Where Have I Been?

Vulture

I started this blog a little over a year ago with the intention of posting every week.

Oops.

When we last left off, I had just gotten a job at a wildlife sanctuary and hospital.  This was in the height of “baby season.”  Baby season means that from spring through the beginning of fall, everything is having babies.  This is big in the wildlife rehab game as we get any and all orphans.  So I was taking care of baby squirrels in my apartment instead of writing.  I’m saving lives here, guys!!!

Squirrels Squirrel

What is it like to work with wildlife?  Pretty glamorous.  If you like poop.  And if you don’t and then start working with wildlife (or any animals or, I’m assuming, human children) you will eventually because it tells you so much about the animal’s health.  Not to brag, but I’ve cleaned the poop of:  racoons, deer, bald eagles, squirrels, owls, oppossums, doves, pigeons, turtles, hawks, gulls, bobcats… the list goes on.  And on.

Yeah, bald eagles.  Because I’m an American.

eagles

But, seriously, working with wildlife has changed my life.  I now know that I want to continue to work with animals for as long as I am able.  I’m still trying to figure out what that means for writing and other aspects of my life.  But it is worth it if I can continue this work.  In the meantime, I do hope to write more.  So stay tuned…  I know.  Promises, promises.

I also got to bottle-feed fawns and have an awesome turkey vulture story.  Though it would be difficult for one to have a turkey vulture story and it not be awesome.

 
Oh, and I also adopted a dog and moved to California.

Why Animals?

Scan 6

I have recently accepted a job as an animal caretaker at a local wildlife sanctuary where I will be caring for sick, injured, and baby wildlife with the goal of reintroduction to the wild.  I also volunteer at a no-kill shelter and occasionally help out with a rescue group that specializes in the much-maligned, but truly wonderful, bully dog breeds.  And when I’m not doing that, I take courses online to learn as much as I can about animal behavior and welfare.

A question often put to people who spend much of their time helping animals is, why not help people instead?  I have yet to be asked this question.  That is, I’ve yet to be asked it by someone other than myself.  I sometimes feel that I should be helping out my fellow humans more.  So I will now explore my motivations.

My love of animals began at a young age.  Pictured above is me and my first dog Daisy, a Shepard mix adopted from the famous North Shore Animal League.  As a toddler, I also remember feeding the squirrels in the yard and watching ladybugs land on the kitchen windowsill with my mother.

That toddler now wants to devote her adult life to helping more and more animals.  Let’s look at the who, what, and why of that decision.

Domestic Animals:  While there are disgraceful instances of flagrant animal abuse and neglect, most of the animals I spend time with are not that bad off. People relinquish their pets because they no longer fit into their lifestyle or living arrangements.  Irresponsible pet owners don’t alter their animals and excessive breeding occurs.  We have a major overpopulation problem in this country.  As of this writing, my county’s shelter, which is trying its best to be a no-kill facility, is at capacity and may have to euthanize for space for the first time in a while.  Staff and volunteers of rescues and shelters scramble to make their animals healthy and adoptable just to continue the never-ending cycle of taking in more unwanted dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.

Wild Animals:  Some are known as nuisance animals, but to be fair, we did encroach on their territory by building our homes and shopping centers.  If we are responsible for displacing wildlife – not to mention hunting, poaching, and capturing them for entertainment – then we should be responsible for helping wildlife. 

Farm Animals:  My volunteer work was born out of my veganism.  My being a vegan came from my extreme pleasure in knowing that my food has not suffered.  Being one person against the “system” can feel overwhelming, so I have been striving to do more to help more animals.  But these are the animals I feel need my voice the most due to the sheer volume of suffering endured by these creatures and the sheer volume of ignoring that is done by consumers.  These animals can feel fear and pain.  That should be all anyone needs to know.

Captive Wildlife:  There have been some strides toward change lately, but it is still an uphill climb to educate in order to effect more change, because the people making profits off of these animals surely will not change unless their wallets shrink.  Circuses, amusement parks, and most zoos do not have their animals’ best interests at heart – no matter what Sea World’s latest ad campaign tells you.  Animals have been ripped out of their homes, inbred, and forced to perform under the most appalling of conditions and for our amusement.  If you want to learn about wild animals, visit a sanctuary or watch a David Attenborough documentary.

Okay, so this has gotten a little more preachy than I intended.  That happens sometimes when I get started on this topic.  Sorry (not sorry).

But I do still feel guilty that I do not help my fellow human more.  It’s not like I never do – I write my representatives and give money when I can and have been known to protest.  But why is almost all of my time spent helping animals?  If I’m being honest – I don’t do great with people.  I’m just not a people person.  Yet I feel – no, I know – that all people should be treated equally and justly.  And I want this to be the norm one day all over the world.  But my greatest passion is animals.  

I guess will probably always feel guilt from time to time.  That I could and should be doing more.  More for animals, more for people.  The flip side is this:  I’m selfish.  I’m doing this because I’m selfish.  Helping animals makes me feel good.  Giving five bucks to a homeless guy makes me feel good.  Voting for the local school board makes me feel good.  I want to keep feeling good.  I just have to remind my self that there are worse ways to be selfish.

Life As an Animal Volunteer

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I am covered in cat scratches. My shoes have raw chicken on them. I have a heat headache and my shoulders are sore and my back hurts…

All of this didn’t happen in one day, but it is my current state (my shoes remain outside the house now). I’ve upped my volunteering schedule. Last week I started at a wildlife sanctuary. It is very labor-intensive, but somehow causes me less pain than sitting in front of a computer for eight hours.

First day at the wildlife sanctuary – which is mainly a hospital/rehab with some permanent residents – I did a lot of food prep. Which meant slicing up fruit for baby birds. Then I spent about an hour outside smashing raw chicken necks with a giant meat tenderizer to create dinner for the birds of prey – bald eagles, owls and the like (this is so the bones are crushed and easier to eat, and this way the birds get natural calcium instead of a powder being added to their diet – and this is also how my shoes got dirty). I did get to hold a baby squirrel that day. So, you know, worth it.

My second day, however, involved hand feeding some fledglings. My friends, you haven’t lived until you’ve had seven mocking birds (or blue jays or woodpeckers) all squawking at you with their mouths open and ready for treats. I also got to put some food in the cages of baby opossums. One was particularly hissy, but the others were appreciative. And adorable. Also, baby raccoons are adorable (FYI).

I also volunteer at a no-kill shelter. So I walk dogs (and try to train them) and play with cats and kittens. An extra rowdy kitten decided my nose looked delicious and bit it as well as my earlobe. Also scratched my arms while kneading with extra sharp claws. This, however, was also adorable.

Plus, I’m still working on building a web page for a local bully breed dog rescue. So this has been a big learning curve of software and code. But I’m also educating myself on these types of dogs so that the rescue can educate the public. How I do love research.

It’s not all glamorous, however. Dog walking inevitably involves picking up poop. Bird feeding means cage cleaning. The wildlife sanctuary work is mainly food prep, cleaning, doing dishes, and folding laundry. It means being covered in sweat and scratches and fur and feathers. It means my hair is constantly askew and my outfits are designed for functionality, not fashion. It means I’m tired and my feet always hurt. It means my heart breaks when I have to leave a favorite dog at the shelter, but I know I should wish to not see them ever again – because that means they have found their forever home. It means a lot of time and energy is spent.

And I think I might have never been happier…