Welcome to our intern and volunteer corner! Wild at Heart would not be able to exist without the dedication and hard work of all of our volunteers! Here, you can read testimonials from former interns, co-op students (high school and post-secondary level), and volunteers.
Some topics you’ll be sure to read about include: education/work background, why they choose to volunteer at Wild at Heart, and memorable animal experiences!
Luca, intern from Italy, 4 months
My name is Luca and I am a behavioural biologist from Italy. Almost one year ago I moved to Canada thanks to a working holiday visa, and I started looking for a position in the wildlife rehabilitation field; this is how I ended up at Wild at Heart.
As a university student I felt like, despite my preparation, I was missing the kind of ”first hand” experience that is required to work with animals. An internship here at the centre offered me the perfect occasion to fill that gap. I had the chance to work with a lot of people with very different backgrounds, and learn something from all of them; every other intern, volunteer and even the people in charge were always ready to help, involve me in new experiences, and share their knowledge and preparation. I don’t need to point out that this is the best kind of learning experience you can get; nothing beats assisting a veterinarian on medical techniques you are not familiar with (almost all of them, in my case!), getting a chance to try them yourself under his supervision, or work with different animals assisted by people with way more experience than me.
If I had to point out one single experience I consider a good example of all this, I would probably choose the rehabilitation of baby raccoons. Receiving orphaned raccoons in a lot of different conditions, requiring medical attention, special treatments, or even just food and warmth can sound like a challenging and even scary experience. But assisting them at every stage of the process, and watching them growing and gaining strength up to the point where they can go back into the wild is definitely a great achievement. If even this is not enough, just imagine taking a walk being followed by 4-5 young raccoons who explore the outside world for the first time. At this point I can only hope to put all the skills I gained at Wild at Heart to a good use, and for my experience here to be just the start of a career in a field I love so much. Thanks to everyone who helped me during these months!
Nick, intern from Belgium, 2 months
When I heard the news back in Belgium that I could do my internship in a foreign country, I immediately talked to my parents about going to Canada. My parents supported me in this choice and I started looking for a place where the people really care about the animals they shelter and do whatever they can do to help these creatures. Wild at Heart definitely lives up to these traits. Every animal that comes in is as important as the animal that came in before, from the tinniest mouse all the way to Timmy the fawn. I had already worked with large raptors before such as bald and golden eagles but I never had the opportunity to work with one of my favorite owls, a great gray. Too bad that this guy couldn’t be released back into the wild since his fractured wing couldn’t be fixed. I also really liked working with the bigger mammals such as Timmy and the raccoons. The first day I came in Timmy was still a little bit scared of his surroundings. Step by step we tried to walk him outside which went pretty well. Soon enough he will finally be able to be sheltered outside in a grassy paddock instead of his small cage inside. The raccoons on the other hand were also a lot of fun to work with. It is so satisfying to see these guys play with the toys and enrichments that you’ve made for them. I can honestly say that I had a great time at Wild at Heart.
Amanda, intern from Canada, 2 months
Hello, I’m Amanda from Montreal, Quebec. I have always loved nature and the fauna within it since I was a kid – I was the only 10 year old that knew the word ornithologist! I have been studying environmental and wildlife management at Vanier College in hopes of one day becoming an animal rehabilitator. I have had some previous experience handling wildlife through bird banding and small mammal trapping projects but Wild at Heart gave me an unbelievable introduction into the world of rehabilitation. I was interning during the winter which isn’t the busiest of seasons but it allowed me to fully understand techniques and procedures and participate in the care for all of the animals of Wild at Heart. While here, I was able to learn everything from the basics of food preparation to the more involved techniques like wing wrapping.
An animal that I was able to spend a lot of time with during my internship was the white-tailed deer fawn. He presented with stunted growth which made it necessary to provide hands-on daily care for him like hoof scrubbing. He wasn’t a big fan of grooming but he was easily distracted by green beans, one of his favourite foods. One of my favourite times at Wild at Heart was the enrichment project for the raccoons. We made what I like to call ‘zucchini boats’ which were fruits and veggies skewered onto a popsicle stick which was then stuck until a zucchini half. Watching the raccoons try to figure out what this new creation was in their enclosure and then trying to take the food off of the sticks was a wonderful and validating moment. Even though I’ve been in a wildlife program, Wild at Heart allowed me to develop rehabilitation skills that I am eager to continue practicing throughout my career. Thank you so much for this experience!
