Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A year ago, I was kind of in a holding pattern. I’d been in California for a while, but it didn’t look like I was going to meet and make good friends. Now I’ve found a community that I love. And I’m also going to fulfill a dream and go back to Africa too! I decided to start up this blog again to record my travels.

But maybe I should start at the beginning. Last fall, I was driving people around town and dog sitting to make money. I was playing  kickball and softball, and I satisfied my urge to explore by going on a few road trips. In the spring, I had a health scare and had to undergo surgery. When I found out I was healthy, I did extended training so I could start volunteering at the local Zoo in addition to the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. A few days before the Refugio oil spill, the Network offered me a part-time job. Because the staff was working so hard to respond to the oil spill, I was quickly promoted to full-time.    

I’ve learned so much from working with WCN. The staff works very hard  and they’ve taught me so much about rescue and rehabilitation. Ever since my first trip to South Africa, I’ve been very aware that there is something extraordinary about seeing wild animals that are free. Wild animals are born on the same planet as we are, and I believe we should share the land with them. The people at WCN share that philosophy. We help animals that are sick or injured, but our goal is always to release them back into the wild as quickly as possible

A year ago, I didn’t think I would find a work family. I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to do what I love to do. But I never gave up on my dream of making things better for animals. I kept volunteering and never asked for a day off. I knew what I wanted and kept focused and committed to my values. I also knew that, during the winter, there aren’t as many animals at WCN.  It’s a small non-prrofit so they told me they would have to cut back my hours in the fall.  

I started thinking about what I could do to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation. It didn’t take long before I was planning my third trip to Africa. This trip will be very different from the other two. I will not be focusing on photography or siteseeing. I found 3 projects that focus on the kind of willife rehabilitation that I believe in so strongly. I’ll spend three months, working at three different projects in three different countries—Malawi, Namibia and South Africa. The placements will be different but the mission will be the same—helping sick and injured wildlife recover so they can return to the wild. 

In some ways, this trip is a gamble for me. I am leaving behind a job with an organization I have come to love and appreciate. There is no guarantee the job will be there for me when I return from Africa. I had to make a choice: work one day a week during the next few months or see what I could learn by helping other organizations that care about wildlife. It’s a risk but it’s one that I am willing to take.  . 

The other day I was talking with my mom and she asked me a question: “Why do you like working with animals?” I responded “I honestly don’t know.” And we just burst out in laughter.  

Later, I gave some serious thought to the question. At first, I thought that it’s just easier to be with animals than people.  And then I remembered that animals have been important to me ever since I was a small child. I grew up loving any animals I saw or came across. I don’t remember much about my first home in New Hampshire—except seeing a moose in the north country and seeing an owl that somehow got into our house.  (My Dad rescued it and set it free!)

When I was a little older in Ohio, I remember finding a baby bird and trying to care for it. I also remember the baby ducklings that got stuck in our pool and my brother helped rescue them. When I was a kid I also remember the emotions I felt when we visited the zoo or went to the circus. I didn’t like seeing animals in cages or being forced to perform. I think I always felt strongly that wild animals should be free.  

I guess most kids have different ideas about their dream job. For a while I wanted to be a Basketball player or a Soccer player. Or maybe a firefighter. In college, I thought about film-making, graphic design and, of course, photography. Now I feel as though I’ve found what I’m supposed to do. I feel as though I make a difference every time I am involved in rescuing, rehabilitating or releasing an animal. 

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