Once Hopping Half-haphazardly, Now Hopping with Purpose

No matter what time of day, concerned citizens holding small, injured mammals make their way to our doorstep at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary. The admissions are non-stop this time of the year, and the circumstances surrounding the entry oftentimes tragic: a bunny that was run over by a car; baby birds that fell from their nest; a juvenile pigeon that suffered a dog attack. Or even more concerning yet, a pet owner who became “bored” with their animal and doesn’t know what to do with their pet. Though I am frequently face-to-face with animals that are in dire need of care, I’ve come to a wonderful conclusion about human nature. Humans have an amazing capacity to take action when it comes to the welfare of others, especially animals. No matter how serious the case, or unlikely the recovery, we get animals that thereafter have a fighting chance. Now that’s something to be proud of. It also proves how necessary our services are to the public, and how our founder, Toni O’Neil, really did fill a need in the community when she founded the non-profit.

A baby bunny with its eyes still closed after a syringe feeding.

Having interned for a whopping four weeks at Possumwood Acres, I’ve gained a great many new skills: how to feed baby bunnies, why we “piddle” them once they’ve eaten, how to weigh Barred owls, how to tube feed pigeons and mourning doves, and the many reasons why we administer certain medications, as well as how to administer them. I’ve also become acquainted with a good number of interns and volunteers, and I’m always amazed at their know-how and desire to provide the best care.

Goats “maxing and relaxing” despite the overwhelming heat of summer in North Carolina.

Although it can be rather stressful in the animal care room as we struggle to make deadlines and provide good quality care, making sure to feed, clean, or administer medications to animals, there’s nothing better than the feeling of accomplishment. I’ve come a long way in four weeks—no longer am I constantly asking questions about how to do something or where things are located. I’ve never felt that kind of satisfaction from taking exams or attending classes.

Nika, Possumwood’s resident Mississippi Kite, patiently waits for her hand-fed dinner of delectable meal worms

If I’ve already come this far, I absolutely cannot wait to see where the pieces will fall at the end of this internship. The confidence and authority that wafts off the more experienced interns is inspiring; only a few weeks ago they were in the process of learning the ins-and-outs of the job. Now they know exactly what to do when someone admits an injured, juvenile mockingbird, or what medication to give an adult bunny that appears to have suffered brain damage. Now that’s something that I can aspire to.

Red, the Red-Headed Woodpecker, tries not to look suspicious as he plans his ultimate escape from Possumwood (how original–he’s going to use his beak!)

Sabrina Pond ’18

A Bird in Flight: My First Week at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary

Having just studied abroad in Australia, I assumed that I wouldn’t see the interior of an airplane for a long while. Traveling back took approximately 24 hours, including layover time, so I grew weary of flying and the stress associated with traveling and jet lag. I couldn’t have been more wrong; only two weeks after making the trip back home, I found myself separated from my hometown once again. The location this time: Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Little did I know before coming that the U.S. Marines are stationed in Jacksonville, NC. Nor did I realize that the only reason this town exists is because of the Marines. I found myself going in and out of the military base, and every person I met was somehow involved in the Marines; either they were married to a Marine, had a family member in the Marines, or were themselves in the Marines. I was struck not by the incessant humidity and ungodly heat, both of which I anticipated, but more so by the immediate differences I noticed, as if there was a strict line between North and South. I encountered people who took serious pride in their right to carry arms, heard the beginnings of a southern accent, and realized that “southern hospitality” was not just a stereotype, but a real-world phenomenon. NC also turned red for the past election, so I started to have firsthand experiences with more conservative sentiments, something I couldn’t really say before.

The highlight of my excursion is that my internship at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary challenged and excited me; I spent my first week learning about animal care in all the ways that were advertised. I walked through the main door to the animal care room and without a moment’s pause the volunteer coordinator, Ellie Althoff, said to me, “Okay then! Let’s get started.”

The view of the animal care room from the front door, and from that first moment onward I knew that there was a lot that had to be done.

My first day was busy and hectic as I exclusively worked with the birds. Because it is currently baby season, the animal care room is extremely packed and the phone rings off the hook; every day there’s another possum, bird, or duck that gets taken under our wing. As of now, that basically means that we have what feels like a trillion birds, almost all of which need to be fed every thirty minutes. I learned quickly how to feed these differently sized birds using syringes, including proper techniques, the different kinds of food they required, and how much to feed the different species.

House sparrows, chipping sparrows, and finches sit majestically next to each other on a branch, waiting semi-patiently for the next feeding.

Almost everything I was told ended with “and if you do this wrong, you’ll kill the [insert animal here].” Although those words did strike fear in my eyes, I was surprised how welcoming and understanding the volunteers were when I had questions. They never once made me feel terrible when I made a mistake. And mistakes I did make. My first day I accidentally let two birds out of their cage and almost killed a bird because it swallowed a syringe tip. I was lucky that another intern managed to get the bird to spit out the syringe. Despite my incompetence, the other volunteers’ gentle reassurance and constant support never ceased and even though I had fallbacks, my determination to learn more never wavered.

Baby turkeys relax under a feather duster having already made a mess of their cleaned cage.

Compared to Brandeis academics, it is immediately apparent that my internship is more demanding, requires hands-on experience, and will ultimately teach me more in a shorter period of time. I enjoy this kind of experiential learning because although knowledge is great for a foundation to understand a topic, doing something firsthand is the best way to become well-versed in a field. I expect that that’s why residencies exist. For this reason I believe that this internship is teaching me valuable skills that I can apply to an occupation in animal care.

Four juvenile barn swallows and one juvenile rough-tailed swallow gleefully look at the photographer (me).

One basic thing I learned this first week that I implicitly already knew but didn’t understand fully is just how rigorous animal care can really be. So many things need to be considered for the animal’s welfare, and for that reason it can sometimes be overwhelming to work in the animal care room. Even so, I have never felt so tired or so satisfied because of the work I completed. And that’s why I look forward to another week at the animal haven known as Possumwood Acres.

Sabrina Pond