It Takes a village
by Macy Sonius, December 20, 2022
My name is Macy, and I’m Snowdon’s one and only 2022 fall intern. While earning my undergraduate degree, I spent 8+ hours every other week volunteering to care for wolves and wolf dogs at a sanctuary near Fort Collins. After graduating with my B.S. in wildlife biology from Colorado State University, I accepted a position with USGS surveying Boreal toads in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though I enjoyed backpacking for a living and studying this unique endangered species, I wanted my next job to offer me more animal handling experience. When I found Snowdon’s post on Conservation Job Board, I wrote my cover letter and kept my fingers crossed. Thankfully, Sierra was impressed with my application, and our interview went great! I packed up my SUV to move outside of Colorado for the first time in my life, giddy with the prospect of rescuing wild animals. As my time at Snowdon is quickly coming to a close, I can confidently add animal handling, raptor training, primary veterinary care, and content creation to my resume. However, this internship has taught me so much beyond syringe feeding and wrapping broken wings.
I arrived the first week of September to a frenzy of baby animals, weaned and restless, ready for release. Within two weeks of my arrival, the sanctuary buzz reduced to a quiet hum in the absence of skunks, foxes, a raccoon, a Swainson’s hawk, and a fawn. Despite our much lighter animal care load, we somehow got busier. With our open house event rapidly approaching, we hurried to make the property visitor ready. I weed-whacked until the blades dulled and painted our brand-new brushes down to stubs. Hundreds of hours of manual labor later, I took a step back to acknowledge the property looked incredible.
On the big day, Sierra forced me out of my comfort zone and put me in charge of the education table. While maintaining the excitement and engagement for five hours was exhausting, I was shocked that it came naturally. Children and adults alike were interested in hearing about the skulls and pelts on display. Sometimes in the natural resource field, you forget what the general population considers “common knowledge.” Watching people’s faces light up with genuine curiosity while interacting with one of our artifacts made me realize how much people truly love animals. Visitors eagerly shared their critter stories with me in exchange for my impromptu wildlife lessons.
While cleaning up after everyone left, Sierra and I struggled to comprehend how the day flew by so fast. I mulled over the thoughtful questions and good conversations and weighed each smile and curious look to find the event a massive success. Our month of chaos preparing the property and the twelve-hour workday was well worth it. Snowdon made valuable connections with the community of McCall that day, thanks to our hard work. The following weekend, I had the opportunity to engage with the community again at Oktoberfest. Once again, Sierra put me in charge of outreach. Much more confident this time, I actively engaged people as they walked by with their German beers in hand. Like at our open house, people were excited to learn about native species and support Snowdon’s mission. At this point, I had only been in Idaho for a month, and I already began recognizing faces among the renaissance dresses and suspenders. I started becoming part of this small town and its natural resource community.
After a month of shadowing Sierra, I began answering the phone more and running errands independently. Everywhere I went, I was recognized and approached by people. One young girl saw me at the grocery store and asked how her friend Merlin was doing. A couple at the brewery sat at my table to inquire about the health of our newest cub. But, my most unique interaction was with an older gentleman at the auto shop. While I was picking up our work truck, he pulled off the highway to ask me for directions. When I asked why he wanted my advice, he told me he knew he could trust someone who worked for Snowdon. It quickly became apparent how well-known our organization is in Valley County.
Rehab itself is complex and often emotionally exhausting, but these brief interactions showed me the positive impact we are making. Once our big fundraising events were behind us, Sierra and I began visiting schools to teach students about owls, bears, and animal adaptations. Together, we carved pumpkins for cubs with the after-school program, educated preschoolers at Roots about squirrel rehabilitation, and hosted sixty first-graders for a scavenger hunt at the sanctuary. All these programs ended up being controlled chaos, but man, we had the best time. Will the students specifically remember why black bear claws are more hooked than a grizzly’s or the details of a raptor’s diet? Of course not. But I could see in their little faces that we had successfully planted a seed. They will grow up and remember when a cub tore open their jack-o-lantern or how they used a compass to locate a “skunk” in our forest. These experiences could be what motivates them to protect their environment! We are creating future stewards of wildlife; in 10 or 15 years, they could be out in the field with me, working to conserve the same fragile ecosystems I’ve dedicated my career to protecting.
Not only does Snowdon support the community, but the community also supports us. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the public’s generosity to keep our doors open. These donations come in the form of monetary giving, animal transportation, and volunteer hours. Recently, we have established relationships with several generous vets and vet techs who offer us their expertise to increase the quality of care that all our animals receive. For example, Dr. Mark Drew drove from Boise to complete a critical surgery for a red-tailed hawk at no cost to our organization. Thanks to him, that hawk will live a long and happy life. Last month, Dr. Linda Donerkiel and Jaime Hill-Schriker removed our ambassador great-horned owl’s eye in the surgery suite at MCPAWS’s veterinary hospital. All parties involved donated their time and resources to help Merlin. What a testament to how much people care about our animal’s quality of life. I’m incredibly grateful for Dr. Donerkiel’s willingness to pick up the phone whenever we need her help. Occasionally, Sierra is unavailable when we receive a new intake (hard to believe, I know). Linda has driven to the sanctuary with very little notice more than once to help me with initial exams. Though we appreciate all of our volunteers, I wanted to extend a special thank you to our unpaid veterinary “staff.” These three individuals invested a large amount of money in their careers, yet they chose to volunteer with us because they care about our mission.
Another incredible example of the community showing up to support us was the epic rescue of Murray, the bear cub. The full recount of this three-day adventure earned the front page in our holiday newsletter. So, for now, I will highlight the kindness our community showed us when we needed them the most. During our initial rescue attempt, it quickly became evident that we lacked the necessary vehicle to get us to Murray. On day one, a stranger offered his lifted truck and afternoon to transport us up the mountain. The second day, Idaho Fish and Game loaned us one of their work trucks and two sets of chains so we could try again. We were only able to make our last attempt because the people that reported the cub lent us their snowmobiles as rescue vehicles. It took a village to save this cub, and we couldn’t be more grateful for everyone’s help.
So this is more of a story about people than animals; probably not what you expected. I am dedicating this blog to all of our supporters. Their ceaseless acts of generosity and gratitude surprise me daily. I arrived at Snowdon expecting to be isolated from the rest of McCall because of our “off-the-grid” location and irregular work schedule. Coming out of the backcountry at my last job, I expected to chat with the animals while I completed my daily to-do list. Instead, the way I have been able to interact with the public has been a wonderful surprise. I now realize I had no idea what I was getting into when I accepted this internship!
While earning my undergrad, I learned how humanity had failed our environment. Our classes studied unsolved natural resource issues involving stakeholders whose hatred of the opposing side drove their biased arguments. Professors gave endless examples to drill mistakes made by society into our brains. This internship has given me a refreshing look at humanity. The majority of people want to defend animals and mitigate human-wildlife conflict. These community members are willing to share their time, money, and resources with our cause. As I continue my career as a wildlife biologist, I will take with me the practical skills from this job and the inspiring attitudes of the people who make rehab possible here at Snowdon.