A peek inside the busy day of our staff and volunteers!
Hi, everyone! Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a volunteer here at CSNW? More specifically- have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a level III volunteer who interacts and serves the chimps? Worry no more- today is the first in a series of Guest Blog Writers! We have some amazing Level III Volunteers who have volunteered (because they’re awesome) to write a post or two about their experiences here, so be on the lookout for them over the coming months.
First up to bat, we have Dusty- a level three volunteer in training! She has volunteered with us for about six years!! So, without further ado, check out Dusty’s blog below!
The New Kid in Town, by Volunteer Caregiver Dusty
As a volunteer, it’s a lengthy training process to learn how to serve the chimpanzees their meals. There are books to read, videos to watch, observations to be made, steps to take, lessons to learn. This intimate activity must be done with the utmost thought and care, after all I am entering their private home. Imagine someone new coming into your home to serve you
breakfast. Who would get the first apple? Maybe you like your smoothie before your chow. Maybe your sibling likes the pears you are served better and takes yours away. This experience is exciting and humbling and I’m constantly reminded by the sixteen – I’m the new kid in town – which transports me back to 1976 when The Eagles released “The New Kid in Town” song as part of the Hotel California album. If you’ve never heard this song (where have you been?) or to refresh your memory, take a listen to the song at the same time you read about my training experience below.
The New Kid in Town
There’s hoots in the hall, it sounds so familiar
Initiation time, all the chimps are watching you
Smoothies and plums, how do I serve them
Even though they know me they treat me like I’m someone new
Dusty come lately,
The new kid in town,
Better serve the food right,
or they won’t come ’round.
I look in Terry’s eyes, his Bronx cheers began to play
Gordo sprays me with water, here we go again
Rayne runs to hide, Lucky looks the other way
It’s those precious hearts I want to mend
Dusty come lately,
The new kid in town,
Better serve the food right,
or they won’t come ’round.
There’s so many things Jamie should have showed me
Serve her pears first, serve Neggie slowly, slowly
Jody got extra oranges, holy moly!
There’s hoots in the hall, it’s there to remind you
Doesn’t really matter which side of the caging you’re on
You’re walking away, they’re plotting behind you
Initiation will continue ’til somebody new comes along.
Dusty come lately,
There’s a new kid in town,
Better serve the food right,
or they won’t come ’round.
Just another new kid in town
There’s a new kid in town, I don’t want her apples
There’s a new kid in town, I don’t want her bananas
There’s a new kid in town
There’s a new kid in town
There’s a new kid…
Serving Jamie at breakfast:
Still in training, so Chad is close by!
Bonus Photo: Honey B being goofy while caregivers cleaned her front rooms.
Disclaimer: It’s after midnight and I’m drafting this blog post while listening to some of my favorite records. (Check out Turnover’s Peripheral Vision if you want to share my current vibe.) The post will be my 188th entry since I authored my first in the summer of 2019, and I am feeling a bit sentimental about it. I honestly don’t know how it’s going to come together. Right now it seems a bit disorganized, so you’ll have to forgive my excessive use of semicolons and parentheses (because one consequence of living with ADHD is that each thought “has a corresponding sub-thought” to go along with it).
Anyway, here it goes.
First and foremost, I want to simply thank everyone who attended yesterday’s virtual presentation. Jenna and I enjoyed showing you our training methods and responding to your thoughtful questions about chimpanzee behavior. Watching Diana’s recording of the live demonstration really drove home just how much progress these individuals have made recently, enabling us to take better care of them in tangible ways (e.g., Terry’s Procedure). Revamping the training program has been a rewarding project and it felt good to share some of our modest successes with all of you.
Now, as many of you already know, my time as a CSNW caregiver is quickly coming to an end and a new caregiver will soon fill my spot on the team. In fact, this Thursday will be my last day on the staff and in my role as the Health and Behavior Coordinator.
I’ve been a caregiver here at CSNW for three and a half years and previously spent two years as a student intern. In total, I have worked in primate sanctuaries for eight years and cared for and studied nonhuman primates in various capacities for over a decade. Like many people who pursue a career in this field, I spent my twenties scraping together my resources to embark on new adventures to remote places, collecting only stories and photographs along the way. My modest tenure here in Washington has actually been the most stable and longest of my adult life by a wide margin, meaning that CSNW and the surroundings are the closest thing I’ve had to a home since I left the one I grew up in.
Given how much this place has meant to me, I wouldn’t have withdrawn from my role here without careful deliberation. Indeed, I spent much of the past year considering how to balance my fondness for the sanctuary with my interest in mitigating human-wildlife conflict, my desire to spend more time with friends and loved ones who live further away, and my everlasting itch for new adventures.
Some of you have expressed curiosity regarding my next endeavor. Last month, I accepted an offer to be the new Wildlife Naturalist at PAWS Wildlife Center, located just north of Seattle. In addition to re-homing animals in need through their companion animal shelter, PAWS also cares for thousands of orphaned and injured animals each year through their wildlife center. As the team’s de facto biologist, my primary role will be to coordinate the releases of rehabilitated patients and document those events for storytelling and scientific purposes. I’ll also be doing outreach to help people coexist more compassionately and sustainably with Washington’s native wildlife, a cause that has been important to me for a long time. (If you need any further proof, just read the post where I “roasted the cat”.) PAWS is now in the process of building a new, state-of-the-art wildlife facility in nearby Snohomish, from the front door of which I will be able to see different faces of the same snow-capped mountains that
peak peek at CSNW from behind the surrounding foothills.
