Sunday, August 31, 2014

Brutally Honest

I often get comments like “I don’t know how you do it”.  The thing is, I don’t really know how either. From the very beginning failure was not an option so sometimes it’s just a matter of taking it all one day at a time.  The average person has life outside of their job doing things like cleaning up or maintaining the home, doing the grocery shopping, taking care of pets, taking care of children and spending time with their friends and family. For us we have to keep up all of those things too (well, except the kids part) but add on another 250 mouths to feed. Shopping is spent mostly getting food for the animals and getting a few things for us while we’re at it. Keeping it all going isn’t just the physical cleaning and feeding the animals, there is a business to run. We have tax documents, accounting, website maintenance, social media updates, event planning, newsletters and educational program to arrange. This all on top of my working weekdays (and a few weekends) while Nigel works every weekend with rugby, just to get by. We have to find the very difficult balance of working enough to scrape by financially yet have enough time here to keep everything going. Most every day I spend working about 12 hours in one way or another. So when someone asks “how do you do it?” I just don’t have a chance to stop and think about it.

One of the problems though is that I do have to be away from the animals a lot.  This crazy schedule is sometimes the hardest part to deal with. These animals are my passion, my love and the reason I do this. I constantly have new ideas for training or other things I would love to do with them but then resign to ‘if I only had time’.  I do get frustrated and spend a lot of time being completely exhausted. In fact, what prompted me to write this is that I had reached a point of burning out. But don’t worry, it happens every so often and I bounce back.  There are days where I just don’t feel like picking up another damn piece of poop or that I wish the monkeys could feed themselves. The thing is that none of that is optional. It doesn’t matter if one of us is away, if one of us is sick or if it’s a holiday. These animals depend on us for their care. For that, I keep going. I peel myself up and trudge out to take care of what needs to be done. Here’s the great part; every single time I am reminded at just how fortunate I am. I get out there and a monkey will eat out of my hand, a bird will say something funny or step up for me when I wasn’t expecting them too or Bardou or Ginger will get excited to see me. Once in a while I will just stop and look around. I will look at all the amazing reptiles we have, the enclosures that have been built for the cats and even the chickens happy in their yard. I immediately fill with pride, a sense of peace and a satisfaction knowing that these animals are healthy and happy because of what I do. 

So how do we really do it? It takes passion, dedication, a strong work ethic and (dare I say?) 2 stubborn people that won’t give up.  We worked the first several years non-stop and only last year took our first vacation together for the first time in 6 years. We decided that even if it’s only a few days we needed that time, so we were fortunate enough to get away again last week.  It took 2 full days to get the knots out of my shoulders. So what do 2 people do that are surrounded by animals every day do for vacation?  We go looking for more animals. This includes getting up before 6am to get the best viewing, driving down logging roads, walking through swampy areas and turning over more logs than I ever have in my life.  As much as I have always loved working at zoos and having our collection of exotics, nothing thrills me more than to see animals in their natural setting where they are free to live the life they were meant to live. 

One of the many beautiful views we got to enjoy in the Smoky Mountains.
White-tailed Deer in the morning mist at Cades Cove.
A very small section of the logging road we traveled for nearly 2 miles.

Nigel in his thinking pose.
He was impressed that I was doing such a good job finding the salamanders,
until I started finding them faster. LOL  

The very rare Jordan's Salamander; a very special find for Nigel. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Raising Bardou

So it’s about time for another update on raising Bardou, the coyote pup.  He’s 13 weeks old now (time flies!) and quite the explorer.  There are no bottles or cute little pups curling up in your lap. He is full of energy with very sharp nails and even sharper teeth.  For the first few weeks he was so small he could stay in the bath tub and not climb over the side. Those days are long gone and he now stays outside.  He stays in a small enclosure close to the house. When he has grown he will be moved into a much larger space.  It’s at this age that hand-raising a wild animal is the most difficult. All he wants to do is play, which can be quite rough. This is how pups learn from one another.  It is up to us to fill this role of other coyotes and let him know what the rules are, yet still let him have his fun as a young canine.

