There are a lot of things that appeal about the work that I do. It's rewarding to work with people who believe in what they're doing, and to be doing something that helps an important cause. It's good for me just to get out of the house and do something physical outside. But ultimately, it comes down to the cats. They're the most beautiful, magnificent creatures alive; just looking at them is a thrill. By doing scut jobs as a volunteer, I get to hang out with them.
2. What has been the most rewarding part of working with big cats?
The biggest reward is being able to establish a personal relationship with one of the cats. When I'm only on the property for a few hours once a week, the cats don't have that much reason to remember and care about me, but some of them clearly do; they pay attention to me in particular and give every sign of enjoying my company. I guess if you don't already understand how magical the cats are to me, you can't understand how much it means that they appreciate me in return.
3. What work of literature has been most formative?
Hoo, that's a tough one. I have almost no memories from before I knew how to read (not that I learned to read especially early; my early memories are just very few and vague). I've been a voracious reader of fiction for nearly as long as I've been aware of being me, and I'm sure that's shaped or reinforced almost everything about my values, ethics, and system of thought. But I'm not aware of any part of my character that I draw from one book in particular, and I can't think of any examples right now as I'm writing this. It's made tougher by the fact that the individual works that had the most influence would be those I read when I was much younger, but my memory isn't very good when I go back that far. I can't point to specific stories or books that influenced me, but I think I can point to some series that were significant. Darkover and Pern in high school, I would say, solidified my interest in written fantasy/SF into something that would be with me for life. Narnia and the Blish novelizations of Star Trek: TOS were among the first books I remember seeking out explicitly looking for fantasy or SF, probably when I was between 10 and 12. I know the Star Trek books were among the first that I actually bought for myself -- almost all of my books came from the library when I was a kid. Those two universes might also be the first worlds I didn't invent myself that I projected myself into in my daydreams. But possibly the most formative, because it was so early, were Walter R. Brooks' Freddie the Pig books. Sort of embarrassing to recall, but those were some of the first books I chose for myself from the big kid's part of the library where the books were just words, not picture books, and I loved them so much that I read them over and over because I was afraid to try reading other books because I might not like them. Those books are probably where I first got exposed to the idea that human and person aren't synonyms.
4. If you could change one thing about the human race, what would it be?
So many possibilities run through my mind, and I lack the wisdom to know which one would help the most. I think I'd like us to be much more able to recognize lies, both the lies others tell us and the lies we tell ourselves. Not a perfect ability, and not equal in everyone, since I think either one would make us other than human -- just move the bell curve a couple standard deviations away from the gullible end of the graph.
5. Have you ever wished that you could talk to the animals?
I've understood for a very long time that real-world animals aren't people in furry suits, and being able to converse with them in words is outside of what their minds could handle. To really be able to talk to animals would require not only changing myself, but changing the animals, and I don't want that. But to be able to really understand what was going on in their heads, to really know how they felt about me and to let me know how I felt about them, to be able to make simple concrete requests of each other (even at the level of "move over" or "scratch here"), yeah, I want that pretty much every time I'm near an animal.
If anyone would like 5 questions from me, just ask.