Answering call of the wild

CATLIN – Brooke Parks can't remember a time in her life when she didn't want to be surrounded by animals.

Visitors to her home are treated to a miniature zoo with five different types of pets, from lizards and hermit crabs to man's best friend. She also started volunteering at the Vermilion County Animal Shelter before her 10th birthday. Brooke lives by the motto that age is nothing but a number.

"I knew I was young, and I didn't know if I could find some place that I could help out," said the 12-year old Catlin resident, who added that she wasn't going to let her age keep her from helping animals.

"I have always loved animals and just wanted to help them."

A week ago, Brooke was sitting at home thinking of ways to make life more comfortable for shelter animals. She wanted to organize a fund-raiser where some of the profits would go toward food and supplies. Children often have big ideas, but often become bored and fail to follow through. But Brooke was not going to let her inspiration go.

She told her mother, Dawn, about the plan, and they went to work.

"My full contribution was looking for the Burger King phone number," Dawn Parks said. "She has done it all on her own. I wasn't surprised that she carried through with it. I am just so proud of her."

Brooke contacted Burger King because she had heard of the fast-food business sponsoring other fund-raisers locally.

"I was amazed and astonished that someone so young was involved in planning the event," said Burger King marketing director Randy Crozier.

"I thought it was a really good idea for wanting to help the animal shelter. We have never done a fund-raiser for them."

The event will take place Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Burger King, 1629 Georgetown-Tilton Road. Twenty percent of all sales during those three hours will go to the animal shelter.

"It is important for people to come out because it would help the animals a whole lot," Brooke said.

"It is such a great delight to see a young person take such interest in animals," said shelter administrator Shane Boyer. "Hopefully, more people can take this kind of interest in the way all animals are cared for. We have to start with the children."

Brooke's love of animals started at age 3 with her first dog, Betsy. It blossomed through the years, which brought her to the animal shelter one day three years ago.

"We were going to get another dog because Mom told me we could. We looked for a couple of weeks, and I couldn't stop going back," she said.

Dawn Parks commends the shelter for looking beyond age.

"She has been encouraged instead of people saying she is too young," her mother said. "Brooke has been treated special here."

Her daughter has gone through much during her young life. Brooke was diagnosed two years ago with scoliosis, a condition where the spine curves to an "S" or "C" shape rather than a straight line.

The ailment cannot be corrected simply by learning to stand up straight. Since being diagnosed, she has had two operations, the last at Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Louis, Mo.

"A lot of hospitals didn't want to work on her because they were afraid to do anything to her spine," said her mother.

Dawn Parks said coming to the shelter gives her daughter a chance to focus simply on her enjoyment of animals. Brooke arrives at the shelter about twice a week to play and walk with the animals, as well as brush their coats and feed them. It's simply about giving them her full attention.

"Animals need to be loved and need to go to good homes," she said.

Parks said that even on days when she doesn't feel like driving to the shelter, Brooke becomes very insistent on fulfilling her commitment.

"If it has something to do with helping out the animal shelter, then she wants to do it," Parks added. "The more she can do for the animals, the happier she is."

During her past school year at Catlin Grade School, Brooke and fellow classmates took turns feeding and bathing the class pet: a hermit crab. She was familiar with the crustacean because she has a pair of them at home. Her extended family also includes three dogs, three fish, two birds and a lizard.

It is not surprising that her future aspirations revolve around animals.

"I want to either be a vet or work at or own an animal shelter," Brooke said.

No one who knows her track record doubts that she'll achieve that goal, too.

You can reach Ernst Lamothe Jr. at (217) 443-8489 or via e-mail at elamothe@news-gazette.com.

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