Zookeepers are Special People

By Tina Michelle Cameron

If you follow my blogs, then you know that I am a huge animal lover and you know that I have been a volunteer at Riverbanks Zoo since July 2017. I volunteer in The Farm and Zebra/Ostrich areas. I have the pleasure of working with several amazing people who are full-time zookeepers. I decided to write about them and let everyone know a little bit about these special people who I have the privilege of working with.

The person that interviewed me when I applied to become a volunteer and that I have

Jessica with horse

Jessica

worked the longest with is Jessica. She is 27 years old, married and a mommy to a beautiful 5-month-old little boy. She also has several fur-babies at home. She has always had a love for animals and has always wanted to work with animals since she was little. When she was in high school she volunteered at the zoo and realized that was where she wanted to be. She has been a keeper for 8 years. She went to Purdue University in Indiana and has a BS degree in Animal Science.

Jessica with OpossumHer favorite animal is a jaguar, but her favorite animal at Riverbanks Zoo are Plum and Basel—who are two of our new baby goats. She loves knowing that she is a part of enhancing the lives in the care she gives the animals and with teaching the public new facts about the animals. Her hobbies include hiking, kayaking, and going to the beach to fish.

Mallory is 32 and from North Carolina and is also a mommy to fur-babies that include a dog and 2 chinchillas. She also served 6 years in the Air Force. Mallory also knew growing up that she wanted to do something with animals. At first, she wanted to be a marine biologist or a vet tech, but then discovered a

Mallory with Giraffe

Mallory

zoo-keeping program and became a zookeeper. She has a degree in Zoological Science Technology. She has been at Riverbanks Zoo since 2017 and was recently promoted to a swing keeper and is working in the cat/bear area. How cool is that to work with lions and grizzly bears.

In addition to all that she has accomplished, she also has an Elementary Education degree. We have become good friends, and this was a new fact I learned about her this week. Her favorite hobbies are gardening and photography, and Mallory with sealher favorite animal is the platypus because it is an egg-laying mammal! Her favorite experience she has had was going to Kenya for 20 days last year to see how conservation efforts work and how they protect the animals there.

Last, and certainly not least, is Laborde- “the only male in the Farm area” as we know and love him. Laborde is 30 years old and has been in the zoo “industry” as he says for 6 years and a zookeeper for 18 months. He has an

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Laborde

Associates Degree in Zoo Animal Technology from Santa Fe College. He will be leaving the Farm area as he recently was promoted to work with the gorillas/monkeys.

He knew he wanted to work with exotic animals without having to travel. His favorite animal are alligators. He enjoys going to swamps and finding them. He also likes working with the Capuchin Monkeys- he says, “they have so much personality and intensity; and, it is like watching reality TV every time he works with them”. His favorite guy with snakeexperience as a zookeeper was taking the ponies into the river at the zoo. He also enjoys watching You-tube.

I hope you enjoy reading about some of these wonderful zookeepers that I get to work with. I have learned so much in my time there about animals and conservation. Zookeepers get to know these animals, their behaviors, mannerisms and will notice if something is wrong with them. They work in the hot, cold, and rainy weather. They must also watch the weather in order to keep the animals safe. They are caregivers and educators; so next time you visit the zoo and see a zookeeper, thank them for what they do—because they deserve it.

Enjoy the photos.

My First Trip to the Greenville Zoo

By Tina Michelle Cameron

Today I went to Greenville for the first time and went to the Greenville Zoo. It is in the middle of the city on a cute little side street not far from the interstate. As many of you know, I love animals and I am a volunteer at Riverbanks Zoo going on 2 years.giraffe pic

The Greenville Zoo is smaller than Riverbanks, but it does offer a wide variety of animals to see. It has a park/playground area and picnic area near the entrance. It is very affordable, and the map is easy to read. Despite the hot weather, there was a breeze and it was slightly overcast at times. Apparently, when I arrived at 1:20 pm I had just missed all the school buses leaving, so it was perfect. There were only about 15 people walking around.

flamingo picThere are a variety of animals to see from different species of monkeys, to lions, to an alligator, snapping turtle, and a red panda. The food prices were reasonable, and the staff were very friendly. The animals are surrounded by lots of trees and plants and they all looked happy. There are also areas for small kids to play in.

