Monday, May 10, 2004
The Toledo Blade
Esther Randels has a big family.
"These are all my kids," she tells a visitor to her sprawling home, which sits on a two-acre wooded lot in Sandusky County's Rice Township. "I've got 10 cats, 15 ducks and geese, eight raccoons, two parrots, three dogs, two miniature donkeys, and I've got all the animals that come to us every day."
For more than 20 years, Ms. Randels has run Bark & Purr Wooded Retreat, a boarding and grooming business for pets, at her house on County Road 182.
Ms. Randels takes care of customers' dogs, cats, birds, and other pets while looking after her own brood.
Ms. Randels offers the basics - food, water, and shelter - and plenty of personal attention and entertainment for her guests.
"I do movies for them, and we have popcorn parties," she said. "They like anything that's not too loud."
After each boarding visit or grooming session, a pet receives a "report card" that lists activities and a letter grade for behavior.
Customers say they appreciate Ms. Randels' affection and dedication to their pets.
"I wouldn't bring my dog to anybody but Esther," said Dolly Weaver, a Sandusky resident who has been boarding her Doberman pinscher, Katie, with Ms. Randels for four years. "This is like a spa for dogs."
But because of a divorce, Ms. Randels said she was forced to sell her home. The closing is Saturday and she'll have to move out and find a new place to live by early next month.
"All my animals are going with me, but I don't know where I'm going," she said. "This has been my world. I'm going to take my world with me."
She added with a smile, "It'll be interesting moving. It'll be like Noah's Ark on wheels."
Ms. Randels, 63, credits her pets with helping her cope with multiple sclerosis and other ailments. A former restaurant manager, she said she developed MS shortly after her marriage in the mid-1970s.
She was confined to a wheelchair for several years but said she gradually regained use of her arms while teaching herself to groom her dog. As Ms. Randels' condition improved, she made a vow.
"I told God, 'If you let me walk, I'll take care of all your animals,'?" she said.
Today, she walks with pain and struggles with deteriorating eyesight that she said has left her legally blind without her glasses.
Ms. Randels said she adopted most of her animals as newborns and has had all of them vaccinated. There's a big difference, she added, between her domesticated raccoons and one you might meet during a walk in the woods. Such animals should be approached with caution.
"They can bite you, hurt you," she said. "You can get a disease from them."
By contrast, Ms. Randels' raccoons let her pet them and gently paw her sleeve as she slips slices of apple into a tall, chain-link pen behind her house.
Unlatching the gate to a pond surrounded by a split-rail fence, she encourages a hesitant visitor to pet a goose that is rubbing its long neck against his leg.
"I want you to meet Gus," she says, picking up the goose and cradling him in her arms. "He wants you to love him."
She croons, "Oh, you're handsome this morning," as she strokes the bird's gracefully curved head.
Like any parent, Ms. Randels makes sure everyone is fed and tries to keep the peace.
Inside her office, she tosses apple slices to Cinders, a year-and-a-half-old miniature donkey, and Ritz crackers to Joe, a round, 63-pound raccoon. For Murphy, a blue, green, and yellow double-crested Amazon parrot, she pours part of a can of Coca-Cola into a metal dish.
She swivels at the sound of a low growl from across the room. Joe is nose to nose with Cinders on the floor, facing off over a Ritz. "Don't go for his cracker, Cinders," she scolds the donkey.
"Don't you feed these animals, Esther?" customer Mary Ann Fitz asks jokingly.
They watch as the raccoon takes the cracker and retreats toward his pen.
"This is my reason to get up every morning," Ms. Randels says. "Pretty
good reason, huh?"
Copyright © 2004, The Blade