As an art instructor, it is such a treat to stay in touch with students who studied at length at my studio. Recently, I caught up with one of my longtime former art students, Taylor McLeod for a Student Interview.
LRW: Our history goes back to the early days of Pastimes for A Lifetimes’ studio opening. Do you happen to remember how old you were when you started art classes with me? Had you ever studied art before?
TM: I began taking art classes at Pastimes when I was about 13 years old. I had never taken any formal drawing or painting lessons prior to Pastimes.
LRW: Ah, yes. Now I remember. You studied drawing with Graphite and advanced quickly to my Watercolor and Acrylics courses. Beautiful work that reflects your patience and mastery of the mediums. Now you have earned a degree in Biology from UC Santa Cruz and have landed a job as a Physical Therapy Assistant at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital. I’m so proud of you! When did the idea to become a veterinarian begin? What was or were the inspiration(s)?
TM: I developed a connection with animals from a young age. As an only child I spent much of my free time around my two cats and chocolate lab.
I also took horseback riding lessons and attended a riding camp every summer.
The strong relationship I built with animals during childhood had a lasting impact on me. When I decided to pursue a Biology degree at UC Santa Cruz the idea of becoming a veterinarian naturally took form.
LRW: Hey, I’m an only child, too with fond memories of time well spent with my two adorable mutts, a chatty parakeet, and a couple of friendly goldfish. So glad to hear your connection with animals informed your educational and career choices. What inspired you to attend UC Santa Cruz? Were there other choices?
TM: Truthfully, what inspired me to attend UC Santa Cruz over other colleges was the natural beauty that surrounds the campus. Being nestled in the redwood forest was comforting as I settled into living away from home. The university has a history of marching to the beat of it’s own drum and embracing what is unique and different. I soon discovered that UC Santa Cruz also embodied a perfect balance between science and art. The bold spirit of UC Santa Cruz fostered my transformation and encouraged me to stay true to myself.
LRW: That’s wonderful to find a safe place to fosture your passion for science and art while remaining your true self. The redwoods are magical! I had visited the redwoods during my early 20s and was blown away by the natural beauty. Perfect place to become accustomed to living away from home. BTW – great graduation photo! Please say hello to your mom for me. Thanks! What were some of your job experiences that led you to your current career? Any advice for my students and readers?
TM: Thanks! I’ll let mom know you said hello. I’ve experienced a wide variety of jobs whilst on my pre-veterinary journey. I’ve worked as a medical extern at a wildlife rehabilitation center, a radiology technician at a specialty animal hospital, an animal care specialist at an exotic animal sanctuary and as a rehabilitation assistant for dogs.
LRW: That’s quite an impressive lineup of work experiences!
TM: Although I had an idea of what I wanted to do after college I wasn’t quite ready to apply for veterinary school right away. Instead, I took time to explore all aspects of the animal field before making my decision.
LRW: Good idea to know one’s options.
TM: Yes, I think it is important to know what the job involves before rushing into a career. Not everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up, and it can be difficult for many to identify what it is that they are passionate about. My advice would be to drop the word passion and, instead, replace it with curiosity. Don’t be afraid to follow your curiosities!
LRW: Agreed. Sage advice from someone your age. Do you have a favorite animal or species you enjoy working with most? What about them makes them special to you?
TM: That is a tough question because I have many favorites! But I did have one very special relationship with a Vietnamese water buffalo named Pirate.
LRW: Wait. What? Vietnamese water buffalo named Pirate?
TM: Yes! During my time as an animal care specialist at Malibu Wine Safaris one of our Vietnamese water buffalo’s rejected her newborn calf. The calf’s chance of survival was extremely low as he did not receive an adequate amount of colostrum from his mother’s milk to build up a healthy immune system and intestinal flora. He needed to drink a milk replacer immediately, and I dedicated myself to giving Pirate that chance.
LRW: That’s amazing. How did you go about doing that?
TM: I reached out to our exotic animal veterinarian, researched on my off days, and offered the bottle to Pirate around the clock. With time slipping away and Pirate’s interest in and skills for the bottle dwindling, I persisted. With patience, Pirate learned to latch, and the tide turned. His appetite grew and energy skyrocketed. From a failing calf, Pirate has grown to be a healthy 600 pounds. This animal had a particular, and I believe indelible, impact on my view of the relationship between humans and animals.
LRW: That story touches my heart and gives me goosebumps. You saved a baby wild animal’s life! Gah! What other exotic animals did you get to work with at the Malibu Wine Safaris?
TM: Below are pics of some of the mental enrichment activities we provided to our animals on a daily basis while working at Malibu Wine Safaris. We utilize a positive reinforcement technique in all of our training and enrichment sessions.
The left is of me and our African giraffe, Stanley, in the midst of a lead training session.