So, if you are looking for a short-day trip, Greenville is just up the road about 90 minutes. Enjoy the pictures of my afternoon.

 

I Did It!

By Tina Michelle Cameron

I did it! I did it! After 2 ½ years of taking classes as prerequisites and being accepted into the RN to BSN Mobility Distance Learning Program at The University of Alabama last May—I am now able to say I am an alumna! Class of 2019!

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My graduation day was May 3rd, 2019 at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I had worked so hard to get to that point I wanted to experience all I could as a Senior. I had Senior pictures on campus made, I decorated my graduation cap which got numerous comments on how pretty it was. It was a wonderful weekend. I have dreamed of earning this degree for so long. I have been a nurse for 28 years and once my boys were grown, it was time for me to finish what had been on my bucket list since I was 18. So, 32 years later, my dream of having a four-year degree came true.

I attended the class ring ceremony with my mom on April 4th. I absolutely love my ring and what it represents. I wear it every day. The next weekend, I drove back to Tuscaloosa and had Senior pictures made and attended the annual Spring football game—it is called A-day. That morning, I also attended a breakfast where Coach Nick Saban was a speaker. It was amazing.

Resized_20190503_165519  I am blessed that my 2 adult sons and my parents were able to attend the graduation ceremony in Tuscaloosa. I went to the Presidents Mansion reception, which was nice, followed by a separate reception for the Distance Learning students. The graduation ceremony was after that and I must admit that I was nervous walking in alone to check-in and line up with the several thousand much younger graduates. I was thrilled to get to spend 90 minutes in the football teams indoor practice field. I stood on the 50-yard line and took a selfie.

Walking in to the coliseum I became excited and tearful all at once. I finally was able to locate my family in the stands. I prayed that I did not trip and fall walking across the stage and that my pictures they took earlier would come out well. When I picked up my card for lineup it said I was graduating Magna cum laude—I had no clue. I was given a sash to wear. I did not text my family to tell them, I wanted them to be surprised. I knew I good grades, but Distance Learning students are not recognized for the Dean’s List, etc. So, I had assumed they would not recognize all my hard work at graduation, but I was wrong! This was one of the best days of my life and having my children and parents there made it better. I even wore my son’s graduation cap he wore 4 years ago when he graduated from Bama. He even gave me a note before the ceremony that he wrote me, and his note was still in his cap that I wrote him the day he graduated.

I have enclosed pictures of my day. We had a great weekend and I am so proud to have this degree. My new id badge will read Tina Cameron, BSN, RN, OCN. I cannot wait to have it changed once I go back to work from vacation. I also have been accepted into the MSN program at The University of Alabama for Fall 2019, so I cannot wait to start grad school and in 2 years have my master’s degree.

Resized_TCB_0200_811289033076249            I would like to thank all my family and my friends who have supported me the past 3 ½ years. You will never know how special each of you are to me and how much I appreciate each of you.

 

 

Riverbanks Petting Zoo

By Tina Michelle Cameron

As many of you know if you read my posts or are friends with me on Facebook, I am a weekly volunteer at Riverbanks Zoo in the Farm area, Zebra/Ostrich and the Education Center. I have been there almost two years and it is the highlight of my week on Tuesday mornings. It is physically demanding, especially in this heat, but I absolutely love it. I am tired, sore and smelly when I come home, but it is a good kind of tired, soreness and well, not so good smell.

IMG_1550  If any of you have been to the zoo since January, you may have noticed that the ponies are gone. They are now living on farms and having a great retirement. I have a great friend, Darlene, whose daughters’ horse is at the same stable and so I get regular pictures and updates on them. What is now in the place of the pony rides is a brand-new petting zoo that just recently opened about two weeks ago. We have several chickens in a coop, three baby piggies and as of right now, 19 baby goats that are absolutely precious and growing like weeds. There will be 11 more baby goats coming soon.

 

We have a few different types of goats; They are a Nigerian Dwarf, American Lamancha, Saanen and then one Nubian, whose name is Mike. He is my favorite new baby.  He absolutely loves people, being petted and getting attention. He is the only one that is going to be big like the other 3 goats at the Farm. 