The baby picture, 3 weeks old.
Twice a day Nigel and I take him out for “playtime”. He gets to run around the yard and interact with us. What we do with this time is very important to his growth.  I love just sitting and watching him and Nigel. He is so in tune with his “dad” and they run and run around chasing each other. Sometimes I can’t tell who’s supposed to be chasing who.  I always see the biggest smiles on Nigel when he’s interacting with our animals.  I love when Bardou finds a bug. He jumps up with all four legs and pounces on it. Then there are the moments where he finds a clump of grass.  He spends a great deal of time tossing it in the air chasing it and pouncing on it.  He knows exactly where it has landed and always seems to go back to it until it has completely broken apart.  The most amazing thing to me is that we have 4 other canines, domesticated canines at that, and none of them fetch.  Bardou, the coyote, will fetch. He loves his tennis ball and actually does bring it back. Lately he’s chased after it and then gotten very easily sidetracked on all that’s going on in the yard.

10 weeks old
The wild coyote does come out in him. He’s often passed some blackberries and stopped to eat them on his way by, or even a grub or two, even after having had his dinner.  He plays rough with a lot of jumping and he can be mouthy. Not that he’s trying to bite but it’s the way he would have played with other pups. His teeth are a bit too sharp for human skin that isn’t covered in fur.  He is very different when other people in the yard with us. He does not like strangers and any of the volunteers that want to work with him has to keep up contact with him and get him used to him and the right way to act around him.  New people freak him out all-together even though he’s been hand-raised.  Which is why there are so many coyotes in the wild yet very few are actually seen.  They do their very best to avoid people.  At work the doctor and I were told a story where a man was walking his 2 small dogs down the street and a coyote came up and snatched one of the dogs off the leash and killed it.  I can tell you that if that story is true it either was a dog of some type or a rabid coyote. I have learned that even a healthy, hand-raised coyote does NOT like confrontation and does not like to go near strange people.  It’s been amusing to watch people’s reactions to him that really want him to act like a dog or puppy that just always loves people.

Me and my boy, 13 weeks old.

My favorite part about raising Bardou isn’t just about working with a coyote. Nigel and very rarely work on projects together. We just get so very busy with so much to do around here.  Training Bardou every night is a project that Nigel and I are working on together.  More formal training will come later, but for now we are just learning our “manners”. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Opening the House part 2

Another open house is done and this one had a very weird outcome.  It truly reminded me that success is measured in so many different ways.  This was perhaps the most organized we've ever been and everything went very smoothly. Not that the others weren't organized, it was just better this time.  Financially, it didn't break records but still brought in more money than most of our others. The people that came stayed for longer periods of time and truly seemed to have a good time. Now here’s the weird part; for all that, we had record low number of people.  This tells me that we have found a great formula for how to run our event; we just need to figure out a better way to get people there.  Marketing is definitely not my forte, but I’m learning all the time and already have ideas for the next one.

The one thing that made the event such a success is the volunteers.  I am truly fortunate to have some wonderful, very hard working people by my side. Having such great people that I can trust and that have been here long enough to understand what is going on made such a huge difference on my stress level. A friend of mine even commented on a picture that I was actually smiling on open house day.  There were a couple points during the day where I started talking about the work everyone was doing and I felt myself getting choked up. The gratitude I have is overwhelming.

Some of my favorite moments this year were The Cold Water Challenge with Jennifer and Glenda. They each raised money to have ice cold water dumped on them.  It was fun, especially in the heat. One of my youngest volunteers stepped up to the plate and offered to take an important couple around on a tour. He did a great job and I was very proud of him.  We were also able to get Dakota, the bobcat, to do a few of his trained behaviors in front of guests. He was reluctant and nervous but the fact that he did them at all was a great moment for everyone that got to watch.  At one point I went in to check on Ginger, the Fennec Fox, I was sitting down inside her enclosure trying to get her to come out of her house to see me. She would look at me and roll over but never came out. That is until her favorite volunteer came around. She bolted out of that house and rushed towards her.  I knew exactly where I stood in her mind (haha).  It was a wonderful moment though.  My other favorite thing was having guest vendors, since our first years were just us. Scaly Adventures has now joined us a few times but this year we had a musician (SaxMan Entertainment) and Kona Ice. I love that we can now offer such diversity to our guests.  

