Wildlife Waystation: My Story

Have you ever found something worth fighting for?

When I arrived in California back 2009, for me, “myself” definitely wasn’t one of those somethings. Growing up, I had never been short of something to fight for. It seemed like every year I’d be making the rounds, going door to door in my neighborhood to ask for petition signatures to ban high-frequency naval sonar testing that was dangerous to marine life, or holding a lemonade stand with my friend down the street to raise money for the church offering. My dream as a kid was to become a marine mammal rehabilitator and open a center that would teach show cetaceans how to be wild again so they could be released back to the ocean. Hey, I was ten.

Then came middle school and my introduction to bioengineering. Soon my head was filled with thoughts of plasma membranes and cellular ligands and the HIV virus. By high school, I had decided that in college what I wanted to do was “cure AIDS: the major.” And after college, I would go on to become a medical researcher pursuing “cure AIDS: the life.” Dreams of animals got shuffled to the backburner for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, it was all tremendously interesting. It’s just that I had built my life and my self-worth on what I was doing, what I achieved, what good I was to others – but not what good I was to myself. By the time I became a college freshman, when it came to my life, I was frankly out of the picture.

Then came spring break. I took a chance and signed up for the service-based alternative spring break trip – to Wildlife Waystation, a local and exotic wildlife refuge. We would spend a few days renovating a giant-bird-cage-like structure called the “arena,” an grassy animal introduction and enrichment space. Animals? Something in a tucked-away corner of myself jumped. I was in.

Mungar, a WW tiger

By the time our spring break group had arrived at the Waystation, been drilled through the rules, romped down the hill to the compound, saw a dozen different kinds of animals in the space of two minutes, and been set to work on the arena – the sound of the lions next to us filling the air from time to time – I was smiling the sort of smile that hadn’t shown up on my face in a long time.

I had been there all of three hours and already the realization, totally unexpected, had hit me. Here, in this place – I was home.

I knew I had to come back.

And even I had begun to fall deep into mental and physical health issues, whenever I could successfully beg a ride, for the rest of freshman year, I did.

Summer arrived. I continued to decline. By mid-July, I had wound up in treatment.

Fast-forward to September. I’m sitting on a couch, my insurance effectively having ditched me. I’m furiously searching the web, looking for something to do besides fight the inside of my own head for the two and half weeks until school starts. I don’t have a car yet, and begging a ride has met with less and less success, so the Waystation wasn’t a viable option. Nevertheless, I keep clicking back to the Waystation’s webpage every so often.

Enter random fortuitous thought. “Hey, there are small animal vets, for dogs and cats, and large animal vets, for cows and horses, but tigers and monkeys and those other animals at the Waystation – they’re not really small animals or large animals… but there’s got to be a vet for them…”

Discovery: wildlife veterinarian.

Right then, I knew that was what wanted to be. I just didn’t let myself know that I knew it.

By that time, I had realized that honestly, I hated working a lab. AIDS: the life just wasn’t going to work out. But I still had to do something that would make me worth something! Eventually, I settled on nurse practitioner. But from my childhood and from volunteering at the Waystation, I knew that I liked working with animals. However, afraid of making a snap decision, I decided I would tuck the thought of wildlife veterinarian somewhere in my brain, just in case.

Fast forward some more. I’m on the bus on my way to an outpatient therapy session. I had been thinking about the people on Skid Row I served on Sunday, and my though train had lead to me to think about how in praying for them, I always acknowledged that they were people who had dreams that mattered, who had things they wanted to do that mattered, who all on their own, just mattered.

Enter another random fortuitous thought. Epiphany, really.

Maybe – I mattered too. All on my own. And maybe, maybe – it would be okay for me to do what made me happy in life. What I loved. Forget what good it might be doing anyone else. It was a good thing, all one its own, for me to do what would make me happy. And maybe that would be a good thing for the world, too. The world seems to need some happy people.

I could be a wildlife vet.

Sedona, a beautiful coyote at WW

Fast forward some more, and we’re to the present. There’s a much healthier me who’s learning how to take care of herself. A me who knows that you can’t be starved and work around coyotes. A me who’s no longer living a semi-conscious life, but has a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to keep herself strong and able. A me who’s finally allowed herself to pour herself whole-heartedly into doing what she loves.

A me who’s got animals as her motivation for doing all of that.

Thanks to the animals who saved my life and the other volunteers, who have liked and cared about me for the person I am, I found myself. I found home.

I found something worth fighting for.

* To find out more about the Waystation and how to help, visit www.wildlifewaystation.org

* All photos of animals are property of the Waystation and cannot be reproduced without permission of the Waystation. See here for original source.

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