I heard a high pitched "kuk, kuk" of a squirrel in distress and looked out the kitchen window. Dixie, our golden retriever, stood riveted at the base of a tree staring at a tiny gray squirrel clinging to the bark just inches from her face. I dashed outside and yelled, “Dixie!”
The squirrel jumped down the tree and followed Dixie towards me. My heart missed a beat.
Bud, my husband, rushed up and caught Dixie just in time. While securing Dixie on a cable the squirrel chattered and climbed into Bud’s outstretched hands. We were stunned.
When we placed the squirrel in a cage it cowered in a corner its bushy tail against its back. We wondered what to do. I decided to call Kaye Wansley a friend who is licensed by the Department of Natural Resources to rehabilitate wildlife.
Kaye agreed to take the squirrel the following morning. In the mean time we were instructed to feed it warm Gatorade with an eyedropper.
The baby squirrel closed its eyes and drank ferociously as it held the eyedropper between its paws in our laps. Our hearts melted. To our delight it later ate the watermelon Kaye recommend.
The squirrel’s entry in our lives held many gifts. The greatest of these was connecting back with Kaye, an extraordinary woman who has touched the lives of many people and animals.
She also takes wildlife to psychiatric and geriatric wards in hospitals, offers animal therapy to children in group homes, has worked as a psychiatric nurse and works full-time as a private school librarian in Macon. Kaye's students call her the "Animal Lady." Many told her years later what they remember most was holding a baby wild animal in her class.
However, her life has not always been easy. In the 80s she weighed 300 pounds and became so depressed and suicidal she spent a year as an in-patient at a psychiatric hospital. She was given several medications and diagnoses but nothing helped. When her psychiatrist decided to refer her to a long-term care facility the nursing staff helped her find another psychiatrist. She began to heal under her new psychiatrist’s care when he realized she had multiple personalities.
The turning point came when her psychiatrist showed her an old tree that had managed to grow over some barbed-wire. She said it made her realize that she too could heal despite her childhood abuse.
Kaye’s pet therapy helps other children work through their painful pasts. She says many children have a hard time trusting after being abused. However once they trust an animal it can carry over to human relations. She tells of a little girl who refused to speak at school. When Kaye showed her a squirrel her little face lit up and she exclaimed, "kwirl, kwirl." Kaye says the work is so rewarding it often brings tears to her eyes.
She says the animals provide great metaphors for helping people deal with their feelings. "I show people a hedgehog and how it's all prickly on the outside. I ask them if they know anyone who seems all prickly. Then I show them the soft, vulnerable underside of the hedgehog. People are like that, too." Kaye takes skunks when she talks to troubled teens. "These kids feel shunned like the skunk. Even the skunk doesn’t like the smell and only sprays when it has no recourse. These kids feel they too have no options."
She says she has the least experience in rehabilitating snakes as most people don’t bother to bring them in. They don’t realize that we would starve if it weren’t for snakes because they eat rodents. Rodents eat 1/5 of the world’s grain.
Kaye's rehabilitation is a labor of love as she pays for food, veterinary care, cages and other expenses herself.
Being a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, mother, grandmother, nurse, teacher and lover of nature has also tested Kaye's sense of humor.
Once she noticed the ceiling of her hallway was wet when she walked in the house. She ran upstairs and found two young raccoons swimming happily in her bathtub. A third was stirring the family’s toothbrushes in the commode with its paw.
She credits her connection with nature in helping her overcome her depression. She sees her love of animals as a gift and says the children taught her this.
Like the phoenix, the mystical bird that rises from its own ashes, Kaye is living proof of how a broken spirit can emerge strengthened to become an earth angel.