From: Jay Coles, ED, Carolina Wildlife Center
For just over two years I have been part of one of the most interesting organizations I have ever encountered. The world of non-profit wildlife rescue and rehabilitation has got to be one of the most fascinating, frustrating, enlightening, rewarding, exhilarating, exhausting and heartbreaking environments to work in that one can imagine. Just as unique as the environment are the people who choose to work and volunteer in it. This is for them.
They work long hours on their feet in cramped spaces for little to no pay and no benefits. They are pooped on, peed on, pecked, clawed, bitten and scratched. They get squawked at, hissed at, growled at from the hungry, frightened, hurting animals in their care and respond with smiles and words of comfort.
At our rescue and rehabilitation facility we have three semi-full time staff and a part-time staff of up to 15, adjusted seasonally based on what wildlife is birthing at any point in nature. Then there are our volunteers. This group of 120 or so heroes shows up purely out of their love for helping wildlife. The other group that is so essential to our ability to operate the center is our student interns. College students from the area, and this year from halfway across the country, join the staff and volunteers during their summer break from school.
Let’s start with our Volunteers
They show up at the door with a smile on their face and are willing to do the worst jobs in the center. They tackle the never-ending piles of soiled laundry, clean out cages and scrub kennels on the wash pad. They take out the trash, sweep and mop floors or sort acorns. Some stand at the ready to transport animals to and from our rescue partners. Some like to help with feeding animals and soaking the turtles, but most seem content knowing that whatever they have done made a difference that day by giving the staff a bit of a break and caring for the amazing wild creatures with which we are entrusted. They bring treats and joy and will never be told often enough how much they truly mean to us. It’s funny that so many of our volunteers say, “thank you” to us, when they leave for the day.
Our Amazing College Interns
First, let me say that these are young college students who could have spent their summer hanging out with friends at the lake, but instead volunteered to work here with us, learning about wildlife and wildlife rehabilitation.
Upon their arrival in June, they bring to us a feeling of relief and a breath of fresh spring air. They show up just as songbird season is getting into full swing. They are full of curiosity, energy and enthusiasm. Their first day is filled with “every 15 minute feeding“ timers beeping constantly for very demanding nestling birds, and working in a space half the size it needs to be prepping opossum diets and turtle salads. I am always amazed when they return the next day still smiling. They are a joy to have around and such a blessing. We all dread mid-August as they begin to leave to return to school.
The backbone of Carolina Wildlife Center is the staff, a handful of gifted and talented people whose love of nature drives them to give far more of themselves than we can ever fully repay.
Every time the cow bell on the front door rings the entire staff freezes, part in anticipation of what amazing bird or animal they’re about meet and part in dread of what poor injured or orphaned wild animal has required rescue. This is where, so often, the frustration and heartbreak mentioned earlier comes in. There are some animals that just cannot be saved. Every time an animal dies or has to be euthanized to end its suffering, another heart is broken. These are animal lovers. It takes a very special type of person to do what they do every day. Thankfully, we keep finding them.
Case in point: Just the other day the cowbell on the door rang and soon after a loud squeal came from the front desk. As I approached to investigate I found Julie, our Director of Rehabilitation, looking into a cardboard box, half full of dirt with a big grin on her face. She looked at me and said “soft-shell turtles” and her grin got bigger. “We never get soft-shell turtles.” By that point the entire group of staff, interns and volunteers had gathered around the box as Julie dove into an immediate wildlife lesson on soft-shell turtles, their nesting habits and all that makes them so distinctive. The fact that her passion for these animals continues to shine through in the midst of all the daily challenges the Center faces is nothing short of amazing. Then it’s back to work until the cowbell rings and something fascinating, frustrating, enlightening, rewarding, exhilarating, exhausting or heartbreaking comes through the door.
If you have a heart for wildlife and would like to join the ranks of this dedicated team, contact me at your convenience. If you value the work of Carolina Wildlife Center and would like to see it continue, please make a donation ASAP. Summer donations are critically low, yet animals continue to come to us in record numbers. We need your help now.