July 2, 2015

Animal Care

By Jimmy Black, Program Intern

Caring for pets is almost every kid’s dream, be it a vet, zookeeper, or cute puppy owner. I still dream of a career in pet care, making the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center a perfect opportunity for me to discover where my passion for nature truly lies. Right now I am leaning toward vet school, so being assigned to the animal care rotation first is exactly where I wanted to be. Many of the skills I have been acquiring in animal care are directly transferable to vet school: animal handling, animal diet, animal hygiene, and of course, the horrid animal smells.

I knew coming into this internship that dealing with animals is not all bottle feeding the cute baby deer or scratching the hard to reach places on the lions like you see on most zoo's summer intern programs, but many people have this rose colored glasses view about interning at a zoo. As expected, the first thing I did in animal care was clean an animal's enclosure. What was not expected was the extent that animals can decimate an area. The opossum is a fine example of an animal that will test your squeamishness. Unlike the skunk, opossums spread their feces not just on ever surface of their cages, but all over themselves as well. I clean up after them every day and the repetition and smell of this is definitely a struggle for me.

Smells have always been important to me whether it's the type of deodorant I put on every morning, the glade plug-ins I buy for my room, or the perfume a girl wears, so the eye-watering smells I come across in this position are difficult. The opossums are one thing, but if you don't gag cleaning up after them I'd like to see how you handle the otters after they are fed vast amounts of fish. That is as bad as the smell gets in animal care. I was gagging the whole time wondering why I ever found them to be cute.

I joke a ton about the smells that animal care has introduced me to, but there is so much more to it. Every morning I prepare food for the raptors and help clean the animal enclosures. One of the most tedious tasks is picking up feathers in the raptor exhibits. This is something that gets overlooked by most visitors, but is unknowingly appreciated. It reminds me of working at Dick's Sporting Goods and putting items on the right shelf after customers put things back in the wrong place. They don't think about the associate who makes a minimum hourly wage needing to put everything back in its rightful place. Now whenever I go to a store I recognize how things seem to be right above the correct price. Relating back to the feathers, I'll be sure to take note on how feather-free a bird exhibit is at any zoos I visit in the future.

My favorite parts of animal care would have to be preparing the animal diets, running errands such as transporting animals to Fish and Game, or going to the vet's office, and oddly enough cleaning the bear exhibit. Cleaning the bear exhibit includes hiding food all over their night pens, washing down the floors of the night pens, and scooping poop in their exhibit. Call me a little kid, but every time I scoop bear poop I laugh to myself about the amount of waste these animals produce. It's hilarious and smells more like my compost at home than I had thought.

All and all, even though animal care has its challenges and I know that a career in zoo keeping is not for me, it is full of great experiences. I am enjoying and learning a lot from the time I've spent!

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