Jaclyn, intern from Canada, 6 months
My name is Jaclyn and I have had a passion for animals since I was a child. This is why I joined the Wild at Heart team, where I quickly became a part of a team from around the world with the exact same interest as me. My new friends taught me how to work with many different animal species that I had never had the chance to interact with before. The first animal I worked with were baby raccoons. It was hard work cleaning up after them, and having them depend on me to bottle feed them. One in particular, nicknamed Tiny, worked his way into my heart, and taught me how to be patient and responsible for another’s life. But this program isn’t just about looking after cute animals, but making sure they can live without us. The first animal I ever released was a herring gull, which I had fed and looked after for many weeks until he was old enough to look after himself. He made me love birds when I had never liked them before. To release him and watch him fly so high I could barely see him made me so happy. I could see how happy he was to be free, and that is what I love about this place – you put so much time and energy into these little animals, and you get that accomplished feeling when they don’t need you anymore. I will never forget this experience that has helped me to become a better person, and I hope to use all what I have learned in order to help many more animals in the future.
Natashka, intern from Netherlands, 6 months
My name is Natashka, and I am from The Netherlands. I wanted to go to Canada to work with wildlife. I started a six month internship in April, and in this time I gained lots of experience with the native Canadian wildlife. Being an intern at Wild at Heart is way more than taking care of injured or orphaned animals – it has helped me become more patient, independent and capable of working as a member of a group. Canada is such a gorgeous country and the inhabitants as nice as the tales and myths promise. I as well made some awesome new friends and want to thank the supervisors and fellow human beings for accepting me into the team! It was a pleasure to work with you! Thank you so much for giving all these animals a second chance in life.
Ryan, intern from Canada, 3 months
Hi my name is Ryan. I was born in Sudbury, Ontario and I am a fourth year zoology student at Laurentian University. Even at a young age I was very interested in wildlife and the environment. Thus, when the opportunity arose to work in a place that offered a hands-on approach working with wildlife, I actively pursued it. Wild at Heart allowed me to work face-to-face with large raptors, such as owls, hawks, merlins and vultures. Before my internship, I had only seen these animals from afar or on television. Now I have experience dealing with these animals directly whether it be cleaning wounds, feeding the animals, weighing them, or doing a general observation.
One rehabilitation journey that stuck with me was the great horned owl which came in on June 10, 2016. It was at risk of developing fatty liver disease, did not have flight feathers, or appropriate hunting abilities. After 2 months of wing strength training, diet monitoring and constant check-ups, the great horned owl was rehabilitated and released close to where it was initially found. One memorable moment was having to go to Walden Public School to educate a group of children at the day care program. While playing a game of tag, it was great for me to be able to include all the kids by adjusting the initial game of tag to have an applicable, wildlife-education component.
While at Wild at Heart, I learned how to wrap a broken leg and wing. I also learned how to properly clean a wound. I plan to further pursue my education in animal studies via a graduate program. I’m also debating pursuing a diploma in wildlife conservation in graduate studies. This internship has greatly helped me by opening my eyes to current wildlife issues and what it’s like to handle wildlife face-to-face. My advice for the next volunteer is to always be patient and compassionate towards wildlife and the people that deal with them.
Sarah, intern from Canada, 3.5 months
My name is Sarah, and I grew up in the small town of Port Perry, Ontario. As a recent graduate from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I longed for hands-on experience working with wildlife. I graduated with an Honours Bachelor in Environmental Management and specialized in wildlife conservation and management. After my summer placement at Algonquin Park finished, I found my diversity in work experience was lacking. I started looking into voluntary opportunities within the province to gain invaluable hands-on experience working with wildlife. I found a variety of rescue centres I was interested in, but many did not require volunteers throughout the winter season. My internship with Wild at Heart lasted 17 weeks, ending mid-June, just at the start of the busy summer months.