One perk of staying in the Pacific Northwest for now is that I can still drive over the mountains to visit the sanctuary as long as the pass remains, uh, passable. I promised Anna that I will periodically volunteer, even if just to remain familiar with all the sanctuary’s primates and keep my squeegee skills on point. J.B. hinted that I should also help him install some new cabinets when they arrive next month (a reasonable expectation given that Sofia and I campaigned the loudest for more storage space in the clinic). I also asked if I could occasionally mow the lawn for free, just like Forrest Gump chose to do when he became a bazillionaire. Meanwhile, Diana has been giving not-so-subtle hints that I need to bring fresh vegan doughnuts from Seattle whenever I choose to swing by, which sounds like a fair deal for all involved.
On that note, instead of writing one last post about the chimpanzees or cattle, I have decided to use my remaining words to express heartfelt gratitude for all the humans who make CSNW the special place that it is.
The aforementioned co-directors Diana and J.B. are amazing role models to the staff and students here at the sanctuary, and their dedication to the cause is unrivaled. They do it all with witty humor, thoughtful self-assessment, and steadfast compassion for humans and non-humans alike. I have never seen two people put so much of their own eclectic personalities into a place without letting their egos get in the way. In fact, they might be two of the most humble individuals I’ve ever worked with, despite all of the sacrifices they’ve made to create a comfortable home for deserving chimpanzees, cattle, canines, cats, and even houseplants. I feel so fortunate to have them as mentors, and I hope I can keep learning from them through the organization’s bright future.
Our manager Anna has been a positive influence on me since I was an intern, not just as a young professional but also as an imperfect human trying to navigate a unique social environment. I’ve learned that her ability to connect with diverse people and penchant for finding practical solutions to complex problems are the two fabrics that hold this team together. I’m not sure if she’ll miss my incessant banter in the foyer when she’s trying to focus on her own blog posts, but I already have it in writing that she’ll miss some of my better qualities. She can’t take that praise back, no matter how much she might regret boosting my ego when I come back to help out.
As for the rest of the staff, they’re an incredible group of individuals and I am so glad I got to work alongside each and every one of them. This group includes:
Chad with his vast knowledge of chimp behavior, sly sense of humor, and “great head of hair”; Grace with her social media expertise, contagious snorty laughter, and enthusiasm for taking on new projects; Jenna with her eagerness to grow the training program, thoughtful contributions to conversations, and impressive cup-stacking skills; Katelyn with her unwavering concern for the well-being of all living creatures, ability to carry an entire cohort of troll dolls at once, and mysterious fascination with the occult that has us all just a little bit spooked; Kelsi with her team-oriented perspective, energetic efficiency, and dubious advice for stopping nosebleeds; Sofia with her confidence and tenacity in the vet clinic, spunky attitude, and habit of reminding us how warm the weather is in Puerto Rico whenever the Northwest goes a few weeks without sunshine; and Dr. Erin with her commitment to making the local community a safer and more inclusive place to live, tendency to show up to parties with a three-legged rescue pig, and willingness to do a deep dive into any obscure health condition that pops up unexpectedly.
The sanctuary also depends on effort given to us by an unparalleled team of volunteers, and I consider these people to be some of the most dedicated caregivers that I have ever met. They spend their available hours laboring alongside those of us on the payroll and have become part of the family in the process. This sentiment was only strengthened by the pandemic, during which a small group of eligible volunteers followed the tightest restrictions in order to continue assisting the staff and entertaining the chimps.
We also benefited greatly from the CWU students and faculty who still found ways to gather donations, create enrichment puzzles, and advocate for the chimps despite having to remain distanced from the sanctuary. I’d also be negligent if I failed to thank all of the talented people who have contributed to the expansion of the facility, allowing us to take in four cattle and nine more chimpanzees during my short time here. Foremost among them are Gary and the Sage Mechanical crew, who have grown to know and love the chimps and take pride in improving their home.
I also appreciate all the people who cared for the sanctuary’s residents in their previous living situations, with a special round of applause for the former staff of the Wildlife Waystation who are presumably responsible for allowing my good friend Honey B to become the adorable little spitfire that she is today. These humans made the best of untenable conditions in order to care for these remarkable individuals, ultimately helping them to reach their permanent sanctuary homes.
Even in the best environments, caring for captive primates is difficult. (Reminder: they don’t belong in captivity.) I can’t possibly explain to you all how emotionally burdensome it can be to grow attached to individuals who have tragic and traumatic backgrounds, complex social and biological needs, and the ability to act violently towards each other in ways we cannot always anticipate or control. When you also consider that even experts rarely agree on the best strategies for managing chimpanzees housed in captivity, making progress in this line of work proves to be incredibly complicated.
