I’ve been meaning to come back here and try to describe a typical day working at PAWS, but I’ve had trouble figuring out where to start. The work is incredibly varied and repetitive at the same time. There are some tasks that seem to happen all day every day; dishes and laundry are both bottomless pits that are never done, each requiring more steps than you would imagine. For example, each and every item of laundry has to be shaken out over the garbage can to dislodge any food/dirt/feces, and to make sure that no small bird or mammal is clinging to it before being put into the industrial washer. This all has to be done wearing goggles, latex gloves and a surgical mask, to protect us from any zoonotic diseases or parasites. And folding the laundry is not a quick task either; we have to make sure that there are no holes, loops, or loose threads on the sheets and towels and if there are they need to be cut off to prevent potential injury to our patients. The importance of this step was brought home to me recently when a baby squirrel was found one morning with a loose thread that had wrapped around his arm causing the bone to break and the whole appendage to swell. The vets wanted to give him a chance, but unfortunately, the arm turned necrotic and the squirrel had to be euthanized. A sad ending that has led to increased vigilance in the laundry room.
Feedings are another around-the-clock activity. Dish feedings, syringe feedings, tube feedings. Soaking chows, thawing fish/krill/carnivore log, mixing formulas, chopping veggies/fruit, injecting thawed fish with B12, pulling up syringe food (fish slurry and a sort of strained mixture for birds called – don’t ask me why – “fons“). Each species has its own specialized dietary requirements, and each patient its own feeding needs/schedule. Almost everyone gets dish food, except for sick/emaciated animals that get tube fed until they can handle self-feeding. The mammals in the wards get fed formula every few hours. The small mammals on “the hill” (basically, those old enough to self feed) get fed in the mornings. The birds in the aviaries and the raptor mews get fed in the mornings and replenished through the day. The raccoons only get fed in the evenings. And for each age group of each different species a different complex diet has to be prepared fresh daily. It’s not a question of simply pouring out some bird seed. Corvids (crows and jays), for example, get a mix of soaked dog chow and soaked omnivore chow, mixed with sunflower seeds, chopped fruit, and protein. Songbirds get soaked dog chow with birdseed and chopped fruit. The mallards get waterfowl maintenance with cracked corn, shredded greens, and mealworms. The gulls get chow with lots and lots of fish, into which we have to inject vitamins. Herons get fish floating in water. Woodpeckers get canned cat food with live mealworms mixed in, smeared onto the wall. And that’s just a small sampling of the different tastes we have to cater to every day. (And that’s not even counting the baby bird nursery which has its own very busy cadre of volunteers feeding some very hungry mouths literally all day from sunup to sundown.) We even have to feed the mealworms.
Then there’s cleaning cages/pens/pools; weighing patients; administering meds; setting up new cages/pens/pools; cleaning and changing the trifectant in all the foot baths; collecting all the garbage and bringing it to the dumpster; disinfecting doorknobs and light switches; replenishing sheets and towels in the surgery, exam room, nursery, ward, small mammal room (aka pop-top room), raccoon city, and baby bird nursery; scrubing all the sinks in the building; spraying and scrubbing all the items on the outdoor cleaning pad (you have no idea how hard it is to get mealworms out of astroturf); sweeping and mopping all the floors, and an ongoing list of seemingly endless daily tasks that need doing. And that’s not including the extra tasks that the rehabbers set us depending on the needs of the moment. Today, we (myself and two other interns) had to “flame” one of the aviaries. Literally go in there with a propane tank and a flame-thrower and go over every inch of the place because the juvenile Robins that had just been moved out of there were being treated for gapeworm. I can truly say, there’s never a dull moment, although sometimes you wish there were. At the end of the day, I come home, leave my shoes outside, strip naked, throwing every scrap of clothes in the washing machine, hop in the shower and scrub every inch of my body, and collapse onto the couch to finally give my aching feet a break and set my brain to “0”.