My internship has been one of the most memorable experiences. In my first week, I got to assist in caring for pigeons, turtles, waterfowl, a beautiful snowy owl and bald eagle, raccoons, and chipmunks and squirrels – and the species list just grew from there! Not only did I get ample experience working hands-on with a vast array of Ontario wildlife, but I also met the most amazing and interesting people from all over the world, creating lasting friendships. Before starting at WAH, I had little real knowledge of wildlife care, having grown up with cats and dogs, I had some knowledge but it was very limited. I learned so much about how to properly care for animals, from proper handling techniques, physical examinations upon admission, monitoring changes in health, and determining feeding schedules and diet requirements. One of my most memorable patients while volunteering at WAH was the admission of an adult American mink who had been allegedly hit by a car. He came in and was not moving – many of us were unsure whether he would make it though the night. To our surprise, the following day he was up and trying to walk around, but his head injury caused him to be unbalanced. Over the next two-months, we cared for the mink, providing him with lots of stimulating toys, food, and occasionally a small pool to swim in. He grew stronger and gained weight steadily, until he was finally released by his rescuers. It was so fulfilling and rewarding to watch and be a part of his progress from admission to release. Additionally, the baby raccoons just melted my heart!
Simone, intern from Austria, 2 months
My name is Simone and I’m a 23 year old biology student from Graz, Austria. However currently I’m living at the Wild at Heart Refuge Centre in Lively because of my 10 week long internship as an animal care taker. I got the idea of doing an internship like this when I was volunteering for a sea turtle protection organization in Greece last summer. I was monitoring one of the nesting beaches one morning, when I found a badly injured adult sea turtle. Even though I’m a biology student I have to admit that I had no clue what to do. So I called my supervisor to come and help me. While I was sitting there waiting next to that poor animal, not able to help it, I decided that I wanted to do an internship where I gain important skills in animal care.
Exactly one year later I’m already halfway through my internship at Wild at Heart. Since I came here I’ve not only learned how to treat injured turtles, but also how to raise baby mammals and birds, treat injured reptiles and how to safely catch a bird without hurting the animal nor getting bitten by it. However, being here taught me way more than only the obvious things of animal care. For example, that it’s actually a good thing when the animals are afraid of you and sometimes even try to bite you. It indicates that they are still wild and have a better chance of getting released soon. So even though it is the first thing you want to do when you see a baby animal, it is always a bad idea to pet it. Another lesson that I had to learn here was that wild animals get stressed very easily. So it’s really important to make your interaction with the animal, whether it is cleaning the cage, making a wing wrap or performing a triage, as short as possible. Additionally, it is just an awesome experience to work with so many different people from all over the world, and to make friends at the same time who are all just as passionate as I am when it comes to wildlife.
Vera, intern from Germany, 3 months
My name is Vera and I’m an 18 year old from Germany. After finishing school I decided to come to Canada, not only to improve my English skills, but most importantly to gain experience in working with wildlife. By far, the best part about being an intern at Wild at Heart is seeing an injured or orphaned animal in our care grow healthy and strong. The opportunity to be so close to these native species, especially if they are really young, is a huge pleasure. The Centre hosts a variety of species. For this reason there were many occasions for me to experience all kinds of different tasks and skills to learn. From tiny mice and songbirds to curious raccoons and smelly skunks. I enjoyed observing them and learned a lot over the past few weeks. Even though it was hard for me to not treat the wild animals like pets, it‘s great to know that they will survive independently once released. One of my favourites are the four orphaned red squirrels which arrived here as babies. I learned how to hand-feed them with a specialized formula to replicate their natural diet. It was amazing to see how they improve and get stronger and wilder day by day. I am excited for the next two months to come!
Sabrina, intern from Germany, 1 month
My name is Sabrina and I come from Germany. The reason why I wanted to work as a volunteer at Wild at Heart Wildlife Refuge Centre was that I wanted to help the animals and make the world a better place – that’s my vision. This vision works well together with the vision of Wild at Heart, which could be summarized with the idea that wild animals get a second chance to live and will be released when they become healthy.