If you are a zoo member, you get admission to it, but you can buy treats to give the goats, brush and pet them and watch them be fed by our wonderful zookeepers. The entire petting zoo is ADA compliant and I got to meet a wonderful little boy and his mom yesterday who was not able to run around like the other children, so I picked up Mike, so this sweet child could pet him. It was his first experience in petting a baby goat and it made my day.

Please come out and check out our new petting zoo. The kids are sure to love it and the parents as well. Enjoy the pictures. Mike is the one with the long floppy ears.

 

Tradition

By Tina Michelle Cameron 

20190403_233418Little did I know when my son Corey started college in 2009 at The University of Alabama, that there was so much tradition at this school. Over the years since he graduated, I have learned to love this university more every day. As many of you know, I began school in January 2016 taking prerequisite just to apply to UAs BSN Distance Learning (online) program. Well, I did it. I graduated in 16 days!

Bama, as I and many others affectionately refer to UA, as is all about tradition, family, and friends. I am a huge college football fan, and every third Saturday in October Alabama plays the Tennessee Vols. I am from Knoxville and love UT, so we are a house divided. After a win over UT, the guys and girls in the stadium all light up cigars. This tradition started many years ago, and this is the only time lighting up is allowed in Bryant Denny Stadium.

Another wonderful tradition I found out about last year when I was accepted to UA is the class ring ceremony. I knew if I could get in and do well in the program, that upon graduation, I wanted a class ring. Every April the university holds a class ring ceremony for anyone who wants to participate. My ring ceremony was held on April 4, 2019 in a beautiful conference room in the Bryant Conference Center. There were 400 students who participated, and I was proudly the oldest! The tradition starts 24 hours before at exactly 18:31 (military time), and the ceremony starts at 18:31—this time is significant because The University of Alabama was founded in 1831.

Starting the day prior to the ceremony, the rings are delivered via police vehicle to our beloved Denny Chimes (our clock tower). It is sacred to all who love UA. It is escorted to the front of Denny Chimes by two UA Air Force ROTC members until the clock chimes at 18:30, and once that is over at 18:31, someone unlocks the door and the ROTC members escort the beautiful hand-carved wooden chest into the main floor of Denny Chimes. And for the next 24 hours, there is a police officer guarding Denny Chimes and our precious class rings. This tradition started in 2016, the year after my son graduated.

Twenty-four hours later, everyone participating in the ring ceremony and their families join the President of the university (President Bell) in the conference room and watch a live stream of the ROTC removing and escorting the chest containing the rings to a awaiting police SUV which is then driven with lights and sirens to the ceremony and escorted in. Each name is called of those students receiving their rings and they are given their ring and then cross the stage to meet and take a photo with President Bell. At the end of the ceremony, the students are then instructed to open their boxes and place their beautiful rings on their fingers. The ceremony is followed by a reception. It was a beautiful ceremony and a beautiful tradition that UA has, and I am honored that I took time to go participate in it and that my mom went with me to see it. I have wanted a four-year degree since I was 18. I am now 50 and have been a RN for 28 years, so this has been a long time coming.

My Baby Boy

by Tina Michelle Cameron

On November 30, 1994, I had a scheduled c-section to deliver my second little boy. Well, there was nothing little about him. His name is Hunter Samuel Stout. He was two weeks early and weighed in at 9 lbs. and 15 oz., 22 inches long and 14 ½ inch head and chest. He had to be rushed to the Special Care Nursery because of a low blood sugar and the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck. He was by far the largest baby in there! He was beautiful and perfect.

IMG_20181129_222114There are certain days that stand out when I think of him. One is the day I picked him and his older brother Corey up from daycare, and he started crying in the backseat. He was 4 or 5-years-old and was sitting in his car seat behind me, and I asked him what was wrong. He cried, “I don’t want to leave you when I go off to college.” How sweet was he?

Growing up he played soccer, and I was his assistant coach for several seasons. He looks just like me, however, he towers over me at about 6’3”. He loves to rest his elbow on top of my head when I stand next to him (I am 5’5 1/2”).

