But her love for animals started long before she left Gobles. Rich was on the path toward her dream career by the time she was eight years old. She started training her first dog, Max, for 4-H. “It was through the (4-H) dog obedience program that I was able to land my first studio work on Animal Planet while I was still in high school,” Rich said. In 2003, she and her Border Collie Shelly competed on Pet Star, an Animal Planet game show, along with fellow Gobles student Kelli Howard and her dog Shadow. In 2006, Rich was the World Canine Freestyle junior champion.
When Rich moved to California for college, she continued to pick up small studio jobs with Shelly. She worked as a commentator for an Animal Planet special, Dancing with Dogs. She and Shelly were also guests on MTV’s Rob and Big Show. Soon, she began working with large carnivores for documentaries and movies. For a time, she worked at the Mirage Secret Garden and the MGM Grand Lion Habitat in Las Vegas. She also worked at Raptor Rescue in Montana, and Tiger World in North Carolina.
In Rich’s work at the Gulf Breeze Zoo today, she helps oversee the care of more than 800 animals. “I work with a diverse collection of wild animals, many of which are highly endangered,” she said. In her daily responsibilities, Rich calculates animal medications, develops breeding programs for rare or endangered species, formulates nutritional diets, engages guests, and oversees staff training.
“The past 10 years have been a wild ride,” she said. “I’ve found myself in Africa overseeing importing lions, exploring the jungles of South America, escorting cubs on private jets, acting as a stunt double on studio sets, and bottle raising endangered species. Although there are some really adventurous moments, there was a lot of hard work and late nights that got me here!
My story wouldn't have been possible without the support I got growing up in Gobles,” she said. “The staff always encouraged students to be confident and believed in us so that we could believe in ourselves!”