Mostly I like that you can work close to some animals, for instance the raccoons which are interesting for me. It is so funny when they try to use your legs like a tree and when they touch you. Additionally I loved to formula feed the little mice babies. Unfortunately two of four mice died, but all the time I had great hope in the surviving two other mice. Every morning I checked if they gained weight and smiled when they weighed one gram more than the day before. Moreover it was fun to me feeding little robins with the syringe and to see how they grow. I’ve learned many things while working here as a volunteer: I’ve learned to be strong when I see an wild animal dying, I’ve learned to hold birds and other small animals in my hand and to catch other animals like raccoons or squirrels, I’ve learned what to do with orphaned or injured animals, and much more. In summary, I have gained a lot of experience by working as a volunteer at Wild At Heart and it is a great feeling to give animals a second chance for a wild life. This won’t be my last project for helping animals! Thank you Wild at Heart for this experience!
Payton, intern from Canada, 2 months
I came to intern at Wild at Heart as a part of my program at Cambrian College and expected to gain more knowledge about human/wildlife encounters, but I learned far more than I thought I would. Not only did I learn about the do’s and don’ts when a baby or injured animal is found, but I also gained a great deal of patience. Animals in distress can bring out all kinds of emotions in people, understandably so, and working here has trained me in how to reassure and calmly guide people who call as to what the best thing to do may be. Because of this I feel more confident moving forward on to my future career (Conservation Officer) and helping both people and animals stay as safe as possible in difficult situations.
This was all made possible by the incredible individuals I was so lucky to work with and learn from, and the friendly and helpful work environment they created every day.
Yubi, intern from Japan, 5 months
First of all, I would like to thank all Wild at Heart members for having me for such a memorable and valuable 5 months. The experience I had at this Centre was what I have never had before, and it became wonderful and worthwhile in my career.
After I had worked as a veterinary technician at vet clinic for 4 years in Japan, I came to Canada to gain my experience in rehabilitating injured/orphaned wild animals. When I was in another wildlife Centre in BC for mammals, it was spring and summer time which is busy season with orphaned babies. I had taken care of many animals but then, I realized I would like to see more wild animals rather than just mammals. Here at Wild at Heart, they take mammals, birds, and reptiles.
By the time I arrived to this Centre in October, they were still bit busy with taking care of animals but lots of them were getting released before the serious winter comes. Because of the weather they get here in winter, which is deep snow and around minus 20℃ to 30℃, it could be hard for orphaned wild animals to survive over their first winter without their mother to teach them how to find their food resources or places to live.
I got to take care of some animals that were too small to release before winter or brought in to the Centre in bad shape or injured. I looked after many wild animals in different kinds of situations, followed a supervisor, senior volunteers and a vet at the Centre. For example, I worked with overwintering raccoons and squirrels, a fox with mange, an injured and orphaned moose calf, injured pigeons, raptors, little birds, turtles, etc. The most exciting thing about rehabilitating wild animals is to get them back in the wild when they are recovered and good enough to be by themselves. I loved to see the animals which I took care of getting released where they came from. There was a pine grosbeak which might have hit window and could not fly or stand properly when he came in. We applied a wing wrap and gave him painkillers. We gave him good care for a week, and then he was able to fly again so he got released by the rescuer. After 5 months of all of experience and learning, I became more confident in rehabilitating and treating wild animals.
Kathleen, intern from Canada, 5 months
I decided to do an animal care internship at Wild at Heart Wildlife Refuge in order to gain more animal care experience and to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation. I had recently completed a Master of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare from the University of Guelph and had spent the summer working with dairy cattle. I knew I wanted to continue working with animals and my internship at Wild at Heart was the perfect opportunity to continue learning.
During my internship from October to March, I had the opportunity to work closely with a variety of species of mammals, birds, and reptiles that were either sick, injured, or orphaned. I was able to utilize and build upon knowledge from my previous animal care experience. I also gained new animal handling skills such as how to properly handle raptors and I learned about several medical techniques including how to wrap injured wings and how to provide subcutaneous fluids. I practiced these new skills frequently during my internship with animals of all different sizes.