Anyway, I know that’s a lot of text to take in all at once, but I hope it paints a picture of the ordered chaos of a busy wildlife rehab center. And for those of you who are thinking “Yeah, yeah, but where are the cute animals?” check out this story that a local station did about us on the news recently. (And for extra cuteness, click on both of the video links.)
So I’m back online (whoohoo! Comcast comes through!) after my first week of the internship. Lots of new experiences. This has been a week of firsts for me.
First time catching and holding wild birds – American crows, Steller’s jays, Northern Flickers (Dutchies, behave!), and a Glaucous Gull. The crows are the best. Easy to catch, easy to hold, and they use your finger as a perch while getting their meds/tube feeding. The Gull was just frightening. That is a big-ass bird, with a very sharp beak, and it’ll go for your eyes any chance it gets. The Jays and Flickers are not dangerous, but very very flappy, which brings me to another first.
First time letting a bird get away from me and having to get on my hands and knees to net it from under a bank of cages. It will not by my last time, I’m sure.
First time washing bright yellow baby squirrel poop off my hands.
First time taking a pair of kitchen shears to a pair of fully-feathered quail looking for meaty bits.
First time having half a “false ceiling” full of raccoon kits come crashing down on me. (No raccoons or interns were harmed in any way in the making of this mishap.)
First time sifting for mealworms.
First time smearing a mix of catfood and live mealworms onto a wooden wall for Flickers and Red-breasted Sapsuckers to eat.
First time slitting open thawed smelt to stick pills inside, and then injecting them with vitamins.
First time mixing formula for deer fawn.
First time seeing a Turkey buzzard. (Unfortunately, he had just been euthanized after suffering an electrocution injury.)
First time learning how (and where) to empty “the dead bucket”. (Which is exactly what it sounds like.)
First time making a mealworm run.
I’m sure there are a bunch more that aren’t springing to mind at the moment, but these were all quite memorable. Never again will I be able to say that I don’t know what it’s like to ride northbound on Rt. 99 with two containers of mealworms in my lap.
(Note: Taking pictures of any of the animals in our care is strictly verboden, so any pictures I link to here are borrowed from other people’s websites purely for illustrative purposes.)
Greetings from Starbucks on SR 99 in Lynnwood. I haven’t yet got internet hookup in my apartment, so until next Wednesday when the cable guy comes to jack me into the matrix, I’ll be pounding the suburban pavement the half mile to this strip mall outpost of caffeine dependency to get connected.
This is my first experience of truly living in suburban America. Growing up, we lived in the city of Buffalo (granted, not the most vibrant city, but still, a city), college was in a small town, and Seattle was, well, Seattle. Amsterdam, where I’ve – for all intents and purposes – been living for the past 15 years, is the antithesis of suburbia. It’s odd being a commited pedestrian in such a car-oriented environment. Back home, I can walk out my front door and within two minutes be on a main street filled with grocery stores, bakeries, nut shops, vegetable stands, flower stands, two banks, a pizza place, Thai restaurant, Chinese take-away, hardware store, etc. I can catch three different trams into the city, or walk down sidewalked streets for a half an hour and be in the center of town. There are very few places that are “too far to walk”, and those that are are generally a straight shot on a tram that comes 4-6 times an hour.
Here, when I walk out my front door, and walk to the main street, I’m confronted by a six-lane highway, lined with strip malls, furniture outlets, car dealerships, Dairy Queens, 7-Elevens, Taco Bells, and Drive-thru Starbucks. Actually, the walk here wasn’t bad. It’s just a half mile amble – about 10 minutes – from door to door. And the QFC is one parking lot over, so there is a grocery store within walking distance. It’s just all so… car oriented.
