On Monday, November 14, 2022, I began a one-month Animal Caregiving Internship at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, NY. You may recall that I previously volunteered here for one day last fall, during my sanctuary road trip; I spent most of the time mucking/cleaning out the cow barn, and also had the chance to meet some of the other animals. That sanctuary really made an impression on me, perhaps mainly due to the fact that I was there for several hours — but also, I just got a really great vibe from it, as the kids say these days. I’d been thinking of applying for an internship since last December, really, yet I didn’t make plans to apply until this summer. I had to make sure that my dog, Zuzu, would be all set — which she is — and that I wasn’t going to miss anything while being away. The minimum length [for the internship] is one month, and some people will do it for longer, and may do it either part-time (2 or 3 days a week) or full-time (5 days a week); yet, I didn’t want to be away from home for the entire holiday season, even though being here for Thanksgiving means I don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable situation of being a vegan surrounded by non-vegans, as well as a dead bird on the table.
I arrived in High Falls on Sunday afternoon, and my mom drove me at stayed at a local Airbnb; you see, my VW isn’t reliable enough to drive that distance, and thankfully, if I ever need to go anywhere, there are staff here with cars. I’ll be needing to go home in a couple weeks for my dad’s retirement party (on December 1st), and it looks like I’ll be taking the train to NYC and possibly driving home to Westerly with my brother and his girlfriend. Also, the staff do grocery runs on Thursdays — and other days, if needed — so, even though I brought a lot of food with me, it’s probably a good idea to stock up. I’m not a cook, so I’m a bit of a lazy vegan, as I tend to rely on frozen/pre-made meals and easy things like bagel sandwiches.
Anyway, my mom and I had an early dinner this past Sunday — I had vegan pizza! — and then I spent the rest of the evening settling into my new abode. I have my own room and bathroom, although the bathroom is attached to another room, which is (fortunately) vacant. The accommodations onsite here at the sanctuary are basic, but that’s fine. I have a bed, plenty of shelving for my clothes and such, a working shower, basic kitchen appliances, and even a space heater. I was actually pretty cold the first night, probably because there’s a draft from the outside. But, then, I found a space heater in the intern lodge and that has helped a lot. Whenever I need to warm up after being outside, I’ll just sit in my room with the space heater on full blast, with the door shut, and relax.
Day 1: Monday, November 14, 2022
Monday was my first official day as an intern, and I got started early, working 7 a.m.-3 p.m (with a lunch break). It was very cold, but fortunately I knew to dress in layers. I ended up taking off at least one layer by the end of the day, especially when the sun came out and after I’d warmed up by just being active. I know it seems like a weird time to do this, to volunteer at a place where I’d be outside so much and where it’s feeling more like winter by the day. Yet, it’s also good for me to see how sanctuaries operate in the New England area in the wintertime, assuming my own sanctuary will be in Rhode Island.
The first day, I opened, which meant I got to be one of the first people to see certain animals. I also learned how to safely go between bird areas, as they’re still dealing with the avian flu and you can’t be too careful. They do still require masks inside the medical building — basically the intern headquarters — which I wasn’t so keen on, yet I’ll obviously follow the rules.
I met and worked with so many animals on that first day alone: goats, sheep, cows, pigs, cats, turkeys, chickens, and more! I also started to do some heavy lifting, and knew I’d soon be sore (which I most certainly was). Even though I’m not a morning person, it was certainly nice to be done so early and to take that first warm shower. After finishing work, I’ll take a shower, maybe have a snack, catch up on some emails and such, have dinner while watching the news (until I decide to turn off), and then watch a couple episodes of something(s) on my iPad. There’s a TV with a Roku in the intern lodge, but as I’m not the only one living here, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to turn that on. I’ll actually have the lodge to myself at the end of my internship, which will be kind of nice (and probably not too lonely).
Day 2: Tuesday, November 15, 2022
On my second working day as an intern, I worked the later (aka closing) shift: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. It was actually nice to sleep in a bit, even though I’d gone to bed pretty early the night before. (Seriously, I think it was almost 9 p.m., which is indeed early for me). And, because I’d already been shown some things the day before, I was on my own for a bit, primarily filling up water bowls in what they call the “North” section of the sanctuary grounds. That included some chickens, geese, and ducks, all of whom are mostly OK. There’s only one rooster in that area who likes to chase after people, so there’s a trick to block him from entering the coop. It’s pretty cool getting to pet some of these guys, especially since I’m missing my avian pals back at Foster Parrots in Hope Valley, RI. Of course, with the avian flu, I needed to spray and scrub my boots in-between enclosures/areas.
