Bernadette “Bernie” Hoffman
I had dogs growing up as a child and after my parents divorced when I was a teen, mom gave the dogs away and we got a cat. After that, I couldn’t imagine my life without one.
I liked animals as a child but never gave any thought as to a career working with them. It wasn’t until the 90’s that I volunteered at a local shelter in Florida. Mom and I worked in the cat department, cleaning cages, feeding, washing dishes, clipping nails, brushing and socializing the cats. It started as every Friday night and moved on to include every Sunday. We never missed a time unless we were sick. I worked there for six years before moving to the Northeast in 1997. Years passed and I had my own felines. Mom moved in with me in 2000 and then we had twice as many cats! I went to work for a zoo in 2002 after losing a secretarial position. I had experience caring for domestic cats which got me in the door since I knew how to medicate. This was a dream job. Oh, it wasn’t easy. It was dirty, exhausting and back-breaking. It was emotional as sometimes animals died, but I loved it! I would stay several hours after my work day to sit and watch the animals. I learned their behaviors. I researched to expand my knowledge. The zoo ultimately had me oversee the other keepers and interns. They decided to retire in 2007 and I stayed through the winter while they relocated their animals when the last left in May of 2008. A few of the older animals stayed like the Bud bear and Sasha tiger living out their lives there until they passed. I took over their lecture circuit with my own in early 2008. They sold or gave me many specimens while I purchased many of my own. In April 2008, I went to work part-time for a natural history museum as their educator. It was very different working with taxidermy specimens but the education was the same. I would use my vacation days to present my own wildlife education to libraries, senior and youth centers and other organizations.
It was 2010 when my old zoo boss suggested that I get a Canada Lynx as an ambassador for my educational programs. I had worked with the Canada and Eurasian Lynxes we had at the zoo. The Canada were hand-raised and were extremely sweet while the Eurasians were not. However, the Eurasians weren’t aggressive either. We could clean their enclosure as long as we respected their space. I had to give it some thought as it would be a 20-year commitment. Also, to consider was the cost. I started saving the cash and applied to the State for my Endangered Species License. The application process was lengthy but only because one needs to ensure both the cat and public are kept safe.
Max was born May 4, 2011 and I picked him up on a rainy day in June. He was almost 8 weeks old. His brother was a very shy cat while Max was a little spitfire. So, I chose him. He growled the 3-hour trip home.