ADVENTURE: You grew up in New Mexico. That must have been an ideal environment for a future wildlife vet.
Kathleen Ramsay: I was born in Los Alamos, which at the time was run by the Atomic Energy Commission. My father was a chemist working on detonation sequences. So, it was a different kind of community. Almost all the adults had master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s, and there wasn’t a lot for kids to do. But I had a horse. I’d disappear after school and come home at dark, and if the horse ever beat me home, Mom knew there was a problem.
A: How did you come to specialize in treating birds of prey?
KR: When I was in vet school, we learned about dogs, cats, horses, cows, sheep, and goats. There was no other animal medicine. It didn’t exist. Then some guy brought us a golden eagle caught in a foothold trap. It was dangling from this metal chain, just thrashing and screaming. That did it. I took one look at the bird and decided, if I do anything in my life, I want to be able to give these guys a second chance.
A: So you hung out your own shingle.
KR: After vet school, I tried working at a normal practice, but sneaking in injured wildlife after hours wasn’t appreciated. So in 1984 I bought some land and started a raptor rehabilitation clinic, which later turned into the Wildlife Center.
A: What prompted you to start treating other kinds of animals?
KR: Well, all these mammals kept showing up. What was I supposed to say, Sorry, I only do birds, so now I have to kill you?
A: You once had 56 bears in your care. That must have been a challenge.
KR: It was a nightmare. Bears don’t process food very well. They have the most inefficient GI tracts I’ve seen and don’t absorb more than 10 percent of what they eat. So 90 percent comes out the other end. We were cleaning cages morning and night. About 25 wheelbarrows of crap a day.
A: Espanola is a hardscrabble place. How does that affect your work?
KR: When I first started practicing there, if I couldn’t save the family dog within their budget, they would take it out to my parking lot and shoot it. It’s cultural. Espanola is largely Hispanic, and in Mexico and much of South America, animals are a commodity. But now people come in begging me not to tell their wife or husband that they brought the dog to me instead of spending the money on groceries.