Best Time I’ve Had Shoveling Poop!

29 Dec

No really, it was awesome! For this round of volunteering, I was with the Animal Department at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. It took a little while to get going, but once I was in it was awesome. Where else can you see a donkey roll in the dirt, watch potbelly pigs solve problems and work with the most passionate people around?

My days started off bright and early. While the traffic was usually snarled in the morning, the drive home at noon was mercifully traffic-free.

Kristen, the Lead Keeper and Volunteer Coordinator, met me out front with a cheery face. Coffee-less, I was still working on waking up. On my first day there were two possums cruising around, but I was only able to catch a butt before it vanished. Kristen introduced me to Jill, who I spent most of my time with, and Kent, the surly 14-year vet, and we were off to the farmyard.

Check out the video, to see some things I learned while I was there.

I loved the work, but I’m also a bit of a weirdo that loves manual labor. I volunteered a few more times and even though one was in the rain, they were all amazing experiences. There was a huge sense of accomplishment and importance when you contribute to one of the animal’s well being by giving them a clean stall to call home. If you have any reservations about the work let me say this, it’s not hard, but it’s not easy either. There are always other people with you (staffers and other volunteers) so there’s a helping hand anytime you need it. I highly recommend it for the person who’s looking for a more hands-on volunteer experience.

Interview with Jill and Kristen

First thing I learned about Jill and Kristen is they both got into the work for the love of animals. Kristen started off as a volunteer and eight year later is now the Lead Keeper for the Animal Department. Jill took what I’d guess is a non-traditional path to the Animal Department. After completing law enforcement training, she decided to take her career in a different direction and has been a Keeper for the past five years.

Many hats, one person. That’s Kristen’s favorite part about the job “The variety of things we get to do in a day. Some days you’re working in the farmyard. Some days you’re inside working with the owls and possums.” She goes on to say “You get a little landscape technician, educator, and animal keeper. You get a little bit of everything each week.” For Jill, her favorite part comes down to the animals, “…being able to work with the animals so closely.”

So do they have a favorite animal? This was akin to asking Kristen to pick a favorite son or daughter. She says, “I have my favorites on specific days, but it’s impossible to pick (an overall) favorite.” Jill also had a hard time picking just one favorite animal, but she did have some she liked working with. “Probably the birds and pigs. We have raptors, owls and hawks, not many people can see them up close and I’m one of the ones that get to take them out on programs to show people (these birds). The pigs are like big dogs. They’re easy to train and have a lot of personality.”

So what about tough days? They both mentioned the weather, because the animals need to be taken care of whether it’s 100 degrees or snowing. I got a little taste of this on my first day when it rained on us pretty much nonstop. Jill added a little more about the tougher parts of the job, one that I’m sure hits home for every Keeper and animal lover. “Losing an animal, if an animal has to be put down, is probably one of the hardest parts of the job. When I first started I’d cry a lot when one of the animals died, it’s gotten a little bit easier five years later.”

They both want the public to know that it’s a cool job, “getting to hold and bottle feed a bear cub…” from Kristen. But, it’s not an easy job; “We work hard to keep over 100 animals healthy and enriched.” After volunteering with the Animal Department I can say amen to that!

Getting involved

They love to see volunteers’ eager faces every day of the week. The main volunteer time is from 8 am – 12 pm. The best way get started is to contact Kristen about volunteer opportunities. You can reach her at 919-220-5429 x335 or Kristen.Pormann at

If you’re looking for other ways to help, you can drop off newspapers and toilet paper rolls (check out Lesson #2 in the video for what they do with enrichment pieces). Also, they’ve accepted pumpkins after Halloween and Christmas trees after the holidays. If you’re interested in any of these, please contact Kristen first to make sure they have a need before you drop the supplies off.

Finally, I’m sure the museum would love your financial help if you’re able to give. There are several programs on the Support Page for just about any interest. Once again, I highly encourage you to get involved and support this wonderful Durham institution. s


3 Responses to “Best Time I’ve Had Shoveling Poop!”

  1. Brianne Villano December 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    Ah…I loved volunteering there. Ultimately the drive was too much to make it an ongoing relationship and I now volunteer at the Animal Protection Society in Durham, but I had a great time running from the slightly angry goose every time I went near his pig friend. :o)

  2. Jill Brown January 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Great post, thanks again for your help!

  3. Troy January 4, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Very cool idea for a blog…Great video too. Keep up the good work!

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