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Orange County Couple Runs Wildlife Center To Rehabilitate Creatures Big And Small

OTISVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A husband and wife in upstate New York have devoted their lives to saving animals.

At their wildlife center in Otisville, in Orange County, they've made it their mission to rehabilitate creatures both great and small. Of course, it's the big guys that get most of the attention.

Jimbo, a 1,500 pound Kodiak is one of 11 bears at Jim and Susan Kowalczik's Orphaned Wildlife Center.

"They're content. They're happy. If they weren't, you would know it and I wouldn't be doing this," Jim told CBS2's Brian Conybeare.

The couple's not-for-profit takes in injured and unwanted creatures from big bears to baby bunnies. Their main goal is to release the animals back into the wild, but for the bears, many of them are injured or simply to accustomed to living in captivity.

There are plenty of wildlife rehabilitators, but it's the Kowalcziks' hands-on style that has garnered international attention, and even some criticism.

Experts worry some people will see him playing with the bears and get the wrong idea.

"The message it sends concerns me -- that everything can be a pet, everything can be habituated. Even a 1,500-pound bear can be your friend," wildlife rehabilitator Missy Runyan said.

Kowalczik said he has a trusting relationship with the bears. He's had jimbo for 23 years.

"There's no false pretenses like there are with people and stuff. What you see is what you get," he said.

The Kowalcziks have been licensed wildlife rehabilitators since 1996. They live on the property with the animals and do all of the daily care and maintenance.

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