INSPIRATION & PASSION
Katie, unlike most people, knew from a very young age that she wanted to work with and care for wild animals as a zookeeper. Fortunately the zoo in Denver, Colorado had lots of educational programs to get her started. At thirteen she joined zoo crew to begin pursuing her passion with the amazing animals they have there. The next year she entered the zoo explorers program and began working with other zookeepers in their fields of interest. She excelled when she was working with animals and she became more interested as time went along.
During Katie's last semester of high school, she qualified to be a primate intern with the zoo. It was there that she helped to care for young gibbons Lily and Leo, and she also won the love of a red-capped mangabey named Hank. From the horses she rode in Westernaires, to the hoof stock she cared for in large mammals, and on to the primates that adored her at the zoo, Katie was entrenching herself with the beasts and those that care for them. It was a second family built on common beliefs and shared loves.
In 2007, Katie was accepted into Colorado State University's wildlife program. This brought her another step closer to her realizing her dream of becoming a zookeeper. In October of her first semester we got devastating news that Katie had cancer. The diagnosis was a troubling Ewing sarcoma, which is a deadly bone cancer found in children.
Her wonderful team of doctors developed a nine month treatment plan that included a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and two surgeries. After finishing a successful treatment, she eagerly awaited a return to CSU for the spring 2009 semester. Katie was ready to move on and get her degree so she could start working in the animal field.
During her ordeal, Katie continued visiting the zoo to keep up with what was happening with the animals and zookeepers that she had become very close with, and she made it a point to know about changes happening at the zoo as well. She worked very hard and the next three years brought her to within 12 credits of graduation when the unthinkable happened. In the fall of 2011, the cancer returned. For the next three years Katie fought a long, and at times, painful battle to overcome the cancer. On June 12, 2014 she lost her battle.
She will always be remembered for her courage, her sense of humor, and above all her love of all living things. Her spirit will live on. That is why her friends and family have established this fund. In her absence, it will continue conservation initiatives in honor of Katie and all of her animal dreams.
Dave Johnson is a retired Zookeeper from Denver, Colorado (as of June 2023). He has been working with the pachyderm collection there since 1998, but his career actually encompasses so much more. Dave has written three conservation books for kids, all focusing on the protection and passion it takes to save other species from extinction. He leads people on treks to Nepal, climbs mountains for rhinos, runs marathons for elephants, and spreads his love for animals everywhere. He has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off from the zoo to teach others about his lifelong pursuit. Dave is creating the next generation of passionate people to make a difference for our planet and the animals we share it with.
His books are focused on a little Colorado girl named Sissy Sally Sassafras who loves animals, too. She is bound and determined to enlighten others about the plight of rhinos, elephants, and the other wildlife in her region and beyond. Dave uses Sissy Sally Sassafras as his little animal nerd with the huge heart and even bigger voice. She has something to say about where we are headed, and Dave works tirelessly to promote this shared passion.
Dave now uses the books for schools, scouts, sports teams and churches for their fundraising efforts and is trying to get them sold in every state. Now, these organizations can sell conservation instead of cookies or preservation instead of popcorn. Half of the profits go directly back to these empowered “Rhino Warriors”, an elite team that is making a difference. Dave loves to visit with others and bring this new culture to animal lovers everywhere. Have him out to speak about what we can all do together to save our remaining ecosystems and all of the creatures they contain.
He began a non-profit called the Katie Adamson Conservation Fund back in 2014, in honor of one of his zoo explorers who passed away from cancer. With Katie’s parents support and the backing of his Denver community they are now moving forward as a herd of animal nerds making a stand for wildlife around the globe.
Let Dave and Sissy Sally Sassafras be part of your movement!