As tired as I am after the event is over I really enjoy the days afterwards.  Everything is clean at once, the yard is cleaned up, the animals are resting and I get a sense of pride over what we have done.  I really wish that we had the facilities to offer something far more often than twice a year.  Perhaps someday we will. The reality of it though is that I barely get a day of rest and it’s time to start thinking about the next event or fundraiser. In this business it never ends.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Opening the house

It’s that time of year where I get easily distracted, stressed and anxious. It’s time for our open house. In just a few days we will have a few hundred people at our home. This isn't like some big party; most of these people are total strangers. It is not a normal concept to open one’s property to pretty much anyone. Our first Adventure Day was in 2009.  We had been an official organization for two years by then.  In some ways it seems like it was a natural progression to start letting people in and in other ways it was not an easy decision.  There have always been a large number of animals that we can’t take out to programs and of course people were always curious about those. More and more often people were asking to come out to see all the animals. Of course that wasn't a problem when it was friends and family but when you start to get complete strangers requesting to come it’s another issue.  We decided that something had to be done to let people come visit. Then the hard part began. How do we let people come to our home to see the animals yet still have retained our privacy?  We got together with our volunteers and friends and started planning and brainstorming.  Rule number 1, no one but volunteers are allowed into the house. Rule number 2 was that we never publish our exact address.  This may have limited us over the years for the numbers of people that have come out but it’s the risk I’m willing to take. 

I wouldn't say that the first one was a giant financial success but the people that came had a great time. To me, that was the best measure of success and it was enough to take what we had learned to do more. I remember the morning of the event. It felt like such chaos. No one had done this before and it seemed like everything was running behind schedule. We managed to get it together though and no one probably noticed the “imperfections”. As somewhat of a control freak I had to learn to let go of the little things.  I would walk around and think that a sign wasn't quite where I would put it, that something was laid out in a random order or that games were played completely differently from how I created them. It was actually a bit of struggle to get myself to the point of not worrying about these little things. 

We are now at 12 events later and I still feel like I’m learning better ways to do things. I think that’s a good thing; we always want to be improving it and giving people new reasons to come out.  I would say that the most important things to me to have a successful event and one that’s as little stress as possible is 1) to be very organized, 2) to have great people behind me that know exactly how these things go and 3) to trust the people that are working so hard to help. I've been fortunate to have so many people over the years that fit this picture.  There is no doubt that this day exhausts every volunteer we have.  I am always humbled by the number of people that are willing to come out and work so hard for us.

As much as I sit here and talk about the stress and the amount of work; I must admit, I actually enjoy doing these events. When I stop and take a moment to look around I see kids having fun with the games, a line of people at the food, the deck full of people anxiously trying to get to touch the animals and many others checking out the animals or just hanging out having a good time, I fill with pride. This is something that Nigel and I have worked so hard to create and so many people are here to support us and our animals.  Then I quickly snap back to reality because someone needs to know where something is or what to do about something else. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou died today. I must confess that growing up I didn’t pay much attention to her. That wasn’t about her specifically. I didn’t like to read and I especially didn’t like poetry so I just didn’t have the appreciation that I gained as an adult.  For me, she was a hero in recent years. A few years ago I started getting depressed. Not just a little down, I felt the darkness starting to take over me. Keeping the rescue going in a down economy just tends to take a toll on someone. I had read a few books and was working to keep myself from being completely consumed but it was Maya Angelou that helped me snap out of it.  I was flipping through channels and caught a program on Oprah’s network called Master Class and the whole hour was about Ms. Angelou. There was something about the way she spoke and the words she chose that drew me in.  I felt so uplifted and inspired after watching her. It doesn’t seem real that someone can just “snap out of it” when they are so depressed but it certainly felt that way for me. What she said made a difference to me at precisely the time I needed to hear it.