The right is a picture of me holding a painting that Stanley created. We taught Stanley how to hold a paint brush and create brush strokes using non-toxic paints.
LRW: OMG you taught a giraffe to paint. I’m kvelling!! Please go on.
TM: Below is of my favorite goat, Milkshake. I taught Milkshake how to give kisses on the cheek in exchange for a yummy treat. Naturally, we had to open his own kissing booth on Valentines Day.
LRW: Naturally! More, please.
TM: The photo on the right is of me and our Misto (llama and alpaca hybrid) named Chorizo on one of the many scenic hikes around Saddle Rock Ranch.
LRW: I hadn’t heard of a Misto. I’m not familiar with Saddle Rock Ranch. I look forward to checking it out. In addition to these outstanding experiences, what were some of the highlights and learning points at school and/or at work that you would like to share with my students and readers?
TM: The greatest highlight of working in animal rehabilitation is how rewarding it can be. The gift of releasing a red-tailed hawk back into the wild or teaching a dog how to walk again is extremely gratifying. As natural empaths with a desire to feel connected, I’ve learned that being of service to others is integral to our happiness as humans. Knowing I can help give an animal that second chance is what keeps me in this line of work.
LRW: You’re giving me goosebumps again! Such kindness toward and desire to heal animals is exemplary. There are many animal treatment centers out there. Why VCA West LA? Did they approach you or did you apply through a headhunter or on your own?
TM: I chose to work at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital because they actually have a rehabilitation department integrated into their healthcare program. Animal rehabilitation has always piqued my interest and an old colleague, who was completing her surgery residency at VCA West LA, remembered this about me. She contacted me when a job opening popped up and I decided to apply. The rest is history!
LRW: Wow! Good choice, connections and timing! It was meant to be. Can you describe to my students and readers what an average workday is like? [Insert work photos] What school and work experiences or life lessons would you like to share with my readers?
TM: An average day as a rehabilitation assistant for animals is very dynamic. I do a lot of clerical work such as returning phone calls, emails and scheduling. But I am also very hands on in the rehab process.
I restrain the animal for initial assessment and help run the rehab session alongside our physical therapist. During a typical rehab session we provide the animal with passive range of motion, massage, stretching and cold laser therapy which promotes pain relief and quickens healing time. We also assist our patients in a variety of strengthening exercises in the gym.
One of my favorite strengthening treatments is hydrotherapy. Our underwater treadmill utilizes the physics of water to provide a perfect blend of low impact and high resistance training for our patients. We work mostly with dogs that are recovering from surgery or older dogs experiencing weakness and mobility issues. Rehabilitation has taught me the nuances of animal behavior and how to better decipher pain and discomfort.
In order for our treatment to be beneficial it is important that the dog be relaxed and comfortable in our care. Learning to be patient and receptive to others pays off in the animal world just like it does in daily life!
LRW: Indeed! What a great variety of cutting edge animal rehab therapies. You have quite a skill set for the job. May I ask, what are some of your future career plans or goals?
TM: I would someday love to open my own rehabilitation business for either wildlife or domestic pets.
LRW: Definitely! Please be sure to keep me posted on this so I may do a follow up blog on this. Thank you. May I ask, what impact did your art classes at Pastimes make?
TM: Pastimes equipped me with the tools to express myself creatively. Having a formal background in both drawing and painting technique took my creative expression to new levels. Pastimes inspired a confidence within me to continue my education in art. I went on to attend summer art programs during high school and I even attempted a double major in art and biology while attending UC Santa Cruz. Art is now woven into the fabric of my being and will always be an essential outlet for my self-expression. I am forever grateful to Pastimes and Linda for igniting my love of art and the process behind it.
LRW: Your words touched my heart, Taylor. It was an honor teaching you, and so rewarding to hear that you even considered a double major in art and biology. May you continue to find joy in expressing yourself through drawing and painting. xoxo
As you know, art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, Pastimes For A Lifetime partners with CoachArt.org to provide free art classes and piano lessons for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you or your family are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
TM: There is an organization called A Window Between Worlds which provides those who have been impacted by violence or trauma a safe atmosphere to create art and experience the healing elements of creative expression.
LRW: I’m so glad to learn about them and their good work. I hope my readers will consider learning more and possibly supporting them. In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block or frustration, that you would like to share with my readers?
TM: One of the best ways for me sort things out when I am frustrated or unclear is through daily journaling. Writing is a great way to get to know your self and clarify the jumble of thoughts stored in our mind.
A mantra that I am currently using is: [Tweet “I find peace in this present moment.”]
LRW: A beautiful mantra, indeed. Taylor it was a pleasure interviewing you for the blog and learning of your remarkable accomplishments with animals. You are a beautiful spirit. I treasure our relationship elevating from teacher/student to friend.
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