So the other day I was at work, doing something blissfully mindless, when my phone rang. It glanced down at the screen and saw it was my apartment complex, so answered in a hurry, bracing myself for the news that one of my heat lamps fell over, started a fire, and burned down the whole building... or something like that. Instead, it was one of the maintenance folks at my building, calling because he found a hurt pigeon and wanted me to do something with it.
I get a lot of those calls.
As opposed to a hundred, or even fifty years ago, when our society was more agricultural and more people spent time in the woods and farms, very few people interact much with animals these days. Those that do may have a dog or cat, but they tend to be treated as members of the family, which I suppose they are, as opposed to animals, which they definitely are. As a result, those of us who do work with animals professionally are sometimes looked upon as experts on all things animal. I mean, all things. I mean, I'll have people ask me questions about some sort of insect they saw in their bathroom and home and wanting to know what it is or what it's doing. My answer? How the hell should I know?
I guess that, having spent a fair amount of time with a variety of animals, I probably due know more about how to handle some animal situations or answer questions than the layperson does. In some areas, I probably have something that could be called expertise. I can identify more birds than a typical passerby on the street can, and can generally accurately interpret the behavior of a dog, cat, horse, or other domestic animal. I can offer pretty correct opinions on pest control, or attracting wildlife to a backyard, or how to correct eccentric pet behavior. I've even been called upon to do a few animal extractions, whether removing a snake from the rafters of a house to catching injured raccoons and getting them to a vet who will actually treat them.
That's where it ends. I am not a veterinarian. I am not a pet therapist. I am not a wildlife rehabilitator. I've taken on aspects of those roles when need be and may be able to help, but if you need an expert opinion, especially in an emergency, I strongly encourage you to consult them... the experts.
I had a friend of a friend years ago who was given a baby turtle, about the size of a silver dollar, as a gift. She had no idea how to take care of it. During the brief period of time she had known me, she'd come across the fact that I was a zookeeper, and decided I was her go-to resource for all things chelonian. My facebook wall become one long list of turtle question and answer sessions. The funny thing is, I don't think I gave her a single answer she couldn't have found out herself with five minutes on Google. When I questioned our mutual friend about why I was getting all the questions, she just shrugged.
"Sometimes, people just want to hear it from an expert," she said.
I guess that's fair enough. Just make sure you know who is and who isn't an expert, and about what.