LANCASTER, Ohio – Tammie Rogers swings her pouch over her shoulder and hides it in the layers of her fleece coat. A tiny wallaby, a cousin to the kangaroo, snuggles inside and falls asleep.
Tammie is known as the kangaroo lady. She takes her “joeys” to church, to the grocery store, to Thanksgiving dinner, to the mall, and even to bed, tucking them between her and her husband, Larry.
She has spent many nights stretched out next to a sick kangaroo, sleeping in her clothes and forcing her patient to drink water. She’s slept in the back of her van, so the second the vet’s office opened, she’d be there.
She’s smeared preemie kangaroos in oils so their hairless bodies might survive. She’s slept for weeks with an alarm sitting on her chest so she wouldn’t miss a feeding.
She’s even spent every two hours slipping her wrists into an incubator to feed a struggling joey the size of her hand.
It’s partly because she loves kangaroos and partly because she is the director of International Kangaroo Society. But mostly it’s because this is her life now.
The Rogerses initially raised llamas, but the second they saw their first wallaby about 10 years ago, their lives and identities changed.
Now they have time only for each other and the kangaroos and wallabies at their own little 15-acre Australian outback in Lancaster, Ohio.
The expert. After Tammie saw that first wallaby, she searched for every bit of information she could find. But there’s wasn’t much out there.
Even after she got her first joey, she struggled to find an expert who could help. Not finding one, she hoarded everything she found, not only from books and the Internet but also from her experiences.
Several years ago, she began her own spot for resources, the nonprofit International Kangaroo Society, which promotes researching and rehabilitating kangaroos and wallabies.
Now when people try to find that expert to answer questions, they turn to Tammie.
Private owners, vets and zoos all call. What kind of medicines can I give a macropod? How much anesthesia? What size trachea tube? Through the years, it seems like she’s become that expert she was looking for.
The Rogerses shoulder the bulk of the International Kangaroo Society’s rehabilitation efforts.
Because they live about an hour from Ohio State’s veterinary hospital, people often send their sick or injured kangaroos to live with the Rogerses while the animals get treatment.
Sydney’s Rose. The latest joey born at the farm is Sydney’s Rose, a 7-month-old Bennett’s wallaby that doesn’t quite weigh 3 pounds yet. Tammie coos at her and nudges a bottle into her mouth, and Sydney’s Rose stares back with black, beaded, tentative eyes. They’re still getting to know each other.
Tammie “pulled” her a few days ago and the first days are stressful and sleepless as the youngster gets its bearings in a world outside its mother’s pouch.
After the joey is born, the mother licks a path to her pouch and the lima bean-sized joey uses miniature front nails to pull itself to the pouch. Once inside, it attaches itself to one of its mother’s nipples where it stays for months as it slowly develops.
If the baby stayed with its mother, it would be wild, making it almost impossible to catch her for doctor’s visits or to give her care if she is ever sick or injured. So when hair covers the joey’s body and it begins to peek out of the pouch, Tammie pulls it from its mother, places it in her makeshift pouch and takes over the motherly role.
This is where Sydney’s Rose is now, and this is where she’ll stay until April when she’s old enough to be with the rest of the kangaroos in the barn.
For the time being, though, she will live in Tammie’s navy and white plaid, cotton pouch. She’ll either be at Tammie’s hip or hanging from a door knob, within Tammie’s sight at all times.
She’ll sleep between Tammie’s and Larry’s pillows at night and get her bottle every few hours, until she’s old enough to sleep in the playpen at the foot of the bed.
She’ll ride in a stroller when she gets too heavy for Tammie to carry. She’ll visit schools this winter as Tammie spreads the word about marsupials.
She’ll wear fleece vests as it gets colder and go to Thanksgiving dinner and slowly be introduced to Andy, the “boyfriend” she’ll be bred to in another year.
The dedication and responsibility is similar raising a human child, but there’s no other way, Tammie says.
Rest of the family. Behind the house, a small, cozy cottage with a gas fireplace and Christmas lights serves as International Kangaroo Society headquarters. Tammie works at her desk, answering calls from across the country, and Sydney’s Rose hangs quietly in her pouch.
Out back, another 12 kangaroos live permanently with the Rogerses.
Joey Roo is in a “housekeeping” pen with Chloe. Tammie is hoping for a joey soon, but so far, no luck.
Andy, Sydney’s Rose’s “boyfriend,” blocks out the dreary day by staying in the barn and sleeping under a heat lamp.
Stumpy lies in the straw, showing off just one foot; the other was amputated before he came to live here.
The rest of the kangaroos and wallabies must’ve hopped outside and hid in the overgrown weeds in their pastures. Tammie lets the grass grow wild there so it resembles their natural Australian terrain.
A 10-foot-tall mesh fence surrounds them to keep out predators, but also to give the kangaroos a better visual of their boundaries.
Kangaroos are flight animals, Tammie said. They get stressed easily and she’s seen a kangaroo die in mid-hop for no apparent reason other than it was afraid. When something frightens them, they take off hopping and don’t think about anything other than getting away.
This was what happened to Joey Roo several years ago.
When Tammie went outside to do her nightly head count, she found Joey lying next to the fence, unmoving. He must have hopped into the fence so fast that it snapped his neck.
Within an hour, he was in surgery at Ohio State with Dr. David Anderson. For the next several months he lived in the house with Tammie and Larry.
Tammie hired a physical therapist to show her how to drape Joey over a red exercise ball and teach him to move again.
She knew he was finally back to normal the day he wanted an apple and went to the counter and got one himself.
Danger, too. Tammie may spoil the kangaroos with treats and hug and hold them, but she’s careful.
A male red kangaroo, the largest marsupial, can be 7- to 8-feet tall and weigh 200 pounds. Their back legs are particularly powerful and they can hop up to 45 mph in short bursts. She’s careful not to turn her back on them.
If you want a good pet, get a dog or cat, she tells people.
Although she forms an understandable bond with them, she stresses this is research, too.
She wants to help zoos and owners and vets make the animals’ lives better and cure diseases.
Although kangaroos are native to Australia, people there treat them like raccoons or white-tail deer. Last year alone, millions were killed, Tammie said.
The kangaroos at the Rogerses, however, are safe. All of these will live the rest of their lives here. Tammie and Larry aren’t in the business to sell animals and refuse offers.
But they will rescue them from other owners; no questions asked, Tammie says.
“If they want their kangaroo to live its life here, it will.”
And it will be a good one.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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