Many years ago I started my Marin Humane journey as a volunteer adoption counselor, but when an opening came up for an Animal Care Technician position, I jumped on the application. I was always so impressed watching the ACTs. They walked around in their Wellington boots (for cleaning), they administered meds, and they were very hands on with the animals. I begged for the job.
I had to train full time for two weeks. Having always had a desk job, I had never worked so hard physically in my life. After wrangling heavy hoses every day, I could barely open my hands at night. Eventually my hands (and me) got used to it. My arms and legs were tired and sore from moving all day long. I jokingly (sort of) called the kennel kitchen my office.
Theresa’s Munchy Wagon would arrive on campus daily at around 11:00am. All of us would go get food, or else trek across the freeway for curly fries. We needed food to keep us going! I was slim then, too. No such thing as an out of shape ACT.
It was expected that I take a barn shift periodically. Some of the things I was asked to do were totally foreign to me. Put a pig in a crate?! By myself??!! You can believe that took a while, the pig being very heavy and extremely stubborn. But, I did it!
If you have never been butted by a billy goat, I don’t recommend it. Going into the barn to clean I would hold a broom in front of me to fend him off, but if I glanced away even for a second he would get me. Boy did it hurt.
Another time, I was told that our peacock was being adopted and the adopter was driving her car to the back; I was to put the peacock in her car. I’m sorry, WHAT??? Have you ever seen a peacock’s feet??? Let’s just say they’re scary. I was told, “Just get a blanket and throw it on the peacock, wrap it up and then pick him up and put him the car.” Right. But, I did it. Unfortunately, there was a hole in the blanket. As the peacock worked his head up and through the hole I held onto him, scurrying to the car and…fortunately, made it just in time. In the peacock went to the back of the station wagon. I can only assume he got home safely.
Part of the job was to be able to administer euthanasia. I really resisted that part, always feeling like others could do a better job than I. And of course, it made me too sad. Over time, however, I realized what a kindness we provided. So, I became willing to perform that kindness. I still give thanks to Kim Lanham Snyder, who taught us how to be kind and gentle while doing that service.
Some days, especially in the summer, it seemed like things would never stop. Tiny newborns coming in, people surrendering their pets, euthanasia requests, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. But caring for tiny neonate kittens without their mother, and little feral kittens that would spit and hiss at 3 weeks old, and old dogs coming in as strays, or even worse – surrendered by their owners, all of it was enough to keep us working harder to help the animals.
I was only bitten three times: once by a rat, then a snake, and then a cat. In defense of the cat, I wasn’t paying attention to her signals. I felt very proud on any day I was asked to move a fractious cat, or get a big dog in or out of the kennel, as my handling skills had become quite good. Our paddock and barn were occasionally full of goats (that’s another story); I even learned to milk them. My dream had come true.
We used to have a day of remembrance for the animals we had lost. We all gathered on the lawn and shared our feelings. Sumner Fowler planted the tree that’s in front of the barn. Over the years it has grown big and strong and it produces beautiful flowers in the spring. After we all had a good cry for the ones we couldn’t save, we went back to work to help the ones we could.
Being an ACT taught me a lot about myself, that I could do more than I thought and that I was stronger than I imagined. And I learned that, to me, there is no greater pleasure than being able to help an animal who is vulnerable and has no voice to become healthy and strong and go to a forever home.
I call my job as an Animal Care Tech my “love job.” It is the hardest job I ever had, and also the best, the one I loved the most.