Chapter 1: The New Job
OCTOBER “TOBIE” DAVIS
“You need help carrying anything else in?” Rob’s assistant, Rhonda, asked as I set the last box down in my new office at the Gulfside Aquatic Rehabilitation Center in tiny Navarro Beach.
“No, this is the last one, thanks though!” I replied to the older woman, whom I’d heard about, but hadn’t officially met.
Extending my hand, I introduced myself, “I’m October Davis. I go by Tobie though.”
Rhonda’s handshake was sincere and friendly, as she introduced herself officially as well. “I’m just up the hall. If you need anything, just holler.”
The town of only a couple thousand people lay on the Gulf of Mexico side of southern Florida, and for decades boasted an aquarium with live shows for tourists throughout the year. While it was far from comparable to Sea World in Orlando, the Navarro Beach Aquarium and Dolphin Extravaganza had managed to survive until earlier this year, when it was forced to close its doors.
Actually, the aquarium’s demise wasn’t due to lack of business, as one would think - after all, there were always the tourists who liked going off the beaten path to find the ‘authentic’ Florida. No, it was the illegal means in which the previous owner had obtained his marine mammals and the little side business he’d been running, smuggling exotic sea life.
His case hadn’t been helped any by the abusive methods and people he had at one point employed to train the dolphins and seals for the shows. That had ended about five years earlier when the aquarium had been reported to authorities, but it still gave them a black eye in the long run. The impact of the closure rocked the Navarro Beach community, as their biggest moneymaking industry went under. Jobs were lost, people went to jail, and the tourists stopped coming.
Navarro Beach was a divided community now, with folks who were glad the criminal enterprise was destroyed, and others upset that the small city’s economy was going under, even if it’d been sustained by illegal activities.
I walked over to the large window next to my desk overlooking the Gulf, letting out a long breath. This was going to be a lot of work, but I was totally ready for it. And this view alone made it worth it! I smiled recalling the phone call I got almost six months ago when my old colleague, Rob Grant wanted to know if I’d heard about the closure of the aquarium.
I had; it’d been all over the news as animal rights activists had their say in the matter.
Apparently, Rob had taken the opportunity to buy up the old aquarium and wanted to turn it into something new - a privately run rehab and marine science center for aquatic and semi-aquatic animals. The funding coming from donors and major grants.
It would also be open to the public as an aquarium of sorts for extra funding but would be much more educational than it’d been before. No dolphin acts, no seals doing balancing tricks, all science.
“That’s awesome, Rob! How exciting!” I’d replied when he told me his plans.
“You know I need a good marine mammal vet, Tobie. And you’re the best!”
I’d laughed, not taking him seriously. “I’m sure you have a ton of people with more than enough experience right there in Florida.”
“Tobie, you know you want to get out of Cincinnati and back to working with the animals. And you really are the best marine mammal doctor I know, personally and professionally. We’ve been through thick and thin together, remember?!”
I did remember. We’d worked side-by-side at the Cincinnati Aquarium, where I’d been for the past eight years. The place had its perks, but the internal drama was horrendous. And my position as lead vet had transitioned to more of an exhibit team lead, as I was tasked to ensure new exhibitions were optimal for the health and welfare of the animals. The job became less about treating the animals unless it was something the other vets under me couldn’t handle on their own.
“I know how much you were getting paid when I left and I’ll bet you’re not making much more nowadays, am I right?”
I’d wrinkled my nose, thinking that I had been due for much better raises than I’d received in the last couple of years.
“I can give you a much better salary and you love Florida!”
I laughed again; he knew my heart had always been in Florida after my dad moved our family there in the 90′s when I was a teenager.
After college, I moved away for work, then married a military man, following him to various assignments, but always dreamed of going back.
“Well, I can’t leave here until I’m done with the Sea Otter exhibition project I’ve been heading up, and I want Anne to finish up the school year here. You probably can’t wait till then?”
“Tobie, if you say yes right now, you can take as long as you want to get here. I’ll hold your spot as long as you need me to.”
That evening I went home to talk it over with Anne, my thirteen-year old friend, confidante, and daughter. I wasn’t about to make a change that would affect both of us without consulting her. Sure, it would ultimately be my decision, but her thoughts on the matter would carry some major weight. After her father walked out of our lives seven years ago, we’d become extremely close, and her approval and happiness meant everything to me.
Anne, being the sensible and sensitive girl she was, had been ecstatic about the idea of moving to Florida - if I wanted it, too, of course.
Of course, I wanted it, too!
That evening I messaged Rob, telling him to give me until mid-June, and that Anne and I would be there, ready and willing.
From my second-story window in the refurbished office, I had not only the view of the Gulf of Mexico, but I could easily see the dolphin tanks, which were void of people right now. Right now, there were only two dolphins housed at the aquarium, and I could see their dorsal fins crest the top of the water every now and then.
Sure, as a marine biologist I loved all sea life, but dolphins were my favorite. While most girls go through a dolphin-craze phase in their teen years, mine never ended after moving to Florida all those years ago, and so here I am.
I looked up at the clock above my new desk - later today Rob would take me down to meet the crew who’d been working with the remaining animals that hadn’t been dispersed to other zoos or aquariums right after the closure. There weren’t many animals left, and they weren’t in the best condition, which was why they hadn’t been claimed elsewhere.
I knew I had my work cut out for me. But it’s the work I’d wanted to do all along, and I was thrilled!