A Walk on the Wild(life) Side

From as far back as she can remember, Lee Ann Streshenkoff ’17 has wanted to be a veterinarian.

“I have always loved animals,” says Lee Ann, a chemistry major and psychology and Spanish minor.

Since her freshman year, Lee Ann, a Pittsburgh native, has been serving as a Bonner Scholar at Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Saegertown, Pa. The center rehabilitates wildlife and returns it to the wild, as well as provides community education. Tamarack specializes in treating birds of prey of all ages, adult seed-eating songbirds, turtles, and opossums.

Bonner Scholars like Lee Ann work with a local agency like Tamarack for four years as part of the national AmeriCorps program. Students receive financial compensation for their commitment and participate in a leadership development training series.

“We’ve hosted Bonner students, as well as Allegheny work-study students, for as long as I can remember,” says licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Carol Holmgren, Tamarack executive director. “Each student brings something unique.”

At Tamarack, Lee Ann assists with food and medication preparation, admissions exams, general care, and physical therapy. She also presents education programs at local schools and senior centers. She spends about 30 hours per week during the summer and 10 hours weekly during the school year at her site.

“Meric Islam ’17, another Bonner Scholar at Tamarack, and I did physical therapy on a red-tailed hawk this summer. It was so exciting to do hands-on work during my freshman year,” Lee Ann says.

Lee Ann provides community education.
Lee Ann provides community education.

“But my favorite part about this job is community education, where I go out and talk about wildlife and the environment,” she adds.

On these visits, staff members from Tamarack, including experienced Bonner students like Lee Ann, bring one of the center’s eight trained birds on a handler’s gloved hand to assist with education. These birds were originally admitted to the center with injuries, Holmgren says. Although they are now healthy, they each have a disability preventing them from being able to survive in the wild.

“The fact that I have gained enough experience to hold a bird is mind-blowing to me,” Lee Ann says. Another highlight of Lee Ann’s first year at Tamarack was caring for an adult female screech owl that was admitted to the center from Allegheny’s campus.

“This patient was diagnosed with a concussion, so we spent several weeks caring for her,” she says. “We gave her anti-inflammatory and pain medication and assisted with feedings. In addition, she helped the center by fostering a set of owlets who were admitted to the center shortly after she arrived. She was a great mom to them.”

Once the owl was fully recovered, Lee Ann helped to release her on campus in August. “The release was very beautiful; she was so majestic,” Lee Ann explains. “Experiences like this make it all worth it, because sometimes there are some very sad times when we lose a patient. But when you can send an animal back into the wild, it’s amazing.”

In addition to her experience at Tamarack, Lee Ann also volunteers at Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Cochranton, Pa., and is a member of the animal welfare and pre-vet clubs at Allegheny. She hopes to one day pursue her dream to become a veterinarian.

“Being a part of the Bonner program and having this experience at Tamarack has changed my life,” she says. “It has made me want to be more involved in my community and has expanded my veterinary interests. The College has already opened my eyes to so much.”