The term labor of love is overused, but when love’s labor makes you lose your job, there is no other cliché better suited to describe the passion. This is the case of Tracie Young, who sheltered wounded animals in her car, returning to the parking garage to feed and nurse the animals back to health during the workday.
“I always had a love for animals,” says Tracie, sitting under a beautiful pergola at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center. It’s a moderate day, nice enough to sit outside and hear her story. Her love for animals is an understatement.
Tracie, now one of 31 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the state, has devoted her life to animals. The most recent chapter started with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
“It was just heart wrenching, so I wanted to do something,” says Tracie, who reached out to organizations helping with animal cleanup—but her help was denied because she wasn’t licensed.
“I was willing to drop everything and go help those animals and I couldn’t. So, I started doing my research,” says Tracie.
She started talking with the people at Red Creek Wildlife Center in Schuylkill Haven, PA and began classes in 2013. She volunteered at the center. She realized there was a need for a center in Lancaster County, so she started Raven Ridge, the only non-profit wildlife center in the area.
Raven Ridge officially opened on January 1, 2015. During the first ten months of operation, the center took in 850 animals, from groundhogs to geese, even some rare animals like the mink rehabilitating here today. The state licensed facility is one of only 13 certified to handle rabies vector species, like raccoons, bats, and skunks. These are all animals that have been either injured, perhaps by a car, or orphaned for some reason or another.
“We accept primarily mammals, bunnies, and squirrels. At one point last year, we had 80 squirrels,” she says.
Most of the time, Raven Ridge operates at capacity. Without any federal, state, or local funding, the center relies on donations, both monetary and in goods. Most of the money donated to the center goes toward food and veterinarian bills.
“We have no corporate sponsors. The only way we are able to do this is by donations from the public. We are a public service,” says Tracie. “Last year we got six baby groundhogs. They were on formula, but when they started eating food we went through more than $100 a day.”
In some cases, Tracie and her staff of volunteers get a cast-off pet, like Tapioca the skunk. Tapioca is the center’s education skunk. Skunks are also Tracie’s favorite animal, but she warns that nocturnal animals do not make great pets. They have weak eyesight and rely on sense of smell. Tapioca turned her previous owner’s home furniture into shreds and raided the refrigerator every chance she had. Safe in the proper confines of Raven Ridge, Tapioca visits schools and youth groups as an ambassador of education.
The job can be fun, the care and compassion are rewarding, but dealing with injured and helpless animals all day long, every day of the year can be taxing.
“There’s a term called compassion fatigue,” says Tracie, who hasn’t had a day away from the center since it opened. “You don’t know what is going to be coming in. You don’t know what is going to need your help. But, once it is in your system, it is love and dedication.”
After the interview, Tracie leads me around the grounds. There’s a comfy place where turtles hang out. We coaxed the mink out of hiding. I struggled seeing a groundhog with neurological problems after being a victim of a car accident. I also got to see where the magic happens.
Inside a cramped, sterile building, surgical supplies were neatly stacked and organized. Boxes of rubber gloves hung next to charts outlining each animal’s daily routine and care. I bet if the animals who passed through these doors could talk, they’d want to first say thank you to Tracie and her staff. I know I do. And all I did was meet her for an interview.
To learn more about Raven Ridge or make a donation visit www.ravenridgewildlifecenter.com