ST. GEORGE -- The pair of baby raccoons was brought in with their paws scorched from a controlled burn. Barely as big as a person's hand, they nestle against each other in the cage, chirping like birds.
Pests. Roadkill. Janet Kinser has heard it all. She's been at this a quarter of a century now, out in the pines near St. George running a refuge for the orphans and injured of the "other" wildlife.
"Our kids aren't the elite eagles, the beautiful tigers. They're considered nuisances," she says.
Raccoons, opossums, rabbits, squirrels get picked up off the road or out of the woods and dropped off daily at the nonprofit Keeper of the Wild -- some 3,500 per year.
Sometimes it's a baby deer, a beaver, mink or bobcat. But more often it's one of those critters that a lot of people consider varmints. Sometimes their rescuers make a donation. A lot of times they don't.
Kinser and a coterie of volunteers raise or rehabilitate the critters by hand so they can let them go again. It's exhausting. She greets a midday visitor in the heat a little bedraggled, her hair damp with sweat.
It's costly. The refuge goes through $60,000-$100,000 in operating expenses like veterinary care, food, medicines and equipment each year. She doesn't get paid. She and James Kinser, her contractor husband, pay out of pocket to keep it going.
And every few years, when donations fall off and the bank account hits empty, she brings out the babies for the cameras and asks for help. This time it's bad, she says. She has 100 animals at the refuge, maybe 500 more at homes giving foster care and 15 baby deer at another refuge.
For the first time in her 25 years doing this, Keeper of the Wild cannot take more animals. The rescue van alone has been going through $100 per day in fuel serving nine counties.
"I don't ever remember the economy dropping down this far," she said.
Veterinarian Bruce McKinnon, of Dorchester Veterinary Hospital in North Charleston, works with Keeper of the Wild. There's really nobody else doing the job it does, he said. He knows a lot of people consider it worthless to save "roadkill" animals.
"We're crowding them onto the road," he said. "There's something to be said for conservation. We're losing more and more of the variety of our wildlife because nobody takes care of them."
A baby raccoon is chirping to be fed. Kinser sets it back in the cage and can't help but give it a little reassuring pat on the head. They are her babies.
"We've always come through. We believe this is God's organization and we're just his handmaidens. We believe he will take care of us," she says. "There's a lot of people who love Keeper of the Wild and we know when the word goes out, they will help.
She's 59 years old, and running the operation keeps getting harder to do. She talks with her husband about turning it over to someone else. But you don't get the sense that's going to happen anytime soon.
"Not as long as there's something out there that needs me," she says. She knows a lot of people consider her animals nuisances and think of her as a little kooky. When people lose compassion for the smallest things, they begin to lose compassion for each other, she says.
"Everybody is a nuisance to somebody," she says. Kooky "isn't a job requirement, but it helps."
Reach Bo Petersen at 843-937-5744.