Written by: Callie Johnston
After graduating from Everett Community College, the daunting decision of what to do with my life loomed as large as an elephant in a china shop. Delicately trying to navigate passion and job security, I could only conclude that I wanted to work with animals. My counselor suggested Central Washington University, exclusively for the experience I could gain at CHCI. Curious, I made the trek from Everett to Ellensburg. I hadn’t scheduled a tour. I just started meandering the perimeter of the sanctuary (honestly hoping for a glimpse of the world famous chimpanzees), and later met with Dr Lori Sheeran about the Primate Behavior program. And that was that; it was all I needed. I enrolled at CWU and, as soon as I could, applied for an internship to serve the family at CHCI.
Looking back, the decision was made a bit blindly but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. There are several levels of training at CHCI, and I stayed at the most elementary level. My friends went on to more advanced levels of care and responsibility, and I honor them for the time and dedication they poured into this family. For myself, however, I found that I was content just helping out. CHCI taught me to see these individuals with a respect and a dignity that fosters humility. I learned that I don’t need to cuddle furry little animals to feel pride in my work. There’s a nobility to be recognized in the animals living their lives out in captivity; even in the day to day and the seemingly mundane.
While interning at CHCI, you end up with some pretty magnificent friends. All sorts of friends. People come from across the world to learn from the family living there. So people I otherwise would have nothing in common with, became genuinely friendly faces. Some of us went to China together to study, and have resigned ourselves to lifelong friendship. Others just passed through for a bit, but nonetheless they each spent their hearts for this family. And there’s really nothing quite like it.
I appreciate CHCI for bringing me into their quirky family. This family revealed their passion to educate the public while respecting the space of the individuals they cared for. It’s a paradigm shift, for a group of people to come together, bound by a need for justice. And I’ve come to understand that it is this gentle demand for justice that puts the animals welfare and dignity above our human need to get in their space. The Primate Behavior program at Central is exceptional because there is a marriage of book knowledge, and service. I sat in lecture and discussion groups, then I walked across the lawn, through CHCI’s doors, pulled on rubber boots, and sterilized toys. For a genuine education and growth as a learner, I needed both.
So thank you CHCI for teaching me the culture I long to create every time I encounter animals in captivity. My foundation in respect towards all critters is firm, and I’m grateful to you for that. Wherever I end up, Tatu, Loulis, and Dar changed me. Even though I only had entry level training, and wasn’t there too long, it was a decisive wonderful change.