During the first week of my internship, I had to stay hours past the end of my shift in order to finish feeding all of the animals and cleaning all of their cages, and I had to do all of the tasks that nobody else liked doing. I had to work outside all day in the blistering and humid heat getting sweaty and dirty. I had to clean out the duck house, which smelled horrific, take rotting maggot-covered carcasses out of the vulture cage, and “de-duck” a duck, which involved cutting the head, wings, and feet off of a duck and cutting open its stomach area to expose the guts so that the vultures were able to eat it. I also had to scoop feces out of cages as well as scrub feces off of cages. I would usually come home smelling like a sewer and covered in dirt and animal feces. My roommate and I would leave work every day complaining about how terrible the internship was, how disgusting it was, how it seemed like nobody worked as hard as we did, and how we weren’t even getting paid to do anything that we did.
I wish I could have told myself that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed and that all of those long and hard hours would pay off, and that after that week everything would be uphill from there because I would be working inside the rehabilitation room and be able to be more hands-on with the animals. I also wish I could have told myself that everything that I would be doing would be saving the lives of animals, even if it was just cleaning up feces because without proper and clean enclosures none of those animals would be alive. Most importantly, I wish I could have told myself to take everything in and to appreciate everything I would be doing because I would miss it after I left. I would miss “boofing” like a dog at Bart the Black Vulture, and him “boofing” back at me, while I took the carcasses out of his enclosure, I would miss seeing the ducks waddle around and play in their swimming pools while I cleaned out the duck house, and I would miss birds landing on me to perch while I scrubbed feces off of their shelves. Eventually, I would miss being outside altogether because after that first week I was inside almost every day and never saw the light of day because there were so many animals to take care of in the rehabilitation room.
Based on my experiences at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, if someone were planning to do a wildlife rehabilitation internship I would tell them that it isn’t all about holding cute and cuddly animals all day. It requires a lot of hard and dirty work, and it isn’t for the light-hearted either. If you do a wildlife rehabilitation internship you will see animals die while you are trying to save them, and you will see animals that have to be euthanized due to their injuries. However, I would also tell them that the animals you lose will make you have a great appreciation for the ones you save.