All those who work, volunteer, intern, or visit the Conservators Center often have what they consider their animals. To some people, these are the ones that are always willing to come over and say hello, the ones who politely accept treats and toys, and the ones who are always content to spend some quiet time with their person. To others, their animal is one that might be cantankerous and grumpy, yet occasionally lets that person see a softer side. To me, the animals that I define as my own are the ones that have something to teach me, some wisdom to offer that will evolve my mind and change my life.
I have a household full of critters: cats, snakes, lizards, a sassy old sugar glider… even a non-releasable adult squirrel that I have raised since infancy. While I love them all dearly, and would not rehome them for the world or take their passings lightly, I admit that some of them are not my animals.
The first of my animals was my first reptile: Eve, a corn snake as yellow as butter. I chose to adopt her mostly out of stubbornness; I wanted to get over my fear of the creepy-crawlies in the world. Within a week, I was no longer concerned with those that slither and strike, and within a month, I considered myself a “herp person” (someone who adores reptiles). Eve taught me that I could take the steps to change myself, that I could be responsible for another living being, and—of course—that snakes are far more personable than most people think.
My first animal at the Conservators Center was a persnickety old Geoffroy’s cat named Victoria. We fondly referred to her as “old as dirt,” as she was likely well into her twenties when she passed away. My first interaction with Victoria was a quick glimpse of her as she disappeared (very offended that I had caught sight of her) into her denbox. Over time, she came to see me as a person who brought tasty treats (only the finest salmon and tilapia was acceptable) and stinky boxes (her favorite scent was Axe body spray, so our visits often smelled like a locker room for teenage boys)… which resulted in her deciding that maybe I wasn’t so bad after all. I did not realize how much she taught me until she passed away. That was the moment I realized that staying at the Conservators Center would be hard, frustrating, and ultimately heartbreaking. Yet through that grief, she also taught me that I could move on, remember her fondly, and carry her with me always. Her lessons pop into my mind daily, prompted by the small pawprint tattoo on my wrist.
I recently lost my second animal at the Conservators Center: Bella Tiger. Though I have said farewell to many residents over my time at the Center, Bella was the next one that truly held my heart. She was very easy to love, always willing to come and chuffle a hello, take a piece of cardboard covered in cinnamon or peppermint oil, or sit within her enclosure as we talked to her from the other side of the fence. There were very few people in the world Bella didn’t love in return, but she made each of us feel special to her in our own way. Like Victoria, she was the animal I would visit if I had a bad day or needed some kind of comfort, and her abnormally short little legs never failed to make me smile. She was the first large cat to teach me that it was possible to have a positive personal relationship with such an incredible carnivore. She truly was the best tiger, and her love and lessons will soon be reflected in another pawprint tattoo upon my arm.
Tattoos are no foreign thing at the Conservators Center; we tend to attract the introverted, quirky individuals that go along with them. We even have our own preferred tattoo artist, a former intern and current volunteer and Lifetime Adopter named Annie, who has done incredible portraits and memorials of our animals for our community. Though they might not be immediately visible, many members of our staff are covered in fond memories: A portrait of Amadeus Wolf, a pawprint from Buffy Tiger, and a set of angel wings surrounding a pawprint from Lobo Binturong. Whether they are memorials of the animals or reminders of the lessons they taught us, these markings are an incredible part of our community, and clearly indicate that we have loved and lost. Yet we have fought, and will continue fighting, through the grief we all feel for the benefit of all our remaining residents—whether they are our animals or not.
by Taylor Hattori
Taylor Hattori works full-time for the Conservators Center. She has contributed to nearly every department of the organization and has devoted thousands of hours to its residents as the Internal Operations Supervisor, Staff Photographer, and as a trained animal handler.