Sunday, June 22, 2003

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

I woke up around 4am thanks to a kitty with an upset tummy. Hearing a cat puke can turn my stomach but then cleaning up after them is even worse. It's hard to believe I actually enjoyed working at the Louisville Zoo the summer after graduating from high school considering the pounds of big cat (tigers, pumas, lynx) waste I had to shovel. It was really an enjoyable job and although I really wanted to work with the animals in the Aquatics and South American areas, it was Bill that made me want to be there. Bill was the zookeeper I worked with every day, from 7am until 4pm, Monday through Friday. I was a frequent visitor to the zoo prior to working there and I'd noticed Bill on a couple different occasions while he was working. He always had a pleasantry about him... in his gait, in the manner in which he spoke to the public, in the way he went about his tasks without ever looking like he wished he was somewhere else. His outward appearance stated that he was a keeper. In addition to his zookeeper khaki uniform of a button-down, short-sleeved shirt, expedition-style shorts and boots, his physical being said that he was a naturalist, an outdoorsman. He had that Grizzly Adams' look but in the thinner version. I was an impressionable 17-year-old and was lured to the zoo after seeing him on so many of my visits.

When I applied as a volunteer for the summer, I specifically asked to be in the area that I knew Bill worked. Despite the coordinator's speech on not getting to select where you work, I was given the area I wanted and was pleased. Not only did I hope to work with Bill, I hoped to work with the polar bears, sea lions , seals, and large cats. Ever since childhood, I've enjoyed being around animals. At one time, I had aspirations of pursuing a career in marine biology or some other overly scientific field that only interested me because animals were involved. Volunteering at the zoo fit the bill. I was able to learn about the animals and provide health care and nourishment without having to provide their Latin name or any other details that one learns from studying them academically.

I got close to a few of the animals, like Waylon and Willy. Those two wolf pups were blind and if I got the story right, it was due to the gelatin provided in their diets. Knowing that humans were to blame for their inability made the reality of zoolife plain as day. I spent time bottle-feeding those energetic and incredibly precious little creatures... many times with tears in my eyes because I knew that I wouldn't be feeding them for much longer. Due to their loss of sight, they would not be accepted into the pack. The saying "Only The Strong Survive" is a truth in the animal kingdom. They could never maintain in that environment, even if they are contained in a fenced yard. I was told that for Waylon and Willie euthanasia was inevitable. If I didn't have plans of going off to college, could I have taken them home and provided safe harbor? No... of course not. It was difficult to swallow since it wasn't Nature that caused their inability, and because of that, Nature wasn't allowed to run its course either.


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