“Just do right.  Be all that you can be. Live your life in a way that you won’t regret.  You make your own choices.  Make it a better world.  It can be better.  It must be better, but it is up to us.”- Maya Angelou

THE Bite, Part 3

I’ve now attempted to start this next part about 3 or 4 times but it’s proving to be very difficult to write. The early years were full of extremes. At the time I lost my finger my parents had just split up after 24 years of marriage, I split up from my fiancĂ© at the time 6 weeks before the wedding and I had just moved to South Carolina from Connecticut less than a year before and didn’t have a whole lot of friends. My life seemed to be in shambles and then I go and lose a finger. Maybe I simply went into survival mode but I made the best of the next couple of years. I made lifelong friends and had wonderful experiences. It was also the beginning of what was to become a life of being a work-a-holic.

It’s now been 20 years since the bite happened and as clichĂ© as it sounds, I really do remember it like it was yesterday. Last week Dave came into town and we got together with everyone we could to celebrate that anniversary. It was wonderful to see everyone and great to reminisce. It’s bitter sweet though to think of “that” place. So many good times, good memories and good people but unfortunately there’s a side that is unpleasant. Back when we were there it was a privately run zoo which gave us amazing opportunities and taught us so much. Now that I have a whole lot more experience there are so many things that really should have been done differently. It’s true what they say, ignorance is bliss. For me, I will cherish the memories and be grateful for the lifelong friends I made. One thing about it is that we all formed such a tight bond. We were (are) family.

I (as with most of the others) did pretty much everything there since it was a small zoo. I cared for animals, did group tours, stage presentations and other educational needs. But one of the best experiences I had back then was being able to hand-raise some of the babies. The theory was that if all the animals were hand reared they wouldn’t be afraid of people and make for better exhibit animals. It was a novelty and seriously, who can resist a baby anything?  Today I prefer any babies to be parent reared (whenever possible) because it really is better for the animal.  I was fortunate enough to hand raise black leopards, lions, tigers, jaguars, caracals, monkeys, wolves and bears. They came home every night so they could be cared for through the night. It wasn’t easy because you had to learn to distance yourself no matter how much time and effort you put in.  These animals quickly grew up to be big and dangerous so it’s not like they were staying as pets. I must admit there is quite the adrenalin rush when the animal you’ve raised is full grown and you could still work with it. I clearly remember one of the black panthers I raised bringing his chicken over to eat while sitting in my lap. 

Little did I know that raising such a variety of animals back then would be so useful for our own rescue today. Here at Safe Haven we’ve had animals come in pregnant, monkeys that had birth control failure and babies dropped off.  One of the monkeys (Valentino) had to be hand raised because he was rejected by his mother. Nigel was still in England at the time and I went at it alone but he was good enough (for a monkey) that we used him for programs. Most recently we’ve been raising Bardou, a coyote pup that was dumped in someone’s yard (as mentioned in one of my earlier posts). New things and circumstances come up all the time when you run your own sanctuary; I still get surprised when I look back at my past and find some connection that has truly benefitted our own animals.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

THE Bite, Part 2

The hospital we went to was not able to do the surgery. I had to be wrapped up and given lots of drugs then transported to another one. Dave drove and we picked my mother up along way. When we walked in it was like my 15 minutes of fame. Everyone was talking and commenting about “you’re the one that was bit by the monkey”. My first thought (then and it is now) was that it was an ape, not a monkey. I didn’t always correct them. For some reason, I remained rational about the whole thing and came to accept it very quickly. I really didn’t have much else to do while sitting in the hospital for many hours waiting for my surgery. I remember a nurse coming in to take my blood and asking me about what happened. She then asked so “what are they going to do?” I matter-of-factly stated that “oh, they’re going to take it off”. She actually went pale. To this day I’m not sure what upset her so much the thought of the amputation or my casual attitude.  I was given a choice when it came to the surgery. I could have my hand numbed, my arm numbed (so I could watch) or put fully under. I really wanted my arm numbed and to be able to watch. Just as they were wheeling me in they changed their mind and put me under. To this day I regret that; I wish I could have watched it. To me the worst part of the whole thing was waking up from the surgery. I had a very hard time with that and literally thought I was going to die. Something went wrong and I was choking and gagging yet not able to stay awake to get enough air. I made it through and arrived home at something like 5:00 in the morning. You really learn who your true friends are when you go through and experience like that. So many people stepped up and did so much to help me through. I also lost a few friends over it too. One in particular could not understand why I would possibly go back to work there after all that. She quit talking to me over it. That’s ok though; the friends I made then have become lifelong friends and will be celebrating the 20th anniversary with me.

