WETMORE, Colo. – A southern Colorado couple has made it their life’s goal to rehabilitate animals and release them back into the wild.
"We've never really planned on doing this, it just happened," Cec Sanders said.
She and her husband, Tom, opened the Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Wetmore more than 32 years ago.
The two were former Pueblo teachers whose adventurous and outdoor hobbies helped them transition into wildlife rehabilitation.
"We were out and about so much we'd frequently run into something that needed help," Tom explained. "So we just started picking them up and taking care of them the best we could."
Aside from food donations for the animals and donated material to care for the creatures, the entire operation is run by the couple alone. That is, unless you count the animals.
"We've had close to 200 bears," Cec said. "I've probably lost count."
The two keep their distance from the animals, with the goal of getting them back into the wild.
"We don't try to associate with them at all, we try to keep them [isolated]-- it works," Cec said.
Since May, the couple has taken in 15 bears.
"Last year, I had five in this enclosure and three in that far one… and four in this one," she said as Denver7 toured the center's property.
The Sanders' anticipate that number will rise.
Tom explained, "Things are too dry. We've had some late freezes that have really affected it. Then there's all of the development."
"In a good year, bears aren't a problem," Cec said.
However, this isn't a good year. The Sanders' blame drought conditions for the lack of food resources out in the wild. They said the problem has forced bears into urban areas to forage for food.
Currently, six black bears are under the Sanders' care.
Two tiny three-month old cubs arrived just this past weekend.
Cec said she received a call about the cubs, and was asked to meet at a nearby Carl's Jr. to pick up the siblings.
"Most people go to Carl's Junior to get a hamburger… I went and got two bear cubs," she joked.
The two said that while this line of work has proven to be unpredictable, the 32 years of continued success and the thousands of animals they've rehabilitated and released have made it all worth it.
Tom added, "It's really unbelievable how rewarding it is to see something released when it's ready to go."