It all started with an article. Bainbridge residents receive a free copy of our weekly local newspaper, the Bainbridge Islander. They print stories about cultural events, how the high school rowing team is doing, obituaries, things you’d see written about any small town, although papers like this are fast disappearing in the USA; we’re lucky to still have this one. And one day in the summer of 2013, the Islander published a story about the release of a rehabilitated eagle by the island’s West Sound Wildlife shelter. Wildlife shelter?!
In 1997, when I lived in Delaware, I volunteered at a marvelous place called Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research (https://tristatebird.org/), where I went to nurse a broken heart. Full disclosure time – animals are my greatest passion. I’m “one of those” who much prefers animals to people, as a matter of fact. Oh, I love who I love, don’t get me wrong, but humans as a species are far from my favorite. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I would turn to serving animals as a way to lose myself. Several nights a week, I would come home from work, eat a quick dinner, throw on my Tri-State t-shirt, and run over there for a few hours – the shelter was about 10 minutes from my apartment. We fed baby birds every half-hour until 8PM, and they are hungry and insistent little diners! Once the feedings were finished, there was formula to make for the next day, floors to mop, etc.; it was often close to midnight when I left. But the experiences I had! Getting up close and personal with geese and ducks and songbirds and raptors was a dream come true, and it helped to soothe my troubles immeasurably. It also left me no time to feel sorry for myself. I could only go home, conk out and wake up a few hours later to do it all over again, and I did that for two and a half years. When I moved to Pennsylvania, it was just a little too far to go back and forth to Tri-State, and although I missed it very much, I had no choice but to give it up.
Fast forward to the fall of 2013. After I first learned about West Sound (http://westsoundwildlife.org), I went to an orientation class and started volunteering once a week, on Saturdays. The idea was that not only would I be able to interact with the animals I love, but that I might find my “tribe” as well, people like me who could become friends. And did they ever. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Not all that far into 2014, I lost my job, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and don’t you know, once again, the animals were calling. One day a week became two days a week. And then two days a week became three days a week. I would’ve gladly gone every day a week, but I did have to look for a job some of the time! And just like before, I walk through the doors and leave all the garbage outside. This is my happy place. For four – or more – hours, I might butcher rabbits for a vulture’s lunch, or wash a baby squirrel’s face, or get to hold a barred owl for a vet checkup, or clean a waterfowl enclosure – or all of it. It’s fast-paced and varied and the patients never stop coming. They also don’t show any gratitude. In fact, some would bite your face off quick as look at you if they got a chance. But I don’t need their gratitude. The reward for me is in helping them, in watching them fly or run away, strong and healthy, and knowing that I was a part of it. To be able to look into a bald eagle’s eyes and feel the “wildness” is the true gift.
So now, the biggest question in my mind is, yes, I get to spend time at this amazing place, being close to animals and working with people I’ve come to love and who care about me. Who is this a shelter for, exactly? 😉