The doctors told me to stay away from the zoo for several weeks for risk of infection. Of course I couldn’t wait that long. On day two a friend drove me up. The very first thing I did was walk over to that chimp enclosure. I knew it was something I had to do.  Of course, I stayed on the visitor side but I was proud that I went over there at all. I did go back to work at the zoo a few weeks later.  I needed to understand why it happened. Here was a permanent thing that happened and I wanted to know absolutely everything I could about the reasons behind it. I was told that the chimp was jealous. That sounded so weird to me but it took me another year to fully realize that it was absolutely true. Rosie liked her regular keeper Dave and I was too new to see the signs that she did not appreciate having me around. It would not have mattered if Dave was there or not for her to bite me. Chimpanzees have the intelligence to wait for the right opportunity no matter when it is.

I moved up to becoming the full-time primate keeper and not only worked with chimps but worked with the very chimp that took off my finger. It was a daily battle between the two of us. She was constantly spitting at me or throwing things. I did well with them though. No one knew better than I did what could happen if you make one simple mistake. A male chimp came along that developed a crush on me. He was amazing to work with and so gentle with me. I could put my arm along the cage (keeping it on the outside) and he would groom my arm and under my nails. But if a person came in the building, especially if it was a male that was close to me such as my brother, he would go berserk. He had an enormous plastic drum as part of his “furniture” and he would pick it up and throw it against the wall like it was a soda can in a fit of rage. The strength behind these animals is truly amazing. I have a huge amount of respect for them and enjoyed the challenge of working with them. That being said, I would never have one here at our sanctuary. 

I do have to say that there was one piece of advice from a dear friend at the zoo that has always stayed with me. I did have some moments of struggling with the concept as you would expect. She told me that I had to mourn the loss. I had lost a part of me as if I lost a best friend and that I had to allow myself to mourn. That concept was so healing and made all the difference in the world.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

THE Bite

*warning: graphic description

I saved this one for today. Today is a special 20th anniversary. Good or bad, depends on your perspective but none-the-less it was a life changing event and I have embraced it from the beginning.  I was brand new to the zoo field and had only been working at this particular place for less than a year. I wasn’t even full time animal staff (yet). I had to work my way up and did that by helping the animal staff as much as I possibly could. This particular day I was helping Dave feed the Chimpanzees.  It was just before the park closing and we were standing in front of the chimpanzee enclosure in the park.  This meant that visitors were standing behind us watching us feed them.  I dropped some food and reached down to pick it up to move it closer.  One of the chimps named Rosie reached out and grabbed my arm and pulled it into the cage biting down on my hand.  Dave instinctively grabbed my arm and Rosie’s face poking her in the eyes to get her to let go.  I didn’t scream or cry out.  In fact, I felt nothing.  I was focused on the fact that I could not feel a finger anymore, it wasn’t just numb; I actually felt nothing.  I have no way to explain it but I knew there was a void.  I immediately grabbed my hand so tight that Dave had to literally pry my fingers apart to get a look at it.  All he said was that we need to get to the hospital.  I don’t remember what we talked about but he kept talking and managed to keep me from going into shock.  At the hospital I had several doctors looking at my hand.  They had me go through a series of movements to see if any mobility was left.  The truth was there would never be any mobility.  In fact, although the bones were there absolutely nothing was left on them. I was never able to look it straight on. I could see it out of the corner of my eye and was able to stay detached. It was like something out of a movie, a horror movie no less.  I was told my choice was a series of extremely painful skin grafts or to amputate.  I chose amputation.  It was the better choice especially since we were dealing with an animal bite.  It was only then that I started to cry. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Introducing Bardou

It’s been a lot longer than I anticipated for my next post. When one is in pain the ability to do so many little things is lost. I managed to get bit by a fire ant (or possibly spider) and have an allergic reaction to it. I was in a great deal of pain for 5 days. For me that's saying a lot because I have a high threshold for pain but I am finally on the mend although the site looks quite ugly. I will spare every one of the nasty details.  I got bit because I was sitting in the grass with our newest animal.

