Reflections from a Hospital Intern

Orphaned fox kit

Spring is finally here! It’s the season for warmer weather, beautiful flower blooms, and of course, so is baby season. From March through August, Woodford Cedar Run’s wildlife rehabilitation hospital is flooded with thousands of injured, orphaned, or sick New Jersey wildlife species. Each year, we see almost 5,000 animals, most of them during the spring and early summer months.

Being the busiest wildlife rehabilitation hospital in New Jersey, we end up seeing a very wide spectrum of different species. Some typical admissions would be baby raccoons, squirrels, opossums, song birds, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, ducks and goslings, and bunnies.

Many people ask, “What is a typical day at Cedar Run like during baby season?”

I typically respond with, “It can be crazy busy, but it’s very rewarding.” Last summer, I interned in the wildlife rehabilitation hospital and it was one of the best decisions I have made. I loved it so much that I decided to continue to volunteer weekly.

Young raccoon shortly after release

When I started interning that first week in May, I had no idea what to expect. I had done my research into the organization and read about the thousands of animals they treat yearly, but I wasn’t able to fully imagine how many animals and how much work would be needed until I started.

Every day has the same general outline for tasks that need to be completed, but just like an ER, you never know what is going to come through the door. It could be an owl hit by a car, a bunny’s nest run over by a lawnmower, a squirrel left orphaned by its mother, or a baby songbird caught by a cat. We always do our best to give these animals a second chance at life.

When the doorbell rings and an animal (or sometimes multiple) come in, we always give them a thorough medical assessment. Our priority is always the animal’s health and well being – which means encouraging wild behaviors, and limiting human contact. After that, we set up the animal in an enclosure best suited towards the species and their injuries, and determine their diet and medications needed.  Sometimes this is simple, but other times we can spend hours removing fly eggs and ticks off orphaned babies before we can even start maintenance care.

These babies also require a lot of attention and a lot of food! I remember when I was working with the skunks and opossums, and it seemed like as soon as I finished feeding all of them, it was already time to start again. Over weeks or sometimes even months, we provide the animals with all their daily needs and offer them  enrichment to get them practicing behaviors that will help with survival in the wild. My favorite would be creating enrichment for the growing raccoons as they always succeeded with solving puzzles to get food. We also make sure that every animal has a clean enclosure and we run our laundry machines from opening to closing.

During baby season, we will have all three floors of the hospital filled with baby animals as well as our outdoor releasable housing area.

The days can be hectic, but one of the best feelings is seeing an animal be released. It is an amazing experience to see these charges grow from closed eyed, pink little creatures into independent wild animals, or the adults with wounds healed completely.

Virginia Opossums being released back into the wild after being rehabilitated in our hospital

It makes all the hours spent cleaning poop and vomit all worth it. By the time fall comes around, its time to recoup from the busy baby season and prepare for the next year while still caring for animals coming in.

–Missy Rogers, 2018 Spring Rehabilitation Intern