Houston & Peach

Even opossums get love at Houston woman’s home

PERRY -- Bonnie Walker’s love of animals is not just for the cute and cuddly.

She proved that Tuesday as she began an introduction to the various critters that inhabit the 21 acres around her home in rural Houston County.

On her back porch, with a motley gathering of dogs and puppies observing carefully, she reached into a wooden box and extracted two baby opossums. The tiny marsupials fiercely bared their gums as they clutched around her fingers.

Walker, a Robins Air Force Base retiree, is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and this time of year is her busiest. Animals are giving birth, and sometimes those offspring end up in the hands of humans.

The opossums came to her from a man who caught the mother in a chicken coop and shot her, but then noticed its stomach moving. Opossums, like kangaroos, carry their offspring in a pouch. The man removed the babies and brought them to Walker.

People may wonder why she would bother with saving animals like opossums, but she isn’t one to think good looks are required for love.

“They are the garbage collectors of the world,” she said. “If you didn’t have opossums cleaning up all of the trash in the woods, it would probably smell real bad all of the time.”

She has rehabbed a bear cub, foxes, a baby alligator and just about anything else that needed a helping hand. It’s all done with the aim of returning the animals to the wild.

“I feel like I have accomplished something when I can raise a wild animal and put it back in the wild,” she said. “There’s not a better feeling.”

She typically will ease them back into their natural habitat by first keeping them in a pen in the woods. Then she’ll leave the pen open so they can get out but still return to it for food. Eventually, the wild in them takes over, and they leave the pen for good.

VARIED ANIMALS LIVE IN HARMONY

Dozens of various birds -- including turkeys, guineas, peafowl and ducks -- roam in peace in her yard with dogs, cats and horses. Asked how she gets them to get along so well, she is not one to get sentimental about how they are setting an example for the human race.

“Shock collar,” she said, adding that she will also have a dog drag a brick to make the dog too slow to catch up to a chicken, or to escape from her. “You learn tricks like that.”

In a week or two she will start getting fawns. She typically gets about seven each year.

The reason is simple. A doe will hide her baby as she goes in search of food, and she may be gone for hours. In the meanwhile, people will happen by and think the fawn has been abandoned. They will take it, believing they are saving an orphan.

But usually they’re wrong.

“I call it kidnapping,” Walker said.

Unless people have absolute confirmation that something has happened to the mother, they should leave fawns alone, Walker said. The same goes for other babies, such as birds.

It’s a myth, she said, that birds and other animals will abandoned their young if a human has touched it.

People often take in baby squirrels and try to raise them as pets, but Walker said that usually doesn’t work out. Squirrels get mean once they get older, she said.

She started rehabilitating animals in 1995 after her husband died. He hadn’t been much of an animal lover, but after he died, his best friend, Chuck Walker, started helping her around the house. Chuck was an avid hunter, but he told Bonnie if she wanted to start working with animals, he would help her. The two later married.

Today, Chuck hunts with a camera rather than a gun.

She started rehabbing squirrels and rabbits and has gradually expanded. About the only animals her license doesn’t cover are migratory birds and raptors, such as owls and hawks.

She works with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, veterinarians and animal rescue groups when an animal needs help.

When it comes to domestic animals, one of her specialities is helping aggressive dogs. Her French bulldog, Buster, happily bounds around her yard playing with chickens and gives strangers a friendly welcome, but he came to her as a bad seed.

His previous owner was going to have him put to sleep because he was so aggressive, but the veterinarian offered to place him with a group that might be able to help him.

That group was Georgia Canine Rescue in Cochran. Its director, Heather Zaresky, said Walker has transformed some dogs that seemed like lost causes.

“She is a great asset to us,” Zaresky said. “She has saved hundreds of dogs.”

Walker doesn’t accept domestic animals from the public, only from rescue groups. She also doesn’t trap animals. But if people have wild animals in need of help or want to adopt a dog, they can call her at 478-892-8072.

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