Surviving Week One at the Refuge
Apr 20, 2008
|We’ve been asked by a few folks to talk about what this workamping stint entails. So I thought I would expound on that. First, let me say that our time commitment here is 25 hours per week per couple combined. So that’s only 12.5 hours for each of us. The schedule is everyone works all day Tuesday, but excluding a 30 minute break and a 60 minute lunch, it comes to about 6-7 hours each. So that’s half our required time. Then we are scheduled for two other days during the week, usually consecutive, so that the time off is consecutive as well. On those two days, we perform Animal Care in the morning from about 8:00-9:30, and again in the evening from 5:00 to 6:30.
For the 25 hours we give, we get a free site, including utilities, electric being an allowance of $25 every two weeks. Now you might say, it’s not worth much, since the cost to stay here for a non-workamper is $50 per week. But they only have six sites, so the availability of an inexpensive site here as a visitor is minimal, as most are usually filled by workampers.
The way we look at it is that the value to us is what our average campground expenses are, since if we weren’t here, we would be elsewhere paying our average nightly cost. For the first 3 months of 2008, that is $20. For the year 2007, it was $28. So that’s kind of how we assess the value of a free site, not necessarily what that particular site would cost. The bonus to me was the opportunity to love and cuddle 30 cats a day. Ok, maybe 15 cats a day, since the other 15 spend most of their time eluding the touch of strangers. But every day we interact with them, more and more of them come around to be petted and brushed.
The routine AM and PM Animal Care is pretty easy. Mostly it involves feeding, watering and walking the dogs, feeding and watering the cats, and poop scooping of both. There are also the birds (white doves, ring-necked doves), the 3 peacocks, the chickens and the guinea pigs, but we haven’t yet done the routine care of those. Feeding the chickens and guinea pigs involves chopping and distributing vegetables (donations of fresh produce past their prime are obtained from the local grocery store three times a week), filling the dry pellet dishes and the alfalfa baskets, and making sure everyone has fresh water. It also involves collecting eggs from the chickens and the doves, lest the population increases.
Funny thing, while taking the eggs from the chickens is routine and does not cause them any stress, apparently collecting the eggs from the doves is a little trickier. In order to fool the doves, the eggs are replaced with pecans for them to sit on.
So after working all day on Tuesday, and learning a lot about the operation of this place, we had two welcome days off in a row. We weren’t on the schedule again until Friday and Saturday. However, the trade-off of that relaxing schedule was the extra work involved in a Saturday shift. Saturdays are Deep Cleaning days. We had an easy day Friday, since we spent it in the Cat House. Being a long time cat owner, I’m used to litter box scooping. Feeding and watering are a no-brainer.
Saturday, however, was a little more challenging. Again, we started at the Cat House. There are no cages here. (In fact, you are penalized if you even use that word, $0.25 into the jar if you do. We have pens here at Desert Haven, not cages. Even the dogs are housed two or three together in large free-roaming enclosures, with shelters and play areas.) The Cat House is a series of rooms and patios enclosed entirely by open air walls of chicken wire. It’s a beautiful natural environment of trees, rocks, plants along with wooden boxes, some very enclosed with just holes to crawl into, some like big cubes stacked up and sideways. Everything is painted in bright colors, and there are lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide and play in. Many of these areas are padded with an assortment of towels, blankets, crocheted pads, even pieces of cut-up furry bathrobes. It’s quite a patchwork of color and comfort.
But cats being what they are, some don’t always like to use the litter box. So what we add to cat care on Deep Cleaning day is checking for soiled bedding. Besides the obvious signs like poop dried on it, or the tell-tale outline of urine, the only way to make sure you get it all is to smell every piece of bedding, removing for laundering and replacing with clean ones. Fred could never do this job, since his nose has lost a lot of its function. Mine on the other hand is ultra-sensitive. So guess who got that job!
I still didn’t mind the work, as again we got to spend a lot of time cuddling the kitties, more of whom have gotten used to us, and compete for attention. In fact, this job was a piece of cake compared to Deep Cleaning of the guinea pig pens which we did next. The males are housed separately from the females for obvious reasons, although their pens are separated only by chicken wire, so they are all in the same area. And each guinea pig pen also has a chicken and rooster for companions.
Funny story about the guinea pigs is that just as the original generation of guinea pigs was coming to the end of their natural life, someone accidentally put a male into the female pen, where he happily partied for about a week until they discovered all the pregnant females. Unfortunately, some of those females were so old they died in childbirth, along with some stillbirths, and some babies who died shortly after they were born. As much as they would have liked the whole guinea pig population to eventually “go gently into that good night”, it was a sad time for the refuge.
