Last Wednesday night, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge held a party it holds twice a year, to say hello to a new crop of interns and goodbye to the group heading out the door.
The new arrivals are full of curiosity and amazement. Their voices betray their excitement, their conversations buzz. They gather around the room in clumps, talking rapidly, new interns who have bonded with their fellow newbies, old timers who are watching remembering what it was like when they first arrived. And the few who have chosen to re-apply and stay over another half year.
Those going on from here to further endeavors – work in refuges like this one, zoos, even sometimes continuing their formal educations, like veterinary-student-to-be Kristen Thomas – also show their excitement, but with them it is a different animal, a different sort of thing than they felt six months earlier, more or a year (often interns return for one or more additional six-month internships here).
They are excited because after six months they know how amazing this work can be; and they understand, in ways they never have before, the importance, the vital urgency, of this work.
After a attractive meal of pulled pork BBQ prepared by TCWR staffer and chef Victor Smith, each graduating intern stood up to say a few (or several) words about their experiences here, thanks to their mentors and words of advice to their replacements.
Noah Schnur, one of the few interns who reapplied and is here for another round of internship, urged his new fellow interns to take nothing for granted about their upcoming experiences. “Never stop learning and paying attention,” he said. “Good days and bad, this is the best job you’ll ever have.”
A fresh new intern, Stephanie Sandy of Horsham, Penn., outside Philadelphia, is taken aback by Northwest Arkansas. “I’m a city girl,” she told the others gathered. “I didn’t even know I’d be in the mountains down here!”
The most common theme of all those leaving to those arriving was simple: “Please take care of our cats.”
“Everybody has their own favorite cat and gets attached,” said TCWR Vice-President Scott Smith. “And in fact, I always tell them, some people are more animal-people than people-people, so make sure you don’t let your personal likes and dislikes affect your goals and aspirations in coming here. It’s all about the cats.”
The new interns have just finished their two-week training and will be at Turpentine Creek for the next six months.