APL: What inspired you to open Children’s Nature Retreat?

I have loved animals since I was a child. Early on, my parents had to take me to the mountains for health reasons and soon I was exposed to different farm animals. Caring for cows, goats and sheep was the highlight of the year! I helped a little girl in the village take her cows to the field every day. When not busy with farm animals, I used to play with the field mice, building houses for them, and feeding them by hand. The contact with any sort of animal makes me happy and relieves any stress. I believe the Retreat helps adults and children alike. I witness every day the smiles on our guests’ faces and the laughs we hear. They forget everything and feel good. This is my reward.

Among my other nonprofit work, I was on the board of The O’Farrell Charter Schools and saw firsthand the lack of exposure to nature and animals. During that time, I was volunteering for a rescue and saw firsthand the lack of space, proper food and hygiene. Having seen the movie “We Bought a Zoo”, I decided to take the non-profit to a higher level and started the Retreat project in 2014. I have invested all of my time, energy and resources into the Retreat.

APL: Children’s Nature Retreat welcomes visitors of all ages, allowing everyone to enjoy and explore the beautiful and tranquil surroundings. As the owner and wildlife expert, what would you like our readers to know about the Retreat?

The Retreat has been built to allow people to recharge, step back, enjoy the therapeutic surroundings and learn about animals up-close without pressure. We help the animals in need of a home to thrive and enjoy their open space and human encounters in a safe environment. Our animals are treated with respect, they have the best food and the best of care. They love to interact with our guests because they know they are safe and respected. It is a beautiful and serene place where people can sit in the shade and watch our camels, zebras, tortoises or horses live their daily lives. You never know which animals will come to greet you, as they come and go as they please.

APL: Tell us about the experiences you offer guests at the Retreat?

Our guests can visit the Retreat at their leisure or choose to have a guided tour and/or go inside enclosures. The admission fee includes a bucket of sprouted barley grown on-site to feed our animals. Guests can opt for a 2-hour guided tour for up to 5 people with one of our animal keepers. During the tour they will learn about the animals at each enclosure, feed and pet them. They also can choose to go inside an enclosure to meet them one-on-one and sometimes cuddle. We also offer a Behind the Scenes tour which includes entry into most of the enclosures, providing intimate contact with our furry friends. Our guests can also choose to get down and dirty and follow one of our animal keepers for the day.

APL: What pets do you currently own?

The Retreat has 135 animals and some of them are at my house waiting for their new enclosure. I have five birds, one Greenwing Macaw, two Cockatoos, a Conure and a Crested Aracari. It can become very loud if I’m late for breakfast! The Macaw and the Cockatoos will hopefully soon have their own big aviary outside. I also have a Boxer, a Chihuahua, a Dachshund and two Great Pyrenes to watch over the animals at night. Lastly, I also own a Greek tortoise and a Bearded Dragon.