We have been hand-raising a baby coyote for about 2 weeks now.  The couple that turned it in found it in their front yard. The strangest part about this was that they live on an extremely busy main road.  They knew it was not just a puppy and could not possibly care for it properly, not to mention he was badly dehydrated and not doing well. We took him in and found that he was less than 3 weeks old. At this age it’s remarkable at how much wolf pups, coyote pups and fox kits all look alike. He was named after a wolf, Bardou, although it was the least likely option because of his size. In only a few days enough of him grew to see the details. To be perfectly honest, we had to send photos to experts because we do not have the experience needed to see such minute details in wild canids (aka canines). What we have is a coyote and why he was in someone’s front yard will forever be a mystery. It was too late for him to be rehabbed and released (unfortunately) because he had been imprinted on people so we decided to hand-raise him ourselves and use him for education.

Nigel and I both have hand-raised quite a few animals but it has been number of years for each of us. Our combined list includes lions, tigers, leopards, lemurs, parrots, monkeys, bears and wolves (among others). It’s an amazing experience. Very rewarding and exhausting at the same time.  People always tend to offer to the help through the bottle feeding days but they don’t realize that that is not the hard part. The tough times are when they get a bit older and more mobile. You not only have to keep up with them but teach them all sorts of new things about being a wild animal living among people.  It’s the little things like not allowing anyone to “play rough”. It’s cute when they’re little but when they grow up to be a full grown lion (for example) it’s not so cute. 

Bardou struggled in his first few days so we didn’t even announce him to the public.  He had to overcome his dehydration only to get constipated by baby formula. It was all a new change to his little body. We got him through it all and he is now eating canned food very well.  He’s exploring more and more now and it’s wonderful to see the world through the eyes of a baby animal. Every noise, every insect, every movement is something new to his world. What a way to learn to appreciate the little things. Although… I got a bit too close to those at least one of those little things. See, now you’ve gotten the first ‘bite’ story and I didn’t even plan on that one.  I don’t do well with fire ants. I would much rather deal with blood and guts before creepy crawly fire ants.  Enough about the bugs though, I got a bit side tracked. I'm sure you will get many updates on the adventures with Bardou. He has already won over the heart of everyone that has seen him.

Friday, April 18, 2014


There are countless “little” moments that happen that touch the heart and rarely get remembered, let alone recorded. Then there are the moments that keep people laughing for years to come.  All of these little things are about the people as much as they are about the animals.  I have been educating people about animals and conservation for just as long as I have been caring for the animals. I have always loved the expressions on children’s faces when they see and especially touch an animal for the first time.  But when I hear that I have really made an impact on a child; that touches the heart.  Years ago I was working in Florida and I was leading a group around an island and one parent came up to me.  She told me that she remembered me from the year before when she was there with her children. Her young son was later out on a boat and stopped the men fishing from throwing the discarded fishing line overboard. The mother said he specifically remembered my talking about the permanent damage it caused the pelicans and told these men all about it.  I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it to know the difference I made that day. 

There are always the people that make off the wall comments or questions that come from left field.  At one of our table set ups we had some earrings for sale to raise some money to support the animals.  These earrings were made of feathers that were shed by our birds. One day a woman had come up and had been talking to us for a while, she came across as a bit of know-it-all, but half way through the conversation she looks at the earrings and asks what we thought about people using feathers for jewelry, etc.  Glenda was with me and we looked at each other and then at her a bit puzzled and she went on to mention that “people were getting birds just for their feathers”. I explained to her that the birds just shed them naturally and that we pick ours up, clean them off and then our volunteers make things out of them.  The woman looked at me as if she didn’t believe me and was slightly horrified like we would pluck our birds for their feathers. I don’t think I ever convinced her that it was a natural occurance. You can’t win them all.

