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SEDGEWICKVILLE, Mo. (AP) — At first glance, John and Carolyn Watkins' home in the rural southeast Missouri town of Sedgewickville doesn't stand out. It's only when you see the peacocks, African guineas, wild turkey, geese, chickens, a donkey, sheep and goat in the backyard that the place comes alive.
"As you can see," Carolyn Watkins said, "We love our animals."
Most aren't pets. They are wards of Watkins Wildlife Rehab. The Southeast Missourian (http://bit.ly/1CZZvrF ) reports that the couple has spent more than four decades nursing sick animals back to health.
They've built up a network of biology professors, St. Louis Zoo workers and veterinarians who can offer assistance.
Their work is strictly voluntary — and unpaid. John has been a doctor at St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau for 50 years.
Animals were his first love, not medicine.
"I was always a kid who was finding things and bringing things home," he said. "I used to hear my mom's bloodcurdling scream and realize I'd forgot to take the turtle out of my lunchbox or something."
The childhood fascination turned into a passion years ago when, while hunting, John found a red-tailed hawk that had been shot.
So he brought it home and became the bird's de facto caregiver, the beginnings of a service the couple still provides.
Eventually, conservation agents began taking sick animals to the couple. Their grandkids help feed the critters. In the spring, there may be hundreds of animals to care for.
They've dealt with about every kind of animal that makes its way into Missouri. John and Carolyn recalled spending two years raising a black bear cub. The pelican they once nursed ended up in the St. Louis Zoo.
If there's a chance the animal could return to the wild, they'll rehab it. John says that they often have people seeking advice on how to get into the "business."
"They say, 'I wanna do what you do." And the first question is always, 'How much does it pay?'" he said. "And when we tell them it doesn't, the second question is always, 'Are you crazy?'"
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com
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