A Frameworker goes wild

Frameworker days give our people the opportunity to do something different that challenges them or to do something worthwhile for others (or sometimes both)...

Andrew’s always had a passion for animals. So it’s little surprise that his Frameworker day at a local wildlife clinic led to a much longer relationship.

Almost every weekend since the beginning of November, I’ve been volunteering at the Howell Nature Center (HNC). I help out in the wildlife clinic (infirmary) and do my small part to help wild animals get well enough to be free again. My tenure as an HNC volunteer began when I requested to complete my Frameworker day at the infirmary after an upsetting encounter on my way to work one day.

I was driving in and came across an opossum sitting up in the middle of the opposite lane. It was obviously in distress, and I was heartbroken to see that nobody was stopping to lend a hand. Some people swerved around the critter, others didn’t even seem to notice the animal was there. One cretin even drove over the top of it. Luckily, that vehicle had high clearance, and the opossum merely toppled over.

I pulled over, got out my heavy leather gloves (I keep a range of useful items in the back of my Jeep) and proceeded to walk out into the lane, stopping traffic as I went. I picked up the opossum and carried it to a small wooded area next to the road. The animal was obviously very badly hurt: as I was moving the critter it didn’t fight me – a healthy opossum can sometimes be very aggressive when handled and is capable of dealing out severe damage, even if you’re wearing gloves.

I called Friends of Wildlife (FOW), an organization I learned about years ago through a former co-worker, but the automated message indicated that FOW was no longer accepting opossums and referred callers to the HNC. I left a message and started thinking about how to get the critter to Howell, which is about an hour from where I was. Luckily, an animal control officer from Bloomfield Township arrived (I guess some of the people driving by did care and did do something after all). As we stood there talking, the poor opossum fell over and it looked like it had stopped breathing. I didn’t stick around to make sure because the critter, alive or otherwise, was in good hands.

Keen to help

I have stopped to assist various animals in the past, moving turtles, ducklings, snakes and groundhogs out of harm’s way. I’ve even helped save an injured snapping turtle; it was on the side of the highway and had been hit by a car. After three months, the turtle was well enough to be released. The veterinarian was willing to let me release it, so I drove north about three hours to the Manistee River and set it free near a wetlands area that I knew about. It felt great to release that turtle on the riverbank and watch it swim into the swamp.

Since moving back to Michigan, I had been thinking about doing some kind of volunteer work because I hadn’t done any for quite a while. My last activity was about seven years ago as a trained SkyWarn Weather Spotter and RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) member for Washtenaw County, MI – I did that for about 13 years.

This time round I wanted to do more to help injured wild animals. When The Frameworks announced Frameworker days, it was obvious where I should volunteer.

After the incident with the opossum, I called the HNC again and spoke to the volunteer coordinator. It became quite clear that the infirmary needed more of a commitment than just a single day. The HNC seemed like a good fit for me, and it would be possible to do my Frameworker day there if I became a regular volunteer, so I started helping out at the infirmary a few weeks later.

Dinner time

My Frameworker day started out as many other days at the HNC would – with a wonderful greeting from Eddie, the resident crow. Whenever I enter the infirmary, the first thing I do is say good morning to Eddie, and she gives me a few caws back. Eddie is short for Edward Allen Crow, which was changed to Eddie when it was discovered that he was a she. Eddie’s 26 years old and her vision is impaired due to cataracts, but she can hear and smell very well – she particularly loves mealworms and goes after them voraciously when offered. In the wild, some American crows can live a very long time – from 16 years to almost 30 years, and the oldest known captive crow lived to 59.

There was a full crew of volunteers working on cleaning cages and prepping food for the animals kept indoors, so I got to work on preparing the food for the various animals kept in the outdoor cages and flight pens. These animals are typically either in good health and will be released in the near future or require more space than the small cages inside the infirmary provide.

There’s a wide variety of food for the animals – and it’s clear to see why the HNC needs all the help it can get. From dog food (served with a mouse), chopped fruit and yogurt for the opossums to wet cat food (also served with mice) for the ring-billed gulls, there are more dishes on the menu than you’d find at your average restaurant.

It’s not as simple as chucking food in a bowl, either. All of the mice and rats for the great horned owls (GHOs) and hawks have to be carefully weighed, counted and noted on the log sheets, according to each bird (or pen in the case of multiple birds in the same enclosure). When feeding the birds of prey, we have to count any food left over from the previous feeding, and, when indicated by the chart, we have to count any pellets left in the flight pens (sometimes they have to be collected). Pellets are made of indigestible material, such as hair, bones and feathers, that the birds regurgitate.

It’s a meticulous process, but something that suits my skills. As Senior Editor and Proofreader at The Frameworks, it’s my job to ensure that all written copy is perfect – to the letter. Spelling, sentence structure and grammar – every detail must be flawless before it reaches the client. Sometimes editing and proofreading can be long and painstaking, so making sure the animals at the HNC all receive the correct amount and type of food is a natural extension of my skills!

A close encounter

After all of the food was ready, I made my way out to the pens and cages. I fed the seagulls and ducks (whose flight pen is called Gull Island, naturally), moved onto the mammals and finished with the hawks and owls.

We have one GHO that’s a permanent resident in one of the outside flight pens. Her name is Miss McNice – but she really isn’t. When dealing with the raptors, we’re told not to make eye contact because they take that as a threat or challenge. In Miss McNice’s case, while you’re not supposed to make eye contact, you’re also not supposed to take your eyes off her. For a bird that can’t fly, she moves damned fast along the perch rail. In the past, she’s dealt out a few stitches to those who weren’t paying attention, so my first encounter with her was quite interesting.

When she realized I was going to enter her pen, she started clacking her enormous beak and puffed up her feathers so that she looked larger. I stepped in, placed a nice juicy rat (she prefers the upper portion – brains and lungs – and doesn’t usually eat much of the rest of it) on a perch rail. I was about to clean out the water dish and refill it when she side-stepped along the far perch rail and jumped onto the one closest to me. She was lightning fast and startled me with her speed. The whole time she was clacking that beak of hers. Luckily, she stopped at her rat, which I had placed a good distance away from the entrance (and me), so I quickly took care of the water bowl and got out of her pen.

Compared to Miss McNice, the hawks and other owls are easy to deal with. Occasionally, a red-tailed hawk will growl (at least that’s what I call it) because I’m too close or swoop close to me just to let me know who’s boss. It helps you retain a healthy respect for the animals you’re interacting with.

Hard graft

Volunteering at the HNC is a lot of work, and it’s not in the least bit glamorous. Not all of the wild animals we take in make it. Some are too injured and succumb to their injuries, and some we can’t care for because they are considered invasive species. Sadly, there are some animals that we can bring back to health, but who can never be released, so they have to be euthanized unless we can place them appropriately (there are very strict state and federal guidelines for wildlife rehabilitation, and the HNC has a limited number of permits to keep wildlife). Some just don’t do well in captivity (diving ducks in particular), but it’s rewarding when the animals I’ve helped care for get to be released into the wild. And it’s all worth it to me. I just wish I could do more.

I am very grateful to work for a company that supports me in my interests and compassion. I think Frameworker days are an excellent way to get us all thinking about our environment and community and how we can give back. It’s an opportunity to think about how we fit into a much bigger picture and what we can do to make things a little better. For some, it’s a single day to give back each year, and that’s just fine. For others, it’s a catalyst to do more.

So next time you see an animal in distress, I hope you stop to help – you never know where it could lead.

Hear more from Sheri about Frameworker days.

Andrew has left The Frameworks.


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