02/21/2013 2:34PM

Animal planet: Kentucky farm mixes horses and wildlife

Barbara D. Livingston
Karen Bailey with Lucas, a raccoon, at Bailey’s home on the property of Summer Wind Farm in Kentucky. Bailey has turned her home into a wildlife rehabilitation center, separate from the farm.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. − The skunk is in the kitchen.

“That’s Stella,” Karen Bailey says, glancing down at the striped creature at her feet. “Somebody brought her to us in a bucket. She was attacked as a newborn by Jack Russells. They killed the rest of her family, but we managed to save her.”

But the skunk is in the kitchen.

“She’s a permanent resident − part of our education program,” Bailey says. “She’s mostly blind. She can’t climb. She can’t get into trouble. And she’s de-scented. She has her own room, and she has a bed in there. She’s generally not out with strangers. But when it’s just me, and she hears my voice, she’ll waddle out. She’s been out this morning because I’ve been down here working, trying to get ready for my trip.”

Bailey has her computer open on the kitchen table, and she says, “Come look at this. Is this not the most amazing thing you have ever seen?”

It’s a video of swimming pigs. They’re swimming in the clear water off the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. With their snouts upraised, snorting and screeching, they’re swimming out to people’s boats, looking for food.

Bailey watches wide-eyed.

“With the horses and the wildlife, I rarely get to go on vacation,” she says. “But this will be my dream vacation.”

She has rented a hut for herself and her husband, and she has rented a little boat. There, in the Bahamas, every single day for a week, she will swim with the pigs.

Skunk at her feet and swimming pigs in her dreams, Bailey is perhaps the most devoted, sensitive, intelligent, entertaining, and determined animal lover you will ever meet. She has turned her Kentucky home into a bustling, respected wildlife rehabilitation center that last year took in about 500 injured or orphaned animals and, as she does every year, eventually releases nearly every one. They include raccoons, possums, pigs, skunks, deer, groundhogs, foxes, coyotes, beavers, and otters. Most were babies who lost their mothers, but some were beaten by humans, struck by cars, or mauled by other animals. And they come not only from individuals, vets, and animal shelters but also from some of the most prestigious farms, including Ashford, Taylor Made, Spendthrift, and Lane’s End.

Look out her dining-room windows, and you see an otter pond and a field of pigs, and beyond them the grassy fields and four-plank fences of a first-rate horse farm. Bailey’s home and her Kentucky Wildlife Center sit on Summer Wind Farm near Lexington − “a little boutique of usually pretty well-bred yearlings,” Bailey says.

Bailey’s parents, Jane and Frank Lyon Jr., started Summer Wind in 1995 after operating an agricultural farm in Little Rock, Ark. It was Bailey’s mother’s dream to have a horse farm in the Bluegrass.

They built a band of about 30 broodmares that has included Fleet Indian, distinguished dam and champion older female in 2006; Fashion Star, dam of the Grade 1 winner Eddington; Evil Elaine, dam of 2007 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick; and Ingot Way, dam of 2008 Horse of the Year Skip Away. (They did not own Evil Elaine and Ingot Way when they produced Favorite Trick and Skip Away, but they did own them when Favorite Trick and Skip Away won Breeders’ Cup races in 1997 − Favorite Trick the Juvenile by 5 1/2 lengths, capping an 8-for-8 season, and Skip Away the Classic by six lengths, setting a Breeders’ Cup record for 1 1/4 miles.)

And those “pretty well-bred yearlings” Bailey refers to include a pair of sales toppers the same year: a Storm Cat-Onega colt who brought $2.8 million at the 2009 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction and a Storm Cat-Fleet Indian colt who sold for $2.05 million at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Bailey works on the farm delivering foals and overseeing the care of the broodmares. She holds a special place for the mares. Watching them carry a foal, have the foal, and raise the foal, she says, you develop a deep bond. Every mare who dies at Summer Wind is buried with an individual marker near a granite stone that reads: “Blessed are the broodmares. May angels watch and safely keep beloved broodmares as they sleep.” Bailey’s mother wrote that.