I have worked with thousands of individual animals but there are always a few that really touch your heart.  Some of the best moments are with the birds. When you work with animals that talk it opens up a whole different world that just adds a lot of comic relief to your life.  Especially when they catch you saying something you don’t want them to hear.  We had a very intelligent African Gray that seemed to have great timing with everything he said.  One day Nigel was coming into the house from the bird area (aka our garage) and he tripped up the stairs. Nigel ‘claims’ he tripped over shoes I left there, but I don’t know about that. ;-)  As he was catching himself while going into the house he yelled (picture it with an English accent) “for f*^k’s sake”. Not 15 minutes later I was in the kitchen and Nigel was on the front porch and we both hear very loudly from Garrett “for f*^k’s sake”.  We’ve had a great laugh over that for years now. Fortunately, Garrett decided not to repeat it more than a couple times. These are just a couple moments out of thousands that I have experienced they make you laugh and touch your heart.  

Friday, April 11, 2014


Working with animals is all that I have ever wanted to do. There was never any doubt about that. Even as a child one of the little make-believe games my brother, our friend and I played was about me being an animal trainer, and of course they were the viscious animals. In high school I spent a lot of time going to animal shows and talked to trainers afterwards. They all said to get a degree but equally important was to get experience volunteering with animals. To this day I find myself giving that same bit of advice to anyone that asks me.  In college I had a moment of doubt that I would be able to make it work and thought I should do the sensible thing. There was a recession at the time and it was extremely difficult for anyone to even find a job. I changed my major to Chemistry so that I had more options. The dream had never left my heart so when I moved from Connecticut to South Carolina and had an opportunity to work with animals I never looked back.  One of things that I love the most about having our own organization is that now I can provide those opportunities for people with their own dreams.

There was a down side. Every trainer also said to be prepared to have to have a second job just to get by. It was a job that was done out of passion and love for the animal world but that it did not pay well. This did not deter me and to my surprise, my parents never tried to talk me out of it. Keep in mind though that this does not mean they were always happy about it. ;)  I have always had to work very long hard hours.  There haven't been any 'extras' in my life because of it. I haven't traveled to exotic locations, I don't have fancy new clothes, my hair has even been the same long straight style for all of my adult life. I must say that although it would be nice to have some of those things I have never felt that I have missed out on anything. I have been doing everything that I have ever wanted to do.  I do know that this whole concept has frustrated and worried several of my family members. I can't say that I blame them for being worried but as my father had always told me "it's only money, your happiness is more important". This was often told to me when I made (or changed) plans that cost them money, such as cancelling a wedding. I don't think he meant it in the way I've been living my life but it does go both ways.  The money would certainly be an added bonus but it's nothing compared to the pride I have in how I've lived my life.

I lost one of my best friends just a couple of years ago. She was much too young to die but I know that Jennifer lived every day of her life the way she wanted to. She never wasted a minute and enjoyed life. Despite the fact that we were opposite in many ways. I am so grateful that this is one way in which we are (were) very much alike. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


When I started Safe Haven & Educational Adventures, Inc. with Nigel we had no idea where it would go or even how far we wanted to take it. All I knew was that it was something I had to do. There was a part of me that just knew it was what I was meant to do. When I look back at my past it was as if everything was in preparation and training for taking on just such an endeavour. As I set out I had a dream, even though the details were not entirely clear. Discovering those details has made the quest interesting. Despite the frustrations there was never any looking back. After all, we had nearly 250 animals in our care. Making it work was the only option.

I was raised to follow your dreams, work hard, stay determined, respect others and that happiness was most important in life.  To many people my life is extraordinary, to me it's just ordinary. I came from a middle class family where we were taught to work for what you want. I would make up my mind about something and make it work. I was never one to have a "plan B". If I had a goal I believed that I would get there and usually did.  This attitude has taken me on many adventures. I've had numerous people tell me that I should write a book because I had so many stories. I think I've started about 3 or 4 times but could never quite get into it. To me it was a bit intimidating because I've never been the literary type but there was more to it. A book is supposed to have a beginning, middle and an end. For me, I haven't gotten anywhere close to an end yet (even if it was just the first book). In fact, I still feel as though I'm still beginning. It was suggested to me to start a blog. After some thought, I realized that this was the best idea for me. I don't claim to be the best at anything, I just do the best I can at everything I'm passionate about.  Join me on my journey and you will learn some of stories of the past, discover what's going on today and experience the future together. This is a little Bit about me and the Bites, well there are plenty of those to go around, just wait and see.