MIAMI – The event was as wild and wonderful as the wildlife the Wild Heart Ranch rescues and rehabilitates.
The sold out event drew 332 supporters to Buffalo Run Casino and Resort for the Wild Heart Ranch's “Dine for the Wild” event to raise money to support efforts to save wildlife of all kinds, well over 50,000 animals. Over $154,787 in total of donations poured in during the event to help run the facility through event ticket sales, donations, black jack tables and live and silent auctions.
The event beat the best previous years' fundraising record of $15,000 soundly, and drew supporters from across the nation from as far away as Connecticut and New Mexico.
Located in Rogers County just north of Claremore, Wild Heart Ranch assists animals of all kinds in need and was founded by Annette King in 1996.
King and Channel 8 Storm Chaser, Derek Masingale emceed the night.
Buffalo Run Casino donated the food, the event venue, and staff, all under the direction of hosts, Jerry Venis and General Manager Steve Bashore. Venis organized the fundraiser, down to the last detail even creating wonderful centerpieces for each table, later also donated by Bashore.
Masingale introduced King, to get the event started, but instead her husband Dan came out wearing a green sequined evening gown, which had the crowd laughing from the start. King followed him out on stage shortly wearing the exact same gown and later presented an identical one to Venis, who modeled the gown all in fun setting the tone for the big party.
“This dress is looking better on me every minute,” King said and thanked Venis. “Jerry Venis is our program director, party planner, extraordinaire, I love this man.”
Volunteer Shelly Housley then kicked off the event with a moving rendition of the song, “Born Free.”
A huge, exciting surprise was bestowed during the event when two donors, spontaneously agreed to purchase two 20 acre $50,000 tracts of land bordering the Wild Heart Ranch. The donors will lease the land to the facility for one dollar a year to allow for wildlife sanctuary expansion.
“Wow,” King said, this generosity overwhelming her with emotion.
King's passion and love for wildlife rescue was matched by co-founder Sandy Brooks, the ex-wife of country superstar Garth Brooks, when she met King after taking abandoned puppies dumped near her gate to Wild Heart for help. Brooks jumped on board to assist at Wild Heart, and also in founding and funding a non-profit to help expand and support the rescue's efforts.
“I love you,” King told Sandy Brooks, recognizing her contribution to starting the wildlife sanctuary.
Garth and Sandy Brooks' youngest daughter, Allie Brooks, lent her impressive musical talent to the event by performing for the crowd, “Someone Give me an Amen” and other songs.
Her father, Garth Brooks, donated three personally dedicated and autographed guitars to the auction, which brought in $3,000 for each.
Several art pieces, coin collections, gift baskets, and much more were donated and auctioned. A special eagle statue created by Speedy Arnette, a longtime volunteer, brought in $3,500, which brought the artist to tears.
The special night ended with a Venis' signature spectacular, all-participate napkin toss using 69,600 paper napkins thrown in the air to the tune of “Love is in the Air,” and even the napkins which were bagged after the event are to be used in the rehab facility.
Wild Heart is a state and federally licensed rehabilitation facility for all species of wildlife needing orphan support, injury treatment or disease recovery.
Wild Heart Ranch has become recognized also as an eagle rescue and release facility.
“Wild Heart exists because we all suffer the same,” King said.
King thanked and recognized several Wild Heart volunteers with awards.
“You cry and your stomach growls, and your family's calling wondering if you're ever going to show up but you don't leave because there's still 50 more raccoons to feed, and opossums and birds to feed, these are my heroes folks, these are my heroes!” King said. “I love you guys.”
Buffalo Run Casino and Resort presented King with a bronze eagle Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication and outstanding wildlife rehabilitation and rescue work.
“They do what they do so one day the Lord will look down at them and say job well done,” Venis said of King, her staff and volunteers.
The crowd stood in ovation.
“This is very humbling and unexpected. This is a beautiful award and thank you very much,” King said. “There's a lot of people that are behind me, good people. Wild heart Ranch only attracts good people and the love is in this room.”
King explained how Wild Heart Ranch became connected to Buffalo Run through promoter Tony Holden, who contacted Wild Heart to find someone to take care of a severely wounded owl he found in his garage.
Holden took the bird to King, who without knowing him or about his professional connections, felt the need to give him a tour of the ranch and explain their mission to ease his concerns about the wounded owl.
“I said, 'Let me show you what I do.' I didn't know the man, but for some reason I felt compelled to show him every, single animal in my clinic and tell their stories, the owl that came in with a back fracture months ago that was paralyzed and just started flying, story after story,” King said. “I had no time for this, it was just something in my gut, talk to this man, ease his fear, show him who you are, he needs to be at peace about this animal...and he goes, 'Let me tell you what I do.' That was how Buffalo Run Casino met Wild Heart Ranch.”
Buffalo Run Casino and Resort has announced it will be hosting the event again next year.
To learn more, to donate or volunteer, call Wild Heart Ranch at 918-342-9453, go to www.wildheartranch.org or follow Wild Heart Ranch on Facebook.