Courage and Compassion

When I came for a rehabilitation externship with the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I was excited about the focus on exotic species care, which strongly correlates with my desire to care for and heal animals while respecting their natural tendencies and importance to the environment. Ultimately, I accepted the externship due to my deference for that which is wild and a willingness to preserve it.

Every day I came into work and have been faced with the decision to be courageous. Each day, I pushed myself to gain more experience and more confidence as I floated farther out of my comfort zone until it was a distant island in the sea of trepidation. There are many kinds of bravery and I quickly learned that working here requires all of them. There is doing what you know is right, even when exhaustion and creeping apathy would tempt you to do otherwise. All externs have been faced with their moments of stress and exhaustion and it is important to remember that a lazy mistake could be detrimental to an animal. It takes courage to be kind, when others would lash out in anger at another’s lack of knowledge and training. Having to deal with someone outside the Center who may not know how to properly care for animals takes a great deal of strength that dwindles as the workday grows longer. And of course, there is the courage required to handle dangerous and frightened animals, whether they are snakes, Bald Eagles, or Snapping Turtles. It was here I learned that caution -- and not fear -- are what will keep you and the animal safe.

As I came into my own as an extern, I treaded the fine line between overconfidence and hesitation. The tightrope act between the two extremes is courage. This is what is required to overcome healthy fear and act with precision and confidence that will keep you calm and therefore the animal you are handling. I will always consider this one of the most precious skills I have developed during this externship.

No one I met here, no matter how tough or how sensitive, was without his or her own measure of compassion. I respected the decisions made by rehabilitators and veterinarians whether the answer came in the form of causing more temporary discomfort to an animal with the hopes of healing it, or to end the suffering in peaceful euthanasia. The intersection of courage and compassion are the moments when the final decisions will be made. I realized that you could not have one without the other. These two strong characteristics we grow within ourselves with each experience are in a constant push and pull, a tide in which the moon is determination.

Sometimes when people find out that I dream of being a veterinarian, a common response is, “oh, you must not like people.” This assumption is incorrect, not only because the arena of animal medicine and husbandry requires an immense amount of human contact, but also it is for this very reason that I love the field. In my time here at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I have found an incredible kinship with the people around me. The trust we built was forged in the shared work and tempered by the many moments of triumph and stress, or even the simplicity of a good laugh at the end of a long day. It is this solidarity with my coworkers that heightened my appreciation for wildlife conservation because I realized that it is for humanity that we do this work. We preserve wildlife so that humanity can appreciate them in their natural habitat even if it is often times humanity that removed them. In being incredibly forgiving of human ignorance, and battling the cynical storm clouds of apathy that constantly threaten the horizon, we have truly established the beautiful combination of courage and compassion.

WCV Class of 2016