|Editor's Note: During the 2002 Back to the Wild gala event, Oleg Cassini graciously established Cassini Animal Rehabilitation Education (C.A.R.E.) Fund, from which each year a student will be awarded money to support his or her studies of wildlife rehabilitation and humane stewardship for wildlife with the Cape Wildlife Center. The latest recipient, then a senior at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, was Shannon Hatmaker. She wrote this essay after completing an externship at the Cape Wildlife Center in the summer of 2003.
"[Animals] are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time."
Henry Beston's quote doesn't just describe the philosophy that I learned as a student at the Cape Wildlife Center, it describes what I have believed in my whole life. Even as a child, I recognized the beauty of nature and animals. I gradually began to realize the hardships and injustices humans create for animals. At the age of ten, I made one of the biggest and easiest decisions of my life. I vowed to not eat animal flesh or purchase products made from animal flesh.
Two years later, I started volunteering at the Chattanooga Nature Center, where I learned about both rehabilitation and conservation of wildlife. As I grew, so did my appreciation of the environment and wildlife. As a high school student, I volunteered for an environmental lawyer who worked for the National Audubon Society. While there, I was allowed to coordinate nature hikes for National Migratory Bird Week and distribute information on how to best view and protect local passerines in east Tennessee. As the President of the Ecology Club in high school, I also organized monthly clean-up dates of the wetland near our campus. We also planted new trees, made blue bird houses, and put out songbird feeders around campus.
My animal rights view really developed once I formed my opinions on animals in entertainment and sport. When I was seventeen, I quietly protested a circus event and a rodeo show that had hundreds of attendees. My intention was not to preach, but to teach. I handed out fliers that gave more information abut how the animals were being treated.
I am now the president of the Clemson Animal Welfare Society. Last year we toured a local zoo and an animal research laboratory and offered suggestions to help improve the quality of life of the animals confined there. We raised money to go to three local animal shelters. We held a food drive at the grocery store and on campus to collect animal food and supplies for the shelters and a wildlife rehabilitation center. We also helped the Concerned Citizens for Animals with their Feral Cat Program. Along with the club Tigers for Tigers, we raised money to go to a program that is trying to establish a national tiger conservation area in northern India.
As a 20-year-old college student, I have many hobbies and passions. But my true love will always be my commitment to protecting and understanding animals. Regardless of my career, I plan to always make an effort to support the care of wildlife and education of the public about animals' plight. I do not know how big of a difference one person can make, but I hope I can at least say that I spent my life trying to make a change.