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Oaken Acres celebrates 30th anniversary of rehabbing injured wild animals

SYCAMORE – Not long ago, Kathy Stelford was caring for hundreds of injured wild animals all by herself.

Stelford is the founder of Oaken Acres Wildlife Center at 12140 Aldrich Road, Sycamore. When the center opened in 1984, Stelford was caring for 60 to 70 animals on her own each year.

That changed in 2013. Oaken Acres now has a year-round employee, five seasonal employees and countless volunteers.

"It's weird to have so many people helping," Stelford said. "I was a little anxious about it since I was used to being by myself.

"It was refreshing to see these animals through these new eyes. [Other employees] were so thrilled to experience what I had been able to experience for 30 years. Most people don't get that opportunity. I was selfish. I saved it for myself all those 30 years."

Today is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Oaken Acres, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in DeKalb County. The center routinely takes in more than 500 injured wild animals each year and nurses them back into health.

Oaken Acres will hold its annual "Babies Gone WILD!" fundraiser at 6 p.m. April 26, at The Regale Center, 122 S. California St. in Sycamore. The fundraiser, which will include a bald eagle, turkey vulture and three owls, helps pay the cost to hire seasonal employees in the summer. Tickets are $20 a person.

Oaken Acres is also raising money to buy a bald eagle flight cage so that the center can be licensed to care for eagles. The goal is to raise $30,000 to build a 100-foot long cage.

"That's a big cage, the biggest cage we've ever built," Stelford said. "We don't have all the money we need to build it. We don't get the license until the cage is up."

Staff and volunteers at the center are busy preparing for the baby season, the busiest time of the year. Every year, during the months of April through September, Oaken Acres takes in hundreds of injured baby wild animals such as raccoons and squirrels.

Susan Christensen, a member of Oaken Acres' board of directors, stressed the importance of helping injured animals. She looked back at one experience about 20 years ago when she found an injured nighthawk by the roadside.

Christensen called Oaken Acres and was told to take the injured animal to Bethany Animal Hospital, 2400 Bethany Road in Sycamore.

"It was nice to know there was somebody who cared about that animal, because I could have left it on the road to die," Christensen said. "If [people] didn't have a place to take animals, the animals would die a horrible death."

Christy Gebritz, Oaken Acres' director of operations, started an educational bird program for the public in the fall using four birds: Vinnie the turkey vulture, Stinky the screech owl, Hamlet the barred owl and Sedona the barn owl, according to an Oaken Acres news release. The birds visit various venues so people can learn about them and their care.

Gebritz said average DeKalb County residents are capable of caring for injured wild animals. Oaken Acres is accepting volunteers for animal care and reception work. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old.

"Every opportunity people have to exercise compassion and care makes the world a better place for everybody," she said. "Animals and people."

If you go

What: "Babies Gone WILD!" fundraiser

When: 6 p.m.April 26

Where: The Regale Center, 122 S. California St., Sycamore

Why: The fundraiser, which will include a bald eagle, turkey vulture and three owls, helps fund for seasonal employees in the summer. Tickets are $20 a person.

To volunteer or to report an injured wild animal, call Oaken Acres Wildlife Center at 815-895-9666.

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