Some people choose a career, while for others, a career chooses them. For Kathie Schroeder, the latter is the case.
"I was one of those kids who found the baby blue jay and raised it," said wildlife rehabilitator Schroeder. "I've always had cats and dogs, parakeets, hamsters and other animals."
For Schroeder, the leap to helping rehabilitate animals seemed like a natural progression that followed her affinity for them.
"I didn't start doing this on purpose," she said. "It came accidentally to me. I have chickens, ornamental pheasant, pea fowl and horses, and people would find orphaned quail and other small animals and assume I knew how to take care of them. I had to learn about them as I went along."
Schroeder began caring for baby birds and small mammals that her neighbors brought to her, but before long, her efforts became targeted on the larger species — hawks, and especially, bobcats.
"My work has evolved into focusing on bobcats, their activities and how to coexist with them in the Sonoran Desert, while educating people about those elements," Schroeder said. "I have a bobcat on permit for educational purposes, who came to me with a head injury 11 years ago."
Schroeder also rehabilitated a Harris's hawk that came to her six years ago with a broken wing, which has now healed completely. Arizona Game and Fish Department authorized her to keep the female hawk, called Sueño, which means 'Dream' in Spanish, for educational purposes. Schroeder does a presentation with Sueño at Tohono Chul Park on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Harris's hawks, which are the only hawks that hunt in family groups, live in the wild to age 10 to 12, but longer in captivity, Schroeder pointed out.
The most important part of Schroeder's job, she maintained, is the educational effort.
"It's important for people to coexist with wildlife," she said. "We don't need to push wildlife out of where they live; they're an important part of our lives."
Schroeder pointed out that when people move to the desert, they feel a need to feed the birds, but the birdseed that gets scattered on the ground then gets picked up at night by rodents.
"Rodents become an attractant for predators like snakes, birds of prey, bobcats and coyotes," Schroeder said. "What many people don't realize is that unknowingly, they've drawn predators to their homes which are quite important in controlling rodents."
Schroeder currently is working with a study team at the University of Arizona to gather information on bobcats to determine how people can peacefully coexist with them and not interfere with their habitat.
"The first concern most people have when confronted with a bobcat is that they'll be attacked," Schroeder said. "But bobcats are much smaller than people think they are; the largest male I've had here was 25 pounds."
She said that bobcats can make themselves look larger by standing all their body hair on end, which adds an inch or two to their bulk, and actually standing taller, all of which is a bluff to make themselves look bigger, and more threatening, to scare off an aggressor.
"There are a lot of bobcats around because the mother cats have judged that some of our backyards are safe places for their kittens," Schroeder said. "The yards are fenced, there's ground cover and drip systems to keep plants hydrated, and often a water source for them. Plus the yard usually is safe from other bobcats, coyotes, hawks and owls, which I call bobcat daycare."
Schroeder noted that bobcats are very smart, photogenic and extremely curious.
"If a bobcat encounters a human, it won't run away, "she noted. "Bobcats have an attitude. They believe that the desert is their territory. They're perfectly happy to let us live here as long as they can go about their business of killing pack rats and small rodents."
Schroeder suggested that people get a camera and take photos of bobcats, but cautions folks to go about their normal activities.
"A bobcat will watch you do what you're doing," she said, "and probably has watched you so many more times than you realize."
One of the difficulties of living in the Sonoran Desert, Schroeder said, involves keeping pets.
"We have an Oro Valley neighborhood where a bobcat mother has been feeding her kittens on small dogs in the area," she said. "The problem is not with the cat, it's with the people not being careful with their small dogs. People allow them to go in and out through doggie doors at will, which is not safe for a small dog or cat."
Schroeder suggested that folks with a small dog or a cat should keep it in a covered run outside, where a bobcat could not reach it.
"It's not safe outside for a small dog or a cat, unless in an protected enclosure," she said.
Schroeder pointed out that bobcats and coyotes have been known to go over a 12-foot-high block wall.
"We've had bobcats and coyotes haul off dogs as big as a beagle," she said. "The only insurance you can have outside for your pet is a covered run."
Schroeder has cared for a lot of different types of animals, including baby elk and deer, bighorn sheep, cougars, porcupines, badgers, ringtails, coyotes and bobcats.
"I don't care for a lot of adult animals," she said. "Many of them won't let a human take them into custody. Occasionally adult birds of prey might have a wing injury, which is not hard to work with as long as you know what you're doing. But our aim always is to get an animal ready to be returned to the wild, which is where it belongs."