The Alaskan Zoo Volunteer
Written by Ava   

Twelve years ago, Ruth Fitzpatrick walked through the Alaskan Zoon everyday to get some exercise after a bad back injury.  Little did she know that those easy walks would one day turn into a most favorite job. 
Today, Ruth gives tours, holds classes for children, and does outreach programs.  But above all, she gets to share her excitement for the animals of Alaska!

Ruth is a passionate traveler, hiker, and reader and little by little, is becoming quite the animal helper and rescuer too!  We heard all about Ruth through her great site: Blog of a Zoo Volunteeer and finally had the chance to speak to her about all that she does. 

Here's what we learned:

What are the tasks of a zoo volunteer and why should anyone be one?

My “job” as a zoo volunteer consists mostly of working in the education department: we give tours, hold classes for children of all ages, do outreach programs at other locations… that sort of thing. I also get to help with the orphans that come in each year, since they are typically labor-intensive. My favorite would be (of course) bottle feeding the babies – but I also really enjoy giving the tours. I get to meet the greatest people and share with them my enthusiasm for the animals and for Alaska. My favorite tour is a naturalist tour where I get to talk about not only the animals but also the plants and everything else around us.

About 12 years ago I had a back injury that was so bad I could barely walk and had to go to physical therapy for about 9 months. Once I could walk again, I was really weak and still in a lot of pain so my doctor told me to build up strength by walking every day. I started out in a mall nearby so that I wouldn’t risk slipping on the ice. Once summer arrived and I could move back outside, I went to the zoo each day to walk. I was there literally every day for a month when one of the zookeepers jokingly said “You should just work here!” and I replied “Okay!” That was about 12 years ago, and I’ve been there ever since. They didn’t really have a volunteer program set up at that time, but eventually over the years one has developed so that by now they have something like 25-30 volunteers helping out with programs and whatnot.

Tell me about your time spent at Earthwatch and the Alaska Zoo.

About 6 years ago I had a lady on one of my tours who kept talking about all the places she had been and the things she had done. I told her I would LOVE to go to all those places and do all those things, so she told me about Earthwatch. I had never heard of them before, so looked them up on the internet and got hooked. It took about 2 years to work up the courage to go on my first expedition (12 days in Costa Rica to study Caterpillars and their Parasites). The day I got home, I called them up and said “I have to be a part of this!” so they gave me the Field Rep position for all of Alaska. It’s another volunteer job, so no pay or anything like that – but I do get to go out in the public and give presentations about Earthwatch and my experiences with them. I’ve since been on two other expeditions: 16 days in Mongolia studying the ecology of the Argali (the world’s largest mountain sheep) and another 16 days in Africa studying Medicinal Plants with the Samburu.

It sounds like you grew up an outdoorsy woman and you're eco-friendly.  Do you think your love of nature and animals started at a young age?

I got my love of nature and animals from my Mother, I’m sure. I grew up miles away from our nearest neighbor out in the woods, so was pretty wild. We were also dirt poor, barely getting enough to eat at times. But somehow, even with 5 children and no husband, she still managed to care for any and every injured animal we could find. We had horses, cows, pigs, ducks, chickens, geese, turkeys, rabbits, goats, dogs, cats, rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, fish, frogs, birds… you name it, we had it. All of them were rescues, and all of them were part of the family. I will admit, we ate some of them – but while they lived we took care of them like they were one of us. I’ll never know how she did it – but she just couldn’t bring herself to NOT take care of an injured animal.

Why go vegetarian?

I was basically born vegetarian. I’ve just never liked the taste of meat. Mother tells me that even as a baby she had a hard time getting me to eat it. I have just always preferred veggies. Now that I’m living on my own, I never touch the stuff. I do eat fish, however – there is NOTHING better than a fresh caught King Salmon grilled over an open flame out on the back deck. Oh yeah! Especially if you’re the one who caught it…

Do you have any pets? What kind?

Right now, I have two cats – both of whom are rescues. They are both Devon Rex cats (an interesting breed that most people have never met before) and both are girls. The oldest (9) is named Thing (aka: Goofy Girl) and the youngest (7) is named Djuna (aka: June Bug, Junie, or my Gorilla Pez Dispenser). My first Devon was a boy I rescued from a homeless shelter in Seattle. He was the sweetest cat I’ve ever had – EVER – but to be honest, he was also the weirdest looking cat. He was old (12), greatly overweight, orange, wrinkly, and completely bald – with a flat head and no teeth, asthma and a skin condition, and towards the end of his life he went deaf and blind. The first time my Mother met him, she exclaimed “My god! What is that? He looks like ET” so that was his name = The Alien.

Many people ignorantly believe Alaska is too cold for most animals to reside there.  What would you say to that?

Alaska is certainly cold – but get the right animal and they do just fine. All the dogs we had growing up never came indoors – they all lived quite happily outside. My cats barely have any hair (it’s a trait all Devon’s have) so I do provide them with heating pads strategically places throughout the house – but I’m told I’m spoiling them rotten. I’ve even had snakes, lizards, frogs, and turtles up here – but again, you need to provide them with homes since they really could not live on their own.

Why not turn your love of animals into a career?

My love of animals could definitely be turned into a career – and I’m contemplating that as we speak. However, my career is as an architectural drafter (having nothing whatsoever to do with animals, which is odd) and I am quite happy  doing that. We’ll see where the future takes me, though. I am open to drifting off course if I get the opportunity.

Plans for the future?

Plans for the future… hmmm… Well, immediately, I need to find a job. I’ve been on unemployment for over a year and am not very happy about that. The recession hit Anchorage pretty hard and with my back injury there’s a lot of the “filler” type jobs I just can’t do. Once I get a good job, I’m hoping to go on another Earthwatch Expedition: either to Egypt to join in on a dig - or to float the Amazon and take part in the taxonomic survey they are doing now. I’ve also met the most wonderful man (after years of being single and alone) and have hopes for a future together with him.

Tell me about your blog.

I am an avid reader so figured I should be a writer as well. That’s not as easy as I thought it would be! My brother set me up with my blog so I could practice, and it morphed in to a website with all my travels as well. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with friends and family spread out all over the world, and I get to “meet” new people who stumble across it as well. Feel free to leave comments on it – I love hearing from people.