This is the time when many high school students are deciding how to spend the upcoming summer. The good news is that the options are endless and range from working and making money to pushing physical limits with an outdoor adventure tour. There are so many options for attending a college campus to take classes or find an internship to explore passions. However, there are also numerous unique programs available that may offer a chance to experience something you love, while also making a difference, even leading you to be seen as heroic. As is the case with Briarcliff High School Junior, Zoe Ivler.
When I spoke with Briarcliff High School Principal Diana Blank and asked her for the name of a student who does something unique with their summers, Ms. Blank gave me Zoe’s name, describing her as “an unsung hero who loves to do community service and help others.” As I would find out when I sat down with Zoe, the “others” in this case are all types of animals. Zoe said, “I’ve always loved dogs, I’ve always wanted a dog”, however since she never got a dog of her own, she always found ways to always be around dogs. Zoe’s earliest dog memories came from the Briarcliff Manor Library’s program Reading to Rover. She said, “l loved to read to the therapy dogs at the library when I was younger.”
She found additional ways to be around dogs by taking advantage of local opportunities such as volunteering at the Briarcliff SPCA and Montrose’s Canine Kindergarten. However, since she started high school, she has taken this desire to care for animals one step further and has been spending the summers nursing sick animals back to health in some of the most remote places on the planet.
Zoe’s awareness of places where she could go during the summer and get hands-on experience with animals came two years ago. Zoe’s grandparents offered her an opportunity to go anywhere in the world to have an experience with animals. She said, “at first my grandparents were encouraging me to choose Africa.” However, her grandparents also showed her other options including living and working at an animal sanctuary called The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in a remote area in Utah. This made Zoe extremely excited because she did not just want to see animals, she wanted to help them, especially the ones who have been wounded, whether at the hands of humans or through acts of nature.
According to their website, The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the largest sanctuary of its kind and on any given day is the healing home for up to 1,600 dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, horses, and pigs. Being a part of nursing these animals back to health is exactly the way Zoe wanted to spend her summer. At Best Friends, Zoe explained, “I was too young to work with the dogs, so I worked in a place called Catworld and I loved it.” Zoe went on to say, “Catworld was broken up into houses depending on what was wrong with the cat and most of them were there because they were sick, many with cancer.” She said her favorite part was “that I was able to take the cats back to the room and care for them overnight.” The time in Utah had a huge effect on Zoe and she knew that this is how she would spend her summers going forward.
Last summer Zoe decided to pick a Teen Tour to Costa Rica where she spent three weeks working at animal sanctuaries. She said, “The sanctuaries are more like shelters, and they’re not like here. They are outside and dirty, and the dogs were all from the streets and needed a lot to get back to their healthy selves.” Unfortunately, she witnessed, “Dogs coming in with chains wrapped around them, some with missing fur and cuts, and a lot of malnourished ones.” While it was sad to see, she knew that the help she and other volunteers were doing to nurse these dogs back to health was making a difference.
The past two summers have been so fulfilling that it left Zoe knowing she wanted to pick another place to go to continue helping to heal sick animals. She is currently deciding between a few possible programs for this summer, including potentially one in Alaska where she could help huskies regain their former strength, or another one in Hawaii working at a dog and cat sanctuary. Finally, the one that she seems most excited about is a program in Australia where she can work in a koala sanctuary. Zoe hopes through sharing her story, she will inspire some of her peers to spend their summers getting out there into the world, while also helping to make the world a better place.