GEORGETOWN — In one of several yearling barns on Summer Wind Farm, two-week-old red foxes frantically chase each other in a closed horse stall. Inside the stall is an igloo-style dog house. That's their den. Two stacked bales of hay serve as a makeshift grassy rise. There's lots of clean straw for the all-day tumblepalooza.
This is some super fox fun.
Some of the world's most promising and well-bred thoroughbreds take no notice. This is Summer Wind, after all. Where animals are beloved regardless of their lineage. Where the 2006 Eclipse Award-winning, graded stakes-winning champion female Fleet Indian is standing in a field with her foal by champion and champion sire A.P. Indy, and both are in spitting distance of a) a wildlife neonatal facility currently nursing 40 baby raccoons, b) a rescue operation for seven orphan coyotes and c) a zebra.
Oh, and there are those 43 stray cats (each with names) who have all been spayed or neutered and micro-chipped and must be accounted for nightly because "they are our animals," wildlife rehabilitation specialist Karen Bailey says, as if that makes sense, and it does if you spend more than five minutes with Bailey.
Bailey is the daughter of farm owners Jane and Frank Lyons Jr., but this is not some idle horsewoman's hobby. This is the work of a woman with a master's degree in business administration from Vanderbilt University and an utter inability to see an animal suffer.
On this 850-acre horse farm, where the yearling son of Storm Cat and Fleet Indian is being raised to do his parents proud in the next Keeneland sale, Central Kentucky Wildlife Rehabilitation Inc. is in the midst of its high season. That's April, May and June, when Bailey gets, on average, three hours of sleep a night, so intent is she on bottle-feeding the newborns — be they raccoons, opossums, foxes, groundhogs, skunks, turtles, you name it — left homeless by accident, intent or cruelty.
Last year, she helped to rescue and rehabilitate 200 small wild animals, and that doesn't count the cats.
Her husband of one year, Summer Wind farm manager Mark Moloney, told her she could have one room in their house on the farm to do her wildlife work. It sort of expanded on her. And him.
"He asked me to come home with a six-pack," she says, laughing as she holds onto to six squirming baby coyotes. "I don't think this is what he had in mind."
She has now taken over at least four rooms and the entire multi-car garage area. She has incubators. She can pipe in oxygen. She can provide respiratory therapy with nebulizers. She has even gone so far as to apply some horse-farm medical advances originally tried on foals who were born orphans and asked her "savior" vet, Dr. Scott Tritsch of Central Kentucky Veterinary Center, if they could do something similar for raccoons without mothers.
The two then came up with a process of spinning down hyper-immunized raccoon plasma from her own raccoon blood donors. Her survival rate surpassed other, much larger rehabilitation centers working with raccoons, Tritsch says, and has attracted the attention of the University of California-Davis researchers.
She has built pens behind paddocks that serve as holding pens for new animals, to acclimate them to their new surroundings, to calm them, if need be. She has an elaborate two-step program of halfway houses, for her slow-release program for the raccoons released on her own farm.
From there, the almost-done-with-Bailey raccoons can easily keep tabs on the zebra and his three nappy burro friends who have their own paddock that has lots of lovely shade. The zebra, which was bought by Bailey's mother, who felt sorry for him, is affectionately (we think) named "The Rug."
Caring for the neglected
Karen Bailey's hands itch. She got a touch of poison ivy from one of her little charges, which must have had it on him when he arrived. A onetime national champion in show jumping with her 17.3-hands-tall Holsteiner stallion named Landsmann, Bailey shows no sign of being the woman in the crisp clothes and the polished field boots. For her work today, she is in sweats with raccoon-milk stains and more than a few stray animal hairs of unknown origin.
Handling wildlife is not for amateurs. She opens the door to a room where a raccoon named Little Bits hides in a cubby of softness. Someone took this animal in, thinking "she was cute," Bailey says. Which she was. But she grew up. They let her grow up in a tiny crate, no toys, no blanket, and fed her only Lay's potato chips. As a result, this animal has a metabolic bone disease and a chronic calcium deficiency. When she walks, she fractures her bones. She weighs four pounds. She should weigh 20.
That animal will never be released into the wild. But she is in Bailey's regular school wildlife-education programs.
Bailey is quietly angry telling Little Bits' story. "It is illegal to own wildlife," she says emphatically. Even animal shelters can't hold them for long without euthanizing them. Which means she gets calls every day from the area's shelters, and she goes and picks up those animals that are dropped off.
She has picked up animals whose ribs were broken because teenagers decided to kick them for fun.
She wonders aloud where compassion has gone for those with whom we share the world.
Many raccoons, few mice
If you bring her a screech owl, she'll triage it and send it on to the screech owl rehab specialist a few hours away. That's how it's done: a small network of people trying to save as many animals as they can as quickly as they can with the special skills they have.
She has the raccoon market covered. That explains maybe why Summer Wind has, she guesses, more raccoons per acre than any other horse farm in Kentucky. She also bets that they have fewer mice. And she knows she has healthy horses. She's seen their blood tests.
And, lest you think rabies is a concern, she also has the knowledge that there is no known raccoon-variant rabies in Kentucky, a fact verified by Tritsch and her five horse vets on staff.
And understand that she does not mix her domestics with her wildlife, despite their proximity. The foxes do not fraternize with the coyotes. The coyotes do not cuddle up with the possums. In real life, they would not be friends on sight. Visitors are not allowed to touch the babies. That explains why the raccoons in the halfway house are hissing at the photographer but not at Bailey.
One of the raccoons here left the house a year ago and made a successful foray into the wild. He stayed gone until one day he returned. Bailey, who makes daily rounds to all the pens, recognized him and asked him what was wrong. He, more or less, told her. One of his legs was broken.
So he had come home to have it fixed.
He is now on his second release, scheduled to be gone any day he chooses, to leave his proverbial nest next to The Rug and wander, with his leg good to go.
"Their instincts are very powerful," Bailey says. "It's why wild animals are so easy to release. It's also why they don't make good pets."
A dominant male coyote, although very young at eight weeks, displays some shockingly primal instinct in using his body to shield a 4-week-old coyote as the younger takes a walk in Bailey's sunny yard. Wherever the small one goes, the big brother hovers.
"He's teaching him how to be a coyote," she says, with fresh awe.
She admits that "the work is not without heartbreak. But you have to let them go."
Their faces confirm their gratitude. Their antics show how near they are to ourselves.
Once, her little charges figured out how to turn the knobs on the water faucets and flood the Juvenile Room. Then there was the time that the raccoons in the halfway house figured out how to lock her out.
"These little monsters," she says, smiling, "are my monsters."