2020 Year in Review: Dr. Sarah Sirica, Veterinary Intern

It’s time to look back on 2020! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2020 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

2020 has certainly not been the year anyone expected it to be, and I know that many families have felt that way. When planning to start my year-long internship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I had bittersweet feelings – I would have to live away from my husband for a year, but I would be pursuing my dream of becoming a wildlife vet. And – BONUS – both of our families live in Virginia. Our thinking was, hey, we will just rack up the frequent flier miles, both be very busy, but get to spend a ton of time with our families on days off – a win-win. We were looking forward to seeing all of our friends and family during the weekends and making sure all of our family get to go on the Center’s great Open House tours.  

Then COVID-19 hit.  Not only has it been extremely difficult or impossible to see my loved ones, but there also  has been very little of the quality time together that we had been so looking forward to – on the phone, or “at a distance” --  because things have been so very busy. I have spent more time with patients from the counties where my family lives than with my family! 

Sometimes, though, we find a way to make a special moment out of the circumstances we are handed. I have delighted my friends’ children with stories of bear and turtle exams via zoom calls, and I have become the go-to animal expert via the Marco Polo App for their homeschool group. I’ve facetimed with all kinds of family and, of course, have been extraordinarily thankful for the amount of experience with wildlife I have gained thus far in my internship.

When choosing a memory to reflect on, a special patient release came to mind almost immediately. On June 3, 2020, just a few weeks after I had started my internship, fledgling Red-shouldered Hawk #20-1482 presented to the Wildlife Center of Virginia as a transferred patient from Wellesley Animal Hospital and Chesterfield Animal Control. This patient happened to be covered in pine sap on presentation. Not enough to cause severe harm, but enough to leave an impression of a cute bird who had gotten him or herself into quite the predicament. Other than the sap, a few internal parasites, and being on the skinny side, this patient was a good candidate for rehabilitation.

After a few months of treatment by the vet and rehab teams, this patient was ready for release … and I had been on the lookout for a special patient to release exactly where this patient called home. Both my mother and my in-laws live in Richmond, which is not far in a “normal” time, but may as well be a different continent during COVID. I called my mom, and my mother-in-law, and we set about planning the release. They were thrilled for the opportunity, and we scheduled around a weekend when the patient was ready, and when the weather would be good enough for a few days for the hawk to get settled in her new home before another heavy summer downpour would occur.

I met them in the West End of Richmond, and we carpooled out (masks on for all humans in the vehicle, of course) and drove out to the beautiful Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield. They helped me scout a good location – an open field without a lot of human activity, and we got set up.

The patient was beautifully compliant and was happy to run out of the carrier, fly majestically across the field, and settle into a tall pine tree for a rest before flying off again – hopefully to have a long and successful life in a place very close to (but safer than) where she was originally found injured.


While “quarantimes” has been hard (to say the least), this was a special moment that I will have fond memories of forever, as I look back on all that I have gained from my internship.

-- Dr. Sarah, Veterinary Intern

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!

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