I dodged the debris from the storm as I darted up the driveway. Doing a double take and pointing at a spot on the driveway that we narrowly missed, I shrieked, “I think that’s a bird!” It was a badly injured baby bird, next to two of its deceased brothers or sisters. I had to save it before it was too late! I grabbed a bucket and towels from the garage and created a nest. I lifted the bird and placed it as gently as possible in the towel nest. There was no mother bird or nest to be found. “Peep,” it yelped over and over as we drove to the animal hospital. While I do not know what became of that young bird, I like to think that it survived because of the generous volunteers at the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
That was my first introduction to the world of animal medicine. “Animal medicine is quite different from human medicine,” said Dr. P. J. Deitschel from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, “we have to be a lot more resourceful.” With a couple twists, she tightened the makeshift brace, made of metal prongs and wire, to repair a tortoise’s broken shell. My days as a volunteer at the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital were busy and rewarding, filled with new animal facts everyday. Those with an interest in wildlife or the environment should look into volunteer opportunities at a local conservancy, preserve, or animal hospital. An example of my animal hospital routine follows:
Enter the kitchen to play “chef” to a range of wild animals, from raccoons, to baby birds, to turtles, to possums. Recipe for baby bird diet: 2 tablespoons soggy dog food, 2 teaspoons of baby food, and a tablespoon of diced fruit or a plateful of live worms. Dice the fish for the baby raccoons. Return all supplied and clean kitchen area. Deliver diets to appropriate rooms.
Answer the call of the screaming baby birds. Wipe the feeding time off of the whiteboard for the appropriate cage being fed. Open the cage door carefully and block all bird exits. Using tweezers gently drop tiny portions of food into the outstretched beaks. Overcome the fear of having your hand pecked off. Be sure to clean off their beaks. Rewrite the next feeding time on the whiteboard.
Clean the birdcages. Place the birds in a temporary box. Take out all of the branches, bowls, and towels. Toss the towels in the laundry basket. Spray the cage down and wipe it. Lay out new towels, form a new nest, and return the branches and bowls. Let the birds back in.
Enter the baby raccoon and baby possum room. Marvel at their cuteness. Bring them to a temporary room so their cages can be cleaned. Do not forget their stuffed animals. Pull out boxes and towels. Spray down and wipe. Lay new towels and replace boxes. Add new blankets and stuffed animals. Place their fresh food and water dishes in their cages. Release raccoons and/or possums into their renewed abode.
Laundry time. Gather laundry in animal rooms. Put dry laundry into a basket to be folded. Put wet laundry into the dryer. Shake dirty laundry out into the trash can then toss them into the industrial strength washing machine. Turn both machines on. Fold laundry. This is mainly towels and blankets of various sizes the pad the animal cages.
Exit the building and take a hike. Pick up branches and grass that will serve as a more natural habitat for the resident wildlife. Wave at the pelicans!
Enter the tortoise and turtle room. Observed shell repairs and assist when needed. Clean cages and replenish food. Try not to yell “Dude!” to the injured sea turtle that looks like Crush from Finding Nemo.
Return to baby bird room for another round of feeding. Argue with a bird who will not accept his or her food. Accidentally let deviant bird out of cage. Stand in shame as the shift leaders close the door and recapture the bird. Watch an experienced volunteer bottle-feed a newborn raccoon.
Say goodbye to all shift leaders. Sign out. Impatiently await next shift at the animal hospital.
The animal hospital can be a great way to connect with others who are interest in wildlife, and it can provide you with knowledge that could lead to a future career as a veterinarian, zoologist, park ranger, or environmental activist. It may even introduce you to a possible future major!