Two bald eagles found freedom in the sky above Arcadia Lake on a recent blustery, mid-November Saturday after spending most of their lives in Noble at a wild animal rescue and rehabilitation agency. One of the eagles had been found as an abandoned infant in 2001. The other was discovered with broken bones and a concussion after her nest was destroyed 18 months ago.
For Rondi Large, founder and director of WildCare, the release of the big birds signified, yet again, "the reason I was put on the planet." Her motivation is unwavering.
"I have a passion for wildlife. To get these animals healthy and give them their freedom back is an awesome thing," she said.
Large runs the rescue agency from her rural, 20-acre home in Noble, where the current population of wild animals is down to a temporary, but ever-changing count of 400 birds, mammals and reptiles.
Approximately 3,800 creatures have been admitted to WildCare so far in 2008, including 144 squirrel refugees from Hurricane Ike, which were repatriated back to Texas earlier this month. The animals are not only brought in by municipal or state agencies, but also private citizens who drive up to Large's front porch with injured or abandoned wildlife they've found in fields or on roadsides.
"Last year, I had 2,700 people drop off animals at my house. Most of them only see the porch, because I can't invite everyone inside. It's not a zoo."
After obtaining her first state permit to care for wild animals in 1984, she gained federal certification for wild birds in 1994 and incorporated the organization the same year. Since then, the operation has grown steadily, requiring a staff of up to 10 full-time assistants during peak seasons and volunteers who contribute at least a few hours each week.
For this season, Large expects to pare the staff to two full-time positions, down from four in previous winters. Although Large receives no pay for her own efforts, the wages for staff members are paid by contributions to the nonprofit agency, which are less certain in the nation's current economic downturn.
"But babies come in, regardless of the economy," she said. "I don't ever want to turn away animals."
Many of WildCare's residents are infants that have been separated from their mothers before they are old enough to survive on their own. For the babies, the task simply is to help them reach self-sufficiency, whether they mature quickly or require weeks or months of around-the-clock bottle feedings. For severely injured animals, however, WildCare turns to professional veterinarians who offer their services.
"Dr. Joe Carter is our saint! He gets the special cases," Large said.
Carter, who runs the Oklahoma Equine Hospital in nearby Washington, Okla., also enlists the assistance of veterinary interns who work with him to gain the kind of experience that might never be obtained through a typical clinical practice for large animals or domestic pets.
Asked if she ever took vacation, Large laughed.
"Every day is vacation " that's what I have to tell myself," she said. "This was the reason I was put on the planet: to help every animal possible, to see them helpless and get well enough to give me attitude, then release them back where they belong."
To learn more about WildCare programs and goals, make a tax-deductible contribution or buy holiday gifts that also will benefit wild animals, visit www.wildcareoklahoma.com or call 872-9338.
"There's not always somebody to answer the phone, but we have an answering machine, and we will return the call," Large said.
WildCare is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., "every day of the year." "Judith Murphy