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York College Graduate Opens West Shore Wildlife Center to Save Local Animals

A Biology alumni who started her own wildlife non-profit taking care of a hurt turtle

Emily Garrigan ’17 thought she initially wanted to be a nurse, but later discovered her love of science would lead to a career helping animals. 

Emily Garrigan ’17 remembers the sinking feeling when she stepped into her clinicals her junior year at York College of Pennsylvania and knew Nursing wasn’t the field for her. Working as a nursing assistant at WellSpan York Hospital, it was the hands-on experience that made her realize she didn’t enjoy the work as much as she’d hoped.

“I thought neonatal medicine or labor and delivery would be great areas for me,” she says. “But, the hospital experience was different than I expected, and you just don’t know that until you get there and start working in it.”

When she took her Biology II course at York College, she found the joy she was hoping for when she worked with animals. With the spark of inspiration, she spoke to her advisor and professors, who helped her make a change from Nursing to Biology.

“It added one year of schooling for me, but it saved me 40 years of working in a career that just wasn’t right for me,” Garrigan says. “I’m so happy I found something I loved—and had the guidance I needed from my professors—to make the move into the right field.”

Caring for others

The week after she graduated, Garrigan started working as an Educator at Zoo America in Hershey. She did career shadowing at the zoo, which focuses on North American creatures, and enjoyed helping the public learn about the various animals.

But, Garrigan really wanted to get into rehabilitation—something she had an opportunity to do during a college internship at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center. She would soon make a career change and move to Erie, where she worked for Tamarack Wildlife Center.

She took a supervisory role, overseeing patient care, working with interns, and running education programs. The center specialized in birds of prey, including eagles, hawks, and owls, and Garrigan helped them grow the mammal program to include rabbits, squirrels, and opossums.

While the work was everything she wanted to do, being so far from her home in Adams County was tough. “My family completely expected me to get homesick,” she says, laughing. “I wanted to be closer to them.”

When she returned to the area, she took a position at Eurofins Scientific, a testing laboratory in Lancaster County, where she works as a technical training specialist. Her non-paying job was the rehabilitation center she’d later start out of her Etters home.

Making it official

“I knew there was a lack of services in this area for animal rehabilitation,” Garrigan says. “Most of them are far away, or animals are turned away because they don’t have the resources to care for them.”

Garrigan officially incorporated West Shore Wildlife Center in November 2019. While she functions in what is primarily the Executive Director role, the organization is mostly volunteer-run. Garrigan recently hired her first paid staff, with plans to bring herself on full-time soon after.

At the center, she fields a lot of phone calls from people who find orphaned or injured animals and want to help them. She also takes in those sick, orphaned, or injured animals and helps them return to good health so they can be released.

In her first year, West Shore Wildlife Center helped 420 animals. Last year, it was 1,000 animals. In 2021, the center is on track to help 1,500 animals.

Finding her passion

While Garrigan sees a lot of small animals, reptiles, and birds, she’s also noticed upper respiratory diseases in box turtles, and she’s working with York College professors to see if students could help with research to find the cause.

“Other than being an animal lover, this is the only job I’ve ever had that has kept me physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged,” she says. “There are always problems to troubleshoot. I’m always learning. Those are big draws for me.”

She hopes to pass that on to other York College students, many of whom she hopes will join West Shore Wildlife Center for internships, research projects, or volunteer opportunities.

Named a 2021-2022 Spartan of the Year, Garrigan is excited to deepen her relationship with the College. “I really loved my time at York College and appreciate all the opportunities they gave me,” she says. “It helped me find my passion.”