It’s not just physically draining, although this is some of the most physically arduous work I’ve ever done; other facets of this experience can and do get to me, making me just plumb tired of it all some days. Here are some things I’m tired of:
I’m tired of having to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn.
I’m tired of spending all day cleaning poo.
I’m tired of worrying about zoonotic diseases.
I’m tired of coming home feeling not just dirty, but toxic.
I’m tired of worrying about what has touched my clothing.
I’m tired of working 10 hours with only a half hour break.
I’m tired of worrying if I’m hurting an animal more than I’m helping it.
I’m tired of worrying about making a mistake and killing something.
I’m tired of worrying about why an animal’s not improving.
I’m tired of coming in and wondering if an animal that was there yesterday but is gone today has been released or euthanized.
There’s lots of good stuff too, and I know that this post just seems to focus on the negative. Most of the people who work there are great (both staff and volunteers). I love knowing I’m helping the animals and being able to work with them so closely. Watching seven baby opossums crawl all over each other to get to their dish food, or getting to hold a Common Murre or a Cooper’s Hawk while someone feeds/treats it makes you forget the poo for a while. And releases make it all worthwhile. But some days, the other stuff drags me down a bit, and I long for the simplicity of bookselling, where there are no lives at stake and the most dangerous thing I might face is a customer with halitosis. So does this mean I’m not cut out for rehab (at least on a professional level)? I’m not making any decisions right now, but maybe so. I may be too much of a worrier (Hi, mom! ;)) to do this kind of work on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop exploring ways to work with animals, either on a volunteer or paid basis. It just means there might be other areas that I would enjoy more, or that aren’t as draining on me psychically. (And looking forward to exploring those possiblities.) But I’m really glad I’m having this experience, even if it ends up teaching me that this is not the road for me to take. If I hadn’t taken this detour, I’d never find out.
The rhythm at PAWS wildlife center is shifting with the change in seasons. Every day that I come in, it seems there are less mouths to feed as baby birds get released and squirrels get weaned and move up to the small mammal caging up on the hill. Soon, the raccoons will be going in small batches which means (HURRAH!) less raccoon silo cleaning (possibly my least favorite activity). But less animals means less volunteers and less interns, so while things are not as hectic as they were just a few weeks ago, there’s still plenty of work to do. And while there are less animals to handle, less people qualified to do a lot of the procedures means that you get more hands-on time taking care of the animals that are still there.
And unfortunately for a number of the animals, some of them won’t be leaving anytime soon. An outbreak of avian pox in a couple of the aviaries has led the the euthanizing of several birds and a quarantine on the rest of the affected cages. While the whole situation has been sad, the most heartbreaking consequence of this was that four of the five Stellar’s jays that had been here since they were nestlings had to be euthanized on the eve of what was supposed to be their release; the one jay that showed no symptoms was returned to the aviary for an extended period of quarantine. Jays are intelligent and social birds, and this poor bird went from having four conspecific playmates to being stuck, alone, in an aviary, interacting only with the strange humans who stop by occasionally to drop off food, or with his own reflection in one of the mirrors hung around the cage.
At least he has a chance of release this fall, if he remains pox-free. Several animals are going to be staying with us for the long haul. A pair of Swainson’s thrushes will be our guests for the winter, because some idiot decided to clip the feathers of one of the thrushes (either before or after a cat attack). The feathers had to be plucked to stimulate regrowth, which means that he won’t be able to make the migration down to South America (which is happening NOW) with the rest of his species. We had gotten another Swainson’s thrush in that was in need of medical care and it was decided to keep him over the winter too, in order to ensure that the first thrush had company. Assuming they survive the winter, they’ll be released in the spring when their pals return.
A trio of black bear cubs will also be guests at Chez PAWS for the winter. I’m not sure how we got the little girl (who was here first) but the two boys who came from the Oregon coast (and are thus of a non-hibernating sub-species) were, like the plucked thrush, also victims to human stupidity. Some asswipe decided it would be fun to feed the momma bear that was coming into his yard, but when she killed one of his chickens, he felt justified in shooting her, thus orphaning her cubs. 👿 Sometimes, people just plain suck. Anyway, the trio, who are already getting big and rowdy, will be spending their first winter ripping apart their runs and keeping life interesting for the remaining staff. As an intern, I’m not allowed anywhere near them, but there’s a CCTV camera above their caging, which means I get to see some of their antics. At this adolescent stage, it’s clear they’re going to be a handful.
And even though orphan season is more or less over, we still get our share of sick and injured animals. The staff has been kept especially busy with a group of Common Murres (which I’ve just discovered is the exact same species as what we in Europe call Guillemots [scientific name, Uria aalge or zeekoet in Dutch]) that got brought to us after being washed up on shore. A number of them didn’t make it, but the ones that did require seemingly constant attention, between tubing them and bringing them back and forth between pools and drying pens to try to restore the waterproofing to their feathers (a problem with sea birds). And now that the squirrels are mostly weaned, we suddenly find ourselves caring for seven teeny-tiny orphaned opossums. They are just starting to open their eyes and are possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Because they get tube fed (to approximate how they nurse in the pouch) and not a lot of the volunteers are trained to tube feed, I suspect I’ll be spending a lot of time with those little guys in the next few weeks.
In my last post I mentioned that while I love this area of the world, I don’t love the part of it where I’m spending most of my time. I realize this may sound contradictory, so I thought I’d post some pictures I’ve taken recently to illustrate my point.
When I wax rhapsodical about the Pacific Northwest, these are the types of scenes I’m usually thinking of:
Unfortunately, the area where I’m staying looks more like this…
This is the type of scene I see, not directly upon leaving my front door, but at least upon turning the corner. This is where I buy my groceries and wait for my bus. This is what I mean by stripmall hell. I shouldn’t complain. At least there IS a bus. And sidewalks. But everything is a long haul, and this is not exactly the scenic route.
That said, not far from the suburban sprawl I’ve posted above, there are pockets of lovely quiet green. The street where I live and work is a lot more rural than suburban (hence the lack of sidewalks along huge sections of the road). I pass scenes like these walking every day:
And this is what I see, standing in my driveway, facing west (apologies for the poor quality – it was taken with my phone):
And just a few blocks walking from the Auto Parts store above, there’s a park that looks like this:
… where I recently saw this…
… and this…
… and most excitingly, this…
So, this is what I mean. There’s so much to love about this area of the world. I’m just not crazy about the little corner of it where I have to go about my daily business at the moment. Rt. 99 is my lifeline; I can’t avoid it. But given my druthers, I wouldn’t be living here. While I do, I guess I’ll just keep searching out those beautiful spaces in between.