Annette M. King: Queen of the Wild
Annette King has always been drawn to helping animals. The beginning signs of what would eventually become her life’s passion started as a child when she began caring for stray animals. It wasn’t until 1996 that everything came together. She purchased a small farm in Rogers County, and it wasn’t long before animals and friends with injured wildlife were finding their way to her home, which became Wild Heart Ranch. The organization has helped over 75,000 animals over the past 25 years. In her book The Road to Release, Annette shares insight into her field and is a testament of her heart for the work she is doing.
TK: How did the Wild Heart Ranch come about?
Annette: It was a complete accident. I was working as an insurance representative, and I purchased a small farm as an investment. With all that extra land, I couldn’t help but take in animals who needed homes. Before I knew it, I had dogs and cats and geese and horses, goats and ducks and all sorts of animals. Of course, I had to move to the farm to care for the animals. One day someone dropped off two baby raccoons who had lost their mom. I tried to find a wildlife rescue to help them, but there wasn’t one in my area to take them, so I applied for a permit to help them, and the rest is history!
TK: What is the mission of the organization?
Annette: To take in wild animals who are orphaned, injured or sick, care for them until they are ready to survive on their own and release them back into suitable habitat to be wild and free.
TK: You refer to yourself as the “Head Poop Scooper!” What does that title mean to you?
Annette: Lots of people treat me like I am a celebrity because I am on the news a lot, or they see me on Facebook. It’s just not who I really am. Who I really am is someone who loves to take care of animals. My greatest joy comes from cleaning cages and feeding babies and patching up the injured and letting them all go. That title reminds everyone of what I really do every day. And…it keeps me from getting a big head with all the attention!
TK: What advice would you give to older children who are struggling with responsibilities and challenges during the pandemic?
Annette: Find your passion! Now is the time for knowledge and personal development. Though we long for a day when we are safe to go and do, since we are all limited in going and doing, we can research and explore the wild places around us! Whatever it is you are passionate about, be it animals, art, nature, writing, crafting, programming, fashion, you now have time to dive into the things that interest you and find out all you could possibly know.
There have been many pandemics throughout history, but this is the first during the age of technology and information. You have resources at your fingertips that our ancestors never dreamed possible. Take advantage and continue to develop who you are as the world is on hold. You could literally emerge as an expert in your field of interest. Take advantage!
TK: Can you share the impact the organization has had in helping animals?
Annette: We take in about 3,000 animals every year and release them back to the wild. We turn nothing wild away. That means every single species in nature is welcome here for help. We have raised black bear cubs and assisted adult bears with health issues, we had a mountain lion for many years who needed a home, we patch up turtles, save snakes, thousands of birds, opossums, skunks, raccoons, deer, and everything in between. We raise and help bobcats, fox, coyote, badgers and armadillos. Right now we have about 50 baby squirrels we are raising along with dozens of little skunks. It never ends!
TK: How can taking care of animals help children learn empathy?
Annette: My favorite saying is “We all suffer the same.” The little fawn whose mother was lost to a car is afraid, lonely, hungry, cold and misses its mother the same way you would. The little bird fallen from the nest knows he needs help and waits for someone to help him. They all look very different than us and they use a very different language to communicate, but they all have feelings the same way you and I do. They are also grateful for help when help comes. Especially the little ones or the adults that are in very bad shape. Even though they are wild animals, they show us how grateful they are as we care for them by being cooperative and accepting of our help. When they feel better, they change. They are ready to get out of here and go home, the same way you and I would be if we were in the hospital and got better. We would get grumpy and want to go home as well.
Now that we know that wildlife and all animals have feelings the same way we do, we can see them as our friends, our neighbors or someone just passing through our world. They have families they protect and provide for, and they work each day to find what they need to survive. That is why we don’t want to hurt them. That is why we try to stay out of their way and never cause harm.
TK: What ways can parents instill a love of the natural world in children?
Annette: Teach! Never ignore an opportunity to share your appreciation with nature. A child might go around killing everything that moves until an adult spends a minute showing them the intricacy of a spider web and how much work the spider goes to every evening to make her web. The ant hill that is a mastery of excavation and architecture, worked on daily by thousands of members of a very organized and tiny society. Everyone has a job to do, and no one complains. The bird sitting on a nest who goes without food or water for weeks while she guards and incubates her eggs. The little frogs that occupy the puddles and ponds, who keep the insects from taking over our world and keep all of nature in check. They can still swat all the roaches and flies. I haven’t found anything good about them yet.
TK: Do you have suggestions for people who find injured or orphaned animals and wonder what they should do with them?
Annette: Keep the animal warm, calm and safe. Do not feed anything. Contact a wildlife rehabber or rescue for instructions. We receive hundreds of sick babies every year because people who find animals want to feed them. Milk from your refrigerator is toxic to tiny wildlife. They need very specific formulas to keep them healthy. Also, feeding formula to a cold or dehydrated animal can make them very sick. It is dangerous to give them anything unless we hydrate and warm them. Stress is also dangerous for wildlife. They are all hard-wired to believe that we are predators and if we handle them, they are in danger. A dark box with air holes and something soft to hide in is the best way to keep them safe until you can get them to a wildlife rehabilitator.
TK: How can people get involved in helping your organization?
Annette: Volunteers 18 and older are always welcome. Supplies are always needed. You can contact our clinic to find out about either (918.342.9453). Calling after 11 a.m. will give us time to discuss needs. (Before that we are feeding and cleaning all the animals.)
TK: Tell us about your book, The Road to Release:
Annette: Everything you need to know about what I do is in my book. The future of wildlife rescue is always uncertain. It is an expensive mission, a ton of work and lots of laws and regulations to follow. I love what I do, and it wasn’t easy to build this mission, but it has been the most magical 26 years of my life. You have to be completely dedicated to the animals every single day, which leaves little or no time for anything else. As I say to every new wildlife rehabilitator I recruit and train; “If you have no life outside of animal care, you are doing it right.”
Books are available through Amazon.
To find Annette M. King and Wild Heart Ranch: Facebook: @WildHeartRanch; IG: @wild_heart_ranch_wildlife; www.4thewild.org
To listen to the full interview, check out SharingPassionandPurpose.com or search for “Sharing Passion and Purpose” by Nancy Moore on your favorite podcasting platform.
Nancy A. Moore is a Public Relations Coordinator at Montreau, Adjunct Professor at Tulsa Community College, and has been writing for TulsaKids for almost 20 years.