How I came to this work, this passion, this life of mine

My informal education and early life revolved around animals and a life lived outdoors.  From early childhood, I surrounded myself with dogs, horses, cats, chickens, and whatever animals I could get near.  I took delight in sitting in the dirt gazing at an anthill, being near cattle, watching birds or observing my cat in a hunt.  The idea that I would do something different than work, be with and surround myself with creatures outside of my own species never occurred to me.  As a young adult, I managed a pet store, bred birds, watched birds, hiked and backpacked through wilderness areas; I trained horses and immersed myself in a life of learning about other species and the environment.  It came naturally to me; it was my passion, my core and my inner strength.  This passion was where my chakra lived.  It is where my chakra can be found today.

I didn't start college until I was twenty-two but when I did, I was very ambitious and worked hard to catch up for the years I missed.  My early college education was in animal and avian sciences at the University of California at Davis, I then went on to study non-human primate behavior (primatology) through the anthropology department at the University of California at San Diego, where I graduated with a degree in Anthropology.

 When I graduated from college, I was lucky.  I already had a job as an intern, which had evolved into a position as a behavioral technician at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park studying monkeys and cheetahs.  When my husband went to medical school in Chicago, I landed a job at the Brookfield Zoo, working with birds and then primates.  When he did his residency at the University of California, Davis Medical School, I worked as a research associate studying primates.  I was living my dream, or was I?

The work slowly wore me down.  Studying primates in captivity is stressful, monotonous work.   I found it difficult to watch those other beings in situations, where the very worst of their behavioral underpinnings were exposed.  The aberrant behaviors of captive primates came out in horrifying displays of selfishness, stereotypic behaviors and aggression.  Although, the initial experimental design process of my behavioral research was creative, enthralling and mentally stimulating, it would be followed by months of dreary data collection; this included long periods of sitting and recording every bite of food eaten, the personal hygiene habits, the pacing, the fighting and the endless sleeping patterns of various species of non-human primates.  I learned to loath my job and those monkeys, with all their assorted pathologies.  I knew that they were unique, a different intelligence, a link to our past but I could no longer see their beauty. I had to get out, I found myself comparing our non-human primate cousins to my friends, family and co-workers.  I was spiraling down a path of despair at the human condition.

 It was definitely time for a career change.  I looked to my other passion that had blossomed in my college years.  I have strong love of biology, and it had become my muse.  I love the rigor, the experimental design, the altruistic notion of working to create a better society and the mental stimulation of the scientific enterprise.  So, I began working with my husband, running his immunology/gene therapy laboratory at UC Davis.  I also began graduate studies in comparative pathology.  I received my PhD in Public Policy with a Specialization in Biotechnology and Immunology.  Throughout, I continued working with my husband; conducting research, writing papers and managing a large laboratory.  In due course, we decided to leave academia and start a company.

But as our careers blossomed, so did our “other” great passion: the farm.  I naturally evolved into the fulltime owner and manager of Cielo Azure and show shepherds, chickens, turkeys, peafowl, and we have a large vegetable garden.  I still work side by side with my husband, who has a flourishing consulting practice but I am now the “ghost” partner.  I do the accounts, conduct policy research (often as a silent partner) and write the occasional contract and grant.  Now, my life revolves around the farm and working to help others realize their equine and animal dreams.

 So, I have spent almost fifty years living, studying and “being with” animals.  My husband of over 30 years and I have built a diverse community, which consists of humans and many animal species. I find myself considering the non-human species that I am surrounded by, as part of my integral community, my friends and family.  I am a lifelong vegetarian, as is my family.  How could we “eat” our community?   We have created a network of interrelated species on this farm and as bizarre as that sounds to some, this community is the most entertaining and emotionally satisfying that I have found in my life.  It is through my work with animals, that I have come to learn wisdom in dealing with my own species and communities.  Those lessons are some of the most important I have learned on my journey through life.

It is through my work as a scientist studying animal behavior, combined with my personal life living with many species other than my own, as well as my passion for human community and friends, that is the genesis for my personal philosophies.  I have woven a complex and fantastic web of people, animals, science and nature into my life.  The lessons I have learned crisscross these boundaries in ways I would have never predicted; this passion, this wonder of non-human species and how they think, live and relate to one another and us is what intellectually stimulates me.  By using behavioral and ecological knowledge, I have found that I can apply this wisdom to my own life to help understand both the human and animal connections more fully.  There is the wholeness of living a life with animals; it is a joy that expands into dimensions that go beyond that animal-human link.  The successful intermixing of animal and human behavioral dynamics and how to make it work is what I wish to share with the world.

Animals can help us learn how to create successful communities, how to communicate effectively with individuals dissimilar to ourselves and how to be successful (and fulfilled) members of a group or family.   Learning about animal behavior and society can teach us how to reach deep and find those parts of our own personalities that we didn't know existed. We can then use this knowledge to become better leaders as well as partners in our human communities.  This is a gift that those who share this planet with the human species, but are not human can give us, if we chose to observe carefully.  It is up to us whether we wish to learn the lessons they offer.



Listen to your




Copyright 2011, Jill Glasspool Malone, PhD