Helping the helpless

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Soto

Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, feeds a tiger March 21, 2015, while volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. At the ranch, Barrick helps with feeding the animals, cleaning cages and ensuring the health and well-being of the various animals there. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto.

Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, feeds a tiger March 21, 2015, while volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. At the ranch, Barrick helps with feeding the animals, cleaning cages and ensuring the health and well-being of the various animals there. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto.

Hearing the mighty, frightening roar of a tiger, one wouldn’t think that anything could affect such a fierce creature. The cunning, soft-footed slinking of a panther makes it one of nature’s many killing machines. Yet these animals, along with others, face the very real prospect of extinction. Scientists and organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, fear for the future of the endangered cats of the world. Despite efforts to help sustain their populations, these animals are still at risk.

Zoos and animal parks throughout the world, including the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida, work to display these animals to the public and educate people about the importance of these creatures. For one Coast Guard woman, her calling is to do something to help them.

With the world-class beaches and general party atmosphere offered by northeastern Florida, there is no shortage of appealing distractions for a young person. Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, chooses to devote her free time to volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch.

The Catty Shack Ranch, an outdoor animal sanctuary, is home to many animals, including 24 tigers, four lions, six cougars, four leopards, two foxes, a coatimundi and a bobcat. Following the dirt trails, one can look right into the various cages and watch the big cats eating or at play. Barrick’s passion in caring for these animals comes from her concern of their endangered status. She said if they are not protected, her children and grandchildren might never get to see these agile, intelligent creatures in the wild.

These big cats are going extinct,” Barrick said. “They’re very unique. We might not see them later on if we don’t make people aware.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, feeds a cougar March 21, 2015, while volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. Barrick devotes her free time to the health and well-being of the various animals at the ranch. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto.

Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, feeds a cougar March 21, 2015, while volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. Barrick devotes her free time to the health and well-being of the various animals at the ranch. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto.

Barrick’s responsibilities include leading groups of tourists through the sanctuary, preparing meals and feeding the animals, and cleaning their cages with only a chain link fence separating her from these ferocious creatures.

The work also provides Barrick with a place where she can escape from her daily stressors. She often finds solace in working amongst the animals. Barrick said her job as a corpsman can be stressful, specifically considering all the members she has to care for. Working around dangerous animals, however, doesn’t faze her at all.

The ranch is a place for me to decompress,” she said. “I try to not think about things, just to get rid of stress. It’s something I do for myself.”

The ranch, according to Barrick, is more than just a place with cages to keep the animals safe.

“This place is a rescue,” Barrick said. “It’s a sanctuary and forever home for these animals. Once they come to live at the ranch they have a ‘furever’ home. I’m a corpsman; the weak, helpless and injured – those are who I serve and am drawn too. I feel the same way for these animals. When they’re weak, injured, or unwanted I want them; I want to help them.”

Despite the risk of extinction these animals face, the care provided by volunteers like Barrick offer future generations the chance to marvel at the stripes of the white and orange tigers or get a chill down their spine at the soft, cunning purr of a panther. In spite of the sacrifice in time and energy she devotes, Barrick nevertheless works with a spirit of joy and compassion. For Barrick, her reward is knowing she helps the Catty Shack, the animals living there and the ranch’s mission.

“As much as I work, being independent duty, I still find time for myself to be out there with those animals.” Barrick said, “It’s very rewarding.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, speaks with a tourist, March 21, 2015, while volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. At the ranch, Barrick helps with feeding the animals, cleaning cages and ensuring the health and well-being of the various animals there. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto.

Petty Officer 1st Class Amber Barrick, a Coast Guard health services technician, speaks with a tourist, March 21, 2015, while volunteering at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Fla. At the ranch, Barrick helps with feeding the animals, cleaning cages and ensuring the health and well-being of the various animals there. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto.

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