“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ― Anatole France
Anyone who has ever befriended an animal knows how quickly they can feel like family. Empathetic in ways we rarely understand, these living creatures are worthy of our respect. And though we may not always see the fruit of our labor, this protection of life blesses us all with an ecosystem supportive of future generations, humans and animals alike.
One local nonprofit has undertaken such a mission, working to educate the community about the welfare of our wildlife, while fostering unforgettable bonds between humans and our natural environment.
For Sara McClaskey, this love of wildlife issues from a lifetime of caring for her four-legged, childhood friends.
“I would rush home from school to spend time with the pigs, cows, goats, and horses,” she shared.
However, it was in her rescuing of a vulnerable bison calf that McClaskey found her true calling.
“She was so small and sick. Honestly, I didn’t know if she would make it. I named her Buffy and I spent many late nights trying to get her to eat. Buffy and I ended up becoming best friends and I knew I wanted to form bonds with animals just like her,” McClaskey explained.
And that is exactly what she has done, establishing her nonprofit Paws and Claws Animal Encounters in May of 2018, with the purpose of protecting exotic animals.
A continually growing organization, Paws and Claws is now home to wildlife as diverse as otters, kangaroos, parrots, donkeys, monkeys, albino porcupines, and many more beloved creatures. A labor of love, these animals are rescues, saved from fur farms or surrendered from homes that could no longer provide for their care.
While creatures may arrive in McClaskey’s care sick or wounded, many make a full recovery. Some even graduate to the role of community ambassadors, charming adults and children alike with their playful and intelligent spirits.
“Toby, our dromedary camel, has so much personality. He is very affectionate and nosey, always has to know what everyone is doing,” shared McClaskey. “I have had him since he was two weeks old and I bottle fed him, so we have a very special bond.”
In partnership with her animal companions, McClaskey works to educate the public on responsible care and provision for exotic animals, many of which have highly specific needs.
However, her educational efforts go much further than animal care, touching on the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship.
“I truly believe interacting with animals helps build empathy, and empathy fuels conservation. I had people tell me they donated to Australian Wildfire Fundraisers because they were able to hold and pet kangaroos. They saw them as more than just an animal,” affirmed McClaskey.
But as a small nonprofit, the work of Paws and Claws depends upon community support. To that end, McClaskey has developed some innovative strategies to build human and animal bonds.
While Paws and Claws has built a regional reputation through its work with local schools, educational programs, hospice, and children’s organizations, this year marks the organization’s first foray into a new kind of fundraiser, live Nativities.
Providing not only the costumes that organizations and congregations can use for these immersive Biblical experiences, Paws and Claws also provides live animals, including a camel, yaks, miniature cows, a donkey, and goats – all of which offer context, and education, for attendees.
The first of these live Nativities will take place on Saturday, Dec. 18, in collaboration with The Bridge Ministries. This Drive-Through Live Nativity will be held at 115 W. 5th Ave, from 5 to 7 p.m. Open to the community, the event will also offer free coffee, hot chocolate, donuts, and caroling.
Born of a previous successful collaboration between Paws and Claws and The Bridge, this opportunity will provide interaction with the rescued animals, as well as increased community exposure for the church’s programs, which include outreach for local orphans, support for those in recovery, and food outreach to vulnerable populations, including those receiving dialysis.
And while community members can contact Paws and Claws Animal Encounters for a variety of children’s events and activities, donations are also needed to sustain this growing nonprofit initiative.
In explanation of these needs McClaskey shared, “We can always use towels, blankets, dog kennels and playground equipment to put into enclosures for the animals. Donating money is always a huge help, too. This allows us to improve enclosures, provide vet care, feed the animals, and take in new rescues.”
With community support, a mission like McClaskey’s may change countless lives, educating the next generation about the power of their compassion.
“The animals are what keep me going. I especially love it when I see a scared and sick animal, transform into a healthy, beautiful, and trusting animal. There is never a moment that we are not looking to grow and share that with the community,” affirmed McClaskey.
For more information about Paws and Claws Animal Encounters, its animals, and its charitable mission, please visit Paws and Claws Animal Encounters on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m., from Victoria Players Children’s Theater presents "It’s a Wonderful Life" at the Victoria Opera House. Directed by Jill Henwood, this production is not to be missed. Tickets start at $10 with 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows available. Tickets can be purchased online through Eventbright.
Saturday, Dec. 18 at 4:30 p.m., Clear Creek Metro Park, located at 185 Clear Creek Road in Lancaster, will be hosting a two-mile self-guided hike to Lake Emily. This event will feature beautiful trail lights and hot chocolate. For more information visit Clear Creek Metro Park on Facebook.
Sunday, Dec. 19, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Heart of Buckeye Lake, located at 2845 Canal Rd. in Millersport, is hosting a cooking class for children ages 4 through 12. Admission is $5 per student and children will decorate their own chef’s hat and cookies. For information, visit KIDZ Creative Culinary Class of Buckeye Lake on Facebook.
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This article originally appeared on Lancaster Eagle-Gazette: Paws and Claws Animal Encounters is home to diverse wildlife in need of care