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Growing Through Volunteering



Mary Artino, MSW
– Healing Care Hospice Social Worker



I have been volunteering at International Bird Rescue, in San Pedro, for five years. My journey to IBR evolved from a love for pelicans, going out to photograph them and discovering a Blue Banded Pelican.

It never occurred to me that I would ever be able to touch a pelican, much less provide much of the care needed for one that had been injured or oiled. I ran toward the opportunity to volunteer, knowing that I have an incredibly strong gag reflex and I’m not much help around bodily fluids. My love for pelicans, however, far exceeded my fears, and I figured it could help me to push through my perceived limits of tolerance. I was right.

I started thinking about exploring things that make me uncomfortable, and I learned that it is okay to pursue something even if it makes me feel very uncomfortable, in fact, I can even push myself through it.

IBR is an organization that exists to mitigate the negative impact of human beings on aquatic birds. It is an organization that is made up of many professional wildlife rehabbers and more volunteers than staff. I have loved every minute I have spent at IBR, because the results of my efforts make a tangible difference in the lives of the birds and the wonderful staff.

Bird contact consists of netting all sizes of birds in aquatic aviaries, water fowl pens or pools, wrapping them in sheets or towels for safely carrying them into the rooms where we weigh, take blood, clean and dress wounds and then return them to the appropriate location for medications and water contact.

The entire time I am there I am battling my fears, will I get bit by a western gull, or get pelican pouch lice? (They can’t live outside a pelican’s pouch, but the feeling of finding one on your arm is absolutely creepy.) I am so afraid I might accidentally hurt a bird when I am taking blood, or cause them to feel pain.

By the end of the day, I am exhilarated because I helped the staff and some birds, I survived being vomited on, eluded pelican lice and tolerated a bird defecating on me. I made batches of compounded medications and cleaned surgical instruments and even repaired some damaged nets!

What all of this tells me, is that giving a bird love is more important than my fears. What the fear is, is trivial compared to the reward of holding a pelican; the joy of seeing their feathers return from the matted oiled crust to come alive before my eyes…that is simply a miracle! So, what I am learning is that fears need to be examined for different issues, such as realism, the potential for danger, and/or, the potential for growth. These are very different issues and worth taking the time to ponder.

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