By Anna-Marie Menhenott
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- For some, wildlife is something that can be enjoyed at a zoo or on television. But, for Winnie Burns and her husband, Bob, wildlife is a way of life.
"We've been here for 20- years," Mrs. Burns said. "We started out with two rabbit cages and now we have acres dedicated to helping save the lives of creatures big and small."
With plans to expand, which will include paddocks for the animals and a community garden, Mrs. Burns is excited about the future.
"We are hopeful that we are able to continue helping the helpless," said Mrs. Burns. "Animals that end up here are usually very sick or injured. We nurse them back to health and give them another chance at life. One of the most rewarding experiences in life is to see an animal that was near death return to its home in the wild. It is simply amazing."
The 'wild' oasis is full of animals whose gratitude is expressed through their peaceful existence. A Catahoula Cur, affectionately named Katie Houla, stands guard of her adopted home. Although she does nothing more than carefully watch those who come and go her presence is a staple on the premises.
Once past Katie, a barrage of hellos from happy parrots greets those lucky enough to take a tour through the property.
"I have a parrot named Mozart who I received from an older lady who relocated to live with her daughter," Mrs. Burns said with a smile. "She was absolutely heartbroken that she had to leave Mozart and called nearly every day to check up on him. When he first got here, all he did was cry 'Oh, Mozart,' much like his owner did before she had to pass him on to me. But after a while, he started saying 'hello' to everybody. She was happy to know that he was adjusting and that his heartbreak from leaving her was starting to subside."
It was evident that each animal arrived at Creature Safe Place with its own story... and, Mrs. Burns knew each one of them.
As we were guided through the sanctuary, Mrs. Burns pointed out a Barred Owl named Warren whose wing had been broken.
"He's almost better," Mrs. Burns said proudly. "He'll be able to go home soon. We do our part to get them well, but what these animals really want is to get back to their homes. Getting them there is our job."
Another creature that made its way to Mrs. Burns is Belle, a deer that was brought to the refuge still in her amniotic sac.
"Belle's mother was hit by a car and killed on impact. She was pregnant with Belle and Belle's twin who also didn't survive. A State Trooper brought Belle to me and I tore open the amniotic sac, blew air in her nose and mouth and popped her on the chest to get her heart going. I had to bottle feed her and now she thinks I'm her mother," Mrs. Burns said with a look of love that any mom would have. "Now, Belle is a surrogate mom to other fawns that come in. She nurtures them while I bottle feed them. She is an amazing creature that knows that she has a job to do. She shares her community with a swan, three fawns and a tortoise."
Other creatures that are lucky enough to reside at Creature Safe Place are three coatimundis who enjoy sweet smelling perfume, kinkajous from a Key West side show, Fennick foxes, marmoset monkeys named Tallulah and Twyla, a skunk who previously took up space in a classroom, ostriches, rabbits and miniature horses. And, I know I forgot lots.
"I feel like I'm a missionary for animals," Mrs. Burns said. "There is an amazing amount of generosity from volunteers and people from the community. I have some Eagle Scouts who are making larger cages for the rabbits, and a Brownie Troop who turned water bottles into feeders for the rabbits. I have an amazing circle of people who know how hard it is to keep this type of organization running. From an amazing vet, Dr. Kelly, who donates his time, services and expertise, to members of the community who donate items... We couldn't do this without them."
From Sept. 7- 15, boxes will be placed around the community to help collect supplies for the animals at Creature Safe Place, which is a nonprofit, wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary and exotic animal refuge located in western part of St. Lucie County.
Supplies such as bleach, vinegar, laundry and dish soap, paper towels, cloth towels, garden and building tolls, all types of animal food (especially canned dog and cat food), toys for habitat/cage enrichment, Pedialyte (regular flavor), baby wipes, money and gift cards from local merchants are welcomed.
Collection boxes can be found at several locations, including Hometown News in Lakewood Park, Kelly's Animal Hospital, Tractor Supply in Fort Pierce, Ox-Bow Eco Center, Thomas Feed and Hay, Big Apple Pizza Fort Pierce, Morningside Veterinary Hospital, Tri-County Animal Hospital and Tranquility Spa.
"Being fortunate enough to help these wonderful, helpless creatures is a way the community can give back," Mrs. Burns said.
For more information, call (772) 468-6616.