By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

HILL CITY -- For 18 years, Carrie Newell has nursed hundreds, if not thousands, of injured and abandoned animals -- large and small -- back to health.

Two weeks before her wildlife rehabilitation license was set to be renewed, she received a letter from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, detailing a new, but never publicly discussed, policy that prohibits the licensing of rehabilitators whose facilities are in a city.

The form letter thanked her for her interest in wildlife rehabilitation.

That was a slap-in-the-face for Newell.

As a volunteer, she receives nothing for rehabilitating wildlife, even paying for supplies out of her own pocket, save for what few donations she receives.

Newell, one of only three rehabiliators in northwest Kansas, lives in the heart of Hill City. Yet she isn't aware of any complaints about her wildlife efforts from neighbors.

The decision not to license city-bound rehabilitators was made after an internal review within the state's wildlife agency. The issue was raised internally as well, according to KDWP&T wildlife section chief Mike Mitchener.

At Thursday's Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting, Mitchener detailed the agency's action.

He found the commission receptive to the move, even though public comment varied -- notably on the conditions surrounding a rehabber in Salina.

"I think I'm getting a picture here," said commission chairman Gerald Lauber, Topeka. "I too have been punished in advance of this meeting by emails, none of which were from Kansas. While I understand both sides of the argument, it's frankly my opinion, I'm going to support he decision you guys have already made."

Lauber said he doesn't "appreciate the email harassment."

Newell didn't appreciate the way KDWP&T handled the change.

"I told them it was unethical and unprofessional and you can't transition in two weeks," she said of talking to Mitchener.

Newell said she should have been allowed more time to either move her pens to a location outside the city or use up the supplies she has on hand.

It's the outside pens that are cause for concern, according to Mitchener, and the change won't affect any in-home care that rehabilitors provide animals.

A special education teacher by day, Newell isn't sure what to do about her pens. She keeps a horse just outside town, but worries about animals that need more frequent care.

And there's the cost.

The pens she has now were built by Westar Energy, even though Hill City is outside its service area. She just recently received an apartment size refrigerator from them.

How much it would cost to move the pens is uncertain, but there also would be additional cost to drive to the pens each day, if not several times a day.

She's also concerned about what will happen with animals in the future.

"You know what this means?" she said, "people will still be at my door. Who's going to do all this stuff?"

With just 17 licensed rehabilitators in the state -- as many as four of them facing the loss of their license -- the burden might be overwhelming.

Initially, Newell had expected some of that might fall to Jessica Braun, a Hays veterinarian and licensed rehabilitator. Braun, however, won't be doing wildlife rehabilitation now that a non-profit group has passed on purchasing a the wildlife refuge she founded.

Braun is confident people simply won't let the animals just die.

"People are nuts for baby animals," she said. "They are not going to let them die."

"This has been a passion," Newell said. "I get up in the middle of the night in to fee babies in the summertime.

"It's disappointing."

"Very few people know what all she does," said Doug Kysar, a Palco resident who has brought animals -- including a snowy owl -- to Newell. "Not only with wildlife but kittens and puppies."

Newell plans to approach the Hill City Council to see if she can get an exemption and keep her pens. Moving them won't work, she said.

"Things are still going to be at my doorstep," she said. "Then what am I going to do? I don't get paid for it now, but I'd be doing it without a license."