Of course, it’s not as black and white as I’m making it out to be. The road where I’m living feels a lot more rural than suburban, although the apartment community does have the air of suburban development about it. When it rains, it smells green and clean, and when the sun is shining, it smells piney and fresh. Some kind of martin (will have to check my Audubon guide) swoops between the buildings catching bugs, and at night froggies croak and ribbit from around the water features (yep, there are water features). I’m also just a five minute walk from my internship, partly without sidewalks, but never dauntinlgy so. Nevertheless, my supervisor at PAWS (who I met yesterday, and who seems AWESOME) made me promise to always get a ride home at night. Not because of any perceived threat of attack, but rather to avoid walking along the road in the dark when drivers might not see me.
And it’s not like I’m stranded here. Aside from my automotively enabled pals, there is a transit system. It may not be as comprehensive or convenient as what I’m used to from the GVB and the NS. But once I suss it out, I’m sure it’ll get me where I need to go. But it definitely is not the pedestrian-friendly world I’ve come to take for granted in my day-to-day existence in Europe. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Amsterdam anymore.
On another note entirely, tomorrow I start my basic skills training for my internship, so those wanting to hear about my experiences with Wildlife rehab, check back here soon. (Although it may have to wait till I’ve got internet at home.) In the meantime, here’s a boxful of baby opossoms to tide you over.
Tomorrow, I’m heading off on the adventure that got me started on this blog. I’m flying to Seattle for three months to do a wildlife rehab internship at PAWS. This is something I’ve been planning and been looking forward to through lots of ups and downs for more than half a year now. I sprinted through the application process, negotiated with my bosses at the bookstore to take the time off (and still come back to a job), found a room, lost a room, found another room, put blood, sweat, and tears into finishing my thesis on time, all so that I could do this thing I’ve thought about doing for years.
And yet I’m terrified. All day long, I’ve been feeling like all I want to do is stay here, in my fun, familiar job, in my cosy, comfy apartment, in this easily accessible city. I’ve lived in the Seattle area before and still feel a connection to it. I’ve got friends there who I can’t wait to see! I’ll be working with animals at an organization I have a great deal of respect for. I should be bouncing off the walls with excitement. But right now what I’m mostly feeling is apprehension. I can’t even put words to what exactly it is that I’m apprehensive about. Just call it fear of the unknown. Fear of the new. Fear of flying. (And, although I’m – as always – a wee bit nervous about getting on an airplane tomorrow, I mean that metaphorically.) Because in a way, I’m about to take a flying leap into something completely new. What if I can’t find my wings?
I know this will pass, likely the minute I get to Schiphol. I felt the same way before leaving for seven weeks to travel on my own in Australia and that ended up being an amazing experience. And it taught me that I can’t always wait until I feel ready to stretch those wings. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith before you can fly.
Two of the highlights of my television-watching year are Springwatch and Autumnwatch on the BBC. These annually-broadcast, live series follow the fortunes of many different species of British wildlife (the majority of which are also native to this area of Europe) through the turbulent changes of spring and autumn. Up until this year, they’ve always been hosted by Kate Humble and the inimitable Bill Oddie: a charming curmudgeon and a keen amateur naturalist. So I was surprised this May to tune in to the first episode to hear that, due to health issues, Bill Oddie would not be presenting this year. He had been replaced by Chris Packham. Packham did a fine job; he’s just as keen and knowledgable when it comes to nature, and he has his own brand of charming eccentricity, but I still missed Bill.
I was saddened but not surprised to read that his absence was a result of clinical depression, which he’s apparently been dealing with most of his life. This debilitating disorder has affected the lives of many of the highly intelligent and sensitive people in my ken, and Mr. Oddie is clearly both intelligent and sensitive.
Bill Oddie is not a bad birdwatcher. He is, in fact, an excellent birdwatcher. But like a bad birdwatcher, he appreciates the beauty of the everyday. Here’s my favorite Bill Oddie moment, and one of my favorite videos ever. It’s truly magical, and worth a viewing even if you’re not that interested in birds. And Mr. Oddie, wherever you are, I wish you all the best. I hope you’re on the road to recovery soon.