Author Archives: Alicia


I cannot believe my internship is actually over. This time has flown by incredibly fast, but I have learned so much. Two very exciting experiences come to mind when thinking back over the course of my internship and contemplating the learning goals that I originally set for myself. First of all, I was fortunate enough to go on the release of a wild adult bobcat. He had been sighted on a couple’s property multiple times, and the two landowners noticed that he was limping and was extremely skinny. They were able to trap the adult bobcat and bring him to our facility. During the initial intake exam our RVT announced that the bobcat had a very old fracture in his front right leg that had not healed correctly and he was extremely emaciated. The rest of the team at the FFAWC and myself cared for the adult bobcat and monitored his progress during the month that he was in our rehab facility. Once the bobcat gained weight and appeared to be putting more weight onto his right leg, we coordinated with the landowner to release him back onto the property from which he was caught. I was involved in the transport and release of the bobcat. Seeing that bobcat run out of the crate and out of site was such an incredible experience. I was able to see all of the hard work that was put into his rehabilitation pay off. Seeing the full cycle of rescue, rehabilitation and release was truly amazing. Several news channels even covered the bobcat release story – we made it onto CNN! Check out the link below to see the story covered on CBS News.

The second experience that comes to mind actually occurred during the beginning of the rehab process – the rescue. A fellow intern, Laura, has a part time job at K-Mart, where someone had left a days old baby bird in his or her locker. Being an intern at a wildlife rehab facility, Laura offered to take the bird home that evening after her shift and bring it to the center when it opened in the morning, which meant that we had to make sure that the bird was able to make it through the night. This experience forced me to use all of the knowledge that I have gained throughout my time at the FFAWC. What does a baby bird need? What can we do for it tonight to keep it safe, comfortable and alive throughout the night? Laura and I did as we were taught and the little bird pulled through and we were able to get it to our RVT for proper medical care in the morning.


This experience has taught me quite a lot about the field of wildlife rehabilitation. It has opened my eyes to a possible future career and I will definitely be pursuing further experience in this area. This internship has showed me that I may be interested in veterinary medicine. I spent lots of time with the RVT at the center and I felt that she really made a difference in the animals’ lives and in the running of the center. I would love to shadow a wildlife RVT or veterinarian, as well as either intern/volunteer at another wildlife rehab center where I can continue to learn about the practice.

I would definitely recommend taking on an internship to anyone who is considering one. An internship can be a fantastic hands-on learning experience and a great way to receive training in the field that you are interested in. At least, it definitely was for me.

Midpoint: My experiences so far

I am progressing nicely on my learning objectives! I am three weeks into my internship and I have come to learn something about the day-to-day schedule of the wildlife center – you cannot possible be ready for everything! In this line of work, there are curveballs everyday, so flexibility is a key quality. However, it is possible to feel comfortable in the daily schedule aside from those daily unexpected events. I understand the flow of work, which animals need care at what time of the day, which animals need medicine or a watchful eye, etc.

I am monitoring my growth in several ways. First of all, I am taking on new tasks and working with new animals almost everyday. As I mentioned last blog, I have moved up to what is referred to as the green level, which is basic wildlife rehab. That title signifies which animals I can work with, and I am close to moving up yet another level, which will lengthen that list of animals! Secondly, I have fewer and fewer questions about how to complete certain tasks and I am becoming more efficient in the jobs that I do. I am more self-sufficient in the office and I am now able to walk in and begin my tasks right away without hesitation. Finally, I am doing the best that I can to keep up a journal of my experiences here, which helps me look back on the previous week and realize how much I have learned in just seven days!

At this point in my internship, I am most proud of the project that I have decided to take on as an intern. Here at the facility all interns are required to come up with a project that they can complete during the course of their internship. As I mentioned in my last blog, we have several sanctuary animals here, one of which is a coyote named Chewy (pictured below). Each of the sanctuary animals receives various types of enrichment to keep their minds stimulated and engaged, as life in captivity can be very repetitive. The staff has had a bit of trouble identifying what type of enrichment Chewy likes. He seems to reject a lot of typical coyote enrichment and the enrichment that he does accept he often tears up within seconds! For my project, I have decided to take Chewy on. I understand the circumstances that have led these animals to be sanctuary animals and so if I can impact Chewy’s quality of life even in the slightest, then I will feel accomplished. Chewy was found as pup and taken in by a family who mistook him for a dog. Once they realized that he was not a dog but actually a coyote it was too late, Chewy had already realized that humans have food and he therefore could not be released back into the wild. I have already begun contacting zoological facilities that house coyotes to try and get a list of potential enrichment items, and I have submitted my original ideas to my mentor. I plan on trying out my first enrichment item today!



With any job, communication and people skills will be necessary, and with any new environment, you are forced to use those skills. This internship has pushed me out of my comfort zone and has me working with new people almost every single day, as we have dozens of volunteers. It has also taught me quite a lot about the animals that we rehabilitate, especially raptors, coyotes and skunks. I have hand-fed a baby crow, handled a red shoulder hawk while another staff member administered medicine, and I have prepared food for all of the animals at our facility. I understand what certain species can and cannot eat and the portions of food that certain animals get in the morning versus in the afternoon. All of the skills that I learn here will be transferable to my future career, as I hope to work with wildlife in some capacity.


Thanks for reading!

– Alicia Russo

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