Featuring Women for Nature member Nora Livingstone. Written by fellow Women for Nature member Sandy Sharkey.
From a young age, our newest member of ‘Women for Nature’ had a deep love for animals. Nora Livingstone also knew she wanted to help animals in need. Working as a volunteer at the Toronto Wildlife Rescue Centre, Nora’s passion for saving animals would eventually become a global initiative. Throughout her travels around the world, Nora discovered that conservation and animal welfare programs had something in common: a deep desire to save animals, and a need for volunteers to contribute to the work.
In 2012 Nora co-founded Animal Experience International, an exciting global organization matching animal programs with like-minded volunteers.
Before a new volunteer experience is added to AEI’s programs (there are 25 in total), Nora gets her hands dirty and signs on as the first volunteer. From tagging leatherback turtles in Costa Rica to studying the world’s rarest horse in the mountains of Mongolia, Nora’s firsthand enthusiasm encourages people of all ages to travel and engage in a truly rewarding, compassionate experience helping animals in need.
Although equally at home protecting orangutans in Indonesia, Nora has never forgotten her roots as a volunteer coordinator at the Toronto Wildlife Centre. It was here that Nora became fast friends with Julia Coey, a kindred spirit, passionate animal lover and writer. In 2015 Julia wrote a book for kids aged 9 to 12 called ‘Animal Hospital’, a how-to guide for treating, handling and reporting injured, orphaned and neglected wildlife.
Sadly, Julia Coey passed away recently. Nora Livingstone wants to honour her friend in the best possible way: to donate Julia’s book ‘Animal Hospital’ to as many educators and libraries as possible.
I recently had the chance to talk to Nora about this initiative. Here are some excerpts from our chat.
Nora, what was it about Julia that first made you realize, ‘yeah…..I want to be friends with this woman’?
Julia had been working at TWC for a few months when all of us office staff decided we should tidy up the office. There was a computer server battery on top of a table that I didn’t notice and reached over to pick up some papers. I was wearing some metal bangles and when they made + and – contact I actually got electrified! There was a big spark and while I was fine the whole time, I was shocked (intentional pun for Julia). I was sure I would be fine but Julia insisted she drive me to a doctor. After I was checked out she also insisted I get a milkshake, because hey! I was just in a workplace accident and then needed to go to the doctor! We sat in a booth in North York and drank milkshakes. She then asked if I wanted her to do reiki on my arm. I told her, why not and she got to work. While staring at my wrist and holding my hand I kept on drinking my milkshake. She was pretty intensely staring when her concentration was broken, a young child had walked into the diner and said “Are those girls going to kiss? Cause I think that’s fine.” We both burst out in laughter and Julia remarked how we did look like we were in an Archie comic. We then talked the whole ride home about LGBTQ rights and how this kid was the future, someone who thought mid-afternoon dates in diners was just fine.
Working with Julia at the Toronto Wildlife Centre, was there one wildlife rescue story that stood out from the others? The most poignant? The most comical?
Toronto Wildlife Centre is such a special place. It’s filled with some remarkable people who’s dedication and passion is constantly inspiring. The rescue staff, in particular have stories that will make your jaw drop, your heart sing and your belly hurt from laughter. From literally thawing out swans who were frozen into Lake Ontario, to responding to oil spills in Toronto’s many rivers, to climbing trees and untangling raccoons from kite strings, they are the guardians our urban wildlife need. I think it’s best though to let Julia do the talking on this one, in her book there are some stories that show off TWC’s epic and heartwarming rescues (and releases). She adored the staff at TWC and was so proud to be friends with these superheroines and superheroes.
Did you and Julia travel together for Animal Experience International?
Unfortunately, we never got time. When she wrote her book she wanted to add an international wildlife rehabilitation element to it and I was able to put her in touch with some of my friends and partners of AEI. They, of course, loved Julia and she was able to add their stories to the book. She was very thoughtful and wanted to make sure it wasn’t just Canadian animals that were talked about and have readers know there were lots of people around the world helping conserve and protect animals.
Dr Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, Farley Mowat and many others became renowned advocates for compassion towards animals and nature. Who was Julia’s mentor?
Julia absolutely loved wildlife and animals but I would say that she was just as proud of being a feminist. She looked up to strong, now so-called ‘Nasty Women’ and those who didn’t take any guff. Julia was a kind woman who saw joy and beauty in many things most of us just see as ordinary, like squirrels, tea towels and tattered book shops. The people and characters who helped all us see the beauty and importance in life also helped Julia follow her passion, in her pantheon of inspiration you would find to name a few: Margaret Atwood, Satsuki Kusakabi, and David Bowie.
Before she passed away, Julia was thrilled that you had become a member of ‘Women for Nature’. Together you and Julia had a deep connection out of respect for animals and the living world. As a member of ‘Women For Nature’, you have chosen to use your voice to honour your friend Julia. Tell us about it.
Julia was one of my biggest fans and I was one of hers. I couldn’t have been prouder when Animal Hospital came out. I bought 5 copies because you can never have too many copies of a wonderful book! Julia’s passing is devastating and trying to navigate the non-linear path grief takes has been in a word: difficult. I wanted to make sure in all of the tragedies of Julia’s death, one would not be that her voice is silenced. I wanted to make sure as many people could read and share her book, as possible. So I wrote on a few message boards that if a teacher, library, animal or conservation group wanted her book, I would order them one for free! Amazingly, I started getting responses from teachers, conservation areas, wildlife sanctuaries, community groups and libraries. I have been able to share Julia with 81 different people who have emailed me and that has been just beautiful.
Julia wrote the book ‘Animal Hospital’ for young adults. What is Julia’s message for the youth of today?
Julia sincerely wanted everyone to see they could make a difference. Julia always loved animals but didn’t think she would be able to work with them. She was a writer and a storyteller and an editor of editors. Being so close to animals and being able to tell their stories (and their wacky facts) was a dream come true that maybe she didn’t even know she had until after it came true. Being able to work in the same place as people who rescue and rehabilitate foxes, snowy owls, grebes and beavers, she loved going to work and learning everything she could. I think she wanted to tell everyone out there that they could live their dreams, too, even if they don’t know what their dreams are yet. She would want people to know the world is beautiful and weird and interesting and important and worth protecting. She would want it to sound more edgy, though.
Thank you so much Nora, you are a true inspiration. Congratulations on your success with ‘Animal Experience International’ and welcome to ‘Women for Nature’! In honour of your dear friend Julia Coey, let’s see if we can spread the word and get her book ‘Animal Hospital’ into as many classrooms and libraries as we can. How do people get a copy of the book?
If people want to get a copy of Julia’s book in their classroom, library or community group they just have to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. I will order them a copy!