It was around mid-day during my second week of work, just as we were preparing to dice an entire grocery store’s produce section for Peekaboo‘s dinner, when the call came in. Of course Angela and I could only hear one half of the conversation, but the other half wasn’t hard to discern.
Broken sentences as the caller interrupted repeatedly in what seemed like a panic. Amanda trying three separate times to say “I’m not asking you to touch it…” and instead asking the caller to toss a sheet or towel over it so that it would be concealed yet gently restrained, keeping it in place for our arrival and helping it to feel as secure as a lost, terrified and likely dehydrated bat can. It sounds odd, I know, but crevice dwelling bats absolutely adore tight, confined spaces because it makes them feel hidden and safe. A few more aborted attempts to communicate, and then just like that it was away from the bananas and off to a local craft store to do yet another thing that I never thought I’d do: go on a rescue call for Bat World Sanctuary.
It wasn’t how I wanted my first rescue to be. I’d hoped for people who cared for their welfare, who didn’t see them as harbingers of disease and mouth foam, who understood why we did what we did and would be supportive so that all I had to worry about was the technique of approaching and catching a wild bat. We weren’t going to get that, but I was thankful that this wouldn’t be Angela’s first rescue, at least. I could simply play a support role. For eleven years previous to this, support was largely my job: anticipating what was needed and then doing it. Perhaps I’d suck at rescuing bats – we’d find out soon – but I was good at support. Reminding myself calmed the nerves a bit.
The building in which the shop resided had for years been problematic for juvenile bats who might have mastered the art of becoming airborne but might not be so good at staying there yet, much less the no doubt intricate and delicate process of navigating via echolocation. Ever since Bat World’s inception, young bats have frequently made their way inside and subsequently been unable to find their way out. Ballpark estimates are that over one thousand bats have been pulled out of that building over the years. Conversely, there is perhaps no way to accurately judge how many simply died in there due to the recalcitrance of the building’s management. To the extent that Bat World has been allowed to help, however, the number of lost bats has decreased from a few hundred every summer to a mere dozen now and then over the past decade and a half.
With this, a carrier pouch, a nitrile glove and various literatures that would hopefully allay some of the irrational fear of our panicking merchants, we parked outside and walked in. Angela engaged them right away, and I was happy to see my hopes of keeping to the kiddie pool for this one were playing out. Alas, and also fortunately, it was not to be.
The shopkeepers, before describing their absolute certainty that this fragile three inch long mammal intended to kill them, informed us that it was last seen under a table. In turn, we informed them that it was no longer there. As we searched they bombarded us with questions that Angela, sensing perhaps that I was on the verge of overwhelmed, answered:
What do you do with them after you catch them? You KEEP them? You’re TRAINING to do this? How many do you have over there? So will it try to attack us? Are you sure? It was flying really close to my head. Why do they do that?
This continued as we spotted the bat above a display rack. It continued as they very eagerly fetched a ladder so we could get it. It continued as I was preparing to be johnny-on-the-spot with the carrier pouch, and it only stopped when Angela said the words:
“Do you want to get this one?” All three waited for my response. I was On The Spot.
What could I do? My ego wasn’t about to permit me to say no thank you, Angela, I’m afraid of heights and failure. Couldn’t be done. There was, in fact, only one thing that could be done: catch the wild bat that had been “terrorizing” these women all morning.
Let’s stop and break this down for a second, because I feel like a lot of people think animal rescue is going somewhere and plucking up a grateful puppy from, like, a mud puddle, and it licks your face and you giggle and all present go Awww, is the widdle puppy all muddy? YES he IS, he is SOOO muddy! and we shall clean him with kisses! and then we all cuddle the rest of the day.