It was a great and fulfilling experience when an injured or sick animal was able to be released back to the wild. We had a fox come in to the Centre after being found by a road. It was having difficulty breathing and with the help of Walden Animal Hospital we were able to determine that it was likely due to bruising around the lungs but there was no serious damage. After providing fluids and a few days of rest the fox started to improve, and after a few days in an enclosure outside the fox was ready to be released by its rescuer.
My time at Wild at Heart allowed me to discover what is truly involved in wildlife rehabilitation, including the challenges faced with concern to both animals and people. In addition to gaining more animal care experience, I also had the opportunity to work with several volunteers from the community who were very passionate about wildlife. Additionally I was able to work and live with other interns from several other countries. My internship was a very rewarding experience I plan to use the knowledge and skills I’ve developed in a future related to animal care and welfare.
Marjolaine, intern from France, 1 month
As I was preparing my trip in Canada, I was organizing things so I could spend as much time as possible in truly wild places so I could enjoy wildlife. So I searched on the internet and found a rehabilitation centre for wildlife that accepted volunteer without experience!! Without a second thought I contacted them! After some negotiation, I was accepted there for March! I was coming from California (20°C, sun and the beach), and was going back to -19°C and snow. This was a good reminder that Canada is made for long, cold winter lovers!!
At WAH, there were 3 others volunteers and a manager that live on-site too. I had a presentation of the animals, turtles, pigeons, an eagle, a gull, a duck, a crow, a kestrel, a snowy owl, squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons. I never saw most of these animals up-close. Some of the animals were okay to be released and were just waiting for spring. The snowy owl for example has been released a few days after I arrived, so I saw the banding process that will let us know about her future adventures! Some still needed some care. I did some physio on the duck and crow (it’s unusual to do some stretching to a bird!) and cleaned a turtle’s shell with a tooth brush. Those come to the Centre because they have been hit by a car and have a cracked shell after that. So it doesn’t protect them anymore and can even break their spine as it’s attached to the shell.
The eagle and the crow were brought to the Centre after being caught by traps. The eagle has been transferred to a raptor centre because Wild At Heart does not currently have a big enough flight cage. I’ve learned a lot thanks to the other interns – now I can catch a bird without trouble, carry snapping turtles without getting hurt, see when an animal is stressed or in bad condition, and keep squirrels away when they think I’m a tree!
We also had new animals during this period, most of them were in a too bad shape for us to do anything, but some goes against the odds, like a mink that arrived in kind of a coma, without reflex or reaction after likely being hit by a car. The day after, he was awake but still inactive and didn’t move his back legs or tails. We thought maybe he had a broken spine. Then a few hours later, he’s running all around, with balance issues, but still! The vet from the clinic close to us confirmed that he had a concussion with blood pressing on the balance area in the brain, but if it was healing well, he wouldn’t have any trouble. Before I left, he was still doing okay!!
Raccoons will stay my favorites. They were so cute with their small faces and tiny hands!! I hope their releases will be fine!
Isabelle, intern from Germany, 2.5 months
After I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Event Management I decided on spending some time abroad before starting to study again in October 2016. I plan on completing a Master of Arts degree in Sustainability Management.
I wanted to do some volunteering work to use my time sensibly and to gain experience useful for my CV. I always enjoyed having animals around so I decided on volunteering in the field of animal care pretty quickly. It also appeared to be a good opportunity for me to get to know my own limitations concerning my ability to handle any kind of stress situations.
I found Wild at Heart with the help of a German organization and within a short period of time my stay at Wild at Heart was arranged. Because I lack any scientific knowledge concerning animal care I joined the team of volunteers for the time from February to April. The winter months are known to be quieter and are considered as the ‘low season’.
I really enjoyed my time at the Centre and I am thankful for the opportunity of volunteering at Wild at Heart. I could experience lots of different things including releasing animals back into the wild, working with wild animals you usually do not get to see by accident such as raccoons, foxes and bald eagles. I also saw when the animals had to be euthanized because of being too ill or injured. These moments were a real challenge sometimes because we as volunteer had to decide what to do when injured animals were brought in. Our team of volunteers always tried to do the best we could and at this point I want to emphasize how much fun it was working and living together with the other volunteers. We worked great together as a team and could learn from each other due to the fact that everyone had a different knowledge about animal care. I met awesome people at the Centre and it was great getting to know people from all over the world.