But back to DC duty in the guinea pig pens, it was one job I could have done without: sweeping and shoveling the soiled straw, scraping the residue that stuck to the bricks, washing out the pipes they like to hide and play in. I’m publishing a picture of me, broom in hand, but unfortunately by the time the picture was taken, the floor looks pretty clean and you have no idea what a mess it was before. Maybe next week before we do the cleaning, I’ll take “before” picture for you.
The guinea pigs are cute though. They are much bigger than any I have ever seen, and some of them are long-haired, including one they named “Elvis” because of the way his hair protrudes over his face. I haven’t tried holding or cuddling any of them, and I’m not sure if I will. So far, cute at a distance, works for me.
So that is my take on working at the refuge. Fred’s opinions are a bit different. Basically it comes down to this:
1. Why spend time, space and money on chickens, doves, and guinea pigs? They could take in more dogs and cats that must be turned away due to resource limitations.
2. This is such a small refuge; it’s like a drop in the bucket. You are helping so few animals, why even bother?
3. At times, it’s a chaotic environment, kind of like the Keystone cops. Who’s in charge, and what exactly are we trying to do?
4. It’s a Utopian environment and mindset. Fred thinks their priorities should be: first, caring for the unwanted and abandoned animals; second, placement of these animals in permanent homes. Instead, he thinks they’re in their own little world, feeding the chickens and petting the doves. And they don't do enough on adoption/placement.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Obviously I’m enjoying this experience way more than Fred, but that doesn’t mean Fred isn’t having fun too. He is. I am much luckier in that respect than one of the other ladies here, like Judy. They call her Judy #2 to distinguish her from Judy #1 who has been here longer. Coincidentally, both Judy’s are originally from Wisconsin. How’s that for a small world.
Judy #2 arrived here a week ago Friday, intending to stay for the weekend, just wanting to see what the place was all about. They are new to fulltiming and need to go back to Wisconsin to sell her parent’s farm in Rhinelander. Their new (purchased a month ago) toad, a Ford truck, has had some problems with the 4-wheel disconnect and they have been grounded here while they try to get it fixed. Her husband, David, has no interest in being here or working at the refuge. We never see him, even when he’s not at the dealer in Las Cruces, he doesn’t participate and would rather be gone from here. Judy, on the other hand, secretly rejoices in her extended stay, and happily puts in some time every day. She’s a neat lady. And once we arrived this past Monday, to officially workamp for two weeks, we displaced them from their hook-up site, and they are drycamping here. Poor David. No wonder he’s not a happy camper.
What we are finding is that we don’t seem to like the New Mexico desert the way we did Arizona, but we don’t exactly know why. We’re still trying to figure that out. This past Wednesday, we visited Elephant Butte Lake State Park, 10 miles north, but were not impressed. Last year I had identified it as a possible place to camp, but after visiting it, we didn’t find any compelling reason to return.
The wind here has been unrelenting. Every day but one, we have had gale force winds. Will they ever end? The temperatures have been mostly pleasant except for one night when it dipped to 34, and we woke up to 45 degrees inside the coach because our space heaters are stored in the underneath storage and we didn’t put the furnace on. Brrrrrr.
One day, I meandered around town on my own, and found some quirky things to take pictures of. Truth or Consequences (or “T or C” as the locals call it) used to be called Hot Springs, as it sits over hot artesian springs. There are still hotel/motels that offer hot springs spa treatments, as well as some RV parks that advertise the presence of the springs, but to look at them, well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to stay there.
The city changed its name in 1950, after Ralph Edwards, host of a popular radio show of the same name, vowed to do his show from the first city that would change its name. Edwards returned to T or C the first weekend in May for the next 50 years. The city still holds a celebration called Fiesta on that weekend. T or C is also now the home of the original Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the replica of the permanent memorial located in Washington D.C., located at a newly built Veteran’s Memorial Park located next door to the New Mexico Veterans Center.
Although a poor city, in a poor county, in a poor state, there is a comfortable ambiance to the place. My favorite place to visit in T or C is Little Sprout, a natural, organic foods market and deli. There are no major supermarket chains here, but the grocery store is more than adequate. There’s even a Dairy Queen (ice cream being my weakness) on the north end of town.
So that’s been our week so far at the refuge. We’re enjoying our Sunday off, and will be off again tomorrow. We plan to visit Caballo State Park and Percha Dam State Park, just 15 and 20 miles south of here tomorrow. There’s supposed to be some birding opportunities there. We did see one new bird here so far, a Western Kingbird. Hopefully, we’ll see more before we leave.