Good friendships often benefit in ways that we could never foresee. So it was for Lori Gagen who, more than 20 years ago, helped a good friend pursue her own dream of caring for homeless exotic animals. “Our friendship, and my love of cats of all sizes, led to volunteering,” she said. “It is extraordinary to have come into this wonderful world of animal rescue by just trying to lend a hand to a friend.”
Gagen’s heartfelt help led to a lifetime passion and career beyond her imagining; it grew from volunteering in the gift shop to becoming a founding board member—then becoming director of development. “To have continued this journey for so many years and learned first-hand how much impact a community of caring individuals can have on the lives of these animals has been an inspirational, astounding and unbelievably rewarding experience,” Gagen said. “I know how rare and special this opportunity is and I cherish it and all my fellow caregivers and advocates deeply.”
Gagen speaks of her pride in her team, mostly all volunteers, who are as committed as she to meeting the unique needs of the variety of species that call Black Pine Animal Sanctuary (Albion, Indiana) home. Exchanging information and resources with similar organizations is rewarding as well. Gagen’s favorite part of her job is the unique camaraderie within this niche field. “(It’s a) sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from meeting and working with likeminded people to save and change lives.”
Educating the public about exploitation of nondomestic animals and the exotic pet trade is paramount. Gagen’s love and respect for the animals is clear when asked about her hopes for the sanctuary: “That the need for it eventually disappears,” she said. “ That would be a sign that our efforts to educate the public are paying off. Until then, I hope for the continued support of the community and all who value our mission.”
Ask her to choose a favorite animal at Black Pine? “That would be like asking a mother if she has a favorite child!” Gagen said. “If forced to pick, I would have say it’s a tie between Luna, a Bengal tiger, and Tarzan, the chimpanzee.”
Gagen followed her heart and helped a friend. As such, she proves that worlds open up from this action. And doing so can result in the truly extraordinary.