HAWLEY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Anywhere between 250-300 wildlife-related calls come into Abilene’s Animal Control each year, leading the Abilene Police Department (APD) to partner with a Hawley-based wildlife rehabilitation clinic to help ease the workload.

It’s been a fast-growing two years for the founder of Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Jennifer Kleinpeter. From starting a wildlife rehab out of her garage, caring for the animals after long hours of being a registered nurse, to creating educational kids camps with their newly registered animal ambassador – Ruby the skunk.

Kleinpeter put nursing behind her, retiring from the field in March of 2022, now dedicating all of her time to the wildlife rehab center.

She and her growing team of volunteers have seen hundreds of animals come through their doors, but now, a new task lies ahead for them: helping Abilene Animal Control with wildlife-related calls.

“Nuisance wildlife is the most common, skunks in traps, raccoons in traps,” Animal Control Supervisor, Lindsey Houts explained.

Houts said the team responds to roughly five wildlife calls a week, and at some points during the year, up to 15 calls a week. That’s not including the countless number of domestic animal calls they receive. Despite this, the craziest call Houts said she’s received isn’t an animal you’d expect to see in the Big Country.

“My supervisor at the time responded to a honey badger call,” Houts said, “The honey badger was on the front porch of a resident here in Abilene.” 

For about a year, Animal Control and Big Country Wildlife Rehab have worked hand in hand to rehab, vaccinate and release non-rabies vector species, animals that don’t carry rabies, such as squirrels, possums and more.

However, this new partnership is a continuation of that original pact, now more hands-on with rabies-vector species, such as skunks, raccoons, coyotes and foxes.

The partnership came together as a combined effort to see Abilene’s Animal Control have a higher rate of wildlife releases, meaning rabies-vector species have the opportunity to be released, rather than euthanized if they are suspected to have rabies or distemper.

“We take those animals in, we quarantine them and depending on the species, up to 21 days,” Kleinpeter shared. “14-21 days, we fully vaccinate and then release them.” 

For Kleinpeter, one of her greatest points of emphasis is animal education, hammering home that rabies-vector species don’t always have those diseases, even if you see them out during the day or they are acting a little off.

That’s why the quarantine days are so important for the life of the animal.

“If animals come in and they’re in quarantine and they start developing these diseases such as rabies or distemper we, unfortunately, have to euthanize because there’s no cure for that disease,” Kleinpeter stated. “But, we’re giving that animal the opportunity to be in quarantined to show us if it even has the disease. Just because it’s a rabies vector species doesn’t necessarily mean that they have that disease.”

They allow those two to three weeks to monitor the animal and euthanize if they develop the symptoms. However, if they show signs they are healthy, they will get vaccinated for rabies and distemper as a preventative, much like flu shots are for humans, and be released back into the wild where they belong.