Sunday, November 20, 2011

Winterizing the Animals

Pacific Science Center is a great place to spend a cold, blustery winter day. But once in a while, the weather becomes so bad that travel is not advised. During that past few winters, we have had at least one day each year when unsafe road conditions lead PSC to make the tough decision to remain closed. And while some exhibits can simply be turned on and off, the animals that live here need a little more care.

Pacific Science Center’s policy of alternative service helps us recruit a core group of emergency helpers. Every full time staff member must work 40 hours per year in some department other than their own. This helps departments understand each other’s work better and allows people to pitch in where help is needed most. In the case of snow coverage, we are looking for a very special group. These folks must live near enough to Pacific Science Center that they could safely walk in during a snow storm. They must also be comfortable working alone, must have a deep love of animals, and must show great attention to detail. A handful met all our criteria and began training.

Our animal care program has two main goals. One is to educate. For this, our animals must look their best, and be in surroundings that help our guests observe, wonder, and ask questions. The other, more basic, is to keep the animals themselves happy. On days when we are closed, we focus on meeting the life needs of the animals. We also want to ensure that caretakers who are trudging through the snow can finish with plenty of daylight to make a safe journey home.

In training these emergency caretakers, we covered some basic but important tasks; feeding the tide pool, releasing butterflies, feeding naked mole-rats, and ensuring that every animal is safe, happy and secure. The most likely problems that an emergency caretaker might encounter are low cage temperatures, empty water dishes, and perhaps an animal that finished off its food faster than we expected.

However, in Animal Care, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected. These folks will be working on their own and may encounter all kinds of unexpected situations. Help is only a phone call away, but only in the form of coaching and advice. We have full confidence that each of these new trainees will give the animals great care, and in return, we hope we give them an experience outside their daily job duties. Perhaps a few of them will even earn themselves a ballad.

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