Name: Rebekah Perry
Class Year: Junior- Class of 2019
Hometown: Huntington, West Virginia
Internship: Wildlife Rehabilitation Intern
Location: New Mexico Wildlife Center, Espanola, New Mexico
So this might seem like an awfully serious topic to discuss, but it is a very very real part of life and everything that lives: death. I mentioned in a previous post that in the world of wildlife rehabilitation, sometimes our losses outnumber our successes. When you walk in to tend to a creature that has been in your care to find them stiff, it is haunting; even worse are those patients that you have to make the life or death decision for, due to their irreparable condition. But if nothing ever passed away in the care of the clinic, where would our inspiration to try new methods and improve our care come from? If none of the critters that we loved passed away, how would we be able to learn what we could do better next time?
This past week has been really hard. I walked in to tube feed a severely emaciated raven that had come in, only to find him too far gone for my care. A jackrabbit who had come to the center as a small and helpless orphan a month earlier, passed away due to digestive complications. A handful of animals have come in very messed up due to human carelessness. And hardest of all, a little songbird that I had become far too attached to had reoccurring fractures and could not support his weight due to a metabolic bone disease, and had to be put out of his misery.
Why do I tell you this? Because I wouldn't be giving you a complete and accurate picture of the labors and dedication of wildlife rehabilitation if I didn't. Death never loses its sting. Even the staff who have been rehabilitating animals for years, and have experienced many losses, are not numb to the shock that comes when animals pass on. True animal lovers can never truly "get used" to the passing of a patient, but that is the very factor that gives us the drive to strive on. When an animal is discovered gone or has to be put down, the clock still rings to signal that it is time to provide the next round of hourly nestling feeds, medicate a raptor, give formula to a baby squirrel, stimulate a rabbit to go to the bathroom, or weigh some barn owls to check their progress outside.
Care goes on. And when you are forced to process death while continuing to work tirelessly to provide life, something beautiful happens...you care for the next critter as if you were doing it to make up for the death of the last. You keep intense records for every single patient that comes in and run more accurate tests. You change formulas and feeding schedules and the supplements you give. You improve the enclosure set ups, become more attuned and aware to the individual needs of each patient, and you work to make sure that each death provides more enlightenment upon what you can do to save the next patient that comes in with the same predicament. That is how progress is made. Progress in the world of wildlife medicine comes from failure, just like in any other challenge in life, and I am proud to be a part of this force for the care and conservation of the beloved backyard creatures with which we share this Earth.