FAIRLAWN: For 51 years Akron's Fran Kitchen, has devoted her life to rehabilitating wild animals in Northeast Ohio and educating the public on wildlife preservation. On Tuesday, she shared her story at the Fairlawn-Bath Branch Library.
Kitchen found her calling to become a wildlife rehabilitator at age 19, when she took in an orphaned baby robin a neighbor had found. Kitchen went to the library, researched robins--what they ate, how they lived-- raised the tiny bird to adulthood and eventually released it back into the wild.
Over the past 51 years, she has aided the return to the wild of tens of thousands of orphaned or injured animals such as squirrels, rabbits, birds, foxes and opossums.
Kitchen serves as director for the Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc., which operates out of her own home because most of the animals she is caring for require around the clock care.
"I get eight-hundred to a thousand animals a year, and I release almost all of them," Kitchen said. "My survival rate is above average but it should be because I have done this for fifty one years."
According to Kitchen, during peak baby season, she receives as many as 200 calls a day.
Fairlawn resident Elizabeth Nelson said she was amazed by Kitchen's story.
"I'm inspired by her extraordinary, generous heart and her ability to work with the animals and to save them from the ravages of society," Nelson said. "She is a wonderful woman."
On Tuesday, Kitchen spoke at a family program about "wildlife in you neighborhood" at Fairlawn-Bath Branch Library and she was accompanied by several of the animals that she is caring for including: a baby possum, baby rabbits, her German Shepard, Lucy, a great horned owl, a groundhog and a bobcat.
Kitchen said that Bobby the bobcat was purchased as a kitten 20 years ago by a woman from Calif., who was visiting her daughter in Tallmadge. The woman then took Bobby home with her, had her declawed and defanged and intended on domesticating the animal. Bobby can never be released back into the wild again.
The woman violated ‘The Lacy Act,’ which protects both plants and wildlife by prohibiting trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold.
Kitchen said that by the time Bobby was three-and-a-half months old, the woman realized that she was not dealing with a domestic house cat when Bobby would challenge and attack her. She decided to pack her back up in a crate and bring her back to Tallmadge and sell her.
The woman placed an ad in the Akron Beacon Journal’s classifieds, and was answered by John Davis, the game warden of The Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Davis rescued Bobby and asked Kitchen to consider taking in the animal, as she could not be released back into the wild and the local zoos were not interested in having a declawed bobcat on display.
Kitchen hopes that Bobby's story will serve a purpose.
"If at least one person at each program that I've done through the twenty years, she has been with me has thought they have wanted a wild animal and I changed their mind then her life is not in vain," Bobby said. "It is at least serving a purpose and maybe some other poor animal from the same thing."
Kitchen's nonprofit organization, Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation Inc., does not receive government funding and is supported entirely through private donations.
Contact Kitchen at: Operation Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation Inc., PO Box 15042, Akron, OH 44314.