July 12, 2012 -
The first thing that hits you when you walk in the door of the Florida Wild Mammal Association is the aroma. It's sort of a strong combination of fish... and something else.
Wildlife rescue volunteer Josh Stoudinger says "You get pooped on a lot here!"
It doesn't take long to realize that this place isn't here to make humans comfortable, but to give creatures a chance to get well, and get wild again.
Josh put me right to work cutting the sharp fins off the fish fed to baby pelicans.
It's to protect their delicate throats.
I removed a few fins and asked, "Is that pelican-ready right there?" Josh responds, 'that's baby pelican- ready."
Tropical Storm Debby wasn't kind to the coast... blowing dozens of these birds out of their nursery and away from the adults that could care for them.
Many of the big, helpless birds would up here.
" It was real stressful time, and yes it was crazy," says Josh. "We had lost power so we were dealing with 30 or more baby pelicans and doing this in the dark, and without water."
Chris Beatty is the founder of this animal rescue mission in the woods south of Crawfordville.
She says while Debby's deluge was swamping local homes... it was also bringing a foot of floodwater to the center, and a 10 p.m. order to evacuate. Not good timing.
"We had over 90 animals come in since (the storm)."
The water's down now.. but the workload is up!
"Five o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night since the storm," says Beatty.
The feeding schedule alone is overwhelming.
"Baby songbirds every 15 minutes, baby pelicans, every 4 1/2 hours. Baby Raccoons every three hours. Baby deer every five hours."
And how many people are on staff helping with this?
The center also gets help from volunteers like Josh.. and Daphne Bartley.
She tried to show me how to feed baby birds with a syringe.
She said I should "stick it down their throats and squeeze a little at a time."
I wasn't very successful. "I think I'm getting it all over him.. instead of in him!"
Daphne says it's hectic here, but she loves it.
"What's your favorite animal out here?
Jonja is a striped skunk whose scent glad has been removed. She's one of the few critters here that won't be released.
Volunteering helped Chris discover her true calling years ago when she found a little bobcat and brought it to a center in South Florida.
At the time she thought, "Oh, I'd like to volunteer. Then I quit a really good- paying job to do this the rest of my life."
When we asked if she'd ever come to the point where she said ' I need my life back' she responded, "yes, about three days ago!"
So what makes Chris Change her mind?
"You look at them and they're helpless and nobody really takes responsibility for them.
So if you close, there's sort of no place for them to go."
This hawk had a place to go when his wing was broken. He'd probably have starved to death if Josh hadn't rescued him from a local backyard.
Soon he could take flight again...and Josh and Daphne and Chris just might get that thrill that makes it all worthwhile.
If you would like to volunteer at the center or donate time or money, just go to their website: www.wakullawildlife.org or write to: Florida Wild Mammal Association, 198 Edgar Poole Road, Crawfordville, FL 32327.