Care for Animals

Jane Bloom – Volunteer Reflection

I wasn’t always an animal lover; in fact growing up in suburban Long Island, I was barely conscious that wildlife existed. However, when my husband and I moved to a wooded area in New Jersey, I began to fall in love with every animal in my backyard.

The squirrels in particular thrilled me. My husband bought me a pair of high power binoculars enabling me to look out my windows and see these adorable creatures up close swirling around the trees and devouring the corn feeders that we had placed on several trees. A whole new world had opened to me, and I knew I would forever be smitten by all of my back yard friends.

I never thought about volunteering for a wildlife rehabilitator until I received a letter from Wild Baby Rescue announcing that it was a wildlife refuge in my area. When I read that volunteers were welcome, I called Hope immediately as I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to assist her in helping these delightful creatures. When Hope told me I would have the opportunity to bottle feed orphaned baby squirrels and bunnies, I was in squirrel heaven.

I started working in March just in time for the Spring baby boom. Since I never had a rabies vaccination, I was only able to assist with the feedings and care of non-rabies vector animals that included squirrels, opossums, chipmunks and bunnies. I quickly realized watching Hope bottle feed baby raccoons this was going to be another highlight of my experience here. Nothing is cuter than watching these little, masked pranksters being fed from a baby bottle and being burped afterwards.

It took a couple of visits for me to get the hang of bottle feeding the baby squirrels. Trying to hold each baby in one hand while feeding it formula with a syringe tube was very tricky at first. The little guys would twist and turn like whirling dervishes causing me fear that I would crush them in my grip or worse yet, have them jump over my hand and escape to some dark corner never to be seen again. When I did have an accident with a “furry escapee”, Hope assured that it would show up sooner or later for its next meal.

A baby opossum is fed its bottle via tube.

A baby opossum is fed its bottle via tube.

Working with the opossums was truly an amazing experience for me. Previously I had only seen a few from afar in the moonlight.

Opossums are nocturnal marsupials and for the most part are considered by many as unappealing, if not scary looking creatures. Nonsense! I found them delightful with their unique physical and behavioral characteristics combined with their pouch dwelling habits. Since many of the opossum that came to Wild Baby Rescue were orphans, Hope cleverly outfitted their cages with cut sweatshirt sleeves that she folded to create make-shift pouches. The biggest surprise was learning that the proper way to hold an opossum was by its tail…they do bite.

Aside from feeding the animals, I did any job I could for Hope in order to give her more time to work directly with her charges. I cleaned many, very dirty cages (the opossums in particular really need to clean up their act a bit), changed cage bedding, folded baskets of nursery laundry and prepared lots and lots of meals for the weaned critters. The squirrels consumed bowls and bowls of a variety of nuts, sunflower seeds, and Cheerios, all combined with an assortment of chopped fruit. (Wow these guys eat very gourmet meals.) The opossums enjoyed yummy dishes of fruit yogurt and applesauce, and I cut a tree’s worth of bananas to keep the raccoons happy. Working in a “critter kitchen” can be more work than feeding a family of six…the chopping, stirring and bowl washing never seemed to end.

The most difficult part of my volunteering experience was not the occasional bite or scratch, or cleaning messy cages, but keeping myself from becoming emotionally attached to the animals. It was challenging at first to understand that these wonderful babies were not pets and the ability to release a rehabilitated animal back into the wild is what rehabbing is all about. However, I still have not become tough enough to accept without pain when an animal had to be put-down.

I have the highest esteem and praise for all the work that Hope does to keep Wild Baby Rescue running at the high level of efficiency and success that it does. She works tirelessly day and night to provide these animals with the best of medical care in a warm, non-threatening environment. Nobody but Hope would go the extra yard as she does to make the animals as happy and comfortable as possible. This, together with the affection Hope shows these babies, ensures them that she is indeed their mother!

It’s going to be a long winter for me without having babies at Wild Baby Rescue to visit and help care for.