When Katie Hurley ‘07 graduated with a biology degree from Washington College, she didn’t expect that one year later, she’d be living on a wildlife refuge.
“I went through the pre-vet program at WC,” she explained, “but because I chose to go abroad, I couldn’t fit in the extra classes as well as the ones I needed for my degree.”
After graduating from WC, rather than taking the vet school prerequisites right away, Katie applied for an internship at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, which she found through the school’s internship e-mail list.
“Dr. Verville [the premed program advisor] told me to get as much experience as possible with as many different types of animals as possible,” said Katie, who worked at a local veterinary hospital while at WC and was also a member of the College’s equestrian team.
At the refuge, Katie works with big cats—such as lions, tigers and cougars—as well as other animals including bears and monkeys.
The refuge is “not just a zoo with animals on display,” Katie said. “We rescue animals that come from abusive pasts, that have been neglected or abandoned by people who got them from the exotic animal trade to raise as pets. Every cat has a story.”
After making a rescue, the staff at the refuge helps the cats adjust to their new environment, administering medications and monitoring the eating habits and overall health of the animals. Other duties include interacting with the cats, caring for the lawns and habitats, cleaning cages, preparing meat and feeding the animals, conducting tours, and working in the gift shop.
“When I imagined what I would be doing here, I knew it would be hard work but we literally do everything and anything that needs to be done,” she said.
The biggest project during Katie’s internship was constructing four new half-acre habitats—two for bears, one for lions, and one for tigers.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever built more than one habitat at a time because they’re extremely expensive,” she said. “We just happened to have enough donations for the construction. We had to drive pipe and weld wire, build a lock-down area that the animals can go into at night, build the dens, pour the concrete, and then do all the nitty-gritty stuff too.”
While Katie didn’t master those skills in biology labs, her classes at WC helped prepare her for life on the refuge.
“We did a lot of work in groups, in small classes or for lab projects and in student groups like the equestrian club. It helped teach teamwork. Here, there are 12 interns and 7 staff members running the place, so we have to be able to work together to get the job done,” she explained.
The work has been difficult, but the rewards, like the rare opportunity to care for newborn tiger cubs, make it worthwhile.
“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world,” she said. “All you have to do is look at the cats and you remember why you’re here.”
For more information about the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, visit www.turpentinecreek.org.