In the middle of May, after her junior year at Immaculata University, Renee DeAngelis began her summer internship. On the second day at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, she had to work up some courage and get her hands dirty.
“I was put into the raccoon area and they’re definitely a different breed to take care of,” DeAngelis said. “They’re feisty, to say the least.”
DeAngelis, a Deptford resident and 2017 Gloucester Catholic High School graduate, interned at the refuge for 12 weeks, an assignment she enjoyed so much, she decided to stick around and volunteer twice a week when the internship expired.
Founded in 1957, Cedar Run is a nonprofit rehabilitation hospital for native New Jersey wildlife and a nature center for environmental education.
“It’s so satisfying,” DeAngelis said, “knowing that you’re helping in some way.”
She hopes to continue making time for Cedar Run as her final year at Immaculate gets underway and she finishes up the application process for her next academic step. DeAngelis, naturally, is applying to veterinary schools, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.
Her love of animals goes as far back as her formal education.
DeAngelis recalled spending an entire year spanning kindergarten and first grade begging her parents for a dog. She got her wish in Maddie, the family’s 14-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever.
But with little experience beyond domestic animals, DeAngelis wisely pegged Cedar Run as an ideal place to get experience with wildlife, and hands-on experience at that.
One day she found herself handling a Red-tailed hawk, one of the biggest birds that make a home in South Jersey.
“It was the very first time I handled a bird of prey or raptor, so I definitely remember that,” DeAngelis recalled. “You’re kind of thrown into it, but at the same time, you have the training to be ready for it. But it’s this wild animal that you’re trying to help and he doesn’t know that you’re trying to help him; he wants to defend himself. It was really cool to help him out,” she added, “and help out any of the other animals and rehab them back into the wild.”
Including those feisty raccoons. For most of DeAngelis’ internship, a gaze of baby raccoons called Cedar Run home.
“I was able to see them from when they were babies to when they were released — that was really fulfilling,” she said. “They came in really young, so they went through our whole rehab program. And they were released about a month ago.
“It was really fulfilling to see them go through everything and be released, be excited to go back into the wild.”
DeAngelis saw raccoons, ducks, geese, opossum, rabbits, owls and plenty of other bird species at the refuge. She also got a first-hand look at the work being done by staff there, reaffirming her decision to pursue veterinary school.
“It just made me have a lot of hope for our future, knowing there are these people out there looking out for these injured wildlife or orphaned babies that need extra help before they’re ready for the wild,” DeAngelis said. “It was really cool to see that. And seeing people are doing this for a living is really great.
“They put so much time into it, because there are long days,” she added. “But they have so much energy and they put all of their time into it and it’s really great to see.”
DeAngelis is applying to several vet schools along the East Coast, with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine her top choice, in part because it’s close to home, where she can find her beloved Maddie and her new friends at Cedar Run, too.