “What’s frustrating is that I don’t know what’s wrong.”
One fawn would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. Wisdom-Williams said she thinks it missed its mom.
“That’s kind of heartbreaking,” she said. “They have the same emotions as we do.
“People don’t want to see something suffer, and neither do I.”
Sometimes they get overwhelmed, Wisdom-Williams said, but she has a hard time turning down calls. She always helps if an animal is orphaned as a result of human activity, for example, a deer hit by a car or trapped in a fence.
“That’s not part of the natural world,” she said. “I have a pretty big soapbox about that.”
The rehabilitators also get frustrated when they hear stories of people killing animals out of fear or misunderstanding. A possum won’t hurt anyone, Wisdom-Williams said.
To answer her most common question, her husband told her she needs a T-shirt that says, “A skunk will spray when you piss it off.”
Skunkerdunk could spray at any moment, yet the two keep him in the house, anyway. His favorite spot is under the living room chair. He eats sweet potatoes, steak and scrambled eggs with butter, but never with margarine.
“He eats better than we do,” Abbie Wisdom-Williams said.