Hunter is smart and funny and loves music, movies and football. He is a diehard Tennessee Vols fan (I am from Knoxville). He is now 24 years old and has his undergrad degree from Winthrop University where he majored in history. He is also an alumnus of the Pike Fraternity. He is completing his first year of grad school at The Citadel in Charleston. He is getting his Master of Art in Teaching. His goal is to be a high school social studies teacher and eventually earn his Ph.D. to teach at the university level. He also has a part-time job at Groucho’s Deli as a server.

I love this kid more than he will ever know, and even though we may not always get along because we are both stubborn and just alike, I am so proud of the young man he has become and so proud that he wants to make a difference in a kid’s life. I cannot wait to see what his future holds for him.Screenshot_20190403-050746_Facebook

Dogs Leave Paw Prints on Our Hearts

by Tina Michelle Cameron

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Fluffy

I have owned 13 dogs in my life. All of them have touched my life in their own unique way, but some have left their paw prints on my heart forever. My Nanny gave me a dog when I was nine-years-old. He was a tiny ball of white fluff, so his name became Fluffy. He was a Cock-a-Poo. He was my everything as a child and would play hide-and-seek with me and my brother. He would cuddle with me at night and was there to comfort me if I had a bad day.

He went missing for two weeks when I was a teenager. My family and I searched and finally found him on a truck that had just been brought in to the animal shelter—he was already being adopted when I heard his bark over the other animals. He was also hit by a man in a van and suffered fractures in his back. At times, he was unable to walk and would have to be hand-fed and carried out to the grass to use the bathroom. He bounced back after about two weeks and became the same energetic Fluffy.

When I was in college and married, he was the bright spot in my life and my heart. I got into a disagreement with my husband (now ex) about Fluffy having an accident in the house during a time when he was having pain in his back. I left for work and came home that evening and found that he was missing. I searched for him for months and found out later by police that there was a cult that had taken over 100 animals and sacrificed them. My heart still breaks to this day over this. He was 13 ½ years old, and my heart was forever broken. I will never forget him.

After Fluffy crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, I promised myself I would have more dogs, but that I would never get that close to another one again because my heart could not take it. Well, I could not keep that promise. Each dog I have owned since Fluffy has touched my heart and made me fall in love with them. Molly the golden retriever, AC and DC the yellow lab brothers, and Greyson the Dalmatian all brought joy to me and my two sons. However, my heart did not know how bad it could break over the loss of a dog until my sweet Yorkie, Haley Michelle, had to be put down on June 25th, 2018.

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Haley in her bed.

My first blog last year was about her. She was almost 10 years-old when she passed and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. I became her mommy when she was a 2 lbs. 4 oz puppy. She was healthy until she turned 8 months old and developed Inflammatory Bowel Disease and ended up having emergency surgery. She had issues with this every few weeks, but it eventually got to where she was only sick every few months. That is until she turned two and was diagnosed with liver failure at one of her regular check-ups. I was told unless she went on oral chemotherapy everyday for the rest of her life, she would not live past four years old. The chemo pill was $60 a day, and as a single mom who had two sons to put through college, there was no way I could afford this. I researched her condition and changed her diet, and her elevated liver enzymes started dropping. They were still abnormal, but better. She continued to have numerous other health problems throughout the years but was still a happy and playful sweet girl.

 

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Haley

Fast forward to June 13th, 2018—my sweet, spoiled, dress-wearing, hairbow-hating, cheese-eating dog was 9 ½-years-old and began losing weight. Despite eating like a pig, I could feel her bones. I was absolutely floored and devastated when I took her in thinking it was her liver failing her and was told she had pancreatic cancer. I don’t remember a time when I have cried so much. I took her home and checked off as much as I could on her bucket list. Twelve days later, I made the hardest decision ever to end her suffering. I remember that terrible day as I sat in this room alone with her and the vet staff, holding her and telling her I love her more than anything. I am still mourning her loss, and so is my other Yorkie, Peyton. I have her buried in a small garden in my backyard. I still call her name by accident at times and can still remember her ear-piercing bark.

 

She will always hold a special place in my heart as will each dog I have ever owned. Dogs are not just pets; they are family, and they have a way of leaving paw prints on our hearts.