Keith works in a hair salon two days a week, but his true passion involves lots and lots of wild animals.
We don’t use the word passion lightly — as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, it’s not unusual for his day to start at 5 a.m. and end at midnight. But what is he doing during that time, exactly?
He gets new deliveries of animals all the time, often daily, but most recently he raised 41 orphaned racoons and 18 baby squirrels. Each one arrived in various states of health, with one racoon only weighing 166 grams. There’s not a strong chance they’ll make it when they’re that small, but Keith puts in all the love and effort he can to give them a fighting chance.
Each day varies, but soon enough, he was able to establish a rough routine with his 41 baby racoons. Seven days a week, Keith would wake up at 5 a.m. to feed each one a bottle of milk. That might sound like fun, but there’s a lot that goes into it. In order to give each one the right amount, he has to weigh them every single morning.
He also has to be vigilant in recognizing when they’re ready to switch to solid foods, like softened puppy chow mixed with banana-flavored baby food. And then there’s the cleaning… there is so, so much cleaning.
Still, Keith finds that the moments he loves are far worth the stinkier ones. For example, when he gets to hold and pet the racoons while they’re still babies.
“You only have a certain amount of time that you can do that with raccoons,” he said. “I’d say give him another month and he’s gonna be growly and bitey and stuff, and so right now you can play with him and do the fun stuff with him.”
As chaotic as it is to raise so many wild animals, Keith has a whole team of help. First, there’s his 12 volunteers who share in his love of animals. Then there’s his partner of 26 years, Mike.
“We work well together, actually,” Keith said. “He’s the more logical, black and white, and he’s more — he needs to have a schedule, he needs to have an excel sheet. And I’m more of a, ‘I’ll figure it out when I get there. I don’t know why or how, but it just works.”
The long hours can be rough, but the main challenge is financial. They manage to stay afloat by offering various services and goods through Sonflower Ranch. They rent out space for horses and retired yoga goats, sell farm fresh eggs and scented lotions made from goat milk, and they raise and sell animals like alpacas and donkeys. They even run a family-friendly petting farm!
Still, donations are always needed, and Keith is always looking for ways to better helps animals of all kinds. That’s why he’s working to build a new facility to help bats, coyotes, foxes, and even bears! Despite money being tight, they’ve been raising funds for months. And with the help of a gala and a dinner with a silent auction, they raised just enough to continue working on the new facility.
Being a wildlife rehabilitator isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly perfect for Keith. Through all of the ups and downs, nothing can compare to metaphorically, and literally, holding each creature’s hand along their journey to being set free in the wild. Even when he’s forced to wear protective gloves around racoons who once lived to snuggle with him.
“You get bit, scratched — that’s what they’re supposed to do in the wild. That’s what we need to get them back to,” Keith said. “So you have to take all of that emotion and the adrenaline, and you have to put that to the side and understand what the end result is that you want. And when you get close to that, that’s when you’re like — okay, I did what I was supposed to do.”
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