Bathing a goose isn't easy work. Louise Bhavnani can attest to that.
"They're hissing, and they're not happy, and their wings are really strong," said Bhavnani, 28, a volunteer with Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. "You just have to hold them down and make sure they don't get Dawn in their eyes."
That's what she and other volunteers from the nonprofit organization did to each of the 30 Canada geese that had been sprayed with oil in a pond near the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. They worked dozens of bottles of dishwashing soap into a lather twice a day, goose after goose, until the oil disappeared.
Since then, the 15 to 20 volunteers have also pulled iPod covers off bills, untangled fishing line from webbed feet and even removed arrows from pierced wings. They'll do anything to lend a helping hand to the area's waterfowl.
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Carolina Waterfowl Rescue began operating in 2001 out of the garage of founder Jennifer Gordon's home. Gordon is a state- and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
As the organization grew, so did its need for space. In 2009, Gordon began renting one acre of a farm in Indian Trail. There, an old turkey barn serves as a place of recuperation for dozens of birds of all kinds, each with its own story.
There's Brad, a Canada goose shot by a construction worker's nail gun near a job site on Prosperity Road.
And Emily, a duck injured by a predator that tried to snatch her ducklings. Her babies survived, but the top of Emily's bill was torn away in the skirmish.
At the rescue center, she will live out the rest of her days. Like many of the others deemed non-releasable, Emily is considered too injured to return to the wild.
At the farm, the birds are free to mingle in the open field, filling their bellies with mosquitoes and other bugs. They can wade in one of the half-dozen kiddie pools that dot the property, too.
"It's just one of my favorite places," said Bhavnani, who began volunteering with the organization in 2007.
Long self-described as a "bird nerd," she holds a bachelor's degree in biological sciences from Clemson University and a master's degree in public administration and nonprofit management from UNC Charlotte. Recently laid off from her job at Carolina Raptor Center, Bhavnani now volunteers each week at the rescue center.
She would like to see more people join in to help. University City, where Bhavnani lives, has run short on volunteers lately.
"I'm one of the few people," she said. "If there's a bird that's injured in this area or Concord, I'm the only one that goes out there."
Recently the rescue organization helped move 315 Muscovy ducks from the Shoppes at University Place. Muscovy ducks, not native to the area, often overbreed and edge out native birds.
"There were babies everywhere," Bhavnani said of the waters around the Shoppes. "The problem is, if you left two of them there, there would be a whole new population in a year."
They found new homes for each duck.
New volunteers need no prior experience with waterfowl to sign up. They will work beside one of the seasoned volunteers.
"It's hard because it isn't glamorous work," said Bhavnani.
"It gets pretty muddy. It's cold."
But it's rewarding, as in the case of Emily, who was recently fitted with a prosthetic bill, thanks to donations from the community.
"She can preen. She loves mucking in the mud. She loves worms," said Bhavnani. "She's a brand new duck now."