A menagerie of injured and abandoned wild animals are finding care at Wildlife Rehab Lorena, a federally licensed nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center in the Waco-area town.

“Our main goal is to help injured and orphaned wildlife back into the wild. We are not here to keep them as pets or show that they are pets, because we want to keep them wild and help with conservation,” Director Rachel Sine said. “These animals are important to the environment.”

More than a dozen types of animals, including opossums, raccoons, a fox, owls, various other birds, deer and more call the regional sanctuary at 697 Monument Trail in Lorena a temporary home. About 60 animals are being rehabilitated at the nonprofit facility in hopes of reintroduction and reintegration into wildlife areas across Central Texas.

“Animals come from all over, but a lot of them come from members from the public stumbling upon something that was orphaned or injured,” Sine said. “Residents will call the game warden, animal shelter or the humane society or various vet clinics, but we get a lot of support and animals from everywhere.”

‘A labor of love’

Sine, a retired Air Force officer, started volunteering at the center three years ago under former director Jane Thomas. After Thomas retired, Sine received a federal wildlife license, and she and her husband bought the facility.

“I just found that this was my calling and I love to do it,” she said. “There really is no one else that was willing to do it legally, get the permits and to do all species, so this was just something I had to do.

“It is very difficult and probably the hardest job I’ve ever had, but that’s why they call it a labor of love.”

Sine’s partner Shelly Hewitt, of Killeen, said she drives to McLennan County a few times a week to care for the animals. She also takes newborn animals that need constant care home with her.

“This is my idea of heaven. It is sweaty, it stinks and it’s a lot of hard work, but there is a peace and serenity to it,” Hewitt said. “It is very therapeutic, and every single animal offers something in their majestic beauty.”

Community help

In early August, two boys found an orphaned duckling on a Lorena roadway and brought the animal to the Lorena Police Department. Chief Tom Dickson said an officer transported the duckling to the wildlife rehab facility.

“In the past, if we came upon an injured animal, a lot of time we had no other choice but to put the animal down, because there was no one who could take care and rehabilitate wildlife,” Dickson said. “They have changed the playing field, especially with us, because now we have an option to take hurt animals over there, and they will do their best to care for them.”

Late last week, Hewitt residents Jake and Sharon Beaver saw a social media post about Wildlife Rehab Lorena asking for donations of animal supplies. After reviewing the work the caretakers extend to animals in need, they decided to help.

“We love animals more than we love people,” Jake Beaver said. “We got reading about what they needed out here and we had a lot of that stuff, so we decided to come out here.”

Sharon Beaver said she was unaware of the local wildlife rehabilitation facility but was more than happy to help once she found out.

“We stopped by and brought dog and cat food for them, but we will definitely start providing what we can for them,” Sharon Beaver said. “They are doing wonderful work for animals, and we want to help them.”

Sine said spring and summer months are busy for intake of animals.

They will release animals after reintegration habits have been established and the animals are healthy and able to care for themselves without human interaction, she said.

“I love doing this, but it is the hardest work that I’ve ever done with nonstop hours,” Sine said. “There is a lot of death, and they tell us when we are learning that we will only save 20 percent (of animals). That is a really sad number, and we have deaths every day and decisions we have to make on what is best for animals, but we love it.”

For information or to volunteer time at Wildlife Rehab Lorena, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WildlifeRehabLorena.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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