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Insights from Our Interns

A note from Hope
This year we had two interns: Lauren Stickle, a Biology major at Centenary College, and Lindsay Modugno, an Ecology and Natural Resources major at Rutgers. I could not have asked for better interns. The girls worked very hard, had amazing compassion for the animals they worked with and their work ethic and high standards will be hard for future interns to match. Below Lauren and Lindsay reflect on their experiences.

Lauren feeds fawnLauren Stickle

Over the past year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to do an internship at Wild Baby Rescue Center with Hope Davison. When I first started at the refuge I wanted to be a veterinarian. However, through working with all of the wildlife and working with Hope and the other interns I realized that’s not what I wanted to do at all. I want to be a wildlife biologist. There is just something completely and utterly amazing about feeding a baby squirrel or opossum. It let me see the personalities and behavior of animals that you do not get to interact with throughout your life.

While being at the refuge I got to feed the animals, study their behavior, come up with ideas on how to better enrich their time and keep them entertained while at the refuge, put ointment on some of their cuts, and learned about each species. A lot of which I didn't know anything about.

I would never trade my experience at Wild Baby Rescue. It is truly one of my favorite places to be and it taught me so much that I would never have learned on my own. Hope is such an amazing and passionate person. It’s nice to see people who truly care about the animals and who love what they do. I learned more this summer about myself, my goals, and what I wanted out of my education at Centenary College and where ever I decide to go for my master’s degree then I did before going into college or over the past 2 years of attending. I can honestly say it was one of the best times of my life and I will continue to volunteer there because there is just nothing else like it. I highly recommend volunteering to anyone who loves animals and nature. It just doesn't get any better then bottle feeding a baby fawn or squirrel. You will not be the same when you leave.

Lindsay feeds fawnLindsay Modugno

When I started my internship with Wild Baby Rescue last May, I expected to be cleaning cages and filling food bowls. I would have been shocked to know that by the end of my summer I would have bottle fed fawns and squirrels, handled possums and bunnies, and help in dressing wounds. Each day at Wild Baby Rescue was a new experience with a new lesson in animal behavior and animal care.

In less than four months I was able to be a part of the rehabilitation of more than 400 animals. I did spend many days cleaning possum tanks and preparing food bowls for squirrels and groundhogs. However, these messy jobs were heavily offset by the opportunities I was given to directly handle and participate in the rehabilitation of the animals.

Caring for the fawns was the highlight of my summer. Every morning, afternoon and night, bottles were filled with goat milk substitute and warmed up. We then trekked over to the barn and tried our best to quickly feed the 8 or 9 fawns we usually had at a time. We were rewarded with complimentary fawn kisses on our bottle-holding hands and little white tail wiggles that never failed to brighten a dreary day.

When Hope was up to her knees in the dozens of fall baby squirrels, I was able to take four babies home for a weekend to ‘babysit’ as a sub-permitee and give Hope a bit of a break. During those 48 hours I experienced a fraction of the demand that Hope does 24/7. The baby squirrels had to be bottle-fed (with a small plastic nipple attached to a syringe) every four hours. I could only feed one of the four at a time and whoever hadn't been fed yet squealed pathetically until it was his/her turn! I had finally realized that Hope’s every day was like this from spring until early fall. For more than four months, Hope is a mother to usually 100 wildlife babies at a time!

I was even able to be present for a few procedures at Wild Baby Rescue. I was particularly awed and proud when Hope asked me to monitor the respirations of an injured and anesthetized fox kit named Isis, while she redressed the Isis’ horribly wounded legs. My job was to watch Isis as she breathed, making sure the respirations were normal and easy, while Hope dabbed at abrasions, applied antibacterial ointment, and bandaged Isis’ legs up. Isis healed miraculously and was able to be released a little over a month later.

My final and by far my most rewarding experience as an intern at Wild Baby Rescue was being able to witness the releases of the animals I had helped rehabilitate. Hope allowed me and another intern, Lauren, to watch the release of a few of the fox kits we had helped care for. It was incredibly uplifting and gratifying to witness these animals seize their second chance at life with vigor and scamper off into the wild they belong to. At that moment, all the cages we had cleaned and food bowls we washed and filled seemed insignificant.

An internship at Wild Baby Rescue offers the opportunity to learn directly from the animals and from a licensed and experienced wildlife rehabilitator about animal care and behavior. Interns have the chance to help reverse some of the negative effects humanity has on wildlife and our ecosystems. Wild Baby Rescue is not only a sanctuary for injured wildlife but also an active educator of wildlife to the often uninformed public.

Impressions of a Volunteer Wildlife Rehabilitator

By Jane Bloom

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.

Opossum Tube Feeding
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.