Maria loves animals. All animals.

Creatures with fur, fleece, feathers, scales, shells – they’re all good.

But one is her favorite. His name is Rusty, and he is the bearded dragon her parents bought for her 11th birthday.

“She loves this thing,” Desta, her mom, laughs. He walks on a leash and sits in her lap to watch movies. “She talks to him – she’s really attached to him.”

Desta got the idea for Rusty after watching Maria chase lizards all summer at The Refuge, a camp her family runs in rural Greene County.

Maria wants to be a zoological veterinarian, a caretaker of animals unfamiliar and undomesticated, and she’s found her home with a family that sees her passions and strengths.

Every day with Desta and Sammy, living at The Refuge, she is discovering her capacity to learn, love, and grow.

Read more about Desta and Sammy, parents to Kearston, Addie and Maria (adopted at age 11).