WHITEHOUSE – The Wild Rose Rescue Ranch may not rescue any animals this year.
Dozens of deer, raccoons, skunks and squirrels – classified as “wildlife” in Texas – undergoing rehabilitation at the Whitehouse ranch were released and transferred to other rehabilitation centers after the ranch’s state-issued wildlife rehabilitation permit expired Jan. 1.
As Whitehouse City Council members consider a proposed ordinance that would limit the number of pets allowed in city residences to four, without grandfathering in animals already established in residences, the ranch’s operations could face another hard hit.
Owners of the ranch Bob and Georganne Lenham said their property is zoned agriculturally and under the Right to Farm Act. They said they should be allowed to have their animals and plan to reapply for another wildlife permit for 2012.
Although she said she believes the city ordinance targets the rescue ranch, she hopes the issues are about helping the animals, not pointed at stopping their efforts.
Mike Barnett, Smith County Appraisal District chief appraiser, said the property (minus the physical house) is agriculturally zoned and agriculturally taxed.
While the animals reside in the agriculture-zoned area, the ranch still would be subjected to the proposed ordinance because the rabbits and dogs are not classified as livestock under the proposedordinance.
The ranch could operate as a private animal shelter instead of as a rescue, but that permitting process is done on a city level, not on the state level, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of State Health Services said.
Mrs. Lenham, a Vietnam veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient, said there are no permitting requirements to be an animal rescue facility.
Currently, Whitehouse does not have an animal shelter permitting process instated. Instead of relying on or permitting an animal shelter within the city, stray animals are brought to Klein Animal Shelter in Jacksonville.
Lenham said the ranch originally was licensed only to rehabilitate small mammals, but in 2008 received a license to rehabilitate deer as well.
“We thought they were nice to look at,” he said, “But we never thought about rehabbing deer until the game warden came along.”
Since the Lenhams started rehabilitating deer for the sheriff’s office and game warden in 2005, the Lenhams have invested more than $20,000 in medical and infrastructure costs.
Along with the wildlife, the almost 48-acre ranch is home to hundreds of domestic animals including 28 rescued dogs, 12 rescued horses and about 230 rabbits rescued from the University of Victoria in Canada.
The Wild Rose Rescue Ranch has all its dogs posted online for adoption. The plan for the rabbits is to “let them live out their lives in a peaceful environment,” Mrs. Lenham said.
Game Warden Chris Green commented on a facility inspection in November 2008 that the property is a “great place to rehab deer.”
“However, in the past, there has been too much human contact,” he said in his report, made available by the Freedom of Information Act.
He said the Lenhams were warned about the interaction with humans and horses “and will comply in the future.”
However, the wildlife permit was not renewed for 2011 because the ranch still was imprinting wildlife and exposing them to “too much human contact,” Game Warden Capt. Quint Balkom said.
He said wildlife were treated “as family members” and interacting with the domestic animals at the ranch.
“These wildlife are there to be rehabilitated to have the ability to be released back into the wild,” Balcom said. “Not treated as a pet or family member per-se, that type of activity – human imprinting – was going on constantly at that facility.”
Mrs. Lenham said the deer “wild up just fine.”
She said she and her husband started out by feeding fawns through a fence, avoiding any human contact, but the deer were “despondent and dying.”
“Sometimes they came to us with collars, and some were already imprinted,” she said. “A vet told us, ‘You have got to make a connection with them, or they will die.'”
Lenham said he and his wife came up with a new system and started naming the animals to tell them apart and help with doling out medicines.
“Yes, it takes longer to wild up, but they do wild up,” he said. “You have to adjust your routine to their benefit.”
Any of the deer the Lenhams thought would not “wild up” were taken to Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, a sanctuary operated by the Fund for Animals and The Humane Society of the United States.
Mrs. Lenham said some of the wildlife “took more than a year to wild up.”
“It kills you; it’s exhausting and tiring, but the reward is seeing them released,” she said.
She said none of the animals in their care were confined unless it they were “real sick or recuperating.”
“As soon as they’re healthy, they jump over the fence and come and go,” she said.
Balkcom said he does not believe the decision not to renew the Lenhams’ permit and the proposed city ordinance are personal.
“It’s not big brother putting his thumb on people who are trying to do good things,” he said.
Mrs. Lenham said she is afraid the outcomes of the city’s proposed ordinance will deter potential animal volunteers.
“I don’t want people to get discouraged,” she said. “It’s important to help and volunteer; there’s still some good going on.”
Published February 21
Tyler Morning Telegraph