ALBION — Kelsey Woosley can’t help herself.
When the 2012 Homestead graduate has finished her work day as an animal keeper at Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, she can often be found on the internet, researching ways to improve the lives of the animals there.
“I have a really bad habit of working at home,” she said. “There are always ways to improve.”
Even when she gets away on vacation, Woosley has been known to visit zoos and can be seen taking pictures of the items which are kept inside the various enclosures to provide enrichment for the animals there.
“She’s always looking for more education,” Black Pine Executive Director Letrecia Brown said.
Earlier in her life, Woosley wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I always loved animals,” Woosley said.
An internship at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo changed all that.
“I liked the bond with the animals,” she said. “I realized I wanted to be a keeper.”
After her experience with the facility in Fort Wayne, she interned at Black Pine for 10 weeks in the summer of 2014. Following her internship, she began to volunteer at Black Pine, becoming a senior level volunteer.
In 2016, Woosley spent a month working at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Ecuador.
In January 2017, she began working full-time at Black Pine.
She said her previous experiences working with exotic animals have helped her.
Black Pine offers sanctuary for animals who have spent years in captivity — where they were often mistreated or abused. That was a real eye-opener for Woosley.
“I had no idea how bad the exotic animal trade is,” she said.
Seeing those animals thrive in their new environment is a big motivator for her.
She cited the example of Africa, an 8-year-old lioness.
“She was skin and bones when she got here,” Woosley said.
Africa has transformed into a larger, muscular, healthy big cat.
“We want to make it all better,” she said. “They don’t have to suffer when they’re with us.”
Woosley wouldn’t be pinned down on if she has a favorite animal or species to work with, but the exotic birds at Black Pine sure have an affinity for her.
“A majority of the birds love me,” she said. “A lot of people refer to me as ‘bird mom.’”
The job of a keeper is far from simply bonding with the animals. They must be fed. Many of animals require daily medication. Their various enclosures must be cleaned. The keepers rotate the sections of the sanctuary they work in, so they are always working with all of the animals.
“No day is really the same,” Woosley said. “It’s all kind of different.”
“It is a lot of hard work,” she said. “Our No. 1 priority is the animals. You have to have good elbow grease to get things clean around here.”
One of the most arduous chores is scrubbing the pools the animals can use.
“I do it because the animals like their pools,” she said.
Brown acknowledged the work put in by staff.
“It’s long, physical days, sometimes up to 12 hours,” she said. “They’re very committed.”
Woosley said a good animal keeper must be patient, innovative, collected, efficient/effective and passionate.
“Working here, you have to live and breathe the animals,” she said. “It’s a life passion.”
The most difficult times occur at the passing of one of the animals.
“That’s definitely a tough part, especially when it’s an animal you are close to have a relationship with,” she said. “We all kind of cry together.”
(Editor’s Note: This story is being re-printed to correct the spelling of Woosley’s name. Albion New Era editor Matt Getts regrets the error.)