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Teen enjoys volunteer work where the wild things are

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By John Foster

She doesn’t get paid and she doesn’t have keys to the place, but short of that, one Oldham County teen is about as trusted as any off the employees at the Louisville Zoo.

“If I could give her a set of keys I would,” keeper Drew Koch said.

Because of that trust Rachel Pardee of Crestwood has earned the Jon Heaton award as the outstanding youth volunteer from the zoo.

Four years ago she started volunteering during the summer and on weekends. 

At that time she’d never held a snake and was a little scared of them. Now, at 17, she takes no second thought as she adeptly lifts them out of their tanks for a quick cleanup or to transport them to show off to a school group. 

She spends most of her time away from the public eye in a small room where the animals for the MetaZoo are kept, caring for hedgehogs, frogs and any number of other things that crawl, slither or hop. The MetaZoo is where school or camp groups come to handle and learn about animals.

Her younger sister, Erica, volunteers with the groups of children, but this quiet, efficient girl is happy to be behind the scenes. Rachel volunteered with the children her first year, but this job suits her better, she said.

After all, it’s animals that brought her to the zoo. Her love for animals shows at home too where she has two dogs, two fish and a couple of lizards.

Yes, she’s planning on doing a career with animals. No, she doesn’t know what, although she plans to study biology. And yes, she’s been asked the question a million times.

Hundreds of volunteers come through the zoo, but Pardee stands out, Koch said. He’s nominated her for the award each of the three years she’s volunteered in the MetaZoo.

She does anything and everything without complaining and often before she’s asked, he said. 

The trust that builds is crucial, because it means he can trust her with the health and well-being of the about 60 species of animals under his care.

He hopes she can come back next summer after she graduates from South Oldham High School and maybe even after she goes to college.

“She’s the best volunteer I’ve ever had,” he said, before comparing her to himself as a volunteer.

“She’s better than I was,” he said.

E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com