Best Day EVER – My time at Wild ARC
Recently I had the special and rare opportunity to spend the day as an intern at the BC SPCA’s Wild ARC in Metchosin on Vancouver Island. ARC, stands for animal rehabilitation centre - it’s a facility that cares for dozens of animals 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
While I have worked with the BC SPCA extensively over the past few years, my involvement has focused on fundraising, public relations and being an ambassador for the organization. My contact with animals has actually been minimal.
Being able to visit Wild ARC* and to have a hands-on experience was a dream come true.
A Day in the Life
When I arrived at 9 am, I was paired with senior staffer Dana Lipka, who was to be my guide for the day. Lipka has spent over 10 years as a rehabber at Wild ARC and is a wealth of knowledge about the area’s wildlife and the centre’s workings.
We launched right in. The baby bunnies needed feeding. They also needed to be weighed to ensure they were thriving. Then their cages had to be cleaned out (they make a right mess!) and the larger rabbits required fresh water and food.
During the course of the day I was also able to witness the feeding of baby hummingbirds and robins and watch while a bald eagle and an owl were being examined. I peered at the full-grown otters in their outdoor pens – they’re going to be released back into the wild soon. They also put me to work in the kitchen (figures!) where I prepped squirrel supper – a pretty tasty looking meal of nuts, fruits and berries.
Baby Hummingbird: Photo Courtesy BC SPCA
On Baby Duty
But the highlight of the day was feeding and caring for three baby squirrels.
It started with “stimulating” them. I was surprised as you are. In the wild, many animal mamas stimulate their babies in order to encourage them to go to the bathroom. Since these baby squirrels were separated from their mother, we had to step in.
Using a Q-tip, we had to try to make the babies go pooh and pee. Honestly, once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t as bad or as weird as it sounds. The good news is that because they were so small, the amount of excretion was wee, pardon the pun.
Dana would then feed the little guys formula, after which, I would clean off their milky faces and little paws with a wet towel and try to get them to “go” again.
We did this a number of times during the day. Frankly, I couldn’t get enough of the task. It was so wonderful to hold these little critters, their little claws rapped around my fingers.
Later in the afternoon, Dana and I had to race to meet a patient who was being choppered in. We drove to a nearby field to await a helicopter that was transporting an injured Surf Scoter, a large and quite beautiful sea duck. The rescuer was a lovely older gentleman who volunteers his time, and his chopper, to transport animals in distress.
Awaiting a new patient
A number of things stuck me about Wild ARC.
- First was the sheer amount of work it all took. Animals need to be fed, not just daily, or even twice a day like my Ruby, but often every few hours. And in the case of the hummingbirds, every 15 minutes!
- It is a task with no end. The volunteers and staff work tirelessly and cheerfully, even though the work is never done and never will be done. While I was there, new animals were being brought in and the phone was ringing, with people wondering to do with wildlife that was injured or appeared abandoned.
- Oh, and the laundry. The amount of laundry there is to do every day! And the food and supplies that are required to take care all of these different creatures is quite astounding.
- Everything has a use. Jar lids are used for animals’ dishes, tin cans are covered in fabric and turned into hidey holes for small mammals and old produce is collected from local supermarkets and fed to the ARC’s many customers.
- This was the hardest to come to terms with but also the most important thing I learned: once I had those little squirrels in my hands, I wanted to hold and pet them to no end. But you can’t. Your job at Wild ARC is not to befriend and tame all these precious creatures but to prepare them for their return to the wild. That means having as little contact with them as possible.
I want to thank everyone at Wild ARC for welcoming me and allowing me to witness the important work they do, with a special thanks to Dana for your warmth and enthusiasm. It’s a day I will never forget.
*Wild ARC is generally closed to the public although they do have an open house once a year, in the spring. The centre relies on donations from the community. Click here to find out more or to make a donation.
Observing in the exam room with senior rehabber Christina