Were you able to pursue your interest in animals?
In college, I majored in Psychology mostly because I could design behavior experiments that required pigeons, turtles, or squirrel monkeys. Somehow I acquired Management of Wild Mammals in Captivity, a classic book on zoo management by Lee S. Crandall, and memorized it.
And after college?
In the hippie phase that followed, a California commune offered a fine excess of dogs and cats, plus goats and chickens. It was great fun and a wonderful year. But the cats killed the horned toads and garter snakes, the dogs chased deer, and the free-range chickens eliminated all plant life except invasive weeds. Those lessons, plus seeing what a little bulldozer could destroy in an hour, advanced my education as a conservationist. I picked up a copy of Organic Gardening in a dentist’s office and started worm farming.
So why'd you leave the commune?
Alas, earning a living became mandatory. I moved to Portland and certified people for food stamps. It was the perfect antidote to an expensive college education. Then I moved to the welfare department certifying families.
And that led to zoo keeping...how?
After two years I recalled my commune lessons and decided to go for my dream job instead. Three months of full-time volunteering at the Portland Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo) landed me a half-time keeper position that I held for 12 years. On my first day working for pay, I pushed worm pills down three wild-born wolf pups. One doesn't forget that.
What animals did you work with?
I worked Primates, Felines, and all other areas now and then, but Nursery was my primary assignment. We raised lions, a tiger cub, servals, golden cats, and sand cats, as well as a couple of litters of wild born cougars, an orphaned black bear and a sloth bear. Lulu Mandrill had twins and wouldn’t mother them, so we raised twin monkeys, then Roger, her next baby, who we were able to introduce back to the troop once he was weaned. We started an owl rehabilitation project and took care of over 100 orphaned and injured owls a year. We raised and released deer, seals, Canadian geese, raccoons, and many other native animals.
What was the coolest animal you worked with?
No easy answer to that!
I was honored and dismayed to care for a wild-caught baby orangutan confiscated at the Port of Portland. The big scars on his neck and thigh were probably from his capture.
Tell us more!
Force-feeding smelt down baby harbor seals, injecting antibiotics into tiny tree shrews, stuffing calcium pills into dead mice, making fake caddis-fly larva—we did whatever it took. I once waded into a stock tank with a baby hippo and gave it an enema. Sad to say, it worked.
I was a founding member of the Portland chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers and I'm still a member.
What pulled you away from the zoo?
I was raising primates at home. My keeper’s salary did not cover Little League uniforms, violin lessons, and college educations. I left zoo keeping to become a technical writer and business analyst, a career that had many satisfactions.
I miss the zoo world and it is a joy to return to it with the Iris Oakley zoo mystery series. I love reading mysteries and found only a few set in zoos. With Night Kill, I tried to write the mystery I've always wanted to read. In Did Not Survive, my characters explore humanity's troubled relationship with elephants. With Endangered, I dig deeper into the conservation issues that I care so much about.
I live in Portland, Oregon, with my sign-painter husband and our Corgi mix, Murphy.
Our Corgi mix, Murphy. Cute or what?
Me in Cambodia with a hand-raised serow.
Just for fun... Here's a podcast of a short story I wrote, The Apprentice Assassin. Nothing to do with zoos, this is part of my "women victorious" series of crime stories. It was broadcast on Lit.103.3. It's the first of the three stories.
And another short story as a pdf file.