Finding myself in awe and admiration of VETPAW and its founder, Ryan Tate, was nothing short of immediate, and for several reasons. When you encounter an individual who has taken one of the most difficult experiences any person could have; combating in war, to ultimately create something truly remarkable, being humbled is a natural reaction, to say the least.
He and his team are a testament to no matter how difficult an obstacle may be; anything is possible with passion and dedication.
Ryan Tate –VETPAW Founder
What is VETPAW, you may ask? An acronym for Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife, “VETPAW promotes capacity- and relationship building in East Africa, elevating the perception of the military at home and abroad while preventing the extinction of keystone species and ecosystems.”
I was fortunate to speak with him and peer through his perspective for a bit and gain an understanding of this organization and just why it is so imperative in support of our veterans and wildlife alike.
Starting at the very beginning, Ryan attributes his love and appreciation for animals to his mother who always taught him to be kind to every living being. Recalling her vibrant and devoted personality, animals always had a safe place in their home, and they were always rescuing them.
He soon grew to appreciate wildlife immensely. From sheets to bookends, his room was themed in all things rhinoceros. He was even nicknamed “Ryno” because he loved the species so much.
As he explains his years following adolescence, “I went into the marine Corps, singing up at 17, served in Iraq, and after getting out served in the Department of State and thought I was content with my job working in the diplomatic security detail.”
“When I returned to civilian life after the Marine Corp, I lost myself. I didn’t really know what I was here for.”
“Even though PTSD is common, I didn’t consider myself as suffering from it necessarily, however, I received the therapy I needed by helping at local animal shelters. I had an adopted Rottweiler and two cats, and as an amateur photographer, I would give back by taking photos of the animals that were up for adoption, and the photos were used for their websites to aid in the process of finding them a home.”
“One evening, I was watching ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,’ and this special came on about Africa. I saw this rhino tranquillized and had his horn cut off and the sedative wore off and died a miserable death; he literally hid his face in shame as though he was humiliated. The animal was so confused.”
“When I saw that, it wasn’t the pain that struck me so profoundly; it was the embarrassment and mortification experienced by the rhinoceros. I was so upset I couldn’t attend work for nearly a week. I realized If this impacts and affects me this badly, I needed to do something about it.”
“Learning that rangers are dying doing it and the money is going directly to support crime and terrorism, I’ve got skills that can stop poaching, so I decided to go over there and start helping.”
“Learning about the brutality of the poaching crisis and the rangers who are dying protecting wildlife, hit me harder than anything I’d ever seen—and I’ve seen some crazy stuff. I realized I have the skills necessary to help save animals and the people who risk their lives daily.”
‘All he had to do was consider the men and women he’d served with to see that there is no one better suited to instruct and train park rangers than post-9/11 veterans.’
“That’s when I decided to create VetPaw.”
Ryan is keenly aware that many U.S. Veterans are un- or underemployed, and would benefit profoundly from the opportunity to serve in another capacity—one that would save lives. With his military experience, he’s able to speak directly to the unique skills that veterans can bring to anti-poaching efforts. He interviewed his colleagues and saw the difficulties and frustrations of men and women who are highly skilled in combat-related areas, but unable to leverage those skills in a conventional civilian setting. They have a continuing dedication to serve others, and Ryan helps them channel it.
For those who wish to help, it is certainly possible.
“You can help end the African poaching crisis, de-fund terrorism, and support the men and women who have served their country. Your generosity furthers our mission to provide meaningful employment to U.S. veterans, train anti-poaching rangers and support their communities, and to save critically-endangered and irreplaceable wildlife. VETPAW is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit; All donations are tax deductible as a charitable contribution.”
The bravest souls are those who have faced unimaginable adversity and have brought healing to others as a result of it. Let’s continue to raise awareness for this noble cause and support it in any way we can. After all, doing out part when they sacrifice their time, energy and safety is a wonderful way to thank them.