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Weston Teen Takes Care of Wild Critters

Millie the barn owl lets out a screech and flies a lap around the room, but nobody reacts. Kyle Lesko continues to take mice out of a cage one by one with his bare hands. Sammy Fino calmly reaches into a snake's habitat. Monica Mogle heads outside to climb into cages with the birds of prey. It's just another afternoon of work for the Audubon Society's Animal Care volunteers.

"I always really loved animals. I've always been very interested and wanted to learn more about them," says Monica, a Trumbull 14-year-old. "My mom told me about the program."

The Connecticut Audubon Society center in Fairfield keeps dozens of animals. Some, including Millie, live there permanently, too accustomed to captivity for life in the wild. Others, like Bella, the broad-winged hawk in the cage next to her, are injured and being nursed back to health.

The educational animals run the gamut from cute and cuddly, such as rabbits and hedgehogs, to creepy crawlies such as hissing cockroaches and scorpions. All serve as educational tools for the waves of schoolchildren and animal lovers who stop by the center each day. All need to be cleaned, fed and cared for.

Enter the Animal Care Volunteers. Currently, 35 kids ages 13 and up spend the occasional afternoon cleaning cages, tossing dead mice to the birds or handling other jobs. Once they put in enough time with those tasks, they can begin training with the center's experts for more advanced care.

"There's some dirty work, obviously," says Sammy. "But it's definitely rewarding, the better aspects of it." Some join the program with designs to go into animal care careers: Weston High senior Sammy plans to study environmental biology or marine science next fall in college. Others are looking for a good community service program, including Kyle, who followed his older sister into the program.

But they all share one common trait. Animal Care Coordinator Linnea McHenry, a program graduate herself, explains.

"I've had people do this for a lot of reasons," Linnea says. "No 1: They all love animals."

Which animals would you most like to work with? Which ones wouldn't you go near with a 10-foot pole? Sound off in the comments below.

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