This was not a puppy; it was a cornered, frightened wild animal. You know that saying “so ‘n’ so fought like a cornered animal”? I do too, and yet what was I doing? Putting on a glove and climbing up a ladder and a phobia so I could corner a wild animal. It wasn’t like rounding a corner and finding you’d accidentally hemmed in some stray dog, I was intentionally laying the trap. A benign trap, but a trap just the same. Climbing up a ladder thinking Well good, this is what I quit my job to do, what a great decision. Climbing up a ladder wondering at how I’d come to be on this ladder at this moment preparing to do something that by conventional terms could be fairly described as ill advised, high above the ground where with each rung my body’s refusal to move and risk upsetting my balance became harder to overcome, and all with three women standing below all watching intently.
One rung, and then another. You know how it is when you’re doing something that you’re completely certain will result in some manner of harm coming to you; you just move mechanically while your brain is throwing every brake it can lay synapses on. One rung and then another while in my head the bat took off at the last second over and over again, barreling straight into my face, and then we both plummet to the floor.
Then, suddenly, my brain’s unlikely and revolving perambulations ceased, because there it really was; the errant beast was a scant few inches from my face: a little juvenile, certainly far more frightened than any of us, lost, dehydrated, nearly spent, but by no means lacking in defiance. You know how teenagers are. It looked me right in the eye, hunkered down and braced its forearms. Whether for flight or, you know, actual flight, I wasn’t sure. I intensely wished that somebody would happen into the shop just then, whereupon the clever and courageous little creature would, instead of injuring/humiliating me, seize the opportunity and fly straight for the open door and to freedom.
That didn’t happen.
So, with heart pounding and breath held, I reached out. From below I heard “You’re going to use your hand??”
This made me desperately want to laugh; my hand was gloved, after all. Those of you who’ve spent a good deal of your childhood in church know my predicament: when it’s really bad to laugh, the urge can literally become uncontrollable. Laughing here, now, so close to this bat, would have been really bad. My lips tightened into one very strained grin, and I was grateful then to be facing the wall so it couldn’t be seen.
I can’t really make you understand how hard I clamped down on that snicker in my throat except to say that I was immensely proud afterward that it didn’t erupt right into that poor bat’s face. When the spasm of mirth relented somewhat, I placed a cup of fingers over it, leaving only a mad bitey scramble between my fingers as its only viable method of escape, the very thing I’d been dreading. Here we go. My fingers moved slowly to pick it up…
…and it kept still, and I plucked it from the wall completely uneventfully. Then it actually crawled into the carrier pouch, and did so eagerly. There was a brief moment of disbelief. Did I just rescue a bat? Again?
“Got it!” I called out, found my pride, and descended like Caesar returning to Rome from war and the crossing of the Rubicon. In my exultation I couldn’t pay attention to the babbling even if I’d wanted to, and Angela was handling it like she was a walking field guide to bats anyway.
Actually, I really have to hand it to Angela. She fielded every question like she’d been asked each one a hundred million times, and even managed to get these two women concerned about the welfare of the bat I captured, and hoping that it would be okay. That was a sentiment that neither of us had expected to hear, and Angela elicited it from two women who were convinced that the bat was trying to kill them in a few minutes.
And with that, we left, and as soon as Angela mentioned that she could see me trying not to laugh up on that ladder, we both completely lost it and spent the drive back quoting the two shopkeepers between convulses of laughter. I wouldn’t want to speak for Angela, but I really needed that.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s okay to not know that bats are about as benign as animals come. The societal preconceptions are old and prevalent, and for many it’s disturbing to believe that the conventional “wisdom” could be so very wrong. To a volunteer at a bat sanctuary, though, it is hilarious. Once you’ve hand fed a few disabled bats and wiped their faces with little bat nappies, you don’t really see the whole Dracula thing anymore.
We pulled into the driveway ready to bring Amanda the bat we’d fetched and share the story of our success when we saw Amanda coming out of the staff entrance to meet us. They’d called again while we were en route, having found another one in the back.
We had to go back, and as we drove we both silently wondered how many bats might really be in that old building that hadn’t yet been seen.
Continued in Part 2…