Sanctuary offers animals a second chance

By: Brad Smith Telegraph Correspondent
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Editor’s Note: This is the first in an ongoing series featuring a day in the life of someone in the community. If you know of someone with an interesting job, contact the editor at Not many people can say they start out their workday by checking on a tiger’s breakfast. “Welcome to my world,” said Jill Lute, the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary’s supervisor. Every day starting at around 7 a.m., Lute starts her day by checking on the zoo’s more than 70 different animals and then oversees staff personnel as they prepare the animals’ meals. “And I do mean every day,” Lute said. “You’ll find some of us on the holidays, if only for a few hours, checking and feeding the animals. Someone has to do it.” The zoo sanctuary was founded in 1963 when then-Folsom Park superintendent Gordon Brong was asked to take care of a small bear named Smokey, Lute said. Brong was already taking care of some deer and a coyote. Brong asked the city for extra space at the park and service clubs helped build cages for Smokey and the other animals. “That’s how we got started,” Lute said. Lute herself started out at the zoo sanctuary as a volunteer in 1987. She was hired on as a full-time employee in 1991 and worked her way up to supervisor. “I love working here because I love animals,” Lute said. “I also love working here because of our philosophy. We’re not a traditional zoo.” Lute said that the zoo acts as a sanctuary for animals that have nowhere else to go. “We’ve taken in animals that have been abused or mistreated,” she said. “Like our tigers, Misty and Pouncer. They were being held at a facility in Southern California where other big cats were cruelly mistreated and abused.” Each animal at the zoo sanctuary were either rescued from similar situations or donated by people who once owned them as pets. Some, like the macaque monkeys Darwin and Wallace, are the offspring of monkeys used as laboratory test subjects. “For all of our animals here, this is their second chance,” Lute said. “Or only chance. Either way, they’re here and we do our best to make sure they have a safe, secure and caring home.” Lute checks with the staff as they prepare the animals’ first meal of the day. “Some of the animals are fed once a day,” Lute said. “Others more than that. It depends on the animal. After feeding is done, then we dispense medications to some of the animals.” Depending on the animal and its medical condition, some receive their medication once a day or twice. “There are times when I have to come in late at night to give out meds — if the animal needs three doses a day,” Lute said. “Even on a holiday.” Some animals require very personal care at times. “Orinoco, one of our squirrel monkeys, needed a lot care and attention when he first arrived,” Lute said. “So, he came home with me for a while. My daughter loved having him home.” Under Lute’s watchful eye, Orinoco got better — and became quite mischievous. “One day, he tore up my daughter’s homework assignment,” Lute said. “It was fun explaining that to the teacher.” Lute and another zookeeper, Stu Wright, have to take a Shetland pony named Sterling to Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center for a checkup. “Sterling’s been fighting pneumonia for some time,” Wright said. “We need to have the little guy checked out and see what else we can do for him.” Like Lute, Wright started out as a volunteer after he retired from United Parcel Service job. He’s now a part time zookeeper — and he loves it. “I love being around animals and working outside,” he said. “I’ve got the best of both worlds here.” The zoo sanctuary has suffered losses. In the last few years, wolves Redbud and Granite have passed away and so has one of the guard dogs, Harrison. This spring, Fisher — the black bear who many enjoyed visiting — had to be euthanized due to his failing health. “It’s like losing a member of your family,” Wright said. “It hurts like that. We go on and keep working . . . but you still miss them.” Carol Vaughn, of Roseville, enjoys the zoo sanctuary. Years ago, she came here with her son. “It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I always wanted to come back here.” Years later, she has returned and brought her granddaughter, Katrina, with her. Both said that they were enjoying their visit. “I think we’ll be back more often,” Vaughn said.