TUCKER HOTTES spends some quality time with critters
Think your job is tough? Volunteer for a day at an animal shelter.
There I stood, with a syringe in my gloved hands, surrounded by towels and the sound of clanking bars all around me. I had to keep a tight grip on my captive — one minor lapse in attention, and it’d be a quick escape and difficult chase. The body struggled in my hand until I swooped in with the syringe and pressed the plunger. Soon, the movement ceased. Satisfied with another job well done, I placed the content baby squirrel back into the cage with its three siblings.
Since early spring, my mom has been volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary. I recently had a chance to visit, and got roped into helping with the morning feeding. This particular sanctuary is for non-predatory wild animals. That means no pets like cats or dogs, and no predators like wolves and foxes. Just about everything else is fair game: deer, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, skunks, chipmunks, chickens, rabbits, goats, the occasional porcupine, and just about anything else that comes through the doors.
Obviously, the spring and early-to-mid summer are the busiest times for the sanctuary, with the majority of their intake coming from abandoned babies from the spring litters. By the end of the summer and early fall, most of the larger animals have already been released to the wild. Squirrels, however, have a second litter in the late summer that accounts for the more than three dozen baby squirrels presently housed at the shelter.
Picture a squirrel, and shrink it down to be slightly larger than your average field mouse. It already looks like a squirrel, with its bushy tail flicking around as it jumps and climbs all over its enclosure, but its little buck teeth aren’t quite developed enough for a completely solid diet. These little things are just as lightning quick and ‘squirrely’ as their adult counterparts, but you’ve still got to wrangle them and make sure each one gets its allocated portion of formula, measured out by a needle-free syringe.
The whole place has a very hospital-like vibe — each animal has its own chart for keeping track of feeding schedules and illness or injuries. All the feeding equipment is cleaned and sterilized between uses, and none of the materials (bowls, syringes, etc…) are shared between species or even group cages to prevent cross-species and inter-species disease transfer. I felt like I was on a medical show.
It was incredibly time consuming and exhausting work, and I couldn’t help but think about my mom and the other volunteers going in and giving their time and energy to do this seven days a week. It’s hard not to fall in love with the tiny, helpless animals — there’s nothing quite like a baby squirrel reaching up and holding a syringe with its little front feet. People like that do amazing work every day, so make sure you thank a volunteer today. More importantly, reach out to your local animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries to find out if they need anything. Sometimes, the most helpful donations can be as simple as a few rolls of paper towels. Trust me, they’re essential — I used plenty cleaning squirrel poop and urine off me.