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Couple's wildlife rescue efforts save many animals

When Geri and Keith Wynn decided to retire in northeast Tennessee, they were looking for property in a wooded and isolated setting to enjoy peace, quiet and tranquility. Approximately 20 years ago, their plans to enjoy a simple life soon changed. The Wynns are the owners of Wynn*Wood Wildlife Rehabilitation, a center for injured wildlife located just over the Johnson County line.
According to Geri, who had previously worked as a veterinarian technician, she came across a baby turkey vulture that had fallen from its nest. Worried that dogs would prey on this young-ling, Geri wrapped him in a sheet and brought him home. With a bit of ingenuity, she taught this motherless bird how to fly. “Stand up, squat, stand up, squat,” she explained as she demonstrated how the bird would rest on her arm. “His wings kept hitting me in the head,” she added. Now a surrogate mother, Geri had to teach her charge how to find food. She explained she would search out fresh road kill and shred it while the bird watched and learned.
Before long, Geri was in the process of applying for both state and federal permits. A federal permit is required by the United States Fish and Wildlife Services as birds are migratory animals and are not concerned about crossing state lines. The 24-hour-a-day facility is also subjected to inspections twice a year. As a state-licensed rehabilitator, Geri initially spent 200 hours working with an experience and certified rehabilitator. She is also required to take continuing education classes each year.
Initially, the existence of Wynn*Wood Wildlife Rehabilitation was not well known. Slowly, the word was out and the Wynns began to receive calls regarding wildlife rescue. “We started getting in lots and lots of animals,” Geri said. People will come across injured animals and bring them to the rehabilitation center, as well as calling the Wynns to inform them of wildlife that they have found that are hurt and maimed. With those calls, they take off to bring those damaged animals to their facility. The Wynns came across a raccoon with a soda can digging into the flesh on his leg. With a bit of perseverance, this little critter was soon sedated as Geri cleaned the wound and addressed the severe infection in his leg. She has been known to suture, clean and outfit one special deer with a set of braces to rectify a congenital defect.
The goal of Wynn*Wood Wildlife Rehabilitation is to rescue wildlife and return them to their natural environment. With the exception of bears, the center takes in all types of animals. Bears in Tennessee are rescued by Appalachian Bear Rescue located in Townsend. In the summertime, they see bunnies, birds, ground hogs and baby possums. “We are trying to get the possum to hibernate,” explained Geri. She explained that possums don't always make it through their first year and she is working on fattening up those in their care. Once they survive that first winter, the possum are ready to go back to their environment.
Currently, the Wynns are caretakers to a large variety of animals. There are raccoons, Cooper's Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, Screech Owls, squirrels and Kestrels (a type of falcon) and bobcats. According to Geri, the bobcats are very territorial when it comes to their food, growling to make sure no one comes near their highly anticipated meal. These orphaned baby bobcats were injured in a fire. One of the owls at Wynn*Wood Wildlife Rehabilitation suffers neurological problems believed to have developed after ingesting a rodent who had consumed rat poison. While the Wynns rehabilitate and care for the animals, they do not treat them as pets as the goal is to keep as natural a wildlife environment as they can. “You need to keep them wild,” Geri explained. “They need to not like people.”
Before being released back into the wild, Geri vaccinates all of her animals for rabies which will protect them for approximately three years. “I also vaccinate for Distemper and Parvo so they have a better chance,” she explained. Raccoons are released within a five-mile radius of where they were found. Many birds mate for life, and they strive to return the bird to its own environment. Morning doves, ducks and geese may not take another partner for years, if ever, should their partner die. Birds have been found sitting next to their deceased mate, sometimes literally mourning themselves to death, she explained.
Taking care of the injured wildlife is a full-time job. Baby birds need to be fed every 15 minutes during the daytime hours, explained Geri. Very young baby possum in their care get their nourishment from gavage feeding, wherein a small, narrow tube is inserted down the animal's nose into their stomach. Young fawn are bottle-fed Land O Lakes lamb’s milk that they purchase at Tri-State Co-op. Between April and September, Geri needs to stay close to home. Keith is the one charged with running errands and grocery shopping. “It's pretty much all I do,” she said. “I have animals and I can't leave them.”
Wynn*Wood Wildlife Rehabilitation is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit charity. This operation depends on donations received from the kindness of private individuals and businesses, as well as their own money. Every dollar received goes directly to the care of the injured wildlife. They do not receive any government funding. Geri and Keith Wynn can be reached at 423-474-6220.