OKEECHOBEE — Just about everyone in Okeechobee knows about Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. It has been a part of this town for over 25 years. Sue Arnold is the woman behind the center. It all began because her husband asked her to find a way to stay home more. She used to be the president of the Holstein Association and had to travel a lot, but he missed her. He told her she could do anything she wanted if she would just stay home, so, she told him she wanted to open an animal rehab. In the past, she had been a medical technologist, so she had some training she felt would help her with this. Her husband agreed, and she went for a year’s training at Creature Safe Place in Fort Pierce before opening her own place.
Sue opened the center because at that time, no one else was doing anything like it, and someone had to help the animals. She had the medical background and the space. The town got behind her, and local builders came out and built the animal hospital free of charge. Donnie Oden organized it. Bari Fischer ran the Paris marathon to get the seed money they needed, and she raised $23,000.
“We try our best to reintroduce all the animals we rehab here to the wild or to another facility if they can’t go back,” said Vickie Theros, who has worked there for about six years. “When otters are bottle raised and when you have to teach them to swim, they imprint on you. If you throw them back in the wild, they are going to gravitate to a human for play or food or whatever then people panic, because they think it’s rabid or something, so animals can’t be put back in the wild.”
Have you ever wondered how the center is financed? The center is nonprofit and is supported completely by donations and fundraisers. Some donors try to come up with ways to make money. Sue finances some things herself, and of course, they ask for a small admission fee. On Feb. 22 at 5:30 p.m., the center will have a big Elvis Dinner fundraiser at the KOA. Dinner will be served between 6 and 7 and a special guest will appear between 7 and 8. Finally, at 8 p.m., the main attraction will begin.
“Sheriff Noel E. Stephen has graciously volunteered to barbecue the pork butts,” said, Ms. Theros. “It’s $30 per person, and that includes dinner and the show. The Meat Shop on State Road 70 is giving us a discount on the meat.” Tickets can be purchased at Arnold’s or the Chamber of Commerce or at the KOA. The proceeds will go toward feed for the animals and vet care and all the other expenses they have out there she said.
The center orders about 800 pounds of meat every week, and that is people quality food, said Ms. Theros. It’s the same meat delivered to restaurants. They feed them raw meat because they need the calcium. They can’t feed them cooked meat, because the bones become brittle. They also order feed, sweet feed, corn, scratch, parrot food, bales of hay. They feed the monkeys, lemurs, squirrels and raccoons fresh fruit morning and night, and if fresh fruit is not available, they use canned fruit. They also use apple juice.
Any donations of this type are appreciated and they have an account at Okeechobee Feed if anyone would like to just put money on their account. They also need things like baby toys, outdoor toys like swings and slides, walkers and push toys, fans, heating pads, blankets, towels, wash cloths, cleaning supplies. No donation is too big or too small. All donations are appreciated.
The center has Class I,II and III licensing and is inspected by the USDA, the FWC and the fire marshal.
At this time, they have three part-time employees, and Ms. Theros said they need to hire another but haven’t had time to do that. Cierra White and Serena Tyler are the other two employees who work at the center now.
They have some people who help with donations, but any help from the community would be greatly appreciated. “It’s a struggle, but somehow or another, it always comes through,” she said.
“I hope everyone will come to the fundraiser on the 22nd. It’s going to be great. The sheriff can really cook!” said Ms. Theros.
The fundraiser will be held at KOA which is located at 4276 U.S. 441 South, and the doors open at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 22.