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.