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So, What’s in Your Refrigerator?
Some of the tasty treats our patients crave.
By Regina Hall, Shelter Volunteer
A number of years ago, I read a magazine article about a survey of career-minded adults. The survey participants said they would rather reveal their annual salaries than confess the contents of their refrigerators. Why? Along with the embarrassment of questionable cleanliness, there were the actual food choices – the junk food, the unhealthy snacks, and the vegetables left rotting in the veggie bin.
From my observations, that’s not the case in the Shelter’s refrigerators. There, scheduled cleanings ensure proper sanitation. And our food items are full of essential nutrients, designed for a variety of animals.
The contents on a typical day can tempt all palates from carnivores to herbivores and any degree in between. Along with easily identifiable items that you’d find in your own refrigerator (fruits, vegetables, resealed cans of pet food, pediatric electrolyte replacement drink, and meal-replacement type beverages) are items ranging from the unusual to the exotic. We offer each species a wide variety of foods in hopes that the animal will recognize the same variety of food when it goes foraging on its own after release.
“Has anyone seen the bag of (freeze-dried) crickets?” one volunteer calls out as our guests' diets are prepared. “Are you done with the mealworms? I’ll put them back in the fridge for you if you are.” (The mealworms are alive. They live in large bins with bedding material and are fed raw potato slices.) The Shelter also has a colony of red worms that are kept in an outside bin. But those, as well as the dry food and freezer storage, are another story.
While searching for the bag of pine nuts, a human “gourmet’ food that is also favored by squirrels, chipmunks, and other woodland creatures, I mindlessly moved aside some other clear, plastic bags, not initially recognizing their contents. After I returned them to their respective places, I noticed a thawing lab rat and some mice. They’d been euthanized and frozen for storage. These are food for the owls, hawks, and falcons. Depending on their feeding schedule and the number of raptors in the Shelter, there can also be thawing chicks or quail. The prey is also dusted with a powdered vitamin formula (also kept in the fridge) that rounds out the raptors’ nutrient intake.
Don’t forget the variety of fish eaters, namely aquatic birds, raccoons and a recent guest, a mink, all of whom eat thawed smelt from the fridge, and seem to especially savor salmon scraps when available. Various formulas from this past “baby season” that fed newborn raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and opossums have taken up shelf space, too.
As my fellow volunteers and I prepare and measure out the more exotic diet ingredients (crickets, mealworms, rat and mice), I’m reminded of verses from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 1) where the witches recite:
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing…”
Except we use our exotic ingredients not to cast spells, but to nourish and help heal, which can be viewed as a kind of magic of its own.
Once the food is served to our animal guests, we carefully monitor the amounts they consume. Interest in eating and tolerance of food are major health indicators. Unfortunately, none of us is a “Dr. Dolittle,” who is able to talk to animals and determine their state of their health from the symptoms they tell us about. So, we rely on observations -- daily weighing (if warranted), observation of food scraps, and observation of eliminations. These are documented on the animals’ charts as well as any unusual behaviors. These factors all can help determine our guests’ degree of well-being.
Unlike some of our own home refrigerators, the contents of the ones at the Shelter do not include junk food or anything past its expiration date. We only have items that promote health, healing and growth, all chosen to promote our guests’ good health, contributing to their eventual release back to the wild. For volunteers, it’s a great feeling to be a part of this endeavor.