This morning, I went to my first volunteer shift at a place called Hands On Exotics. They are a shelter/zoo of sorts, accredited by CAZA but not open to the public. They take in mostly animals on the more exotic side of the spectrum, from rats, bunnies and ferrets, to parrots and other bird species, to a whack of reptiles and snakes, all the way to a lynx, various lemurs, a porcupine, kangaroos, a quokka, skunks, foxes…and the list goes on. Many came from being either pets that were given up, or illegally owned, some from other zoos, but not matter where they come from, each individual critter has a story. And the people who work at Hands On Exotics do their best to give each one of them the best quality of life possible.
They do a lot of outreach with many of the animals – birthday parties, presentations, fairs and other shows. Some of the animals have appeared in film and television, and some are even capable therapy animals. Any funds earned are funnelled back into the centre and the maintenance/improvement of the animals in their care.
A former co-worker and I once talked about possibly hiring them to do a birthday party for US, and we planned to only invite a handful of people so that we could mostly have the animals all to ourselves!
I actually haven’t ruled that out, if I could save enough for it and find a place we could do it outside.
Anyway, any doubts or concerns I’d had about volunteering there were laid to rest during the orientation session, but I really didn’t have a good sense of what it would be like until I worked my first shift. That’s what I did today.
I did basically 3 tasks, and there were a couple on the board that I didn’t even get to, but already there’s a ton to remember, and to keep in mind.
I started off in the small rodents area, where I had to wash/change/refresh all the food and water dishes. There were rats, ferrets, sugar gliders, a bunny, hedgehogs, and an opossum. Or possum? It was sleeping and I can’t remember what the sign said. Anyway, most of them were pretty easy, even though I was slow at it. I did each thing one at a time so that I wouldn’t forget anybody’s bowl. The only real issue was the bitey ferrets. Two of them were okay and mostly ignored me, but the other two (and I was warned) were not going to make it simple for me. I locked them into one part of their cage so that they couldn’t get at me while I changed their bowls out. But then I had to drop their ladder back down so they could get to their fresh food and water. I put on some gloves to give me an extra layer of protection, and just as I managed to loosen the ladder, one of the little boogers nipped at me. But…gloves, so no harm done. They look at you so innocently and cute, too. I considered it to be part of my initiation.
Up next was misting the reptiles. Only 4 get misted on Sunday’s – a chameleon, an iguana (who loves it), and two different kinds of python.
Luckily, it wasn’t as involved as I’d feared, and I was actually okay with it. I kind of liked it, too, because it was refreshing after getting so sweaty earlier. I didn’t finish that part, though, because I was up in the bird area changing papers in the small bird cages, and when I went to check on the misting situation, everything had already been put away. I’ll try to be more on top of that next time.
The bird cages were interesting. I was paranoid about any of them escaping, so that took me longer than it should have, too, but I’ll get better at all of it as I go. I talked to the birds a bit as I worked, too, since I’m a stranger, and all. There were two in the final two cages that weren’t impressed with me at all. I think one just got tired of me taking so long. The other was in a bad mood today to begin with, so her patience was only ever going to last so long, anyway. I started going back and forth between the two until I got both done, so it took a while, but was a success overall, I think.
Plus, one of the bigger birds in a cage across from the ones I was working with started talking to me! Naturally I talked back. Well, responded – not talked back.
Anyway, there was a lot of “hello” back and forth, and then a few rounds of, “I’m a pretty bird!”
“You ARE a pretty bird!”
Made me laugh.
It was around the time that I was finishing up those last two bird cages when something completely random and never happens…happened. I won’t go into details because they are not important. What’s important is that I got to go into the lemur enclosure for a few minutes!!!
One my first day!!!
There were two occupants left in there because everyone else had gone out to a show our something, but the more outgoing of the two spent some time on my shoulder, and the timid one let me crouch next to him while he had a snack.
And I freaking love lemurs, so this was pretty ,Cush the greatest end to a shift I could have imagined.
I’ll go back next weekend, and see if I can get things done a little faster on my second go at it.
For now, my exhausted body hurts. Time for beer.