‘For me, it’s like a little-kid-dream-come-true; it’s something I love so much. I’m able to wake up and be happy to do it, no matter how hard it is.’

Senior finds passion in helping animals, volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation


Julie Freijat, co-editor in chief

For many, the dream of a job where one could interact with animals on a daily basis was common as a child. For some, that dream lasts well into adulthood.

Senior Ashley Mercer spends her sixth and seventh hour shadowing veterinarians as well as volunteering at Operation WildLife.

“I get to help with the healing processes of animals that are injured or sick,” Mercer said. “I also get to help with daily needs at [vet clinics].”

Field biology teacher Kale Mann said Mercer is very spirited when it comes to animals and wildlife.

“She’s a super positive human being in general,” he said. “It will make her really good in any field she wants to pursue. She’s really passionate about the environment and the environment she lives in, and [she] wants to learn about it.”

There are many reasons someone would consider a career in animal care — Mercer draws hers back to her love for both animals and health practice.

“I’ve always loved animals,” she said. “I have a creek in my backyard, so my whole life I’ve been outside with animals. I like [medical care,] so I started shadowing vets going into junior year. I learned about what it’s like to be a veterinarian and different kinds of careers where I could be outside working with animals.”

Mann said others may pursue a profession in life science because they want to keep the Earth in good health.

“I think [people] see the actual importance the [animals] play in the environment,” he said. “They do things to protect the environment and keep it healthy.”

Getting the opportunity to leave during school and spend time elsewhere involves a process of getting it approved by administration. Mercer said she had to fill out a form, explain what she was doing and why and then have it approved by first her counselor and then by assistant principal Mark Dalton.

Before any of this is completed, she needed to have a plan for a location to work. While Mercer shadows a vet, she also recently began volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center.

“I was looking into wildlife rehabilitation as a career,” she said. “We were looking around to see if there was anybody we knew or anything around here we could actually look into to see what it was like, and we found OWL here in Kansas.”

A career in this field requires a special love for animals, Mercer said. She said her favorite experience is working with the bald eagles.

“You see them in the wild — it’s far off in the distance flying, and it’s really cool,” Mercer said. “Seeing God’s creation and the amazing details — I mean we go from a bald eagle to a tiny little hummingbird — just gives me chills. It’s amazing.”

While working with animals can be difficult and take immense dedication, Mercer said she believes it is worth the challenge.

“One of the things they said at OWL was that it is our privilege to be the animal’s caretakers for animals that can’t be released back into the wild,” she said. “To be able to work with something you love so much is a daily reward.”

In all, Mercer said she is fond of her volunteer work.

“For me, it’s like a little-kid-dream-come-true,” she said. “It’s something I love so much. I’m able to wake up and be happy to do it, no matter how hard it is.”