Especially when we got in 5 little baby squirrels we had to function as a team. Three of the babies have survived so far and we had to hand- feed them special formula every three hours. Thinking back on my time here I think the baby squirrels are my personal most memorable moment. It was great to see how they became healthier and stronger even when we got them in by the end of my stay so I will not be able to see them growing up and being released if everything is going well.
The most shocking thing for me to see was that most of the injured, ill, or orphaned babies and animals were brought in because of encounters with humans. If people would be more educated about wildlife or would think about the impact of their daily actions on nature and wildlife a lot of environmental issues would not be as bad or could even be solved and prevented. My time at Wild at Heart has encouraged me in my future plan to study Sustainability Management. All in all it was a rewarding, challenging and impressive experience.
Amber, intern from Canada, 1.5 months
My name is Amber and I was born and raised in Cobourg, Ontario. I went to school for environmental management with a specialization in wildlife conservation. I have always had a passion for the environment and dreamed about working with wild animals. This dream led me to volunteer my time working at Wild At Heart where I got to work with a variety of animals including raccoons, all kinds of squirrels, birds, turtles, and a porcupine that all stole my heart.
One animal that I was a restricted caregiver for was a baby porcupine, which was a big learning curve for both of us. I eventually helped it learn to recognize formula from a dish, but like the princess/prince that it is, you had to hold the dish up for it. The day the porcupine ate formula on its own and started to eat its fruits and veggies, I was a very proud momma. All the animals here and the people that work here are amazing and have taught me all so much.
Andrea, co-op student from Canada, 5 months
I decided that the best opportunity for hands-on experience that would further my knowledge to become a veterinarian would be a cooperative placement. Wild at Heart was the best place to engage with injured or abandoned animals and gain tons of knowledge with no experience, working face-to-face with each animal.
I got the opportunity to work with squirrels, raccoons, pigeons, songbirds, crows, ducks, ducklings, goslings, seagulls, and more. Some of the most enjoyable species to work with here were definitely the raccoons. Also, because I was here over the course of 5 months, I got to see them get transferred from formula to solid food and watch them grow up. I also really enjoyed the bird rooms in which I usually worked with just hatched and juvenile birds. Feeding them every 45 minutes to an hour and a half was very challenging though and a tight schedule needed to be maintained. I also really enjoyed working with the goslings. The 3 of them all had their own personality and were so creative into getting into mischief when I cleaned their area.
This co-op was very enjoyable not only because of the animals but also the interns are amazing and made the work fun. I really enjoyed my experience here and learned a lot about wildlife and animal care.
Marco, intern from Spain, 3.5 months
Hi! My name is Marco and I came all the way from Spain to complete an internship at Wild at Heart. I have always loved animals. That is why after finishing school, I volunteered in a sanctuary for orphaned bears in Croatia and a wolf sanctuary in Colorado (USA). Both wolves and bears, if kept in your backyard or fed by people, lose their fear towards humans and cannot be released into the wild. While working with those wonderful animals I wondered how, even though I knew it was not possible, it would be if they could go back into the wild. For that reason, and because I have always wanted to come to Canada, I decided to volunteer at Wild at Heart.
When I first arrived, I had the opportunity to get involve in a raccoon release. Now I know I would never forget that moment, with the last sunlight in the dawn sky, when those raccoons had the chance to go back to their home, the wild. If raccoons are one of my favorite animals at the wildlife center, the deer fawn stole my heart. I assisted during the first steps of its rehabilitation. I bottle fed him water, something I had never done before, and I witnessed the first time he stood up for himself. At Wild at Heart, I also learned how to give subcutaneous injections to birds. Giving subcutaneous injections to birds is an adventure, since you first must find the skin under the thick layer of feathers, and then grasp the thin skin and give the injection making sure that the needle does not break through the skin on the other side. After volunteering 3 and a half months at Wild at Heart, I can assure that I have gained several skills that will help me in my future career in the field of wildlife management.