Lisa the Pig Finds A Home a Sanctuary One

The family of Animal Helpers is growing. The second installment Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries is due to hit bookstores later this month, and once again author Jennifer Keats Curtis introduces us to passionate animal caretakers at five sanctuaries.

Sanctuary One is a care farm, which is a working farm that brings people, animals and nature together in a unique therapeutic environment. One special resident is Lisa the pig, at 700 pounds Lisa’s former owners were unable to continue to care for her. She is now a permanent resident a Sanctuary One, and just in time for Valentine’s Day you can watch this love story unfold below.

Caring for Lisa and all the other animals at Sanctuary One is very costly; they will be selling Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries as a fundraiser. Please visit their website to learn more about Sanctuary One.

Meet Animal Helper: Kim Johnson

As we continue to feature wildlife rehabilitators this month on the Sylvan Dell blog, this week we meet Kim Johnson from The Drift Inn Wildlife Sanctuary. She shares with us the trials and tribulations of rescuing wild animals.

Texan Kim Johnson often works with her veterinarian husband and a tiny volunteer group at her Drift Inn Wildlife Sanctuary in Driftwood to care for a wide variety of mammals, including raccoons, squirrels, deer, fox, skunks, even bobcats. “Every year is different and I never know exactly what to expect” says Kim, one of a small handful of licensed rehabilitators in her state, “During Hurricane Ike, 200 squirrels were delivered to my front door.”

Despite her hectic schedule caring for wild animals, many of them babies, for 14-18 hours a day, seven days a week, Kim never seems to lose her sense of humor. “If it’s native and it lives in Texas, it’s been in my house, and maybe even if it’s not native,” she quips.

In many of the pictures that Kim submitted for possible use in Animal Helpers, she is wearing a big smile and very heavy welder’s gloves. The grin is, of course, because Kim loves her job. The gloves are because she is smart and seasoned. After 33 years as a rehabilitator, Kim is keenly aware that those gloves are mandatory equipment for handling fuzzy babies that have big paws, sharp teeth, and claws.  

Name: Kim Johnson

Name of organization/clinic: The Drift Inn Wildlife Sanctuary

State: Texas

Specialty/special areas of experience: Mammals, raptors

Years as rehabilitator/volunteer: 33 years

Busiest time of year: May-July

Number of hours you work per week during your busy season: 18+ hours a day 7 days a week

Number of volunteers in clinic: 4

Why did you become a rehabilitator/volunteer: For the love of nature and animals

Most rewarding aspect of rehabilitation: Release days and seeing an animal we thought would not pull through survive and be released!

As a rehabilitator, what is the most common question you are asked? If I touched it, will the mother come back?

Having cared for wildlife for so long, Kim cheerfully tells wonderful stories about the creatures that have come through her clinic, such as: A 7-week-old bobcat came to us on Christmas Day.  He was cute as a button, cute in the “I have claws and teeth and know how to use them” kind of way. For some reason, people still think that all little wild animals drink cow’s milk. (Unless they arecows, they do not do well on cow’s milk.) After getting his weight up, this bobcat soon started to fit right in with the rest of the crew.  He ate mice in nanoseconds, soon was jumping up on everything and getting more mischievous by the day!  Seven weeks later, it was time to move him to a larger facility.  This bobcat had grown four times the size he was when we got him. He was ready to mingle with his own kind.  We transferred him to a much larger facility outside of San Antonio where there are 12 other bobcats. He will be released onto a 1,000 plus acre refuge.  We will miss him; but, as with all of our animals, we feel blessed to have them and to be able to give them the care they need for the time we do. 

Favorite animal story:  We got a call that an adult raccoon had his head stuck for the entire night and half of the day in a bird feeder in a tree.  As I got there sure enough, he had wedged himself to where he could rest on the edge of the feeder as he contemplated his problems.  I told the lady that I could save the coon but not the feeder.  She suggested that they have a warning for purchasers of said bird feeder that it could also capture raccoons.  I got on a ladder and proceeded to unscrew the feeder and remove it from the tree.  So far so good.  I quickly realized that the coon was not coming out of the feeder without a chisel or saw and some serious drugs (for the coon of course).  I decided to put said coon and feeder in the back of the SUV and take him the eight miles down the road to the house where Dr. Johnson (Ray) could tranquilize him and we could then figure out how to release the raccoon from his feeder.  Halfway home, I have visions of the coon releasing himself from the feeder and kicking my tail in the car all the way home.  Luckily, for both of us he was quite stuck and we made it home.  Ray was almost laughing too hard to sedate the bugger but we got it done and although he never completely passed out, he was docile enough to unscrew the rest of the feeder and chisel the wood from around his neck without so much as a scratch on him!  He looked at us and groggily ran off without so much as a thank you.

What advice would you offer to children considering a career in wildlife rehabilitation?

Become a veterinarian who specializes in wildlife.  There are few out there and more are needed!

Remember Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators is FREE for the month of October at, or Read it on your iPad, by downloading the free app Fun eReader in iTunes and entering the code: 2WZ637 in the red box on the App Registration page.

