A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Disabled Animal Faces Kangaroo Court

Should Irwin’s person be allowed to care for him?

Christie Carr with Irwin

Wild animals dressed up and kept as pets? That’s not something Zoe would normally approve of. But in the case of Irwin the kangaroo … well, every rule has an exception.

Christie Carr met Irwin at Wild Heart Ranch Wildlife Rescue, a wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary in Claremore, Okla.

Carr was volunteering at the sanctuary on the advice of her therapist, who’d told her that caring for animals would help her through the serious patch of depression from which she was suffering.

Irwin needed help, too. The young kangaroo had been brought to Wild Heart after bounding into a fence at the Safari Wildlife Sanctuary and breaking his neck.

Irwin and Carr quickly bonded, and since the young roo is partially paralyzed and will need continuing care and is unlikely ever to be able to return to the wild, even at a sanctuary, the staff at Wild Heart approved Carr’s offer to take him home.

By all accounts, the two are a blessing to each other – even a mutual lifesaver. Irwin might otherwise have had to be euthanized, and Carr says her own condition was driving her toward contemplating suicide.

Today, Irwin can walk a few steps at a time without assistance. If he continues to improve, he could grow considerably larger than his current 25 pounds. Healthy male great red kangaroos like Irwin can grow up to 7 feet tall, weigh more than 200 pounds and bound 25 feet in a single leap.

That’s causing the local city council of Broken Arrow some serious heartburn. Broken Arrow Mayor Mike Lester said he worries what could happen if Irwin is able to regain full mobility. The council last week delayed considering the issue until an April 19 meeting, to give City Attorney Beth Anne Wilkening and other staff time to research the issue.

In fact, Irwin isn’t expected to get larger than about 50 pounds, his veterinarian, Dr. Lesleigh Cash Warren, wrote in a letter to the council supporting Carr’s request to keep him. “Irwin cannot be judged as any normal kangaroo,” Warren wrote. “He is a unique animal due to his disabilities and will require a lifetime of care and concern for his welfare.”

Meanwhile, Irwin goes almost everywhere with Carr. He rides in the car, wearing a diaper and dressed in a boy’s shirt and slacks with a hole cut for his tail. Carr says the clothes are for practical reasons and that they protect Irwin against possible germs. She feeds him salad, raw veggies, kangaroo chow, popcorn and the occasional Cheez-Its or a handful of Cheetos.

Irwin visits the Broken Arrow Nursing Home.

And now that he’s also certified as a therapy animal, contributing to Carr’s own healing, Irwin can also accompany her to the Broken Arrow Nursing Home, where residents look forward to the visits and enjoy petting him. By all accounts, he seems to like the attention, too, and Broken Arrow Nursing Home owner Joanna Cooper says she doesn’t understand why keeping Irwin has become an issue.

The city council, however, is still nervous.

“There’s just a myriad of things we need to consider,” said Lester. And Wilkening added that every exception sets a precedent. One option may be to create an exotic animal review committee that would look at each animal on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Meanwhile, Irwin and Carr continue to make a big difference to each other, and there’s talk of him being featured on a TV show on Animal Planet. After all, every kangaroo should have 15 minutes of fame.

What do you say? Should Christie Carr be allowed to keep Irwin? Does it set a bad precedent, potentially encouraging other people to take injured or sick wildlife into their homes? Or is this the right option for a kangaroo who needs continuing care? Let us know on our Facebook page or comment below.

What you can do: Zoe’s wildlife veterinarian writes about what to do if you find a wild animal who needs help. Also, check out our story A Walk on the Wild Side about a visit to wildlife hospital. Wildliferehabber.org can help you find a local rehabber. And rehabilitation centers need all the help they can get. Learn more at the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.