I also want you all to appreciate what caregivers go through just to get to the point where they have secure employment in the field. Most of us have taken out loans to pay for college degrees that are unlikely to return that investment, worked part-time service jobs so that we can afford to complete unpaid internships, and moved across the country once or twice to pursue job opportunities, straining our relationships with our friends, families, and partners.
If you happen to meet a chimpanzee caregiver in person, you should probably ask them if they need a hug, or perhaps invite them out to have a stiff drink. Alternatively, you could just write them a check.
Despite the arduous nature of caregiving and the adversity that humans face in this industry, we who have ended up here at CSNW all love what we do and who we do it for. I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say that the opportunity to care for these individuals and contribute to this organization has been worth all the hard times we have endured. I personally feel so fortunate to have served on this team for a few memorable years, and I look forward to being a member of the sanctuary’s extended family for many years to come.
Last, but certainly not least, I wish to express one final message of gratitude to all of you who follow the blog. As a supplement to the love we receive from our friends and families, your kind words have proven to be the suds in our buckets, the gasoline in our Gators, and the peanuts in our night bags. Your thoughtful questions and insightful commentary help us caregivers to put things in perspective and continue onward with purpose during tough times, and your dedication tells us that the words we write here can have a positive impact on the chimpanzees we care about so much.
So please keep reading along, keep watching the videos, keep sharing your feedback, keep asking questions, and keep giving to the sanctuary (if and when you are able to). It means more to us than you could possibly imagine.
P.S. Here are some photos for the road.
If you follow the blog, you may have seen the brief mentions from Kelsi and then J.B. of the very eventful end of December that the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest staff and volunteers endured this year.
For the first time in over a decade (as far as we can remember), J.B. and I had scheduled a short trip to visit family together (together!) on the east coast for some winter celebrations. Almost as soon as we left, things started to malfunction at the sanctuary as Cle Elum was hit with extreme cold temperatures. J.B. helped troubleshoot the issues at a distance, but the staff on the ground had to navigate mechanical failures and multiple days with a non-functioning well, all the while caring for the chimpanzees and cattle, getting to work in icy conditions, and taking turns staying overnight to look after office cat LouLou and pups Abbey and Benny.
The nonhumans were none the wiser to these issues as the staff and volunteers managed to maintain the routine and get creative with procedures as though everything was in pristine working order. Meanwhile, J.B. and I had to extend our time away due to the weather and the complete meltdown of the aviation industry.
All of this, whilst also being away from their own families, the staff carried on with the CSNW Christmas countdown on the blog and the preparation for holiday festivities without skipping a beat.
J.B. and I couldn’t be more grateful. Neither of us worried in the least that this crew of staff, volunteers, and their spouses could handle whatever obstacle Mother Nature and Murphy’s Law presented to them. There was never a doubt that the nonhumans at the sanctuary were in the best hands possible.
Today, we thank them most humbly with this sponsor-a-day post, and invite you, too, to thank them for looking after the sanctuary every day under any and all circumstances!
What a day! The video above says it all, but below are a few still photos.
Chad, on his day off, happened to see Missy’s climb as he was accompanying a former chimp house volunteer on a walk around the hill. He and J.B. took some videos with their phones as I walked up with the camera and telephoto lens, which was not working right away, but I did get one good photo of Missy amidst the branches, foraging on pine needles:
and some photos on her way down:
We are so fortunate to have so many amazing volunteers. They are always willing to jump in no matter how big or small the task is. Today, we tackled a big project and all of our awesome volunteers came to our aid! We were trading out the old wood chips in the Green House for some fresh new wood chips. This is no small task, though it is a satisfying one! We do this at least once a year depending on how long the chips last. However, we do change out the heavily soiled areas more often. But, it takes quite a few helping hands!
Here they are hard at work:
Here is the what the Green House looked like after!
Meanwhile, Jamie took a break from supervising to make a nest and relax a bit.
Jamie was actually really in the mood to have her photo taken.
Foxie came to say hello.
And left her doll for Jamie.
After, the Green House transformation everyone went out onto Young’s Hill for a perimeter check.
Even Neggie came out to soak up the sun.
Mave also found a comfy place to nest.
Willy B just wanted to play chase all day. Sorry it’s a little blurry, we were in mid-chase!
A new structure was built today! We had a wonderful group, Thrivent Financial, come out and build this two-story deck! The chimps anxiously waited to see how it would turn out.
These awesome volunteers worked so hard throughout the entire day:
Before it was finished:
We are so excited for this structure. I can imagine Negra lounging in the shade while warm summer air breezes by her or Foxie playing with her dolls at the top! I can also envision Mave, Willy B, & Honey B concurring their fears and climbing up this sturdy structure!
Jamie, Jody, Foxie, Missy, & Annie were able to go out and explore on the new play structure. Of course, a new structure means someone has to inspect it, which is what Jamie and the rest of the girls did!
After inspection, there were patrols to do:
And than back on the the new play structure. The girls seem to be in approval of it!
Even Foxie who can be suspicious of new things, was hanging out!
We just want to give Thrivent Financial a big thank you for building this amazing structure!