Animal Helper: Rocky Mountain Raptor Program

Each book in the new photographic journal series, Animal Helpers, features different ways animals are being helped by experts, volunteers, students, interns, and even campers around our country. Through this unusual series, we hope to bring recognition and awareness to the extraordinary animal helpers and nonprofit centers, clinics, sanctuaries, and rescue zoos in which they work. In the meantime, we will be using this blog to cheer on the work of even more of these unsung heroes, who dedicate their time, patience, and funds to helping save wild animals, one life at a time.

Animal Helpers Out West – Swainson’s Alert with Judy Scherpelz, Executive Director, and Christine Thomas, Volunteer, Rocky Mountain Raptor Program, Fort Collins, CO

On any given day, Judy Scherpelz, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program (RMPR) in Fort Collins, Colorado, might be worried about the owls, hawks, falcons, and other birds of prey who are in the clinic because of car strikes, drought, fire, twine entanglement, electrocution, and the dreaded West Nile Virus.

Fierce as they seem, even raptors are prone to forces of man and nature.

This year, with the worst drought in history alongside some mighty big fires, birds of prey have come into RMRP in record numbers.

“This has been a really hard summer,” remarks Judy, “Young birds are so hungry that they’ll go after road kill that they normally would not go after so these inexperienced youngsters are coming in starving and injured.”

Working long hours, seven days a week, Judy and her small but dedicated, staff rush out to rescue the birds and give them a second chance at freedom. The youngest birds are fed and their wounds are treated as needed. Eventually they attend “mouse school,” where they learn to eat live prey, and “flight school,” where they learn to use those big wings. Now that its fall, RMRP is graduating some of their raptors, including the Swainson’s Hawks, a western raptor related to Red-Taileds.

In fact, by late summer, RMRP staff is officially on “Swainson Alert.”

Like other hawks, Swainies migrate from the U.S. to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where they are known as “grasshopper hawks.” (Those hopping insects are their favorite food.)

What is unusual about these medium-sized hawks is the numbers in which they congregate and the incredibly long distance that they migrate. In Colorado, Swainies gather in huge groups—100 to 500 birds at a time—called kettles. “That term comes from the resemblance to the smoke coming out of a kettle,” explains Judy, “As the birds rise up into the thermals in the sky, they look like smoke coming out of a kettle.” The birds then migrate over 6,000 miles in eight weeks, flying almost 135 miles a day. And, by the time they arrive at the isthmus of Panama/Mexico, there may be thousands of Swainson’s Hawks in a kettle, notes Judy.

Out west, baby Swainies hatch in June. By migration time, they are only three months old. They might be adult size but “they’re young and dumb,” laughs Judy. “Young birds need adult supervision during migration,” she explains, “The older birds know where to feed and how to find food; and, they’ve been to Argentina, so they know the route.”
An important part of releasing young Swainson’s Hawks, then, is to find the kettles so that the young birds can join their elders. The youngsters cannot be released on their own; they will starve.

So, exactly how does one find a kettle in Colorado?

Ask longtime RMRP volunteer Christine Thomas.

Each August, she and her husband, Michael, spend their spare time driving a truck down backcountry roads in the grasslands to search for kettles. “There is no memo from the birds,” jokes Christine, “So, we get out of town on dirt roads and we look high. We look low. We might drive 120 miles a day looking for them for five days to a week.”

Because the Thomases are avid birders, they have traveled these unpaved roads and rural parts of their county a lot looking for raptors. Christine has learned what the birds like—including grasshopper-ladened alfalfa plantings and bathing in puddles from irrigated fields. She often locates plots with water, even those that have pivot sprinklers. Over the years, she and Michael have learned to find out when and what farmers are planting and cutting. They spend a lot of time talking with landowners so that they can learn more about the birds’ habits. They look up, at telephone poles and possible perching spots for the birds; but, they know they have to eventually look down. The hungry birds will be on the ground, eating grasshoppers.

Christine is in awe of these hawks, which she likens to long distance runners. “They spend one-third of their lives migrating all the way to Argentina and then back. They are built for distance and endurance.”

“The first time we saw a kettle of hawks, it took our breath away,” says Christine, “There were so many of them, maybe 500, and when they took off, it was so awesome, like Christmas Day!”

Once the Thomases find the flocks, they hurriedly call the center. Staff then quickly gathers and bands all releasable Swainson’s Hawks at the center, places them into carriers, and races them back to the location, a drive that often takes at least an hour. Prior to release, the Thomases do ensure that the location is a safe spot to release the hawks, preferably in a location without fences or traffic.

Fortunately, the Thomases have gotten quite good at deciphering the clues to find the kettles. If the hawks miss this “great escape” and have to overwinter with RMPR, the care is expensive. The hawks eat three to four mice per day at a cost of about $1 per mouse. Not including labor, the cage, or other raptor necessities, the expenses quickly add up.

This year, RMRP released 16 Swainson’s Hawks (which includes three overwintered from last year); and will overwinter nine.

For more information about RMRP, please visit their website,

Thank you to Jennifer Keats Curtis author of Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators for introducing us to Judy, Christine and the entire staff at RMRP. They are doing wonderful work for these beautiful hawks.