By Alisha Brewer

Well guys, we made it. Welcome to the final month of 2020; welcome to December. This is supposed to be the season to let our hearts be light, but how can we accomplish the feeling of being merry and bright when we have so much occupying our minds? In this crazy year of COVID, political clashes, difficult financial decisions, navigating the new look of schools and family get-togethers, a lack of social gatherings and a lack of overall normalcy, being jolly might take a bit of work.

I know how hope and happiness grow because I see it happening right here in Vail. I see the individuals in our community who make this world a better place to live and there are so many of you! I see it when people choose to take the cell phone, set of keys or wallet that they found up to customer service. I see people who stop to help that lost dog find their family again. I see people buy coffee and a donut for the person behind them. In countless neighborhoods, including mine, individuals leave a wagon of food, seeds, chicken eggs, games and supplies out for neighbors who could use an extra hand. My husband’s car broke down on the exit ramp of I-10 and Wentworth. In the middle of a pandemic multiple people stopped to help him push it to a safe place. Each of you is a reminder that even the thickest fog cannot darken the human spirit.

This holiday season, amongst everything that your family may be dealing with, I encourage each of you to do one small thing to continue spreading the light. Need an idea? Animals seem to hold a soft spot in many people’s hearts. When we’ve had a hard day our furry friends at home can be the solace that we need, but what about the ones still waiting to find their forever home? It is thrilling to see our javelinas, bobcats and quails out and about, but what happens if you find one that is injured? There are countless rescues, efforts and organizations trying to help our furry, scaly and feathery friends. Those animals can use your help.

The Reid Park Zoo has a virtual animal giving tree. This may seem like a funny idea, but on it you will find items such as hammocks, feeders, toys, enrichment puzzles and devices that mentally occupy the animals and help encourage their natural behaviors. As a past zookeeper I can speak firsthand to the joy that these presents bring to the animals. The zookeepers work tremendously hard to keep the animals physically and mentally stimulated and their environment constantly changing. Having a novel item to introduce to an animal can invoke their curiosity, play, feeding, stalking, swimming, jumping and all the natural behaviors they would display in the wild. One of the lions’ favorite toys is a big red plastic apple. This is traditionally a horse toy but it turns out lions think it’s pretty amazing, too. The giving tree is the power for you to provide the animals with play and stimulus, which is just an awesome thing. Plus, I have to admit it’s pretty fun shopping for a lion, rhinoceros, otter, or whatever your favorite animal may be:

The Tucson Wildlife Center takes in sick, injured and orphaned wild animals. They rehabilitate them and then release them back into the wild. They operate southern Arizona’s only 24/7/365 wildlife hospital and all of their services are free of charge to the public. They have a wish list that includes things such as bone-in chicken thighs, paper towels and kitty litter. The next time that you see a hawk soaring above your backyard, it could be because you provided that chicken thigh so that he could regain his strength and be returned to the wild. I bet that would be a pretty incredible feeling:

What kind of animals are you passionate about? I guarantee that there is a rescue, rehab or educational organization that could use your support. The Humane Society, Pima Animal Control, The Oasis Sanctuary for birds, Karuna Horse Rescue, Hermitage Cat Shelter, and Southern Arizona Reptile Rescue are all organizations that can use your help. My family will be picking out a new toy for the zoo’s gibbon and sending dog treats to the Humane Society. We know that giving saves lives and it’s just plain good for the soul. To those who give to an animal in need, thank you for making a difference in their life. The season will glow brighter because of you. I wish you and your family of all shapes, sizes and levels of hairiness a peaceful holiday season.

Alisha Brewer is a veteran zoo keeper of nearly 15 years. U of A alum. Boy mom, veggie dog connoisseur, anti Oxford comma and eternal optimist. Alisha hopes to connect residents to the incredible creatures that surround us.

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