Dr. Rich Kane was alone in his veterinary office one evening when he heard a woman screaming.
He rushed out to the lobby, toward the source of the screams. There he found a frantic woman with a baby stroller.
In the stroller was a kangaroo with a tree branch stuck in its throat.
"She was in show business and she used the kangaroo in her act," Kane said. "She lived nearby and I guess she had heard about us."
He had been a vet for many years and has treated plenty of dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and horses.
But this was Kane's first kangaroo. The 'roo had apparently been chowing down, a little too enthusiastically, on some leaves when the branch lodged in its throat.
Dr. Kane was able to save the kangaroo, and the kangaroo's relieved human sidekick thanked him profusely. No problem, he told her. And no charge.
It was an unusual case, but Kane and his colleagues at Wildlife Rescue Ministries have learned to deal with any kind of emergency with any kind of animal.
Kane is a longtime area veterinarian whose clinic, Care Animal Hospital, has grown into one of the largest equine surgical centers in the state.
He and his hospital staff also tend to the needs of almost every kind of domesticated animal.
But that left one large, underserved segment of the animal kingdom: wild animals that had been orphaned or injured and couldn't make it on their own in the wild.
So Kane started Wildlife Rescue Ministries a few years ago to tend to those very animals.
Despite the name, it's not an overtly religious organization. Still, its mission is deeply rooted in Kane's spirituality. "I certainly believe in God, he said. "And I believe that God instructed us to minister to the animals."
Wildlife Rescue Ministries operates on a near-zero budget. Kane and his fellow veterinarians donate their time and expertise. Many members of the Care Animal Hospital staff also donate their time to build enclosures and tend to the animals in the 15-acre facility on Bloomingdale Avenue. Some local companies have donated supplies and services, including a 24-hour answering service.
"Every once in a while, someone who brings us an animal will give us $10 or $20," Kane said. "And we gratefully accept it. But we don't get any grants or government funding of any kind."
The easiest part of running the sanctuary, he said, is getting his colleagues from Care Animal Hospital to volunteer. After all, he said, they chose animal care as their career. They could have made more money in similar jobs in human health care.
"It's safe to say nobody goes into this field because of the money," he said. "We do it because we love animals."
And Kane and the other volunteers also dig into their own pockets for the bulk of the money to run the sanctuary. Treating just one animal can cost as much as $1,000. Running the sanctuary costs at least $40,000 a year for food, medicine, supplies and staff time, Kane estimates.
When Kane has animals that need a temporary home, he tuns to people like Elizabeth Blalock.
The Mulberry resident has provided a halfway house for some 80 to 90 small animals, mostly orphaned squirrels who had fallen from trees.
"One time I had 29 squirrels here at once, after a big storm," she said. "I had them two together in shoeboxes with heating pads, because they're just tiny little things. You have to feed them every two hours."
Her efforts seem Herculean, but she gives all the credit to Kane.
"Dr. Kane has been so wonderful in helping with all the food and formula for these animals," she said.
"If you ever have an animal who needs medical attention, he treats it just like it's someone's pet for life. He really cares."
As Wildlife Rescue Ministries' reputation has grown, its volunteers have had more animals to love. The facility now treats about 70 animals a month.
There are lots of baby squirrels that fall from their nests that have to be hand-fed until they're old enough to eat acorns.
There are baby possums whose mothers have been killed by cars. There are owls and hawks with broken wings that can never go back to the wild, as well as feverish pigs and crippled goats. If there's an animal in need, Wildlife Rescue Ministries will care for it.
But unlike some wildlife rescue facilities, Kane's facility tries not to offer permanent or even long-term homes to its patients.
The idea is to treat them and get them back into the wild as soon as possible. If an animal can't go back to the wild, Wildlife Rescue Ministries will try to find a home for it.
That may mean sending it to Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, the Florida Aquarium or some other established facility. Or it may mean finding a private caregiver.
"We have people that we call the squirrel lady, the possum lady, and the raccoon lady who will take different species," Kane said.
Typically, there are very few animals in the small Wildlife Rescue Ministries facility, which is open free to the public every day but Sunday. On one afternoon, visitors got to meet about 15 animals, including a duck and a goose that ran around the property unfettered, a huge tortoise that sat at the entrance gate, a caged owl and hawk, a pig, a sheep and a few goats.
There was also a large rodent that looked like a beaver with a rat tail, in a cage with a small plastic wading pool.
It turned out to be a nutria that someone had found nearby and brought in.
Kane doesn't know of a "nutria lady," so the nutria may be sticking around for a while.
"We need to find a place where there are other nutrias so it will have some friends," Kane said.
The spiritual rewards of running Wildlife Rescue Ministries grow with every animal that gets brought in, Kane said. Yet every injured or homeless animal also adds more financial stress. It's a burden that the volunteers are finding harder and harder to carry.
"Our goal has always been to never turn any animal away," Kane said. "And we never have. But we're getting to the point where we're going to have to start turning some animals away. Either that, or we're going to have to get some money."