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 fiancé 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 cliché 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.