When we first met, we soon discovered we had something unique in common. As kids, we both had unusual experiences with zoo animals!
When Ellen was thirteen, she desperately wanted a dog. After watering lawns and walking dogs for neighbors all Summer long, she finally had enough money saved to bring home her Golden Retriever puppy, Anna. Her puppy, though, turned out to be livelier than her parents had counted on. After Anna chewed the new wood deck and dug up and destroyed the rose garden, her parents decided Anna needed a different home. An ad was placed in the newspaper and they got a phone call….from the San Diego Zoo! The Zoo had just brought a new cheetah cub home from Africa and he was very lonely. The Zoo didn’t have it in their budget for two cheetah cubs but they had an idea. What if they raised the cub with a dog companion? No one knew if it would work but Anna moved in with Arusha the Cheetah. Anna was bigger than Arusha and she called the shots! They immediately bonded and got along famously. So well, in fact, that if Anna was ever separated from Arusha, he would cry for her until she returned. All during high school, Ellen would return to the zoo and visit with Anna and Arusha. She remembers running and playing with them in a giant grassy fenced area, and she remembers the feel of Arusha’s prickly tongue on her hand and his bristly fur. Arusha’s legs were insanely long next to Anna’s. Anna and Arusha both lived long and wonderful lives together, and their companionship was just the start of wild animals having domestic dog companions in zoos across the country. Ellen will always thank Anna, Arusha and the staff at the San Diego Zoo for her passion for exotic animals and her motivation to get into veterinary school.
Paul’s Father was a veterinarian at the Oklahoma City Zoo when Paul was five years old. Sometimes baby zoo animals needed a bit of extra TLC. His Dad would bring animals home and his mother cared for them. A South African wildcat stayed with them for over a year, adopted as a kitten by their Siamese housecat, Betsy. Betsy was extremely proud of this extra big kitten she had raised—he had spots and stripes her other kittens didn’t have! The family’s most unusual experience was when Tommy the baby Orangutan came home. He was small and sweet but Paul remembers he was incredibly strong! Orangutan babies hold onto their mother’s hair all day as they are carried around, so you can imagine how tightly they could grab your hair and pull! At night, Tommy slept in Paul’s old baby crib. His Mom (not so fondly) remembers changing Tommy’s diapers and trying to give the little guy a bath as he grabbed her hair. His parents set up a jungle gym of big chairs and ropes where Paul and Tommy loved to play together. Eventually, Tommy returned to the zoo to live with his Orangutan family. Paul was amazed as he watched Tommy grow into a massive adult male Orangutan. He couldn’t believe that he had once played with him as a little baby. (See the picture of Paul with Tommy on our photo page!)
Briauna Persinger was just 15 when she got pregnant. She had been living for years in a motel on East Colfax in Denver, CO in a single room with her grandparents. She said “If I stay here, I won’t be able to even help me. I knew I had to get out and do something and make something out of myself.”
Briauna decided she wanted break out of the Colfax cycle by going to college. She buckled down and got strong grades at George Washington High School. But, she did not know the process of applying to college let alone how she was going to pay for it all.
She received help from an unlikely ally - the family who adopted her daughter. The adoptive family hired an advisor over the period of nearly a year to help Briauna apply to college, obtain scholarships, and figure out a way to pay her tuition.
“It’s just amazing,” said Tara Persinger, Briauna’s mother who now works as the manager of the hotel where they live. “She found the right family.”
The adoptive family also had connections to a small, all-women’s college in Nevada, Missouri. They helped Briauna get into Cottey College where she is now attending. Briauna says it is quite different than what she is used to.
“So, I’m here and I’m like, there’s a lot of space here and I can walk around outside and not worry about someone trying to pick me up,” Briauna said.
She doesn’t worry about her next meal. She is surrounded by friends instead of drug dealers and pimps. Briauna still can’t believe she is living in a small town going to college.
“A year ago I would’ve never thought of all the places, I would be in the middle of Missouri,” Briauna said.
Briauna wants to be a pharmacist. She plans on having a successful career and make enough money to get entire family away from the troubles on Colfax Avenue.
Video: Teen breaks out of Colfax Cycle
Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur and inventor, best known as the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc.
Jaime Foxx, American actor and movie star, stand-up comedian, singer-songwriter, musician, and talk radio host.
Marilyn Monroe, iconic American actress, model, and singer, who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Faith Hill, American country singer. She is known both for her commercial success and her marriage to fellow country star Tim McGraw.
John Lennon, an English musician, singer and songwriter who rose to worldwide fame as a founding member of the Beatles, one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music
Sarah McLachlan, Canadian musician, singer, and songwriter. Known for her emotional ballads and mezzo-soprano vocal range, as of 2009, she has sold over 40 million albums worldwide
Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid activist, revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, the first to be elected in a fully representative, multiracial election
are all adopted!