I always wanted to work with animals. I grew up on a horse farm surrounded by woods. I was an only child, and I was occasionally lonely, but I was never bored. In that time, you could be gone for 14 hours and there were no Amber Alerts. I’d come in at 9:30 p.m., and my mom’s like, “Are you in for the night?” and I’m like, “Nope, just getting a flashlight.”
I knew from very early on I did not want to be a vet. You mess up someone’s dog’s leg, and they’re going to sue the whole vet practice. With wildlife, technically there is no owner. I had no idea about wildlife rehabilitation when I went to school. I did get my degree in wildlife resource management, but I was hoping to do a Jane Goodall thing, field biology and African elephants. But by the late ’90s, there were no more [researchers with money] going, “Oh, yeah, just come with me, and we’ll spend 20 grand and do whatever you want.” I applied here [for an internship], and the rest is history.
Most of a rehabber’s job is husbandry — making sure all the proper food is there and the cages are clean. And providing medical care. Ninety to 99 percent of what [animals] do is instinctual, so there’s nothing we really have to worry about teaching them. It’s just letting them get to that point where they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I bury the nut; I don’t bury the grape. Got it.”
I love knowing that I’ve done all I could do and that animal is raised up or fixed and it’s going back out there. I spent the whole winter of 2006 reading this book “Raptor Biomedicine.” This great horned owl, a juvenile male, was living in Kentlands [in Gaithersburg], which is not a good place for a big predator. There’s a little pocket forest there, but he needed to eat something rabbit-size every day. The owl was brought to our center by a driver from Montgomery County Humane Society. He was emaciated, and I was all brimming with knowledge. I put him on the diets that were described in the book. I got him up to a really good weight and made sure he had really good flying skills, and I made sure his hunting skills were on par.
I got to release him in June, on my birthday, which was my best birthday present ever. I would call every couple days and make sure he was there and was doing okay. Great horned and barred owls are very easy to [attract]. Just stand there going, “Hoo, hoo, hoo,” and they’ll come. In spring ’08, I called again. He stayed where he was, but he called back. He had a mate, and they had a nest. Every year since then they’ve raised two or three kids. I just love being able to check up on him. It’s nice when you [can say]: “That was me. That bird is mating and making babies because of me.”