I was able to take my time with those chores and still finish them before lunch; that’s one great thing about the way they operate here at Woodstock: they’re rarely in a rush and it’s a fairly relaxed, “chill” atmosphere. It helps that there are plenty of staff members, as well as year-round volunteers and interns. (However, it seems like they might be hard-pressed for interns this winter, so look into it!). Anyway, yesterday was still pretty cold, although it’s nice to be able to go into the medical building to warm up. After lunch, I helped make cow balls–the day before I’d watched fellow intern Mimi make pig balls–which are special treats for our bovine residents. I hadn’t done any baking in a while, but it was pretty easy to follow the recipe. It did feel weird to mash it up with my hands, but it’s better than touching poop (which I probably have done at some point)!
I also helped with closing, which is basically the reverse of opening, and I made friends with two of the cats — apparently there is a third who I haven’t seen yet — who live onsite. They were both on my lap, at separate times, which is something I’ve missed, as I haven’t lived with a lap cat in several years. It was also pretty cool seeing the sheep herd, who are occasionally allowed to free roam, walking around and staying (mostly) together. And, again, when work was over (at 4:30-ish) I did pretty much exactly what I’d done the day before, and enjoyed another warm shower. I didn’t end up going to bed nearly as early, despite still being tired. I knew I wouldn’t have to get up too early the following morning.
Days 3-4: Wednesday & Thursday, November 16-17, 2022
Wednesday and Thursday of the first week of my internship were my two days off; for full-time interns, you typically work 5 days and then get 2 days off (in a row). It’s like a regular work schedule, except you might work weekends. I wonder if they purposefully schedule new interns to only work two days to start, so they’re not diving right into a 5-day schedule. Regardless, the only thing I had planned for my time off was an official sanctuary tour at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Even though I was already pretty familiar with the sanctuary grounds and with the residents, it was still good to get a detailed, official tour (seriously, I don’t know how people remember all of the animals’ names!).
Mostly, though, on these days off, I relaxed in the intern lodge, worked on some writing, wrote this blog (hey!), and occasionally ventured out to say hi to some of the animals. Unfortunately, interns aren’t allowed to go into the cows’ enclosures alone, due to safety concerns, which is a big bummer; I love cows, and they’re an amazing reminder of why I’m vegan. I will, of course, follow the rules, and am happy to pet theme through the fence and while they’re in their barn eating. Sometimes, we may be allowed to accompany caregivers and/or other staff in there, although as a new-ish intern, I may not be able to do that yet.
Days 5-9: Friday-Tuesday, November 18-22
I’m clumping my 5 days in a row together, as it’s too difficult to remember exactly what I’ve done each day that I’ve worked there. This time, I worked 5 days in a row, which is typically for any job, really — but for such a labor-intensive position, it’s not easy. And, that’s one reason why I wanted to do this internship: to get a chance to see first-hand how sanctuaries operate, and how much work is involved, in order to be better prepared to start my own sanctuary. Obviously, I’m going to start much smaller (there are 400+ animals who live here), with nowhere near as much funding, yet everything I’m learning can be used towards my future sanctuary in some way or another. Plus, I’m getting stronger and getting more comfortable with things that I’d never done before, like driving a mule (golf cart-type thing).
Friday, my first day back after my two days off, I worked the later shift, starting at 8:30. It’s nice to sleep in a bit, for sure, although I think I may prefer the earlier shift, because you’re done so early. However, I’m not really a morning person, so I don’t know…anyway, on Friday, I worked with a part-time staff member, Rita, still learning a few new things here and there. Even though I’m all trained, I’ll continue to learn how to do new things (hopefully), although of course we’re always allowed to ask questions.
It has been extremely cold, and it’s especially noticeable first thing in the morning when I have to be in the med building by 7 a.m. Friday was the only day this work cycle I’ve worked the later shift, so I’ve actually gotten used to getting up early (and going to be relatively early, too). So, I wake up at 6:15, do my morning routine, have breakfast, get all bundled up, and walk as quickly a s possible over to the med building. Usually, when I’m there, there’s plenty to keep me busy, including laundry, dishes, sweeping, etc.
The last working day this cycle (Tuesday), I got to do something entirely new: observe the medical treatment of goats (and one sheep), and even assist in the treatment, where possible. The assisting mainly involved holding goats’ horns while the caregiver did what was needed — for example, cleaning a goat’s ears. Goats are quite strong, as you can imagine, although most of them are pretty gentle and friendly. As good as it is to have a routine and to know what you’re doing, it’s also useful to learn something new, especially for someone like me who’s planning to start a sanctuary (which will most likely have goats and sheep).
Fortunately, too, the weather is already warmer and most of the animals can be outside (sometimes, it’s too cold for certain animals, such as chickens, to be outside). This is why it’s great to dress in layers, because I can easily take things off that I don’t need, which I often end up doing. Sometimes, too, I’ll change when I take my lunch break (in the lodge), especially if my clothes are extra dirty and/or wet — a common occurrence.