My experience at Critter Care can be expressed in so many ways. It was a lot of good, bad and everything in between. There were times that were exciting, stressful, rewarding, upsetting, fulfilling and exhausting, among many other adjectives. Overall I would definitely say that working at this center was worthwhile and has made a positive impact on me and my future.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside so many amazing people and animals. I think one of the biggest highlights of my time here was having the opportunity to meet so many amazing people from all around the world. I have made so many amazing connections and friendships with the other interns which is something I was pleasantly surprised by. It was these friendships that helped make the tougher and challenging days manageable.
The other comfort was the love you get from the animals you’re caring for. When you raise animals and get to work with them for a long period of time they truly see you as “mom” and it’s an incredible and indescribable feeling. Being able to see the growth and progress of my raccoons has been my favorite part of my stay. Seeing them transition from incubator to small kennel, large kennel, playpen, ISO room, gravel pen and finally cement cage nearly ready for release has been rewarding and fulfilling. Being able to witness this journey has also proven educational. I had the opportunity to learn their dietary, social and behavioral needs for different stages of their lives. I also really enjoyed the varied enrichments I was able to provide them throughout their development. Caring for raccoons at 5 weeks old and 20 weeks old is very different and I’m thankful that I got to learn both and everything in between.
From an educational standpoint I was very fortunate to have a one-on-one walkthrough of subcutaneous injections with Breanne, an absolutely phenomenal and talented supervisor, instructor, and overall person. Breanne also provided a group demonstration on how to give Intramuscular and Intra-cardiac injections which was both fascinating and beneficial. Being taught these allowed me to take on more responsibility and give my animals their injections and vaccines. It proved very useful since I was given four sick and injured skunks that required daily medications and injections for several weeks which I was able to give them myself. I felt very proud that all four were able to finish their treatments and become healthy enough for release. I was also able give my raccoons several of their vaccines and treat my eastern cottontails for dehydration.
Despite having these learning opportunities from Breanne, overall I was disappointed with the amount of animal based learning I was able to accomplish throughout my stay. I was hoping for more of those walkthroughs and detailed demonstrations to broaden my knowledge but I felt like critter care was more oriented around self-learning rather than being taught by the supervisors. Baby season is a hectic time for everyone, especially supervisors, so there weren’t as many openings for close one-on-one learning. I often found myself doing independent research and reading the books in the exam room to further my understanding and answer my questions. There was definitely a lot more self-learning required than I had anticipated. There were also several occasions where interns were asked to teach or train other interns on things regarding animal care and I would’ve preferred being shown by a supervisor. I think I would benefit more from being shown by individuals who are trained in the field so I can learn from their expertise and experiences. I tried my best to ask as many questions (some not the smartest) as possible and seize as many learning opportunities as I could to make the most of my time here. There were many times where it felt like my questions weren’t sufficiently answered, brushed off, or visibly treated like they were stupid. I eventually became weary of asking questions and felt like I needed to choose my timing wisely, which significantly impacted the amount I could learn here.
Critter care is not for the faint hearted or high maintenance type of people. You need to be prepared to learn fast, be hardworking and work long hours. The days can be very long and difficult but at the end you really feel like you’ve made a difference. The intensity can also be very challenging and take a toll on your physical and mental health. The interns were always expected to be in good moods and not complain, which is understandable since it’s a place of business, but also difficult and unrealistic. When the supervisors are in bad moods and complain it often gets funneled down to the interns and we are expected to take it with a grain of salt and understand that it’s not personal. I also wish more discretion was used when supervisors would discuss fellow interns and supervisors, as I have heard many negative things said and it tends to taint your image of those people. It is often hard to separate your work life and home life when they happen to be the same place, and I think there could have been a bit more understanding on both ends.
I think one thing that has been particularly difficult for me is the lack of positive feedback and acknowledgement. The only time we get feedback is when something is being done poorly or wrong and I think balancing that with some positive feedback would make a large difference in the morale and productivity of the interns. The to-do lists were not well balanced and would vary drastically from day to day. Some days the list was reasonable and manageable but there were others where the expectations were set way too high and it was a struggle to keep up with caring for the animals while accomplishing all the demands for the day. I would rather spend more time working on animal enrichment or enhancing an enclosure rather than spend most of the day working on extensive and repetitive to-do lists.
Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked at Critter Care alongside some truly amazing people and feel very fortunate to have gained experience with the different animals I worked with. Critter Care has definitely provided me with many fond memories and I will look back on my experience with pride and without any regrets.