Akron’s Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation offers help for wild animals, education for people

April 10, 2018 GMT

Akron’s Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation offers help for wild animals, education for people

AKRON, Ohio – What started as a one-off mission rehabilitating a baby robin 55 years ago has become a calling for Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation founder and Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Fran Kitchen of Akron.

“I raised a robin hatchling for a neighbor and I successfully rehabbed it,” Kitchen said. “And the next year she had a friend that found something and they brought it to me and it’s just grown to what it is today.”

Kitchen, who turns 74 in July, estimates she has helped tens of thousands of orphaned or injured squirrels, rabbits, birds, foxes, raccoons and opossums through the years. Her goal is to rehabilitate the animals and release them back into the wild.

“Growing up I wanted to be a veterinarian. That wasn’t in the cards. But I really, truly believe I’m doing what I was intended to do,” Kitchen said.

Each year, Kitchen helps some 800 animals. Currently under her care are 40 squirrels, 12 bunnies and an owl. She also uses animals that are unable to be released back into the wild for educational programs. Her educational companions include a screech owl, a barred owl, an Eastern box turtle, two opossums and a red fox.

“I really love doing educational programing and outreach programs. To me, it does more good to educate than anything else. I find it so sad that adults that are living among the wildlife that we have don’t have a clue what they’re sharing this world with,” Kitchen said.

Kitchen offers a variety of educational programs and displays designed to educate participants on birth, growth, development, diet and habitat for both wild and domestic animals. She conducts approximately 60 educational programs each year.

“Each and every animal has a job and a reason for being here,” she said.

One of the questions she is asked most often is what to do if baby wild animals are found.

“Ninety-five percent of the baby animals that people think are orphaned aren’t,” she said. “If you see an animal you think is in trouble, before you pick it up, make some phone calls. So often the animal isn’t in trouble, especially when it’s a baby.”

Kitchen advises individuals who find an animal that appears to need help to first contact a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator, such as herself. Alternatively, individuals can find detailed information on how to tell if an animal is orphaned (birds, deer, fox, opossum, owls, rabbits, raccoon, skunk, squirrels, turtles and waterfowl) and how to help them via the Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation website learning center.

For Kitchen, who was inducted into the Ohio Natural Resources Hall of Fame in 2001 and received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitation Association in 1999, rehabilitating wild animals is something of a love affair.

“You don’t get down time, you just keep chugging along,” she said.

Kitchen’s next educational program will take place April 14-15 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Donzell’s Garden Center, 937 East Waterloo Rd., Akron. Kitchen will have some of the orphaned baby animals she is caring for on display at the event.

Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation is a nonprofit organization funded solely by donations, membership and educational programs. To learn more about the organization, visit www.operationorphanwildlife.com.

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