Person of the Week
Georgia Male: Where Animal House is a Compliment
A self-described introvert, Georgia Male has made many friends, human and otherwise, in her role as farm manager and camp counselor at the Bushy Hill Nature Center. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Male )
Everybody knows Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen, to say nothing of Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen. But do you know? No, not Rudolph but Thelma, Jack, Ace, Abe, Boris, Lucy, Helen, and Greyson?
They all live far closer than the North Pole. The are the goats and donkeys whom Georgia Male cares for as farm manager at the Incarnation Center, whose property spans Deep River and Essex and includes the Bushy Hill Nature Center and day camp, as well as an overnight camp.
Now, Georgia, who used to have volunteers to help with the feeding and care of the animals, is doing by herself on during the week. She gets a hand on weekends from another Incarnation Center employee Kelsey Tuttle.
Georgia is caring for both farm animals as well as smaller animals in the nature center. They include, among others, snakes, turtles, and an insect called a Madagascar hissing cockroach.
She admits that parents of the young children at the center’s programs usually have a negative reaction to the cockroaches. Youngsters, she adds, react quite differently.
“The cockroaches don’t fly, they don’t bite, they don’t infest anything. Kids have no fear about holding them,” she says.
Still, the cockroaches may have limitations when compared to other pets.
“They’re not as cuddly,” Georgia admits.
The animals are not simply charges to Georgia: they are friends. She knows when Pumba, the western hog nose snake in the nature center, is feeling grumpy. He hides under the carpet covering on the bottom of his cage. Earl, the yellow-bellied slider turtle can be temperamental, but he comes out of the water when he knows he is about to be fed.
“Reptiles have memory, affection, and trust level,” Georgia says.
One of Georgia’s special favorites is Sequoia, one of the chickens on the farm. He was the only hatchling for a clutch of eggs and Georgia even slept in her office so she would not miss his emergence from the egg.
“I cried,” she says.
She sometimes takes hikes with Sequoia perched on her shoulder.
Beyond caring for the animals, Georgia has other plans for what she wants to do at the Incarnation Center. It recently received a grant, part of which she will use for the construction, now underway, and programming for a new classroom space devoted to environmental education.
“Georgia has brought with her new and fresh ideas to expand out existing programs,” says Bushy Hill Director Jen Malaguti.
Georgia, who now lives in Chester, grew up in Old Lyme, graduating from Old Lyme High School in 2013. She always loved animals and remembers putting on waders to catch frogs in a pond near her home. She eagerly looked for sightings of foxes and wild turkeys and even liked to pretend she had seen a bear. Cheetahs, the speedsters of Africa, were her favorite animals.
In her senior year at Old Lyme High School, Georgia had thought of a career in law enforcement, but in her online college search, she also typed in the word environment, and Unity College in Maine came up. Its website had a picture of a cheetah and advertised the school as “America’s Environmental College.”
Georgia’s reaction was instant.
“Omigosh, can you get paid to do that?” she remembers saying to herself.
She knew she didn’t want to be a veterinarian, but she learned there were many other possibilities in the animal world.
“I have friends who are zookeepers, veterinary technicians all over the country,” she says.
Despite her one-time fascination with cheetahs, Georgia specialized in domestic animals. She felt there were more possibilities for contact with domestic animals.
“You’re not likely to hug a lion or a tiger,” she points out.
In college, Georgia was one of four students selected, after applying and being interviewed, to train a seeing-eye dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. In fact, she has now trained three dogs for the organization. Now she has two dogs at home, both rescues. One has a degenerative nerve condition and has to use a wheeled device holding his hind legs to take walks.
In addition, she has a cat named Ruth whom Georgia describes as “thinking she is a dog.” Ruth does simple tricks and shares a problem with many a human being.
“She is addicted to food,” Georgia says.
In addition to her work on the farm, for several years Georgia has served as a counselor at Bushy Hill’s summer day camp for the four- and five-year-olds. She says it was a way for her of working to make herself less of an introvert.
“I was nervous at first working around kids; that’s why I signed up for the youngest,” she says.
This summer, Malaguti says, the Bushy Hill is planning to hold day camp and is working out the ways to keep both campers and counselors safe and healthy.
Georgia spends far more than her 40-hour workweek at the farm and in addition, sometimes brings small animals home to care for them when they are sick. But she never regrets the extra time.
“I’m happy just picking up poop and shoveling. I love what I do; I love animals,” she says.
At least the animals can’t ask her about how to pronounce her last name. It is just like the masculine gender, but she says people often try to make it something else, putting an accent on the last syllable so it becomes Mallah, or Mallay. She is used to it and even had a chance to prove the name’s utility when some females wanted to go into a men’s restroom. They felt they couldn’t, but Georgia had another take. She pointed out her last name was Male. Actually, she adds, it’s a Swedish name that likely got changed at Ellis Island.
For more information on programs at the Incarnation Center, visit Incarnationcenter.org.