Sissy the donkey passed away last week. She lived a wonderfully long life and will be missed by everyone at the zoo and by many in the community.
Sissy was very dear to me because she was the first animal that I worked with when coming to Chahinkapa Zoo years ago. I started as a volunteer in Grandpa’s Petting Zoo and it was not until I was hired by Doug Herrick as a part- time zookeeper later that I got to know the other species. I became the Zoo Director in 1994 and will never forget my first official day in that position. I thought, “What do I know about running a zoo?” I had a zoology degree and a lot of passion, but those are only two qualities that help in this job. The other things I learned, and continue to learn every day and after all this time, I am still one of life’s students.
I learned about business, human resources, budgeting and operations. All of that is, of course, essential, but it is the following that will stay with me years after I am departed from the zoo. For it is these qualities that are unforgettable.
I learned that no matter what else happens in a day, the most important thing is how we make people feel. I learned that our community is filled with well meaning and wonderful people.
We may not think alike or act the same, but that matters little. I learned that zoo keepers are a unique breed of their own and should be rewarded. I learned that my family is most patient and has postponed fishing trips, camping events and summer vacations. I learned that I am most fortunate to cross the paths of very special folks who have taught me what is good in life. And finally, I learned to not take any day for granted, because each has its own special part in our lives and makes us who we are.
When the zookeeper called me and told me that Sissy had passed away, I told her that I would be on sight for the necropsy. Before Dr. Matz arrived, I went to the barn to see our beloved donkey. I was fine until I touched her head and closed her eyes. I could not help but to break down and cry. I called Ben Oliver, who is the grandson of the late Bud Oliver who started Grandpa’s Petting Zoo at Chahinkapa Zoo in 1989. I knew that Sissy was the last one of the critters that Bud purchased for the zoo and he too felt a bond with this Sicilian donkey.
I think that it was due to Sissy’s death that I reminisced so much this week. Of course the fast- paced summer led us to autumn way too quickly and I always reflect on how that is possible. Perhaps my tears were not filled with sadness only, but a happiness of the good years that we have shared in community, job and family.
The following are upcoming events at the zoo. Please call to register for these classes at 701-642-8709:
• Thursday, Oct. 4 – Storybook Animals Class – “Make Way for Ducklings” from 3:30-5 p.m. for grades 1-4;
• Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Time for Bed at the Zoo from 6-7 p.m. for all ages;
• Thursday, Oct. 11 – Where in the World (series). We will be “traveling” to Australia this month – 3:30-5 p.m. for grades 3 and up.
See you at the zoo.