Rising senior and Sweet Briar tennis team captain Gina Rutledge felt right at home this summer while interning at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center. Instead of spending the summer working on her family’s farm in Germanton, N.C., Rutledge was helping to rescue, rehabilitate and release native Virginia wildlife.
The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is located just outside Winchester and rehabilitates more than 1,700 reptiles, mammals and birds every year. The center also furthers its impact through outreach initiatives and ongoing education to prevent environmental maltreatment, disease and pollution.
The pre-vet track biology major and chemistry minor spent her summer working with orphaned birds of all kinds, striped skunks, Virginia opossums, red foxes and box turtles, among many others. Although she loved working with such a variety of animals, Rutledge quickly became fond of the younger animals.
“Baby animals are generally the most fun to work with, and not just because they are adorable,” she said. “They also haven’t developed their fear behaviors yet and that makes them particularly curious.”
While the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center aims to rehabilitate and release all their animals, there will always be those that come into the center too late.
“The most challenging part of my internship was having an animal come in with injuries and illnesses that deemed them non-releasable,” Rutledge explained. “But being able to release an animal back into the wild after a complete recover was always so rewarding.”
Some of her duties included properly identifying and handling different species and preparing specific diets for each animal. She also assisted the center’s rehabilitators and veterinarians in administering medicine and helped perform surgeries on occasion.
Throughout the summer, Rutledge discovered just how well Sweet Briar has prepared her for life after college.
“The biology department at Sweet Briar has equipped me with the knowledge to understand the greater ecology I’m contributing to with my rehabilitation work,” she said. “Participating in the leadership programs and being a Vixen athlete has helped me work more efficiently with my coworkers, and I know the confidence and leadership Sweet Briar has instilled in me will benefit me forever.”