Week One: The cats out of the bag!

I have just completed the first week of my internship with the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center (FFAWC) in Ramona, California. The FFAWC is a wildlife rehabilitation center, and the organization’s mission is to “protect wildlife through rescue, rehabilitation, and education”. I am living on site at the facility, and I am typing this blog outside with a beautiful view of the sun setting behind the mountainous skyline.


Wildlife rehabilitation is a completely new experience for me. I have always been very keen on wildlife conservation, however, up until this point all of my efforts have been in the form of research. As rehabilitation is something I have been interested in trying, I searched for weeks online for internship opportunities. Throughout the application and interview process, I fell in love with the FFAWC. It has been a dream of mine to work with large cats, and the FFAWC previously was home to a lion (whom passed away prior to my arrival, unfortunately) and is currently home to two mountain lions! The FFAWC also houses ten bobcats, a pygmy hippo, and a coyote! These animals are all known as “sanctuary” animals and are considered “unreleasable” due to the fact that many of them came to our facility already imprinted on humans or their injuries were too severe. Below you will see one of the mountain lions, named Tonka. He lives right outside of the intern house! A private citizen bought Tonka from the illegal pet trade when he was a cub and fed him an improper diet. At 28-days of age, Tonka was confiscated by a local veterinarian and transferred to the Wildlife Center. Having already imprinted on humans, he was deemed unfit for release.


It is always sad when an animal is deemed “unreleasable”, because of course we would like to see all wildlife remain in the wild; however, these sanctuary animals are given the best quality of life possible, with a healthy diet, well-designed enclosures and enrichment!

FFAWC uses a color system to denote the different “levels” of wildlife at the center. Domestic animals are purple, basic wildlife rehab patients are green, advanced wildlife rehab patients are blue, and sanctuary animals are red. All volunteers and interns begin their training by working with the domestic wildlife and progressively move up to higher levels during their time at the center. The domestic wildlife at this facility consists of a colony of 38 feral cats rescued from San Nicolas Island (SNI). This colony was threatening the native, endangered species of SNI and so they were facing extermination. In 2009, the Wildlife Center rescued the colony and hoped to habituate them to humans in an effort to get them adopted. Unfortunately, this plan has not panned out very well. When the first cat was adopted, she lost a lot of weight and had to be returned to the center and reunited with her colony. As a result, it appears that these cats will be living out their days at the center. In my opinion, their living arrangements are the best that they could be! These cats are essentially treated like royalty. Everyday we rake for them, provide them with clean bedding, give them a healthy meal twice a day and provide them with many treats and lots of enrichment. Below are a few pictures of some cats feeding and of sections of their enclosure.





Cats 3

I definitely consider myself a dog person, but it’s impossible not to fall in love with a couple of these cats when you’re constantly surrounded by 38 of them! Below you will see three of my favorite cats, Doug, Lady and Talkie. Unfortunately, both Doug and Lady are suffering from renal failure. While they are both on medication for this, Lady seems to be making more progress than Doug at the moment. As you can see, he is very skinny. However, I’ve been told that there was a point when Lady was as skinny as Doug is now and she has since gained weight, so I’m staying hopeful that Doug will pull through. Preparing Lady’s daily medication is a complex process! She receives some of her medication in the form of a makeshift sushi-like roll, made using deli style turkey slices filled with medicine and some wet cat food. She also receives a crushed up pill hidden inside several meatball looking balls of wet cat food. Doug’s medication is also tricky to prepare, and to make it even more difficult, he rejects most food aside from hard cat treats, so we are limited in the ways that we can give it to him! To solve this, we use the hard cat treats to make a sandwich around his medicine. Also, as you can see from Talkies photo, he only has one eye. Unfortunately, he lost his second eye to a foxtail, which is a very dangerous plant that can pierce an animal and clearly causes serious damage.







I have taken in so much new information in just this first week, and I can tell that this internship is going to be a great learning experience. I have already moved up to the green level, meaning I am able to work with basic wildlife rehab patients. I am excited to continue training and learning, and eventually I hope to move up to the blue level. Unfortunately, I’ve heard it can take over a year to reach the red level, so due to the length of my internship that is not be feasible for me. There will be more about my green level adventures featured in my next blog! Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying their internships and thanks for reading!


– Alicia Russo

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