Let me start all of this by giving a little history. If someone would have told me ten years ago that my regular activities would include walking around with hawks and owls on my glove, or standing in front of a group of people with a bird, educating them about the species, I would have said, “Oh sure, I wish!” But that is exactly what I do.
Who knew that three years ago, my life would change even more than it had already. Being laid off as a Director in a local IT firm caused my world to collapse around me, but it came with some relief too. My final year in the position was filled with stress of knowing it was coming, but not when. Of being bullied by a woman who clearly saw me as inferior simply because I didn’t have a degree. And when the axe fell, my heart broke…and then I moved on.
It was only pure chance that I saw that the Medina Raptor Center was doing a program in Akron, and I was thrilled at the chance to head out there and see some raptors (meat-eating birds of prey) up close and get some photos. It was a beautiful and hot summer day and I was thoroughly enjoying my summer vacation. I was drawing unemployment, and while I searched for jobs, I took advantage of not having to be anywhere in any building at all.
Several months later, while looking for an opportunity to volunteer, as driving to the Cleveland Zoo was not feasible for me anymore, I thought of MRC again and went to their website and contacted a woman who I have grown to love and respect greatly. I wanted to volunteer somewhere that I could help and work with animals, and I have always had an immense love of raptors. When Laura interviewed me and invited me to become a volunteer, I was elated. I knew it would be a lot of grunt work: cleaning enclosures, scrubbing things, sweeping floors, etc. But I was ready and willing to put in the time. Anything to help the birds.
It started as a one day a week thing for me, but as the summer came and people needed time off for various things, I would fill in since I was free. Nowadays I spend anywhere from 4-5 days there and my volunteer experience has become so much more.
I started at the bottom: cleaning enclosures, preparing food, cleaning our prep area, collecting pine needles for bedding. But in time, Laura asked if I wanted to learn how to handle the birds. Like that is any question. We all start small and work our way up by size and difficulty of temperament, but the first time I held a screech owl, it was amazing, and I was hooked. When you have bird, no matter how big or small, looking at you from mere inches away, it is an experience unlike anything.
In three years, I have worked from being the “new person” looking up to all the veterans, to being included as a veteran volunteer. And when I say volunteer, it means so much more to me. This is a job that pays with emotional and spiritual currency, not monetary. And I still clean enclosures, sweep floors, prep food and everything that comes with caring for these birds. It is some of the most important work, but sometimes people don’t realize it until they’ve been there a while. I treat this like a job, holding myself to the high standards that Laura asks of us, sometimes, I feel, higher than many other facilities (zoos included).
I jokingly tell Laura from time to time that she ruined me. I started toward my Zoology degree thinking I wanted to work at a zoo. And in the three years I have worked for her, I have found out I want to work for a place like MRC. I love educating the public, I love working closely with the birds. I love that today I spent time walking a Short-eared Owl and letting him watch the fields with interest, that I was feeling the belly of an American Kestrel and found she had an egg in her tract, and that I was chiding a Peregrine Falcon for being too paranoid about swooping Red-tailed Hawks that weren’t there.
It was a long journey to get where I am, it was an end of one chapter that segued into a surprising beginning of the next leg. I’m proud of where I’m at and what I’ve accomplished and look forward to every day. How many people can say that?