Jenifer Persuhn spends her life taking care of others.
A recent "transplant" to Benton, Persuhn operates Jasmine's Legacy Wildlife Rehabilitation. Located at 613 Webster St., Persuhn shares her home with around 40 others, at least for right now.
Persuhn is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, one of only three in the immediate area. She named her facility after the first raccoon she rescued.
"Rehabbers are few and far between," she says. "The reason is because it is all volunteer."
Persuhn is one of the lucky ones, though. She has a built-in helper in her son, Christopher.
"Christopher is 26 and he lives with me," she says. "He loves the babies and is very good with them. He does all the feedings and cleaning cages while I am at work."
Christopher has Down Syndrome.
"I love taking care of them," he says. The "them" right now is 26 raccoons and 10 opossums.
Persuhn is in her third year as a licensed rehabber, although she's been volunteering for about 15 years.
"The first year I was still up north," she says. "I had about 15 raccoons, six or seven squirrels, eight or nine possums, a chipmunk, and two flying squirrels."
She spent last year helping her friend, Pam Sundeen, at Second Nature Wildlife Rehab in Thompsonville. This year, her own rehab is in full swing.
Because there are so few rehab facilities, Persuhn, like her counterparts, takes in animals from all over the southern part of the state.
"Fred came from Shiloh," she says. The raccoon, now about three months old, is missing a couple of fingers, but Persuhn says he will be releaseable.
The time is only one aspect of caring for injured or abandoned wildlife. There is also a huge cost.
"We get no state or federal funding," Persuhn says. "We spend an average of $10,000 to $15,000 out of our own pocket in a season, depending on the number of animals we have."
At the midway point in this season, Persuhn, a home health care worker, has already doled out around $7,000.
"Right now we're going through a 32-pound bag of puppy chow a week," she says. Along with personal funds, rehabbers are dependent on private donations. Persuhn has a Facebook page with a link to a gofundme page.
She also accepts donations of food items.
"We can always use fruit, fresh vegetables, and things like crackers and Honey Nut Cheerios," she says.
Once the babies are weaned, Persuhn, Christopher and other volunteers like Stephanie Brugger begin teaching the animals to pick up food with their "hands." They also have a baby pool they stock with feeder fish to teach their young charges how to fish.
Brugger, who was born with spina bifada, also serves as a transport volunteer.
"I just try to help in any way I can," she says.
Persuhn says the first objective is always to reunite unless the baby is injured or sick. It's common to see baby wild animals outside, but not all actually need help. Signs that a wild animal needs human help include evidence of bleeding or obvious injury, a dead parent nearby, shivering, featherless birds on the ground, or cyring and wandering all day.
Persuhn expected to release her first group of about 10 animals last weekend, then another group in about a week.
"By mid-September they should all be released," she said.
Then the cycle will begin again.