Across several states and multiple countries, veterinarian Jan Ramer has built a successful career caring for animals and working for the welfare and conservation of endangered species. Ramer, from Indianapolis, has worked as a regional manager for Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda and an animal keeper at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, among other jobs. Now, she is the vice president of The Wilds, a safari park and conservation center in Guernsey County. She gave Southeast Ohio a brief glimpse into her experiences through the years:
BECOMING A VET
“I was a keeper at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago for 10 years after [working at] the Indianapolis Zoo. But during that time, I still really enjoyed working with the veterinarians and thought about veterinary medicine … After a 12-year career as an animal keeper, I decided to go to veterinary school. I did my veterinary degree at the University of Wisconsin.”
NEW ANIMALS, NEW INFO
“We don’t just treat one species. We have to know the physiology and anatomy of quite a wide range of species, including things as diverse as birds, reptiles, sometimes even invertebrates … What do they eat? What is the micro flora in their gut? How does that particular physiology react to the drugs that I might give it to go to sleep or treat an illness? Even within mammals, there are differences in how these animals react to some of the drugs that we administer. So it’s lifelong learning for all veterinarians, but especially so in wildlife veterinarians.”
GORILLA DOCTORS IN RWANDA
“We do work on individual animals as needed when there’s a life-threatening injury or illness. But we also used a ‘One Health’ approach. So we are very aware that we can’t save gorillas without looking after the health and welfare of people and animals outside the park.”
JOINING THE WILDS
“[My daughter] announced in late 2014 that she was going to have a baby and I was going to be a grandmother. I needed to come back to be close to my grandson … So I moved from Rwanda to Ohio in January 2015 and started my job here at The Wilds.”
“One time I was up with a group [of gorillas] called ‘Ugenda.’ And Ugenda himself was the chief silverback of that group, the chief leader. I was looking at one of his daughters who had injured her hand. He took exception to the fact that I was trying to look at her through binoculars. He made a noise that let me know he was probably going to charge, and so I just put my head down and looked deferential. He charged, but he didn’t stop, and he sort of stiff-armed me on the shoulders and I went flying into the bushes. That really surprised me. I was not hurt, and all he was doing was showing me that he was in charge … When I stood back up, he was fine. We were appropriately deferential for the rest of the visit, and all was well.”
CHALLENGES AND REWARDS
“I had a team [while working in Rwanda] of international veterinarians from three countries that don’t necessarily get along, but those veterinarians put all of that aside and became a very, very dedicated, brave and cohesive team to look after the gorillas in all three countries. That just melted my heart … But really, the rewards of the job far exceeded the challenges.”
Wearing brown from head to toe, Chad Latta of Latta Earthworks seems to blend into the piles of compost that surround him. “Welcome to my sandbox,” Latta says with a smile. The compost site sits just outside the county seat of Athens. “This is where I like to unwind,” Latta says. “This is just my getaway.”
Latta, a firefighter with the Athens Fire Department, started his business in 2012 after a tomato gardening competition with his fellow firefighters. Latta’s tomato plants were not doing well, and he discovered the area lacks quality topsoil.
“I realized what I had to do was not bring in more soil…I had to make the soil I had better, and that’s where the compost comes in,” Latta says.
After meeting people who expressed interest in a local composting site, Latta decided to take a composting class at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster to become a certified composter. Latta Earthworks is currently registered as a Class III composting site with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), which means it can accept yard waste, agricultural waste and animal waste for its compost.
He uses construction machinery to mix the manure and other organic material, like leaves and wood chips, and arrange it into rows. “It’s like mixing lemonade. You’ve got to have it just right,” Latta says.
“In composting, you have a bunch of microbes,” Latta says. “As long as you keep the rows fluffed and keep the correct moisture content in there, you keep them happy.”
Latta is required to send his compost to Westerville, Ohio, to be tested by an independent lab, CLC Labs, before selling it. He also tracks the inventory of compost leaving his facility, and this counts toward Athens County’s recycling credits.
Latta hopes to help Athens County in more ways than just plants. “My goal is for this place to be self-sufficient and create a couple local jobs,” Latta says. “The ultimate thing would be for this place to get big enough to that it could pay a couple of people’s income.”
Currently, however, the business is a one-man job, unless you count the microbes. “It’s me and a bunch of microbes working together. Me and Mother Nature kicking butt to help save her,” Latta says.
Mother Nature does her part to remove the smell of the manure from the final product. The carbon from wood chips and other materials neutralizes the manure, making it smell earthy, like the way it smells after it rains. Rain is an important factor in the composting process, helping the compost maintain the proper moisture levels to cure.
But more important for this operation are Latta’s time, sweat and heart that go into the compost every step of the way. Latta’s dedication to his end product is clear in one of his ideas for the business’ next slogan: Composting Dung Right.
If you’re looking for home cooked meals and friendly faces in Pleasant City, Dolan’s Chill and Grill is the place to go.
For owner Donna Dolan there were several factors that influenced her decision to open the restaurant, including the desire to start a new project and the love she has for Pleasant City and its people.
At the height of the recession in 2008, Dolan needed a new business for herself after her antique store and mini golf course had closed. Dolan still wanted to be her own boss.
She found inspiration from a well known businesswoman; Martha Stewart. In one of Stewart’s books, she advised that all businesses should focus their energy to one task: “find a need and do it.”
Dolan found that “need” in the heart of town. “This drive-thru had been up for sale for a while, and I told my husband, ‘If it’s still for sale in the spring, I’m buying it,’” Dolan says.
She was determined to do right by the town, and her patience paid off. Dolan’s Chill and Grill has been open between the months of March and September for the last eight years.
The Grill has been a place to foster growth and community for many years. Members of the community enjoy coming to the restaurant. On Facebook, families have shared photos of children happily eating ice cream and photos of friends reuniting for annual reunions. People come from all over for the famous chicken salad, hamburgers, fries and ice cream treats.
Dolan insists that consistency rather than creativity is what keeps her customers coming back. “I make food here as if I’m making food for my own family,” Dolan says.
“I’ve never had a bad meal here,” Bill Allender says. “You won’t find a better place to eat.”
Allender personally prefers Donna Dolan’s favorite: a classic hamburger with fries. Like the hamburger, many of the dishes at Dolan’s Chill and Grill are family recipes handed down by three generations.
“When you run a small business like this, you have to treat your customers right,” she says.
The end of the season is bittersweet. Dolan does not set a concrete closing date because she hates to say goodbye to her friends. Instead, she looks forward to spring and what the new season will bring. Now, going on season nine in March, Dolan still cannot believe that she has run the Chill and Grill for so long.
“Originally, this started as something I could fix up and give to the town,” Dolan says. “Be here for a couple of years and then someone would continue it. I never thought I would fall in love with it.”