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Former Owl Trudeau Living a Dream at Wildlife Refuge

KEENE, N.H., 9/22/10 - Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!

After playing basketball as a freshman at Keene State College, Carrie Trudeau ‘00 decided to go out for the field hockey team the following fall. “I remember going through pre-season thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ It was a totally different animal compared to basketball,” she said.

At the time, Trudeau had no way of knowing that her present job as a staff biologist at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Ark., would bring new meaning to the phrase ‘different animal.’

Trudeau, a biology major, has been working at the refuge since graduating from Keene State. Located on a 450-acre ranch in the middle of the Ozark Mountains, the refuge, which opened in 1992, is home for an assortment of abandoned, abused, and neglected big cats, especially tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars. The sanctuary also includes several bears.

“Back in high school, I knew I wanted to work outside with animals,” she said. “But at the time, I didn’t know what was out there.” Originally from Saco, Maine, Trudeau was a talented two-sport athlete at KSC. When asked to describe Trudeau as a player, both women’s basketball coach Keith Boucher and Owl field hockey coach Amy Watson fondly offer the words tenacious and feisty.

“Carrie was an amazing player with a fierce heart,” said Watson. “There was no one who wanted it more on the field than Carrie. She never let up.”

“She was a scrapper who wouldn’t back down,” said Boucher. “Carrie didn’t always make a shot, but she made big shots.”

Noticing an advertisement in the biology department for an internship at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Trudeau decided to give it a shot.

Fortunate enough to get the internship, Trudeau was at the right place at the right time six months later when a position on the staff opened up. “It’s unreal,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have fallen into a job that I really love and was perfect for me.”

Trudeau and the refuge staff perform a variety of daily jobs from cleaning cages to medicating and feeding the animals. In a given week, the animals will devour more than 1,000 pounds of raw meat. “Because the cats sleep about 20 hours per day, a lot of the time you can hear a pin drop,” said Trudeau. “They wake up about a half hour before feeding time and become real loud and aggressive.”

Trudeau, who also does training and enrichment programs with the animals, says she’s never been hurt. She and the staff follow a strict safety policy that really limits the possibilities for encounters with the animals. Trudeau says the biggest animal she has ever worked with was a liger (half lion, half tiger). “He was 800 pounds and all muscle,” she said.

A nonprofit organization, the retreat relies on donations. The facility, which is open to the public, receives the bulk of its funds through admission tickets and from visitors who want to stay in the refuge’s onsite lodging. As the promotional video suggests on its website, “There’s nothing quite like waking up to the roar of a lion or looking out your window at breakfast and seeing a tiger staring back.”

To enhance the experience, staff members, including Trudeau, also direct photo tours for the guests.

One of the most fascinating, yet disturbing, parts of Trudeau’s job takes place when she accompanies workers on rescues. Turpentine Creek staff members have traveled to 17 different states to rescue animals that otherwise would have been euthanized. Turpentine Creek takes care of these animals, which were sometimes abused, neglected, starved, or kept under miserable conditions.

“It’s quite sad,” said Trudeau. “People think they can have large cats as pets. But when the animals get older and larger, they realize they’ve made a mistake and can’t keep them anymore.”

Turpentine Creek gives these animals a new lease on life. They are treated with respect and affection and a healthy dose of common sense. “You bond with just about all the animals, whether they like you or not,” said Trudeau.

Trudeau said most of the species like women. But there was one exception. “There was one tiger that didn’t like me at all,” she said. “Anytime I came near, he would charge the cage at me. That tiger made it very clear that he wanted to eat me for dinner.” Despite a few close encounters of the animal kind, Trudeau says she enjoyed the slower pace of life that the South has to offer. “It’s pretty remote, but I fell in love with it from day one.”

Trudeau couldn’t think of anywhere or anything else she rather be doing. “It’s not a job, it’s a way of life,’ she said. “Because I live right on the grounds, I can lie on my bed or couch and hear the lions roaring. It sounds strange, but it’s soothing. It’s really like a dream come true.”

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