by Deb Johnson, Greenwood Animal Care Volunteer
I arrived for my Friday evening shift in the nursery and was greeted by 25 hungry faces and two harried volunteers. It was dinnertime and all the squirrels that could, hung from the sides of their cages waiting…impatiently. The “Busy Season” had begun.
Having worked through the slower winter months mopping floors, cleaning pens, dishing up fish and meal worms, feeding animals, catching geese and doing endless loads of laundry—the arrival of the springtime rush was actually a relief. For about a week.
With heavy winds and snow, dozens of infantile creatures, weeks old, if that, hungry, cold, injured, orphaned, show up on our doorstep. It’s my task as a Greenwood volunteer to help ensure these animals survive. Feeding them special squirrel formula through small syringes, wiping their faces and paws so the “milk” won’t pull out their fur, and stimulating bladders and bowels like only a mother should, I get to watch them grow, learn to eat on their own, and following their instincts, be released back into the wild. There’s nothing glamorous about it, but it’s one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done.
It’s old home night! Friends I made volunteering last spring are back in full force. The number of squirrels has multiplied and all 10 hands are occupied. We go down the line, checking the times each one is scheduled to eat—every 4½ hours, every a.m. and p.m., a 6:30 or 7:40 feeding. We are a synchronized team.
I’m sharing Io and Pluto with another volunteer. Neither one wants to be caught; both are scared. They’re hiding out in the fleece hammock pinned to the top of their cage, out of reach of our prying fingers. Finally, mine’s out, but he’s lightning fast and gets away, nearly disappearing down the back of his cage. Caught! I put him on my lap on top of a pillowcase, just in case, and wrap him up in a small blue towel like a burrito. Little heart pounding and too frightened to eat, I finally calm him down by covering his entire body with the towel, and wait. Now his food is too cold and I have to refill the bowl of water to heat the baby food jar within. This is the easy part. Holding a wiggling squirrel in one hand and trying to fill a syringe with the other is no easy feat. I’m so glad I received the training I did and home-schooled myself on the syringe.
Every week for seven months I show up, hoping all of the squirrels have survived. Not all of them do, and as a volunteer, these are the hardest times. I’ll never get used to it—no one does. But with the losses come so many more rewards.
Why come every Friday night even though I’m tired, had a hard day at work or want to go out with friends? Because rain or shine, I’m needed. And I’m among the privileged few who ever gets the chance to participate, hands-on, in helping Nature’s creatures take their cue.