I was born in Florida but grew up in Michigan. I lived in Georgia for about 3 years, and Belize for a while before coming to the Keys to work at the Wild Bird Center, where I worked until recently.
I’ve been doing bird rescue for 15 years…so I’ve got just a little bit of experience! I first got into animal rescue in college. I found an injured squirrel, and after a long day of calling and calling different places, I was put in touch with a rehabber. It was then I learned that people do this…people help wild animals. And I knew right away that was what I wanted to do. I was pre-vet, but I was like, no this is what I want to do, and I started volunteering the very next day. I did get my bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Michigan. But after that day, I knew what I wanted to do and I started volunteering, I did a lot of internships and just went all over doing everything I could.
I work primarily with birds. However, when I was in Georgia, I had a personal rehab license and I was the only one in my county and surrounding counties with a license, so I had deer, I had fox, I had a flying squirrel get loose in my closet, I had a bat get loose in my bathroom, baby raccoons, you name it… because you know, I couldn’t turn anything down they would bring me. I even had a baby alligator for a while. It was southern Georgia so there was all kind of stuff! I would rehab them and then let them go.
In Belize I did mainly the birds, but I also helped out with Wildtracks, which is a primate and manatee rehab center, so I also got experience with those. It was a little bit stinky-er than birds, but it was interesting. We did a lot of wild parrots in Belize, and parrots can be aggressive. I had these 2 in an aviary right outside my room. All one could say was “sombrero,” and the other said what sounded like “umbrella,” so we named them Sombrero and Umbrella. They were so mean; to change out their food, we had to go in with trash can lids and open umbrellas, like shields, for protection. I would be fighting them off, trying not to hit them, but at the same time I had to keep them off me…They could be so mean. I remember one of them bit me right on the forehead. That always sticks out in my mind as the moment when I thought “What the F am I doing?” standing there with that trash can lid fighting off parrots!
But I love it. Doing rehab, there is never a dull moment. It’s always something. I remember one other time we rescued a vulture. We got him back to the hospital, and he threw up on the intern. There was a foot of some rodent, because he had been eating road kill. It was all over her. I’m just standing there with this volunteer and she’s just standing there with this paw thing, just looking at me. It’s never a dull moment!
Another time, I received a call about a water bird wrapped in fishing line unable to fly, struggling and floating away from shore. When I got there, he was too far from the dock to reach with a net and I could tell he could not keep his head up any longer and was drowning. I asked someone to hold my phone and keys, jumped from the dock and swam out to him. I lifted his head out of the water and got the fishing line off his face so he could hold his head up on his own. When I got to shore, a crowd of people had gathered and were clapping. I looked down at the bird, all wet and tired, and thought, "I am soaking wet in my clothes because of you, Mister! Not them, you!" Some people helped me onto shore and we carefully cut the fishing line off him. Everyone was very excited about the rescue and asking questions about the bird center and how to help, even received a few donations! It was gratifying that people showed actual concern for a bird that they didn't have to. But, the look that bird gave me was all the gratitude I needed. I have been rehabbing for 15 years, and at this point, jumping into the water or climbing trees is no big deal to me. What still gets me every time, no matter how many times I do it, is the look in the animal's eyes when they realize I am helping them.
And of course, every release makes me so happy. Any time you get to release something it’s exciting. One time we had a great white heron come in. We actually had to jump into a canal and fish it out, at 10:00 at night in our pajamas. It was a she, and she laid an egg the next day. She had a bad leg, the joint was really messed up, but we decided to try and rehab her. We had her for about 3 months, and it wasn’t improving, wasn’t improving. We’re given a time limit by the feds, which we were approaching and the leg really wasn’t doing well. One day I went outside to look for her, and there she was putting weight on the bad leg, and within 2 weeks she was fully healed. Those are always my favorites. When they come in and they are so messed up, so broken, and you think they won’t make it, but then they pull through and you get to release them.
But, they don’t all make it. Rehab is hard. A lot of people get burned out with rehab. We call it “Compassion Fatigue.” I have my days when I just cry and cry and think I don’t know how to keep doing it, how to keep going. But most of the time, if I have a really tough day, like if a few animals come in and I have to euthanize them upon arrival, I have to take a step back and I tell myself that I just put them out of their misery. Instead of them lying on the side of the road suffering, I was able to end their suffering humanely, and let them know there at the very end that someone cared, that they were cared for. And then I have to remind myself there are other animals to help, and I need to suck it up, and I need to keep going.
I’m proud of the fact that I was able to continue Laura’s legacy at the Bird Center for the time that I did. I’m proud of the improvements that I made. We had the Federal Fish and Wildlife come in right before they let me go, and they said they had never seen the place look so good; they were so impressed. And even though I’m no longer there, I can still be proud of what I did there, what I could do for Laura and the birds.
I will definitely continue working in bird rescue. I don’t think I’m meant to do cats and dogs, don’t think I’m meant to be a normal 9-5 kind of person. Bird rescue is my calling, so I’ll just see what happens next. For the next month I’ll be in Belize doing all kinds of crazy stuff. I’ll be working primarily with birds, but it’s a small group of rehabbers there, so we are also like a triage center, and sometime we might end up getting primates or something else in for a few days. I had a baby armadillo living in my bathtub last time I was there! I’m excited to go back! It will be a lot of fun.
My goal is to help as many animals as I can. I guess I’ll just see what comes next, where I end up. But that is my goal; I want to help as many animals as I possibly can while I’m here. I might end up in Canada or Africa or back to Belize… anywhere I can go to help the animals. I hope to stay in the Keys, but I’m just going to go wherever my calling is. Wherever it is, I’m sure it will be crazy and amazing.
I am passionate and have always been passionate about what I do. No matter what happened or happens, there is no questioning the passion I have for what I do, and I try my hardest and do my best for the animals. Bird rehab is my calling.