Pair has raised various kinds of animals

Friday, February 24, 2006

Releasing the animals back into the wild is the payday for John and Carolyn Watkins.

For nearly 37 years they've cared for these wild animals -- deer, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, an alligator and even a bear. The Watkinses raised some of the animals since they were babies.

Last summer, 34 baby raccoons were raised in their basement.

"It's so amazing because they all had their own personality," Carolyn said. "Some were shy, some were outgoing. They were all very different."

Most of the animals were brought in by the Missouri Department of Conservation or local veterinarian offices, although many others are aware of the Watkinses' work.

"We'll get calls from people asking us to take something," Carolyn said. "And we'll take it."

Over the years, John and Carolyn have learned a great deal about caring for wild animals. A state or federal license is required before anyone can legally keep a wild animal.

"No matter what people think, wild animals do not make good pets," John said.

And that's why Carolyn doesn't name them. She cares a great deal for them but doesn't want to get too attached. She knows they have to be released back into the wild.

"You have to raise them exactly like Mother Nature would," she said. Which means not feeding them table scraps but food they can find in the wild.

The Watkinses don't get paid for the work they do. They do it for their love of the animals.

Recently a conservation department agent asked the couple what's going to happen to these wild animals when they decide to quit taking them in. Carolyn is 57, and John is 60.

"This is going to be what keeps us going -- getting up in the middle of the night to feed the babies," John said. "We'll keep doing it for a while."

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