Why do I do This?
Adventures of a Volunteer • By Amy Sanders
In this holiday season, a time where counting one’s blessings seems particularly important, I was asked to reflect a bit on why I do this volunteering stuff for animals—as in, what does it mean to me, or perhaps a “What’s in it for me” if you will.
Looking back, my first foray into animal rescue came in the form of a chore I was given as a child of perhaps 5 or 6. We adopted a cat from a shelter that we named Fred. Fred came to us at a time when everyone let their cats out and no one thought anything about it. He was an interesting character, way too smart for his own good, and goofy, with a drooping ear and not too many teeth after a car strike.
Our family stories of Fred are nearly endless, but the one relevant here was that Fred loved to bring home frogs.
Fred had absolutely no interest in hurting these frogs, they were gifts! Fred would deposit them on the back step, virtually every morning in the early summer. We’d go to the door and there was a bright green frog from the nearby swamp, in perfect condition, albeit a bit dry and certainly traumatized. My job was to return the frog to the swamp. I was small and able to wiggle amongst the dense brush and get the frog onto a small mound of semi-dry swampland, where I would wet him, and then let him be. I took great joy in this chore (unlike nearly all my other chores).
Many of my early “rescues” were a result of our collection of cats (I still love cats, but my two cats now live inside). Another cat brought home a chipmunk with a leg injury, long before there were wildlife rehabbers. I kept her safe and fed her through her recovery, but because her leg remained awkward we didn’t feel it was a good idea to release her. I named her Violet, and had her for 9 years. Violet lived a pretty happy life for a captive chipmunk. She had a pet parakeet that she loved dearly (a story for another day), and lived in a giant aquarium with lots of toys and enriching things to do.
During much of my childhood, my brother’s friend’s mother worked informally as a rehabber for the Audubon. While no official rehabbers existed then, she took all kinds of injured and orphaned animals and raised them for release. Theirs was a tiny home that was always full of the darndest things. She often had young raccoons, ducks and quail, a common bird then. I remember one quail that used to “nest” on a shelf near the ceiling—he was free to move about as he pleased. There were raccoon antics, and ducks everywhere. I thought their home was one of the greatest places on earth.
My home environment was one of love and respect for domestic and wild creatures. In my family, when feeling sorry for oneself, the solution was to help someone else who had things tougher. That might be people, animals, or even plants. As I grew older and began to think about careers, working in the park service or forestry were high on my list.
I also loved working with special needs youngsters. In high school I worked in a volunteer program teaching swimming lessons to disabled children. Ultimately for my career, I chose working in special education. This was mainly because my Cape home (which has been passed down through many generations of my family) was extremely important to me. It’s where I wanted to live permanently (I summered here only until I finished my education) and I’d have no control over where I lived if I did forestry or parks.
Fast forward 33 years and teaching began to be seriously encumbered by administrative demands and I decided to move on to a new chapter. I retired early and opted to work from home as an artist but found myself looking for things that were social and giving. This was the beginning of my work with Wild Care as a volunteer.
At first, I did a lot of cleaning (the sheer amount of cleaning that is needed at Wild Care is mind-boggling!), and a lot of learning. Around my duties, I trailed behind anyone who would tolerate me, and asked questions. Eventually I learned enough to begin to do field rescues. My first rescues were done with Animal Care Coordinator Jennifer Taylor and eventually on my own. I loved helping animals and learning! Gradually, I was able to learn to handle Garvey (Eastern Box Turtle) , and Nickerson (Eastern Screech Owl), and give some educational talks (I can handle UpUp, but he hugely prefers Jennifer!). Now I do field rescues, talks, presentations, tours of the facility (temporarily very hampered by Covid-19), and writing about my adventures to share with you in Duck Tales. I even handle some communications for Wild Care – if you use Facebook Messenger to contact Wild Care, it’s usually me answering – Lucky me!
And, outside of that I joined the turtle brigade at Audubon. This is a large group of people who patrol beaches for cold stunned sea turtles between October and December (exact dates are determined by the water temperatures and weather), and help with transportation to Audubon for stabilization, and then to the New England Aquarium’s medical facility in Quincy, or the National Marine Life Center in Buzzard’s Bay.
There is nothing quite like being a part of saving a wild animal. Be it wrestling with a spitting-mad injured gannet, feeding an orphaned squirrel or baby bird, or carrying an endangered sea turtle wrapped in seaweed up against your body to safety. When I can’t find anything to work on helping, I often collect piles of trash that could injure these precious animals, and get it into proper disposal. So what does it mean to me? Everything. Helping gives a purpose to life. It keeps my mind off ruminating on minutia and on improving things. It keeps me positive. It keeps me connected to the earth and nature. I firmly believe that if I am fortunate enough to be able to give (be it physically, mentally or financially), it is my responsibility to do so.
And last night while patrolling for turtles on a beautiful starry night, for a few moments I turned off my flashlight. I listened to the sound of the waves, and breathed in that rich salt air. I looked up at the constellations in the clear night sky. And I felt rich indeed with good fortune.
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