When Dr. Kate Kinnear is not a lecturer at UTC, she receives and raises squirrels and rabbits at her animal rehabilitation center in Signal Mountain.
Kinnear said she has always loved animals. She spent years learning how to take care of them and prepare them for wildlife.
She managed to get a permit in 2016 that now allows her to operate the Marshall Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where she raises a few hundred squirrels and rabbits at a time.
Animals are often taken out of their habitat because the room is intended for housing or building development; As a result, they become unsure of where they can go without being disturbed or hurt. Kinnear said she has often seen people abusing animals, especially squirrels, firsthand and wanted to do something to help her.
“I know what it means to be small and afraid,” Kinnear said. “I know what it feels like to have no one to defend you, and I can’t watch this happen to them.”
According to Kinnear, many rehabilitation workers find purpose in these services because they are a way for them to do some good in a world where bad things are constantly happening.
“There are times when something bad happens and there is nothing you can do, and that feels awful,” Kinnear said.
Since starting Marshall’s Creek, Kinnear has dealt with many different cases and said she has found that this work brings out the best and worst of people.
“Without training or experience, people inadvertently do something wrong, and then their heart breaks and the animal suffers,” Kinnear said. “Sometimes getting used to can be very dangerous for an animal, for people it’s sad, but for an animal, it’s their life.”
Volunteers run animal rehabilitation centers, and Kinnear said she has dealt with many tired and frustrated people trying to care for the animal, which adds stress not only to her and the people, but the animal as well.
“It’s really hard for anyone who does animal rescue,” Kinnear said. “The things you see can be very painful, but they can also be very rewarding.”
Kinnear said many of the animals brought to her are orphans, so finding support for them is especially important.
“Once you have those much-needed skills, you can’t just stop,” Kinnear said. “If you know how to help, and there are very few people who know how to help properly, you’re kind of obligated to help.”
The animals are raised in Marshall Creek through a three-part system. Kinnear starts the newcomers in the spare bedroom of her home, which has been outfitted with several heating pads for their ultimate comfort. She then takes them from the spare room to the weaning shed in her barn and takes them to a large barn outside when they are almost ready to move back into the wild.
Kinnear said she has faced many challenges with her services, but in the end, it is worth seeing the animals grow up and venture out on their own.
“The big rule in rehab is that the animal is more important than your feelings. No matter how you feel, you can enjoy it, but you can’t relate to it,” Kinnear said. “I still have a lot to learn, and I think you have to maintain that attitude, or else It is the animals that suffer.”
Everything about Marshall Creek’s care is funded by Kinnear herself and she said she could always use more blankets, towels, and Dawn dish soap.
Kinnear teaches anatomy, physiology, and wildlife rehabilitation at UTC and said she often allows her students to volunteer as part of their degrees, but primarily, this is a service she does on her own.
“I like to think there are a lot of people in Signal Mountain just to know who would stop squirrels,” Kinnear said. “Even if a person doesn’t really care about an animal, they know there are people who do care about an animal.”
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