My Story Begins:
I started my education experience as a Biology/Pre-Vet major. There was nothing I wanted to do more than become a veterinarian for a zoo. After declaring my major, I was advised to get a start on my “animal experience” hours. These could be gained in a variety of ways including horseback riding, volunteering at a shelter, and shadowing at a veterinary clinic. The summer between my freshmen and sophomore year, I started shadowing a local veterinarian. While that was a truly incredible experience, it was not the decision that changed my life. That came with an email; an email I sent asking for more information to volunteer at Valley of the Kings, a wild animal sanctuary about 45 minutes north of my home. An email turned into an information packet, which turned into an application, which finally ended in a phone call. The woman on the phone was warm, inviting, and very enthusiastic. Telling me they started every Wednesday at 10am, she encouraged me to bring a pair of old jeans, some work boots, lunch, and a camera. “And just come out and hang out and have fun with us,” she concluded. I had barely hung up the phone before letting out the highest-octave squeal I have ever produced in my life. In just a few days, I would be working with lions, tigers, and bears (Oh my!).
I have to admit that that day was not engraved in my memory. I don’t take that as an indicator of anything negative. If anything, I feel like it’s because I already felt like I was home. I drove up into the gravel parking lot and was excitedly greeted by three women. They wasted no time in getting to work, and showing me the ways of caring for exotic animals. I won’t go into the details though, you’ll get plenty more later. I will say, though, I came back home around 3pm that day a sweaty, dirty, and bloody (yes bloody, feeding large carnivores is messy!) mess. Although I was dirty and tired, I sprinted into the house and stood in the doorway to my living room, narrating my entire day to my parents (much to my mother’s dismay seeing as I was standing in her clean house a dirty mess).
Fast-forward to the next summer, where our work lasted until about 6pm due to a shortage of volunteers. During the drive home, I caught myself smiling. This was nothing unusual since I smiled after every day I had there. What I realized though, was that, after a year of working with these animals; through the love, laughs, and losses, I never stopped smiling. I never lost that feeling that I had the first day. All the while, my drives home from the vet clinic were becoming more of a relief that the day was finally over and I could go home.
Although I had a mid-(college)life crisis due to this realization. I decided to drop my Pre-Vet discipline and continue down a path I never considered, but always loved.
While it saddens me to say that I was not be able to return to Valley of the Kings this last summer, I know it was for another just as incredible experience. I started interning at the Niabi Zoo this summer (and will continue through fall term), but let’s just save that story for another post.
Posted on September 10th, 2013 by Natalie Sherman
Filed under: Natalie Sherman