By Michael J. ARVIZU
Retired Glendale Unified School District teacher Mardy Graves’ work with domestic, wild and exotic animals goes back to her days spending time on her aunt’s farm in Missouri.
In college, she landed a job at the local zoo. She further expanded her education by working with wild and exotic animals at Gentle Jungle, which provides animals for the entertainment industry. At Gentle Jungle, Graves was able to work with lions, tigers, bears, camels and elephants.
Later, Graves took a position at Wildlife Waystation, a nonprofit animal sanctuary in the Angeles National Forest near Sylmar. Her responsibilities revolved around being a backup tour guide and taking animals into local schools for educational purposes.
As time passed, Graves’ career would see her take positions with the California Wildlife Center, and become a member of the Pasadena Animal League and the Foothill chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, respectively.
For her work, Graves was given the honor of riding in the city of Glendale Tournament of Roses Parade float, dubbed “Let’s Be Neighbors.” The float was particularly distinctive for its characterization of Meatball, a black bear that became notorious for its repeated visits to homes in the hills above La Crescenta in 2012. The float won the Governor’s Award for its depiction of California life.
For Graves, riding the float is the apex of her life’s work spent raising awareness of the creatures that inhabit the foothills area. Every float in the Tournament of Roses Parade has a message, Graves said. Glendale’s float, she said, was constructed not just because of Meatball, but with the hope of raising awareness of local wildlife that inhabits the area.
“The reason why this float is so important is because most people don’t know anything about the wildlife that appears even in our backyards,” she said. “You don’t have to live up in the foothills to come in contact with possums and raccoons and coyotes.”
Most of the wildlife people may encounter, Graves said, like possums, for example – its very reputation precedes the marsupial – can actually be very helpful by eating bugs that destroy people’s gardens. The public’s fear of these creatures, added Graves, stems from a lack of knowledge of different species.
Graves was invited to ride the float by Vic Pallos, a longtime friend of Graves’ and former public information director for the GUSD. After Pallos himself was invited to ride the float, he chose Mardy as his guest.
“I felt she was very qualified to be on the float because of her background with animals,” Pallos said.
Graves said residents should be aware of the places where they can take injured wildlife. Some of these include the California Wildlife Center in Malibu Canyon and Wildlife Waystation. (The Wildlife Waystation is not currently open to the public, pending renovations, she said, but is set to open soon.)
“The best thing to do is to become more educated,” Graves said. “Learn as much as you can about different species. In order to understand them, you have to know about them.”