And best this being a family farm, Bailey says, she helps plan matings and broodmare purchases and attends the sales. (“Between the horses and the wildlife I might work 20 hours a day,” she said. “You just do what you have to do to get it done and make sure the animals get the best care possible.”) Her husband, Mark Moloney, is the farm manager. Her wildlife center is a separate entity, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers, herself being volunteer extraordinaire.

“Karen is one of the most driven people I’ve ever met when it comes to something she has her heart in. And she has heart in wildlife rehabilitation as much as anybody I’ve ever known,” says Michael O’Bryan, veterinarian at the Broadbent Wildlife Sanctuary near Irvington, Ky., where Bailey releases her rehabilitated animals. “She just has an innate ability to keep driving. It’s fixing to come up on our baby season here, and Karen will work literally 20 hours a day taking care of baby raccoons. There are not many people with that kind of heart or that kind of dedication.”

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Bailey got it from her parents. In Arkansas her mother rehabbed orphaned animals, and her father was chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Bailey rode show jumpers and competed nationally but then went to Vanderbilt University, where she obtained a master’s degree in business administration, expecting to enter corporate America. After graduating in 1995 and moving to Summer Wind, she heard another calling.

Vets and farm workers, having learned of the family’s rehab prowess in Arkansas, started bringing them abandoned animals − a baby raccoon first, a baby coyote next. Then employees at Lane’s End Farm brought them a litter of baby raccoons abandoned in a barn wall. That led to Bailey’s becoming a licensed rehabber, which got her listed on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website. Animals started arriving from all over.

“I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to open a wildlife center.’ It kind of found me,” Bailey says. “And how do you say no?”

She gradually added to her house and converted rooms into a wildlife hospital with 16 heated ICU units, a nursery with 20 incubators (last year she cared for 100 baby raccoons at one time), a dozen weaning cages and 10 outside pens − halfway houses for animals nearing release. She leads a team of 10 volunteers, and her nonprofit organization includes about 10 other rehabbers at other locations. She finances the operation with donations, including her own, and grants; she receives no government money. She lectures at schools accompanied by her animals − education ambassadors, she calls them. And she initiates research projects with the veterinary schools at Cornell University and the University of Georgia. Her work has led to new ways of combating diseases in wildlife.

“I collect a lot of data for them, and they work with it and give me back a lot of their findings. Then I go around the country and lecture to rehabbers on how this is applicable to them,” Bailey says. “So we’re more than the touchy-feely aspect of bottle-feeding raccoons. A lot of good science comes out of this place.

“Our mission is pretty clear, to rescue and rehabilitate native wildlife, but also to improve the welfare of wildlife through education,” she says. “A lot of kids, we find, their only interaction with wildlife is either as road kill or seeing wildlife as a nuisance, you know, getting in an attic or a trash can. We have a quote on our website (www.kywildlife.org): ‘You conserve what you love, you love what you understand, and you understand what you’re taught.’ So we believe that the key to protecting the environment and our ecosystem is through education, by letting kids see these animals, learn about them, and hear their stories.”

Her hope is that one day the center is a free-standing facility with a paid staff away from her home and Summer Wind Farm. She’s starting to think about writing a business plan and launching a major fund-raising campaign.

“I’d like to see this continue forever,” she says. “There’s always going to be a need for it.”

Even though Bailey’s specialty is raccoons, two river otters named Oliver and Oscar have become her mascots. She posts videos of them on Facebook, and they never fail to elicit a laugh or warm sigh. They’re the only river otters in captivity in Kentucky, she says.

River otters were eradicated in the state in the early 1900s by over-hunting, trapping, habitat destruction, and pollution, she says. In the early 1990s, the state’s fish and wildlife department brought 350 adults from Louisiana and released them into the Kentucky wild.

“And these are the first two wild-born orphans to come into care since that time,” Bailey says. “Oliver was found nearly dead outside Louisville on a bank of the Kentucky River. Oscar was found abandoned on the bank of a lake in Springfield, Ky. Both were critical when they came in − severely dehydrated, emaciated, malnourished. Both were in shock, low body temperatures − typical of baby animals separated from mothers. And Oscar was covered in ticks.”

