The sanctuary has a relatively small staff, so each of us knows how to do the essential duties and can safely manage the sanctuary on any given day.
Still, we all have certain skills and interests that translate to specialized roles apart from the core caregiving responsibilities. Anna leads the volunteers and staff, Katelyn manages the office, Kelsi coordinates our outreach program, Chad curates the enrichment program and has a mustache, Dr. Erin is the dedicated veterinarian, and I have started focusing on projects related to animal health and behavior. At the helm of all this are the sanctuary’s co-directors who do most things as a team (although Diana is chiefly responsible for the development of the organization while J.B. primarily oversees the sanctuary’s operations).
It’s somewhat unusual for sanctuary directors to participate in activities like cleaning enclosures, maintaining the property and folding laundry. Anyone who knows Diana and J.B., however, won’t be surprised to read that they are still involved in various tasks around the sanctuary on a daily basis. For example, it’s not unusual to see J.B. play chase with Burrito, fly the drone, do hours of office work, hang up safety signs, drive to Wenatchee to pick up produce, help serve chimp dinner, weld together a Foot Box, and then mow the lawn in the span of a single work day. Diana and J.B. have regular shifts when they are scheduled to do chimpanzee care, but that doesn’t prevent them from helping out on most of the days in between. Sometimes, they even do things for the chimpanzee and bovine residents when we’re not expecting them to be working at all.
That’s exactly what happened this morning.
As Sunday’s lead caregiver (a responsibility we all share on a rotating basis), I pulled into the driveway a little before 9:00am. I always scan the surroundings as I cruise up the dirt road towards the Chimp House, but my heart skipped a beat this morning because there were cattle in a place where we don’t usually have cattle. Had anyone been sitting in the passenger seat, they would have heard me mumble “Oh, $#%&.”
Betsy, Honey, Meredith and Nutmeg were trotting around the expansive pasture which separates the chimpanzee’s outdoor enclosure from the neighboring ranch to the South. As of Thursday evening (the last time I was here), the fencing was incomplete and it looked like it might be a few more days, if not weeks, before the pasture would be ready for our herd of four rescued bovines. Some projects, such as giving the cattle their spring hoof trim and breaking ground on the new wing of chimpanzee enclosures, have been temporarily postponed due to the ongoing public health crisis. We had previously discussed hurrying the fencing project to give the cattle some more grass to turn into mass and gas, but it was unclear when we would get around to it.
Before accelerating up the driveway, I squinted at the distant fence-line and was both relieved and shocked to see that the posts were connected by shimmering aluminum wire. This wasn’t a jailbreak event and the cattle were still safely enclosed. Someone had finished securely enclosing the pasture.
I looked further up the hill and eventually spotted J.B. on the Gator, proudly watching over the three cows and one enormous steer-child. Sure enough, he had just finished enclosing the pasture by himself on a Sunday morning so that the cattle could have a full day to acclimate to their new digs. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this sort of thing anymore. It’s become normal that the sanctuary looks like a slightly different place every time that I leave for a few days, and little changes can accumulate quickly. It really makes me appreciate how Anna can return from a three-month maternity leave and jump right back into managing the Chimp House during a global pandemic. To see such changes taking place, even in the most uncertain of times, is evidence of the slow but steady growth of the sanctuary.
That wasn’t the only big change to happen while I was away. We have recently been brainstorming ways to help Willy B, Honey B and Mave to adventure out into their section of Young’s Hill. On Friday, just two days after we all decided to start putting out more food on the boardwalk that extends out into the grassy enclosure, Willy B took his first steps out of the chute and into the open courtyard in order to retrieve some scattered food. Even though he appeared hesitant and calculating, it also clearly took some extraordinary guts. We’re not sure when the new three were last able to walk on real grass or go outside without caging overhead (if ever), so Young’s Hill must be a scary place for them. I wasn’t at the sanctuary on Friday, but I was happily bombarded by texts and videos from the staff who were working. Willy did it again on Saturday and I, once again, spent my afternoon smiling while watching the uplifting video over and over on my couch at home.
Today, I had the joy of seeing two amazing events first-hand: Willy going out into the courtyard for a third straight day and the cattle being brave enough to venture out into a new pasture. It’s strange to see how the two events parallel each other despite the obvious fact that cattle and chimpanzees behave quite differently. I’m ecstatic that the sanctuary’s residents are opening up to new experiences, regardless of whether they have hooves or big hairy feet. I’m also really proud of our sanctuary’s team (and community of supporters) for providing them with these opportunities to go beyond their past experiences. It gives me confidence to see us surging forward, one little unexpected step at a time.