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When I started at the petting zoo, a week after the interview, it was pre season. The place was in pretty good shape. The cages and pens and fencing were sturdy and there wasn't any debris around. There were no signs of overt neglect.

A few goats didn't look so great and the whole herd needed their hooves clipped. The fox seemed neurotic. He was submissive and would roll on his back when I came into his cage then he'd get up and circle around and around like he was chasing his tail then lie back down again belly up. He whimpered alot and he would lick my hand. Overall, the animals in residence seemed physically healthy but I got the sense they were all incredibly depressed.

There was an angry red tailed hawk that went for my head a few times when I cleaned his cage. Which brings us to the subject of feeding carnivores. The meat eaters were: a mountain lion, a mountain lioness, a tiger, an owl, the fox and the red winged hawk. for a week or so I didn't actually go get the food from the freezer. Melissa, the year round zookeeper I would theoretically replace, would set me up with the chow and I'd just put it in the cages. Melissa and I alternated with the lower zoo keeping duties because it had the cats. Feeding them wasnt a task fitting for 11 year olds. ( Although allowing just that brought about the demise of the zoo)

The zoo was divvied up into 2 sections. The naming of those sections was dictated by geography- up top was up the hill- lower was down the hill) Up top, near the barn and the paddock, there was a freestanding walk-in ice freezer. It was the kind that used to be outside every liquor store, gas station and campground with the chilly blue icicle lettering that said "ICE". That was where the meat was kept. I had been feeding the cats and birds for a couple weeks and I imagined that the freezer held only what I had been feeding them: squirrels and 10 pound frozen logs of very roughly ground "red meat".

The squirrels were creepy but manageably so since they were frozen when I handled them. They were in GLAD sandwich baggies. Im not sure how they were procured. I never examined them too closely. If they were shot there was no sign of it- I ws told they were donated by a neighbor who didn't like squirrels.

I had to chop them in 1/2 with an ax. the owl preferred the head end and the red tailed hawk ate the butt end and left us the tail to clean up the next day. It didn't seem like enough food to me but they weren't exactly burning alot of calories. The cats and the fox were fed segments of the10 lb logs. The fox got about a pound and the cats got 5 pounds each .When I asked Melissa what the meat was she wouldn't tell me. she said, "It might upset you . youčre better off not knowing. Just think of it as red meat"

My first day alone on lower zoo duty, I went over to the walk in and heaved open the door. It was about 5 feet deep and 5 feet wide. It was dark. There wasn't any light except the sun that reached in from the open door. I couldn't step in. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was just a huge confusing tangle of frozen animals. No orderly stacks of meat logs. No simple sack of glad wrapped squirrels.

It was a ghastly tangle of limbs and bodies and hooves. Deer eyes stared blankly. there were a few calves and a goat , and a sheep. I couldn't even make it all out . The thing was chock full of dead animals. A disturbing sight. I reached around the hooves and heads and found the meat logs (the box said "100% horse meat". Not so bad compared to this sight...). I located the trash bag with the squirrels. I grabbed what I needed trying no to upset the frozen jumble. I really didn't want to end up in an avalanche of full grown animals.

I slammed the door shut barely missing a hoof. It was a beautiful morning in late April the sun was warm and all the animals were snorting and chattering in their cages waiting for their breakfast.

The free birds in the trees were singing, and the free squirrels in the woods were skipping around. I wondered what those free animals thought of it all. I grabbed the ax and headed down. (too be continued)

More jobs than I can name
True stories of Work
3.13.01 gold
7.07.01 deckhand
8.15.01 shuck
10.13.01 petting zoo
          petting zoo II
          petting zoo III
8.28.02 blueberry logic
8.29.02 cranberry bogs

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