The smell was one of a unique bouquet of odors smooshed together to create something that truly had to be experienced to be appreciated. The odor was a combination of dry dog food that had been moistened, raccoon fur, some type of baby formula, warm air stirred up by bodies, dish soap, special cleaning solution, and poop, of course, all mixed into one, quickly filling my nose only to settle into my sinus cavity for a good long while.
The floor being wet with a thin slurry I stepped carefully to the patient book and picked out a cage to attend to. "Ah, this looks good". I looked around for the cage number on the kennels. I inserted myself among the already busy volunteers in the increasingly narrowing path to become one of the busily working bodies engaged with their tasks. The counters were stacked 3 high with kennels filled with baby raccoon, under the counter were kennels with baby raccoon, outside were baby raccoon and older raccoon. Taking a deep breath and attempting to center myself I proceeded to search for my kennel.
It was hard not to ignore the din, it was well, not a din at all. It was not a din like a usual cafeteria din. It was a cacophony of screeches and yelling, baying and chattering, cries of needy babies thinking they were starving needing to be next, PLEASE! that, along with a subtle undertone of the loving workers talking to each other, was like a punk rock band playing its emotional gig in a extra large closet. It took over your heart before your ears, however. It was a cry of need and the scurry of helpers.
Ah ha! There it was. There were my "desperate" three. I opened it up and immediately 3 fur balls charged for me. I slammed it shut! (of course careful not to pinch any little fingers) Hmm, that's not going to work. I can only feed one at a time how am I going to do this? Think think think. Okay, I need to put 2 in the holding tub and keep one in the kennel. Then I will hold that one while I clean the kennel. That sounds easy enough.
How can I describe "simply" putting two baby raccoon in a holding bin and shutting the lid without pinching little fingers, toes, legs, heads, and any other body part. I put them on the bottom of the tub and proceed to swiftly shut the lid. One is half way out. "No, no. Get back in there." I pick him up and the second one is basically out. I am smiling and giggling to myself. There is no one to ask for help, everyone else is doing the same thing. This dance goes on a few more times until I hatch another plan. I secure most of the lid only exposing a corner open. With the two babies in my arm I lift the loose corner of the lid with one hand I tuck one baby raccoon in, then another. Plucking their fingers off the edge, I make sure I see both on the bottom and shut the lid. OK, that's done. That wasn't so easy. Now to start feeding the first baby raccoon.
I prepare the formula and put it in the bottle. I get myself set up and take out the one baby left in the kennel. He wraps his little arms around my arm and looks up at me. How absolutely adorable. While he hangs on, I change the bedding in the kennel so it is fresh for the 3 little rascals when they are all done eating, to rest and sleep for the night.
I bring the baby over to the counter area where I am going to feed him. He eagerly takes the bottle. Watching him, my heart just melts. By this time I have totally forgotten about all I had to do to get to this point. Time didn't mean anything to me then.
Soon, however, I am slowly rustled out of my mommy feeding baby moment by something taping on my apron. I look down and see four paws reaching out desperately trying to grab a hold of my plastic apron. What? what is that? Oh, that is right, there are babies under the counter too. Right in front of me, is a kennel with 2 babies. Four little arms desperately reaching out, over and over again they reach for me, tap, tap, tap, scruff, scruff, scruff, scratch, scratch, scratch. I move a bit here and there so they can't get a piece of plastic to accidentally chew on. Whoa! I try not to slip in the slurry. Remember to watch out for that.
As the first baby finishes up his bottle and I clean off his little chin and fingers, I put him back into the kennel with his happy fat belly and his many fingers and toes and all four arms. He is quiet. Now only 2 more to go until my next kennel.
I don't remember how many baby raccoon I fed that evening. I do however, remember that a baby was screaming in my right ear, 5 inches away from my head the entire time. I remembered it smelled, I remembered slipping, a lot. I remembered the busyness of the room, and the close quarters. But most of all I remember what I thought and the words I spoke the moment I left the room that night. The words I said before I stripped off all my protective gear and washed up..."This is God's work" and that it is.