Bailey nursed them to health with fluids, antibiotics, and stomach-tube feedings. Now, Oliver, who is about 2, and Oscar, about 1, live in an otter habitat that people have told Bailey has no match at any zoo or aquarium in the country. They have two ponds, including a 10,000-gallon flagstone pond with a waterfall, two outside underground dens and one indoor climate-controlled den, and fresh fish from two 300-gallon hatcheries Bailey installed just for them. Because studies have shown that otters raised in captivity without a mother or siblings don’t fare well in the wild, Bailey says, Oliver and Oscar, like Stella the skunk, have become education ambassadors and permanent residents.

“They’re one of the best exhibit animals, because they’re one of the few animals that truly dedicate the majority of their life to play,” Bailey says. “They light up when they have an audience. They love, love, love for people to watch them. They wind up like toys, diving in and out of the pond, throwing their toys around. They’re like clowns on crack.

“We take them on walks,” she says. “We take them to the lakes and ponds on these 800 acres. The day that they want to stay, they can stay. There’s no leash, there’s no food involved. They follow me like dogs. If I turn around to walk, they’re back at my feet.”

There was No Ears, a fawn savaged by coyotes and found drowning in a pond. On fluids and a stomach tube for nearly a month, he was released back into the wild.

There was Sparky, the raccoon who got electrocuted when he climbed a pole and bit a transformer. Although blind in one eye, he is one of the raccoons in Bailey’s blood-donor program that supplies plasma for sick raccoons.

There was No Nose, a raccoon from a local horse farm whose nose got bit off by a Jack Russell Terrier. Bailey’s primary veterinarian performed seven reconstructive surgeries and refashioned a nasal passage. No Nose is also a resident blood-donor.

That veterinarian is Scott Tritsch, of the Central Kentucky Veterinary Center. He’s worked with Bailey from the beginning. She says she couldn’t have done this without him.

“I knew the basics of how to take care of horses,” Bailey says. “But the critical care, the neonatology, the stomach tubing, the running the plasma, the really intensive stuff, I’ve learned that because he just took the time to teach me. I joke that it’s probably because he doesn’t want me always calling at three o’clock in the morning. But, you know, if I did call him at three in the morning, he’d be the first one to say, ‘I’ll be right there.’ ”

Tritsch, who lives about five miles from Bailey, says that working with the animals is fun and challenging, and working with Bailey is fun and inspirational. He says he donates his time and sells supplies and medications to her at cost.

“Karen is one of the truest, honest, loving persons you’ll ever meet. Her mother’s the same way,” Tritsch says. “They’re just true good people − two of the people I can think of who truly love animals, any animal. They’re not selective about which ones.”

(Bailey and her mother have written two illustrated children’s books about actual racehorses they rescued and brought back to Summer Wind. One was Skip Away’s full brother. Every penny from sales goes to Thoroughbred-rescue charities.)

“With Karen, though, all this weighs on her,” Tritsch says. “She puts everything she’s got into it, so when she loses an animal it’s like the first one she’s lost. I tell her, ‘We can’t save the world, Karen. We can do the best we can, but those that we need to lose, we need to lose. And we need to go on.’ ”

Bailey acknowledges that this is hard, draining work.

“And it’s overwhelming − all the time,” she says. “Today I’m all yippee, but there are days I just sit and cry. The economy’s bad, the fund raising’s hard, and there is just so much to do. I give up a regular life to do this, but there’s only so much I can physically, financially, and emotionally do.

“And I realize that some of the animals that come in don’t make it,” she says. “I can deal with euthanasia. What I can’t take are the ones that come out of human cruelty, like beating a baby raccoon in the head with a shovel. I’m starting to cry thinking about it right now.”

She says a prayer for every animal that comes into the center: “Dear Father, here and bless thy beast and singing birds and guard with tenderness the small things that have no words.” And when she euthanizes them, she says the same prayer and asks God to help them cross.

“At least at the end of my day, you know, at the end of my life, I’ll be proud of what I’ve done,” Bailey says. “I can thank God that every day I practice kindness, and every day I try to make a difference.”