TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Not many people have a room reserved for turtles in their home, but Rich Bure does.
"How can you not love 'em?" he smiles.
Bure is a volunteer with Northeast Kansas Wildlife Rescue, specializing in reptiles. Working out of his home, he takes in a variety of snakes, turtles and other animals. Some days might find him using a tool to smooth out rough edges of shells that might get a turtle trapped in the wild, or formulating Bondo to fill a crack or gap in a shell to restore a protective barrier.
Bure is among the group's more than 20 licensed volunteers who take in native Kansas animals. They might handle anything from snakes stuck in glue traps, box turtles with cracked or broken shells, and - this time of year especially - orphaned babies, from bunnies to beavers and skunks to squirrels.
"If it migrates through Kansas, we see it," said Dennis Dinwiddie, who directs the group. "Because they don't have owners, there's no one to sponsor a vet bill. People who find things need to have an outlet for them, a way to provide help."
Dinwiddie and Bure say it's part intervention to assist injured, sick or abandoned animals, and part education of the public.
For example, Bure has a painted turtle in one of his tanks -- more accurately, a turtle which was painted NOT by mother nature. Bure is working little by little to remove the paint so as not to stress the animal or harm the shell underneath, because keeping the paint on can be a harmful barrier.
"You won't be able to sweat, it also helps them breath - and at some point they'll dehydrate and die," Bure said.
Another key point they stress is letting people know when to intervene. For turtles, Bure said, if there are no visible cracks or blood, simply move them off the road in the direction in which they were headed.
When it comes to baby birds you see hopping around on the ground, again, if they're not hurt, let them be.
"It has been kicked out on purpose so mom and dad can get it on the ground, spend several days pushing it along until it takes that first flight." Dinwiddie said.
In fact, most babies you see alone aren't abandoned. Dinwiddie says parents will actually stay away when it's not feeding time so as not to alert predators to the location of their young.
But if you see injury or are in doubt, call. In addition to their work with the animals, the volunteers staff a 24-hour hotline, sponsored by Westar. The group takes in up to 2000 animals a year.
"The vast majority of animals who come in injured are something human related," Dinwiddie said, "so humans owe it to them to help solve the problem and eventually release a healthy animal into the wild."
While Gage Animal Hospital Hospital provides veterinary support for the group, the volunteers all pay their own expenses for the work they do, with the help of donations.
But Bure says he wouldn't trade it for anything.
"I do it for the animal," he said. "I do it to educate the person so everyone can enjoy the wildlife. To me, it's one of the most beautiful things in the world to see the animals playing outside."
People may reach the Northeast Kansas Wildlife Rescue 24-hour hotline at 785-575-1991. Also call if you're interested in supporting their efforts with a donation.