HAWLEY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – What do a nurse, insurance advocate and skunk have in common? Surprisingly, a lot. The small group teamed together in 2021 to form “The Little Rehab That Could,” and has since been renamed and grown to great heights. But the rehab center for animals says it needs your help.

It was Summer 2021 when Jennifer Kleinpeter, full-time nurse, was first introduced. She started a small wildlife rehabilitation center in her garage.

Not even a year later, what was once known as “The Little Rehab That Could,” Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is booming. With more than 2,000 likes on Facebook and thousands of views on Tik Tok, Kleinpeter’s dream of running a successful wildlife rehab quickly became her reality.

“If we weren’t here, they [animals] would be left to die a miserable death on the side of the road, or they would be picked up and euthanized,” Kleinpeter said.

Executive Director Jennifer Kleinpeter moved to the Big Country from Alabama in 2019, taking a job with Hendrick Medical Center in the Critical Care Unit. She said humans and animals are very similar in their recoveries from traumatic injuries. Using her medical background and knowledge, she has been able to provide the special care animals require.

As Big Country Wildlife Rehab grew, Kleinpeter needed help in growing her board and volunteer staff, to better care for the amount of animals they receive on a weekly basis.

Vice President Jan Sanchez had always had an affinity for wildlife, and is in the process of rehabbing 12 orphaned baby opossums. Much like Kleinpeter, Sanchez has been using her background working with people and translating that to wildlife.

Sanchez used to work in insurance, advocating for trauma victims. She said her passion for wanting to restore someone’s life to normal, and give them hope again, easily translated to working with injured or orphaned animals.

“It’s the same calling I always had,” Sanchez said. “Now, instead of people, they’re smaller and furrier.”

Kleinpeter, Sanchez and their whole team said they believe through Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, they will be able to give these animals the best fighting chance back in the wild.

However, Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center not only specializes in rehabbing orphaned or injured wildlife, but also has expanded its outreach as a form of community education.

Most animals would take to their release. But one special skunk named Ruby, that wasn’t quite the case. Ruby has since become the face of the nonprofit.

Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s skunk, Ruby. Apr. 2022

Ruby was orphaned at three weeks old and has been with Jennifer since day one. While they tried to get her acclimated with other wild skunks, Ruby was just not fitting in, meaning she would be unable to fend for herself in the wild.

Now, at just past one year old, Ruby has officially been recognized and registered with Texas Parks and Wildlife as an “educational display.” That means she is able to be taken to schools, businesses and other functions as an ambassador for their rehabilitation center and an educational animal.

Kleinpeter said Ruby’s title has changed over the year, and is able to still have a great quality of life and remind people of the Big Country of the importance of it’s skunks, possums, raccoons and other creatures.

Taking care of the dozens of skunks, possums, foxes, rabbits and squirrels can become a costly endeavor for the local non-profit, according to Kleinpeter.

The Hawley 501c3 puts all the money back into rehabbing the wildlife. Using those funds and getting them vaccinated for rabies, parvo and distemper, as well as giving them quality shelter before they are released.

Between the medications and treatment methods needed to care for their animals and supplying food, Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is asking for the community’s support during Abilene Gives in 2022.

Kleinpeter noted a few needs Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is looking to fulfill through Abilene Gives are purchasing special formula to feed the weeks old animals, money to purchase incubators and neonates, vaccinations and emergency equipment for their patients in critical condition.

Visit Big Country Wildlife Rehabilitation’s profile on Abilene Gives to learn more and make a donation.