People often ask me how I became so passionate about animals. The truth is, there have been many factors that I credit for my love of animals. First, I would say it was something I was born with. My biological mother often tells me stories of how she took in various wounded birds and stray dogs throughout her childhood, I was very similar in that sense. I am doubtful that I would love animals this much if I didn’t have a compassionate personality.
The second biggest factor I contribute to my drive for helping animals is growing up visiting my Grandfather’s dairy farm in northern New York. By the time I could walk, I had already had a good amount of experience with animals. I could milk a cow, I cared for orphaned kittens, I fed table scraps to a pig, all before I even started kindergarten. Having those kinds of experiences at a young age not only teaches compassion for animals, but it created a nurturing feeling deep within me. My Mother, being a farmer’s daughter, always had our house filled with countless animals. From puppies to hamsters, and goldfish to guinea pigs, we had it all. If you were to ask me about any type of pet, I probably had it at one point growing up.
Once I got into my early teen years, I started to the quest to find my future career. It only seemed natural that I choose a career centered around animals and their care. My parents have always been very supportive of everything I do. They told me that because I was young, I should try to do some volunteering in a few different areas of things that interested me in order to get a feel for what I would like to do. Medicine had always fascinated me, so veterinary medicine was one of the first career options I looked into. I knew that I didn’t want to be a veterinarian, I was more interested in veterinary nursing. So I contacted my dog’s veterinary office to see if I could shadow the veterinary technician. It was a small clinic, and they were more than happy to have me follow a technician for a day. It was after that that I decided I wanted to pursue an associate’s degree in veterinary technology, and at the time I was hoping to work with domestic animals.
It wasn’t until about two years later when I was seventeen and a junior in high school that I got the opportunity for the trip of a lifetime. My high school had a program called March Intensive. This entailed one week in the early spring where classes were cancelled and students got to pick an activity that interested us. The activities ranged from dance classes, calligraphy, trips to the local news studio to learn how to make movies, and even international trips. Upperclassmen had the first choice, so I saved signing up for a big trip until my junior year. The trip I had been waiting for was a four day behind the scenes tour working with the zookeepers at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. I was fortunate enough to get to fly to Florida with other students to have the experience of a lifetime. After spending the first day traveling and then settling in, I woke up at five in the morning the next day to start work. There were about twenty or so students in total on the trip, and we were broken up into groups of two or three and sent out with different zookeepers throughout the park. I will never forget the zookeeper that came and got my classmate and I. It was very early in the morning, only about six o’clock, and this very flamboyant, gay man rolls up in a truck blasting Michael Jackson. It’s been many years since that trip, so I can’t quite remember his name, but he was a hoot! It was still dark out, so we drove to another building to prepare food. We then spent the day feeding and cleaning the enclosures of a variety of animals. Oxon, zebras, ostriches, just to name a few. I still have the image of the previously mentioned zookeeper, blasting eighty’s music out of the truck’s speakers while singing into a rake. The day was exhausting, but very rewarding to get to work so up-close with animals I had only ever seen on TV. The second day was a little less eventful, as I worked in the kitchen preparing meals for the primates of the zoo. My teacher knew that I had an interest in vet tech school, so she arranged a special meeting for me with one of the zoo’s veterinarians. The veterinarian gave me a special behind the scenes tour that no one else on the trip got to see. It was that moment that I decided that I would go to vet tech school, with plans to transfer to a four-year university to study an animal related major in hopes to work with wildlife and exotic animals.
After graduating high school, I attended Great Bay Community College and spent a year and a half completing general education requirements. When I was twenty, I applied and was accepted into Great Bay’s veterinary technology program. Over the next two years, I spent countless hours studying veterinary technology. Not many people even know what being a vet tech entails. The short version? A vet tech is a nurse, a surgical technician, an anesthesiologist, an x-ray technician, a phlebotomist, a receptionist, a dental hygienist, a pharmacist, and even a grief counselor. I spent two years in the program, and completed two internships at different veterinary hospitals. I graduated with an associates in science in veterinary technology in the spring of 2015. During the program, I got side tracked with the idea of working in a veterinary clinic, and had put my dream of working with wildlife on the backburner. After doing some soul searching while working in a clinic for a few months, I decided it was time to pursue my dreams. I applied for zookeeping internships at zoos and sanctuaries across the country, and then applied to three different schools to continue my education and get my bachelor’s degree.
I was accepted to the University of New England’s animal behavior program in early spring 2016. The animal behavior program really appealed to me, because unlike many other animal related majors, this one was a psychology degree instead of a science one. There was more of a chance for creative classes that allowed free thinking and less intense science and math classes. I am very right-brained, so a psychology degree centered around animals was a perfect fit for me. However, before heading off to school in fall 2016, I was offered a summer internship at Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium in Litchfield Park, Arizona. I was fortunate enough to stay with my Grandmother and Aunt who lived about twenty minutes from the zoo, which was the largest in Arizona. I was able to work five days a week, in four different departments at the zoo. I pretty much did everything the zookeepers did, which included feeding, cleaning, providing enrichment, and other daily care tasks for dozens of different species of animals. More details about my two months at Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium will be given in a separate article on Mild and Wild, so stay tuned!
After spending a semester at the University of New England, I had an epiphany. I had always wanted to do something creative in order to promote conservation for the environment and the animals I love. One day it just hit me: Wildlife Journalist and Photographer. This blog is my opportunity to pursue that dream, and I am hoping it is the start to something wonderful.