I volunteered for three organizations this summer: The World Bird Sanctuary (WBS), The Wildlife Rescue Center (WRC), and Five Acres Animal Shelter (FAAS). WBS is an organization strongly devoted to educating the public about wildlife conservation, environmental protection, and different species of wildlife. They also participate in field research by collecting bird banding data and running a breeding program that aims to increase the numbers of bird species that have nearly gone extinct in Missouri. While I was there, I helped to prepare food for the education animals, which included several species of birds, snakes, tarantulas, turtles, and an armadillo, and kept daily records of their consumption. This work often involved skinning and gutting a variety of small mammals and the occasional deer leg, which was a really great anatomy lesson. I was also trained in handling small falcons and a variety of owls, and helped to train an American Crow and an American Barn Owl to perform certain tasks that would be shown to sanctuary guests in educational programs and shows.
The WRC is another organization devoted to educating the public about wildlife and the environment, and they mainly do so through summer camps for children. They are also very involved in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native Missouri Wildlife. Many people will call them if they spot injured or orphaned animals, and the WRC will do what they can to nurse them back to health before re-releasing them into the wild. While I was there, I was trained to care for a variety of animals including turtles, mallard ducks and ducklings, geese and goslings, squirrels, and opossums and joeys. I learned how to prepare food for each group of animals, how to clean and prepare their cages (as the animals got older, their cages were upgraded to be more reflective of their natural environments, called pre-release caging), and how to prevent/treat specific diseases associated with certain species. I learned to tube-feed many of the joeys, whizz them, and carefully document their feedings, weight, and progress to determine their health status and how close they were to being safely released. I was also able to assist in the release of two Cottontail Rabbits.
The last organization that I volunteered for this summer was FAAS. This was the only no-kill shelter in the St. Charles/Saint Louis area. They were an incredibly passionate group of people that really wanted the best for their dogs and cats. They hosted many fundraising and adoption events in association with local companies to introduce the shelter and some of its dogs to the public, as well as seeking to spread information about responsible pet ownership. I was able to participate in some of these events, such as ScottTrade Puppy Cuddling, which brought out a few puppies to give workers a break during the middle of the day. The employees would donate to the shelter in order to cuddle with one of the puppies, offering great stress relief to them, and great socialization and exposure for the puppies. While I was at FAAS I mainly volunteered with the dogs, so I also assisted with walking and exercising them. This gave me a chance to handle dogs of all different breeds, shapes, and sizes, and provided valuable experience in regard to working with unfamiliar animals. Cleaning kennels, playing with the dogs, and doing simple things like feeding, laundry, and folding newspapers for the kennels of the sicker animals were all things that needed to be done. These things taught me that there is a lot more that goes into maintaining an animal care organization than one might think, and that every little bit that someone can contribute really does help.
These summer experiences made me realize that I am very willing to put in the long hours and hard work necessary to become a veterinarian. I have become even more passionate about the industry and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of all types of animals. I also learned that I have a knack for noticing small details and a great capacity and affinity for learning new and important things about each animal that I encounter. These experiences have made me more certain of my goals.
If other students were looking into the veterinary field as I am, I would strongly encourage them to apply for an internship at the Wildlife Rescue Center or the World Bird Sanctuary. These organizations allowed me to learn about the intricacies, details, and dedication necessary to the proper care of different types of animals. They provided me with great hands-on experience that I can incorporate into my skill set as an applicant to veterinary school. These experiences will help you stand out.