On Wednesday, I did my first orientation day at the Amsterdam Animal Ambulance service. What this consisted of was riding along with one of the ambulance crews for a day to see what the job actually entails. They (very wisely) ask all potential volunteers to do a couple of ride-alongs and a couple of shifts shadowing in the dispatch room before signing a volunteer contract and starting the training program.
This was my first chance to dip my toe back into the animal-rescue waters since the end of my internship at PAWS. I’d been looking at ways to start working with animals again since I got back, and working for the Animal Ambulance seems like the ideal combination of being able to help both domestic and wildlife. But I wasn’t sure how it would compare to my expectations. I’m still not sure. I’m still digesting the experience, and looking forward to my next ride-along to help firm up my thoughts. But here are some first thoughts and impressions from the day itself:
* Pigeons are the schlemiels of the animal kingdom. Our first five calls were pigeon related: four were feral Rock pigeons (the ubiquitous street pigeon that most people think of when they hear the word) and one Wood pigeon. According to Albert (the driver), around 50% of all calls they go out on are pigeon related. Despite their ubiquity on the street, feral pigeons seem to be the least street smart birds on earth and seem to get themselves into all sorts of trouble. The ones we saw had all stumbled into trouble one way or another (aside from the Wood pigeon that was suspected to be infected with Trichomoniasis), whether getting tangled in wire and breaking a leg, or somehow getting covered in oil.
* Geese and highways are not a good combination. I won’t go into details, but although the bird was still alive when we got there, the story did not end well for the goose.
* I am more convinced than ever that not only is it NOT cruel to keep cats as indoor pets, it’s actually irresponsible to let them wander freely. (I know my saying this will not go down well with a number of my outdoor-cat-owning friends.) Anyone who truly believes that cats are savvy when it comes to traffic has never had to pick up a recently-expired, still-warm, heavily-bleeding tabby from the side of the road. (For anyone interested in information on keeping cats indoors, please check out this PAWS page about cat health and safety.)
* If you do let your cat go outdoors, please get it microchipped, so that when it does get hit by a car, or attacked by a larger animal, or tortured by some sick fuck, the animal care workers who pick it up can find you and let you know so you won’t always wonder why Fluffy didn’t come home one night. In fact, getting your dog or cat microchipped is a very good idea even if you don’t let it roam free. Even indoor cats and dogs who are always kept on leads can wander off sometimes, and if your pet is chipped, it makes it much easier to trace the owner and reunite you with your furry friend.
* Sometimes there are happy endings. One of the last calls of the day was to come get a seemingly stray dog that had been dropped off at a police station. This dog was obviously owned, it was sweet (if a bit scared), well-fed, and wearing a collar (although no tag, and no microchip). We picked it up and brought it to the nearest shelter (which was just about to close for the evening). When we got there, the shelter staff had a woman on the phone who had lost a dog that fit well with the description of the pup we’d just brought in. So it looked like a happy reunion was the likely outcome of that call. It was a nice way to end the day.
All-in-all it was a good, if not always happy, experience. The rhythm is very different from what I was accustomed to from working at PAWS. For one, I was (stupidly, perhaps) surprised at how much time is spent just driving from place to place. That’s something that I’ll have to get used to. Also, the turnover is something I’ll have to adjust to. At PAWS you saw the entire trajectory of an animal’s recovery (or lack thereof) from intake to release (or death). On the ambulance, it’s pick up the animal, assess its condition/needs, figure out where it needs to go (shelter, vet, disposal), and bring it there. That’s where your involvement ends.
I’m still mulling over if this is the path for me. I’ll admit that last night, late at night, I was having some doubts (although I think that’s natural). But doubts notwithstanding, I think that for now, this is a way to move forward in my desire to work helping animals, and something that will prepare me to move in a different direction if that’s what I choose to do at a later time. It’s a good way to start wading into that pool.