Here are some things that ran through my mind before, during, and after my rehabilitation externship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any person at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Enjoy.
1) First and foremost, the concern that ran through my head was if I was going to kill or injure something. In rehabilitation, there is a high mortality rate because of the condition that the animals are in when they are brought to us. Since most of the animals are injured in some way, taking care of said animal can be quite difficult. I managed to slide through my three months here without taking a life.
2) The second thought that ran through my mind: when am going to get attacked and what animal is going to do it? When you work with wild animals, getting attacked by one (or several) is bound to happen. And you do get attacked ... a lot, sometimes by the same animal multiple times. We worked with tiny Eastern Screech-owls, big Bald Eagles, small Virginia Opossums, and huge Black Bears. Most of them are content to keep to themselves but some just want to ruin your week. Especially White-tailed Deer.
3) Contracting some crazy zoonotic disease was another thought that ran through my head. It's a little daunting, working with many different species that have diseases that can be spread to humans. However, with proper protective gear and good general hygiene, there is little worry about contracting anything. As long as you don't stick your fingers in your mouth, you will be fine.
4) There always comes a time when you just want to take an animal home. At some point, an adorable or interesting animal comes into the Center and you really want to steal it away in the dead of night. However, you should never do this ... ever. I could come up with an entire separate list on why this is against the law and just bad for the general well-being of the animal.
5) Related to point #4, another concern is having a favorite animal, or one that has been around for a while, die unexpectedly. As I mentioned earlier, there is a high mortality rate when you work at a rehabilitation center. However, it still is not a pleasant feeling when that one bird or squirrel that you really liked passes on.
6) On the opposite end, when we get to release an animal, it is a great feeling. Most of the animals that come to the Center would not have survived without us. Knowing that we helped this animal grow and become strong enough to survive in the wild is truly a rewarding feeling.
7) Browse! Browse! And you guessed it … more browse. As our White-tailed Deer fawns grew in size, they required more and more browse to continue to grow and be healthy. Browse, by the way, is just when we collect tree branches full of leaves and give the branches to the fawns so they can learn to forage in the wild. Toward the end of my time at the Center, we would spend hours browsing for the fawns. Silver lining: you get really good at plant identification.
8) While working at the Center and the day comes to a close, you realize something about yourself: how disgusting you are right now. From opossum feces on your shoe to vulture puke on your shirt to the buckets of sweat pouring out of you … you are gross. All you want to do is get home and scrub the first layer of your skin off. That being said, once you have been thrown up on by a vulture, you become a little less worried about being gross. No matter what you do to prevent it, it's going to happen. Once you accept this, your time at the Center becomes a lot more enjoyable.
9) Another thought: it's about more than just the animals. While working at the Center and living at the extern house, I met a lot of fun and interesting people -- people from all over the world, who all have had different experiences that led them to the Center. I have made some good friends and made some great memories during my time at the Center.
10) A thought that doesn't occur to you until your last week at the Center: how fast the time flies. Each day, there are always things to do that will keep you busy and a lot of them are new things that you are just learning how to do. During my entire time at the Wildlife Center, I was learning -- even at the end of my externship, there were still things that I had never done. All of that adds up to waking up one morning and wondering where the last three months of your life went. Then: realizing all the amazing things that you've learned and the experiences that you've shared with the fellow rehab and vet externs. I really enjoyed my time here and recommend it to anyone interested in working with animals.
WCV Class of 2016