Sometimes it seems like all of the other volunteers at ATW have had many years of experience with either animal rehabilitation, veterinarian care, or human medical care. Not me…. I am completely and totally new to all of it. I began volunteering almost a year ago, and I still feel very much like a novice. I need lots of instruction and guidance and explanations. And you know what? Everyone here is patient and kind and happy to share their knowledge and experience with me.
Here are a few observations and tips I want to offer to new volunteers—to reassure you and encourage you and smooth the way for you to have the kind of wonderful experience that I am having with the animals and people at ATW.
- Even though lots of volunteers here are soooo good at this work, don’t let that intimidate you—the animals need you, and once you get a little practice under your belt, they won’t know the difference. Don’t be afraid to try something new after watching someone else one or two times. You may be slow and clumsy (well, I am), but it is the only way to learn. The more skilled volunteers will offer helpful suggestions as they see you struggle.
- Likewise, if there is something you really feel unprepared for (for me, it is tube feeding baby bunnies), it is OK to say I am not ready to do that yet. But know that one day, it will be time.
- When you are handling and feeding the animals, slow down, take some time and really study them; get familiar with how their eyes look, their noses, their mouths or beaks, their paws or wings or talons, their bellies. Watch how they move and notice the changes from one week to the next. All of this will help you feel more attached to the work, and help you be more able to recognize when something is “off” with an animal in our care.
- Study other, more experienced volunteers. Notice the way they hold the animals, and the various techniques they use for assessing, treating, and feeding animals. Ask lots of “dumb” questions.
- Things you have to do at ATW can be gross. The staff just laugh at me whenever I say, “Ewwwww,” about some animal’s injury or appearance, or something I have to do, like rub my finger on a neonatal’s genitals to get him to urinate before feeding. They will have you convinced that it is all wonderful, even the “gross” parts. Before you know it, you will be loving the way skunks smell, kissing raccoons, and snuggling opossums.
- Likewise, sometimes we take care of a creature that I never would have thought to care for in the past. I’ll say, “Really Helen, a family of tiny mice babies, a snake?” She smiles and says that all of Earth’s creatures deserve our support. She is right.
- Stick with it, even when you make a stupid mistake. One time I didn’t attach a nipple securely to a syringe for feeding and the bird swallowed it. I wasn’t expelled from ATW…. Helen assured me that the bird survived, but I still worry…. You will learn from your mistakes, and then make different ones.
- Take advantage of opportunities to do lots of different jobs—building cages, cleaning cages, making animal food, cleaning the kitchen area, doing laundry. Even though they may seem like just boring chores, you will be surprised at the new things you learn about animals while doing them.
Volunteering at All Things Wild is a real treat. I look forward to seeing you there. I will be the one asking lots of questions and looking awkward with the animals. And loving every minute of it.