She began with a bobcat
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1995:
BOERNE, Texas––Association of Sanctuaries president-
elect Lynn Cuny started Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in 1977
incorporating one year later. She knew from childhood that she wanted
to work with animals. “My brother worked at the zoo and I couldn’t
wait to be old enough to follow him into zoo work,” she
remembers––but that was the steel-and-concrete era, when zoos were
more like dungeons than natural habitat. “When I got there,” she con-
tinues, “it broke my heart. I decided to found an organization that
would serve the needs of wild animals in free-roaming and captive situ-
ations, because there was simply no assistance available for such ani-
mals” when they became sick or injured.
Cuny began by distributing business cards “to any individual
or agency that might come in contact with any animals in need of help.
The very first call was from a woman who had seen a skunk with a
mayonaise jar stuck on his head, stumbling through a neighborhood on
the far northeast side of San Antonio. A well-placed nail with a tap
from a hammer, and the little guy was free.”
Lifetime care began when another of Cuny’s first cases
brought her a young bobcat. “She was sitting in a small aquarium in a
pet shop and apparently bleeding to death after being improperly
declawed, not that there is any proper way to declaw a bobcat,” Cuny
recalls. A sympathetic family bought the bobcat and treated her
wounds, but found their home was no place for her.
“Wildlife Rescue at that time was basically one person, one
small house in San Antonio, and one volunteer veterinarian who helped
out whenever he could,” Cuny continues. She supported herself and
her rescue efforts by delivering newspapers. With no other alternatives,
“I turned over two rooms in my house to her. Here she would be ‘free’
to climb bookcases, sleep on furniture, and gaze out the windows
watching for birds and squirrels. This was not the perfect life by any
means. I decided the first and best longterm goal for WRR was to find
land and set up a safe sanctuary for wild animals like this bobcat, who
had been abused or injured so severely that they could never again go
free. They could at least live in captive natural habitats and be cared for
without being exploited. I also decided that the perfect logo for Wildlife
Rescue would be a bobcat.”
By the time Cuny raised the funds for her first sanctuary, she
had a second bobcat, a young male whom someone left on her porch.
Most of the animals Cuny handled then, as now, were soon returned to
the wild, but the number in permanent care kept growing. After a 1985
flash flood wrecked the first sanctuary, killing several animals, Cuny
moved the survivors to the present 21-acre off-road site in March 1986.
At first, Cuny and WRR assistant director Tim Ajax recall, they got
lots of anxious inquiries about so-called nuisance wildlife, especially
coyotes and foxes. They don’t get as many now. “Maybe we’ve educat-
ed the community about living and letting live,” Ajax speculates.
First impressions of WRR can be misleading, as immense vul-
tures roost on every high point––particularly the old telephone poles
supporting the nets and fencing that enclose house-sized flyways and
even bigger habitats for pumas, wolves, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes.
“We didn’t invite the vultures,” Cuny laughs. “They found
us.” In a sense, they’re volunteer helpers. “Every now and then some-
one brings us an injured vulture,” Cuny explains. “We don’t even both-
er to put them in a flyway. We just let them walk around outside, and
with all the other vultures here, they do just fine.”
Cuny has noticed a tendency for injured animals to “buddy
up,” even though they may be quite territorial in the wild. The pumas
provide the most dramatic example. Wild males typically defend about
300 square miles, overlapping portions of the habitat of several females,
who each defend about half as much. Intruders may be killed. Within
the WRR compounds, half a dozen pumas may share a fraction of an
acre. Trees and brush allow them no more than the illusion of solitude.
Yet, though there is much kittenish stalking and pouncing, there is no
fighting––not even among those who come to WRR fully grown.
“I think it has to do with the availability of food,” Cuny says.
“When they know they’ll get their meals, they’ll make friends.”
A large pond, zoo-sized cages for primates and coatimundis,
and various outbuildings complete the model refuge, humming with
paid staff and volunteers as well as animals. Someone is always on the
job: WRR’s best-known service is a 24-hour-a-day wildlife rescue hot-
line, always answered by a trained human being.
The WRR budget is modest––circa $200,000 a year––for the
number of animals handled. Learning to work with limited resources
has come more easily to Cuny than the knack of fundraising. Once she
received repeated telephone messages from a man who said he was a
Jaguar dealer. Having no use for wildlife trafficking, she ignored him.
When he finally did reach her, she told him exactly what she thinks of
people who sell jaguars, “unless you mean the car.”
“I mean the car,” the man said.
Accepting Cuny’s embarrassed apologies, the Jaguar dealer
has helped WRR financially ever since.