Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter volunteers Nicole, Brooke and Ludmila.                                Nicole Lischewski photo

Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter volunteers Nicole, Brooke and Ludmila. Nicole Lischewski photo

Saying goodbye to bears and people

In her last column, Nicole says she felt lucky volunteering at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter.

How to say goodbye to the animals I’ve lived, breathed and dreamed for almost 10 months? It’s been a time so intense, uplifting and heart-wrenching that I almost feel as if the little orphans ate me up and spat me out again in a different shape.

I’ve never done work before where I cried so much — tears of sadness, happiness, exhaustion and frustration. The worst was when the animals cried as well: bear cubs, deer fawns and moose calves calling for their mom, injured animals crying out in pain.

With each little orphan I wished there was a way to let its mother know that her baby was safe now, that we would do our very best as foster moms, and that her little ones are loved. You find yourself wishing for a lot of impossible things.

But there is something that was better than anything I could have wished for: my co-volunteers Ludmila and Brooke. We were such an awesome team. In our volunteer world of sorting through run-off produce, keeping track of the consistency of animal poop, and keeping the feed kitchen clean, we came to see humour in completely unfunny things. We didn’t just wash the floor, we blessed it in a daily ritual with detergent. Undoing the rubber bands and twist ties around interminable bundles of radishes turned into unpacking greetings from our queendom, the big agribusiness farm that produces them. We were there for each other as much as we were there for our animals.

Wildlife rehab takes you outside your comfort zone, pushes you to your limits and sometimes beyond them. Being allowed to share in so many intimate moments of their lives was a humbling experience; the most poignant being how these animals have managed to overcome sometimes horrific trauma and eventually embraced the good things in life again.

In wildlife rehab, we let the animals go. Setting free who I have come to love is tough, it’s like tearing a little piece of my heart out and sending it afloat. But at the same time it feels like I have become part of something much bigger.

I am lucky to have had these experiences, and even more lucky to have had such incredible people to share them with. Thank you Brooke and Ludmila, for the jokes and laughter, for letting me drone on and on about my favourite bears, and for letting me sleep. I love you guys.