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Former art student to fulfill her wildlife dream in Alaska
A former Art Institute student completely changed her career path to work with animals and is now preparing for her biggest assignment yet: working with at-risk Moose in Alaska.
When Victoria Booth-Doyle was a student at the Art Institute in York, she already had doubts she would thrive in a work environment as a graphic designer, but she soon had bigger problems on her mind.
Booth-Doyle lost most of her possessions in a house fire in August 2014, including her entire art portfolio. Within a week of the fire, she also lost her job as she dealt with the aftermath.
"I couldn't go (to work)" she said, "I didn't have any clothes, I didn't have any shoes."
Even with the overlap of tragedies, Booth-Doyle remained resilient.
"I didn't cry about it; I was really calm," she said. "It's not fair, but that's how life works."
Her career prospects took a turn when the Education Management Corp., the parent company of the Art Institute schools, announced the closures of several campuses nationwide, including its York location, in May 2015.
Pregnant with her second child, Booth-Doyle did what she could with the knowledge she gained at the Art Institute.
“I had a few freelance jobs for graphic design,” she said, but she wasn’t particularly excited for an office job designing graphics all day.
“I realized I had more to offer than to sit behind a computer,” she said. “It’s just not for me.”
'Awoken': After having her second child in 2015, Booth-Doyle took some time off, during which she heard of a friend who started a job at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and worked with animals all the time.
“I was awoken,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
Booth-Doyle, now 26, decided in January 2016 to change her career path and go to Harrisburg Area Community College to pursue a biology degree.
She said she tried to find a place to do volunteer work with wildlife in York but had no luck finding one. Instead, she found the Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Lancaster County.
While at Raven Ridge, Booth-Doyle has been rehabilitating Pennsylvania wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels and rabbits. In the year she has volunteered there, Booth-Doyle said she has “absolutely fallen in love” with wildlife rehabilitation.
Rebecca Phillips, Booth-Doyle’s case manager at the York social services organization Community Progress Council, said she has “definitely” noticed a change in Booth-Doyle since they started working together nearly a year ago.
“(Booth-Doyle) loves talking about the conservation issue, the rescue of wildlife, reintroducing them back to the wild,” Phillips said.
“I think I’ve seen a young mom who was trying to find herself find what she wants to do,” she added, “and it's made her blossom and open up.”
Booth-Doyle worked with Phillips through Work Ready, a program within the CPC that helps people attain internships and educational opportunities to be ready and successful in the workforce.
Booth-Doyle said her work at Raven Ridge has been incredibly rewarding.
“Not everyone gets to do something like this,” she said.
She recalls spending every day for several months taking care of baby raccoons to make them healthy enough to survive in the wilderness. When the day came to release them, Booth-Doyle had a feeling she said was on par with the birth of her children.
“It was the best feeling in the entire world,” she said. “It was a really, really amazing moment.”
Moose rescue: While Booth-Doyle loves her job at Raven Ridge, she wanted to challenge herself more and learn about animals from all over the United States.
She regularly watches a television show on National Geographic called "Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet," and during one episode, she came across an especially interesting wildlife center, a moose rescue ranch in Anchorage called Moose Mamas.
“I paused it and looked it up right away,” she said. “I thought it was so cool.”
Moose Mamas is a nonprofit wildlife organization that rescues and rehabilitates orphaned moose calves to live in the wild.
After speaking with the Moose Mamas’ executive director, Dana DeBernandi, for more than two hours, she applied for an internship and was given an offer to spend the late spring and summer at the facility.
Right away, Booth-Doyle was struck by the enormity of the opportunity.
“I have never flown in a plane, I’ve never been anywhere past Tennessee,” and she’s never been apart from her kids, she said.
“I got over all that and I thought, ‘I totally need to do this,’” she said.
Pursuing a dream: Booth-Doyle said she knew sacrifice was necessary to fulfill her dream.
"It’s going to be hard for me to leave (my kids),” she said. “I’m going completely out of my comfort zone.”
She hopes her actions will inspire her kids, Connor Lightcap, 6, and Lorelei Staub, 2, to be ambitious.
“Hopefully I’ll set that example to them to go for their dreams,” Booth-Doyle said. Her children will be with her youngest child's father while she's in Alaska, she added.
Booth-Doyle will be transferring to Millersville University in the fall to complete her degree in biology, and soon she will be bound for Anchorage. She said the path for her has been destiny.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason,” Booth-Doyle said.
In hindsight, she finds the Art Institute’s closure as a hidden blessing.
“I’m kind of glad that it closed,” she said, “I wouldn’t have imagined myself here if it didn’t happen.”
Booth-Doyle's trip will start in May, and she is raising money via GoFundMe for equipment she will need for the terrain and climate of Alaska. To donate, visit the page at www.gofundme.com/internshipinalaska.