EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
Searching for an albino raccoon — all that white against the shadows of Hill Country foliage — seems an easy task. When it comes to keeping track or taking care of injured wild animals, however, not much is easy, even for Cynthia Stogner, who is licensed and trained to do just that.
Weda, the albino raccoon who had managed to run off into the brush and woods around Stogner’s Sunrise Beach Village home, is one of many animals that have been left in the woman’s care over the years. As a wildlife rehabilitator, Stogner helps injured and orphaned wild animals recover enough to be released back into the wild. However, in cases such as Weda’s, whose canine teeth were removed by the people keeping her illegally, the animal becomes a permanent resident.
Stogner is just one of several certified wildlife rehabilitators in Central Texas. Along with Lacy and Zeb Miller at Wild Things Rescue Ranch in Johnson City, Stogner earned her certification by training for at least a year under an experienced permit holder. Next step was to submit letters of recommendation from two established permit holders and a veterinarian to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with other paperwork.
Stogner began rehabilitating wildlife about 20 years ago while living in San Angelo. Her son brought her an orphaned raccoon, which eventually led her to creating a nonprofit in Tom Green County with the support of local leaders and the Goodfellow Air Force Base to rehabilitate more wildlife.
Since moving to the Highland Lakes, Stogner has scaled back. She doesn’t have a nonprofit but cares for wildlife on her small acreage, which includes a shed converted into a shelter with a kennel-like enclosure attached. The animals Stogner takes in mostly come from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens, who have either found the injured creatures or confiscated them from people keeping them illegally.
At their Johnson City nonprofit, the Millers, including their three daughters, care for a large number of wildlife such as fawns, raccoons, porcupines, and birds. They took in 15 baby skunks this past spring. When they have too many in their charge, they pass them along to sub-permittees training to work with wild animals.
The need for wildlife rehabilitation services has skyrocketed in recent years, especially in Texas and the Hill Country. Though located in the Johnson City area, the Millers take in wildlife from Alpine to the Rio Grande Valley.
“There’s just not enough people doing this,” Lacey said.
A driving force for that need, as Lacey sees it, is the increasing number of people moving into rural areas who want the country life but not the country wildlife. The Millers field phone calls on a regular basis from homeowners concerned about the wild animals they see around their property, including opossums, raccoons, and foxes.
“You’d be surprised,” Lacey said, shaking her head.
Along with rescuing wildlife, the Millers want to educate the public about the animals. Like Stogner, Lacey holds an education permit. They currently have two fawns that will never be released fully into the wild. One is blind; the other is missing its right hind leg. When they get older, the Millers will let them loose in a high-fenced enclosure, where they can live comfortably and help educate humans. The family hopes to create a facility where people can come and learn about wildlife and nature as well as witness the healing effects of both.
The biggest joy of rehabilitating wildlife, according to Stogner and the Millers, is when the animals are released back into the wild. But with that joy comes sadness as caregivers and animals inevitably bond. This is especially true with the youngest animals, which receive a lot of coddling and cuddling to replace the lost attention of a mother, Lacey said.
“You open your heart to them,” Lacey said. “And sometimes, it tears your heart wide open.”
Rehabilitators are all volunteers. They pour a lot of their own money and sweat into it. That feeling of a job well done is part of why they take on the responsibility in the first place, they said.
“The goal is always rescue and release,” said Stogner, adding the caveat, “… when it’s possible.”
For the albino raccoon in her care, release won’t be possible. While Weda will live out her life with Stogner, other raccoons in her care will soon be set free, including Rascal, one of six babies who lost their mother. Rascal is old enough and strong enough now that he can spend nights outside the pen, often running around with Bailey, a gray fox also in Stogner’s care.
With an easy-to-spot coat and no canine teeth, Weda would be in danger in the wild, which is why Stogner keeps up the search for the errant animal as long as she can. Threats from other wild animals are not her only concern. People who see Weda might think she would make a nice pet and be inclined to keep her.
After a night of worry, Stogner gets a call from a neighbor about an albino raccoon in their yard. Does she know it?
“It’s good to get her back,” Stogner said. “She’s safe.”