Three white-tail fawns follow Joel Rosenthal knowing he is their source for food. Rosenthal is currently raising 11 orphaned fawns. When the fawns are weaned, they will be released into the wild. S. Stewart photo
Three white-tail fawns follow Joel Rosenthal knowing he is their source for food. Rosenthal is currently raising 11 orphaned fawns. When the fawns are weaned, they will be released into the wild. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Joel Rosenthal, of Beard, has one mission in life – to protect and save injured or orphaned wild animals in Pocahontas County. In the 15 years he has lived here, Rosenthal has saved countless bears, deer, owls, hawks, raccoons, possums, skunks, vultures and more.

Rosenthal’s love of animals began at a very young age when he lived in Washington, D.C. where the wildest animals were on display at the Smithsonian.

“This was the very first dream I ever had in life – to have a farm and to take care of animals,” he said.

In his book, Bambi and the Supremes – about winning his case in the State Supreme Court – Rosenthal recalled the moment he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“When I was four years old my folks began taking me to a farm owned by former neighbors from our apartment complex in Washington, D.C.,” he wrote. “It was then that I knew I wanted someday to have a farm and take care of animals.”

After a long career as a scientist, Rosenthal finally brought his dream to fruition when he purchased a farm in Pocahontas County in 2000.

“Located in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, this 262 acre tract had a log cabin and a couple of run-in sheds,” Rosenthal wrote in his book. “Most of the farm was tucked into Calvin Price State Forest and its 10,000 acres. The only access to this land was via a 450 foot drive through the Greenbrier River. The farm contained almost every ecological niche available in West Virginia.”

The farm includes meadows and fields, a mountainside, a river, ponds and a wetland. It is perfect for the work Rosenthal set out to do.

“I wanted a place in the deciduous Appalachian Mountains, so it just kind of worked out,” he said. “I looked at a lot of places, but this is where I ended up. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best place east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Although he had extensive knowledge and experience with animals as a biologist, Rosenthal was not seen as a wildlife rehabilitator – he was seen as a criminal.

In the state of West Virginia, it is illegal for an individual to possess wildlife and in 2005, Rosenthal was charged in Pocahontas County magistrate court with one count of illegal possession of wildlife.

“I had to fight it out with the entire state of West Virginia for four years,” Rosenthal said. “I kicked their butt in circuit court, supreme court and federal court, so I’m the only one in West Virginia who can do this legally.”

After he successfully won the right to take care of wildlife in Pocahontas County, Rosenthal returned his focus to the animals.

Animals of all shapes and sizes have come to Rosenthal at Point-of-View Farm where he takes care of them, nurses them back to health and releases them back into the wild. If an animal cannot make a successful return to the wild due to an injury, he keeps it and cares for it the rest of its life.

While he continues to take in orphans or injured animals, Rosenthal has decided it is time to limit the number of animals he will care for at one time.

“It’s what I like doing, although this year I’ve decided I’m going to put a limitation on the number of animals I’m going to get just because it’s real hectic in June and July,” he said. “After that, it starts to slow down some. Things grow up. That’s the whole purpose to get them back into the wild.”

In the past 15 years, the most unique case Rosenthal has had is a black bear named Rose. He got her when she was a cub and released her into the wild as an adult. She returned in December 2013, and gave birth to her cub, CD, in January 2014 – the first birth at Point-of-View Farm.

The mom and daughter duo returned to the wild, last spring and this spring, but they continue to visit Rosenthal.

“I haven’t seen any others for awhile,” he said. “Rose has pretty much claimed the territory around the farm and she decides who can come and who can’t come.”

Although he has been helping animals for 15 years and is used to releasing them back into the wild, Rosenthal still has a hard time seeing the animals leave.

“I get very attached, but I’ve learned over the years to let them go,” he said. “They teach me so much about what they are.”

Rosenthal said one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding raising a wild animal is that they lose their wildness and become too tame and attached to humans to return to the wild.

“People who say that I have habituated the animal or I’ve imprinted the animal therefore I can’t know anything about the animal is total bull,” Rosenthal said. “I want to interact with them. I tell people, in regards to bears, that if you haven’t slept with a bear, if you haven’t gone for a hike with a bear and if you haven’t gone swimming with a bear, then you don’t know anything about bears, so don’t start talking to me about bears.”

Rose was a good example of an animal raised by a human who was able to acclimate to the wild. She went into the wild and found a mate who did not see her as anything but another wild black bear.

Rosenthal added that there are a lot of wildlife rehabiliators in the world who have the same experiences he has with the animals they help. Jim Hutto made a documentary called “My Life as a Turkey,” which shows a year-and-a-half of his life when he raised a clutch of wild turkeys.

“He got a clutch of wild turkey eggs, raised them, started talking to the chicks while they were still in the eggs, spent the entire next year-and-a-half with the chicks going off on hikes, interacting with them, learning all about them,” Rosenthal said. “A year-and-a-half later, they matured and they all went off. One of them even attacked him. So, the idea that you somehow are imprinting an animal and ruining it with human contact is total nonsense.”

The animals at Point-of-View Farm – two bear cubs, a grey fox, six raccoons, six or so possums, a skunk and more enjoy lots of human interaction with Rosenthal on a daily basis. He feeds them, takes them on hikes and plays with them – and he would have it no other way. Its been a rough road, but its been worthwhile.

“I’m doing what I want to do,” he said. “I feel fortunate that I’ve come to West Virginia. I’m now, probably, the only person, at least in North America, who can take care of anything and everything, and basically – it’s nobody’s business.”