Call of the Wild

Wildlife biologist
Barbara Rosenman cares for
injured animals at her Smithfield home.

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

SMITHFIELD, Ky. (February 2003) – Most days, Barbara Rosenman barely has time to catch her breath amidst ringing phones, giving out free advice about injured wildlife, admitting animals to her sanctuary, checking on and feeding animals, and overseeing a daily list of duties for volunteers. To say she is a very busy woman is an understatement.
“I’ve always liked working with animals,” said the 51-year-old urban wildlife biologist. “It’s a challenge. The independence of animals is intriguing.”
Rosenman is the founder and executive director of Kentucky Wildlife-Line Inc. (KWL), a sanctuary and clinic that straddles the Oldham and Henry County line between Ballardsville and Smithfield on Hwy. 22. Located on the 10 acres where Rosenman lives, KWL provides free treatment to more than 500 wild animals annually.

Barbara Rosenman

Barbara Rosenman
with a fox.

KWL was established in 1983 when Rosenman moved to Oldham County from Jefferson County, Ky. She was appalled by the many stories she heard at the time of the state confiscating illegal animals and shooting many in the head. Thinking there must be a better way of handling the animals, Rosenman created what she called, “a clearing-house for animals.”
Relying on her own time and personal finances, she began a wildlife refuge that now has 12 adult volunteers on a regular basis. She relies on grants, private donations and fees charged for educational programs taken into the school system and summer camps, to fund the $35,000 a year operation.
Expenses mount up, as Rosenman tries to keep the basics on hand: hay for bedding, feed, formula for infant animals, medicine and cages. After rescue, an animal is fed, housed, medicated and prepared for release back into the wild.
KWL, a nonprofit charity, is the holding facility for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Rosenman was employed by the state department for a number of years and still maintains a close working relationship with them. A Board of Trustees composed of veterinarians, vet techs and an attorney governs KWL.
Many volunteers come to Rosenman through the Non-Violent First Offenders Program in Oldham County, of which she is a mentor. She said she strives to teach these young kids “a useful skill.” She views community service as a valuable life lesson for kids who have gone astray.


An injured fox at Rosenman's nursery.

Rosenman is also a mentor for the BETA Club, whose members are already thinking about career choices. “I like working with young people,” she said.
Kris Simonson is a Henry County High School student who plans to study medicine after graduation. Simonson has been so influenced by Rosenman that she said she would like to open her own wildlife refuge someday. She said that in the last four years of volunteering at KWL she has learned “a lot of responsibility. The animals count on you.”
Simonson said that working with the animals is therapeutic. “It calms me down. I can be alone with them and think.”
Many volunteers quit because they can’t stand to see a sick animal suffer. But not Simonson. She said the first animal she cared for died in her hands. “It brought me to reality. KWL is like an animal hospital. Not all of the animals make it.”
Many local vets donate services to KWL, said vice president Tammy Parker Skinner. Skinner, a veterinary technician, came into contact with Rosenman 14 years ago after finding a baby gray fox.
Skinner raised the fox until it was six months old and then searched for a place that would care for it. She contacted the Louisville Zoo, and they directed her to Rosenman. The two struck up a friendship and Skinner eventually became a wildlife rehabilitator in Jefferson County.
“She became a big part of my life,” said Skinner. “Most people think you raise an animal and then let it go.” Rosenman taught Skinner not only how to rehabilitate injured, orphaned, or sick animals but also the importance of releasing them back into their natural Native American environment.
Upon evaluating a recovering animal, Skinner said that before releasing it she had to be “satisfied in my own mind” that it would survive. Rosenman feeds animals the same food they would eat in the wild so they will not become dependent on food not available to them once released. Many sportsmen donate meat for her animals, she said.
Skinner cited a growing concern over the vast amount of exotic animals readily available for sale online. These animals are often abandoned or abused. She said future goals for KWL’s board of directors includes finding avenues for what to do with exotics, which may be non-releasable, since these animals are not native to Kentucky and could not survive if released into its wild population.
“We’re like an animal emergency room,” Rosenman said. She has a 75 percent animal release rate, and only permanently houses animals when there is no chance of their survival in the wild due to their physical condition.
Rosenman studied wildlife diseases and diagnostics at Tufts University in Massachusetts and has attended Western Kentucky University and studied skeletal forensics at the University of Louisville.
“Her knowledge is totally unbelievable,” said volunteer Lisa Ellswick. Ellswick has traveled from her Trimble County home for the last three years to work for Rosenman one to two days a week, in addition to working a full time job.
“Her attitude gets you involved,” said Ellswick, who has performed such tasks as feeding, changing bandages and cleaning cages.
With as many as up to 70 recovering animals in one day at the refuge in the summer months, Ellswick said some of the wild animals that have been there included turkey, raccoons, possums, squirrels, skunks, ferrets, foxes, coyotes, birds, snakes and bears.
“You can’t get attached,” she said. “You have to remember that these are wild animals.”
Rosenman is a captain with the Oldham County EMS and, as with the wildlife refuge, devotes 100 percent of her time to doing her job well.
During her 12 years as an EMS volunteer, she was deeply affected by the drowning of two children in the district one summer. As a result, Rosenman created a character named Bear-A-Medic (BAM). BAM is a large teddy bear dressed in a paramedic uniform whose purpose is to explain water safety to school children.
Before a hospital was built in La Grange, BAM originally rode with children “to comfort them for the long ride to Kosair’s,” said Rosenman. Since the Oldham County EMS is tax based, there is no funding for BAM. Rosenman must rely on out-of-pocket expenses, donations or grant money to provide a program that has become a huge success with children.
Also geared toward children is a new project she has in the works. A wildlife themed birthday party can be hosted, with cake, punch, prizes, games and animals provided.
Through her natural teaching ability and compassion for human and animal life, Rosenman instills the call of the wild into the hearts of all who come in contact with her.

• For more information or to provide donations, call (502) 222-1853.

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