Sue with a pig

Sue Tygielski

Senior director

In the world of animal welfare professionals, Sue Tygielski is a rarity: She wasn’t inspired to join the field by a favorite childhood pet. When she was young her family didn’t have pets, leaving her to satisfy her animal fix by brushing the neighbors’ dogs.

But when Tygielski started thinking about a career, she wasn’t drawn to domestic animals. She wanted to research wild animals. “Behavioral research, studying hawks in the wild, parrots in the wild, that was super fascinating to me, because you’re like a spy,” she explains. “You go and watch what they do and how they live.”

These days, Tygielski has lots of opportunities for spying. As senior director of Black Beauty Ranch, a job she began in spring 2023, she oversees daily operations at the Humane Society of the United States sanctuary in Texas that covers 1,400 acres and serves as home for over 650 animals.

Tygielski is responsible for the teams devoted to facilities maintenance, animal care and veterinary service at the sanctuary, and she finds nothing more rewarding than seeing them work together. When one of  the pigs was limping badly, for example, the animal care and veterinary teams collaborated on a creative solution, cleaning and medicating the pig’s foot and repairing a cracked toenail with epoxy. “There was just a lot of good problem-solving and good teamwork,” Tygielski says, “and I think that’s critical, because our animals pick up on our emotions and how we interact.”

Prior to joining the sanctuary, Tygielski spent 25 years at accredited zoo facilities, working with many of the same species that live at the sanctuary. A key challenge, she says, is that many Black Beauty Ranch residents have been rescued from cruel situations and need both physical and emotional healing. “How do you get an anxious or fearful horse or fearful monkey to learn to relax and just be themselves, and trust in the world that life’s going to be OK?”

Shane Echols

Shane Echols

Maintenance technician

If something needs fixing around the sanctuary, call Shane Echols. He repairs roads, builds primate platforms, troubleshoots broken-down equipment and helps snapping turtles cross the road (even if that turtle didn’t see the danger, thank you very much).

The work is full of unexpected challenges—you’d be surprised how quickly a giant tortoise can get in your way, he says—but Echols has a patient, practical approach to problem-solving and a tireless work ethic. He plays a crucial role in maintaining the sanctuary’s infrastructure and facilities, ensuring the safety of both the rescued animals and the people who care for them.

Echols lives in Athens, Texas, with his wife, Stefanie. He loves spending time with his granddaughter, Tatum, woodworking and relaxing in the air conditioning during his down time.

Veni Velazquez
Courtesy Yeni Velazquez

Yeni Velazquez

Office manager

Before Yeni Velazquez joined Black Beauty in 2022, her background in customer service meant she didn’t have much experience with animals. “The only species I ever dealt with was humans,” she jokes. Now, she plays a crucial role in caring for 650-plus animals. As office manager, Velazquez keeps the sanctuary running smoothly: coordinating projects with leadership, handling purchasing and making sure invoices are paid, getting new hires situated … even providing positive energy to colleagues who need a boost. She says she gets back just as much as she gives, though. When Velazquez lost her father eight months after starting at the sanctuary, coming to work and reading the inspiring quotes at the entrance brought her peace.

The job may be hard, she says, but she’s proud to work somewhere with a mission. And when things get overwhelming, she can visit some of her favorite animals (a toss-up between the primates and the big cats). Few office workers can say the same.

Erin London

Erin London

Equine caregiver

New York transplant Erin London works primarily with the sanctuary’s sick and disabled equines. Each morning in the soup-like humidity, she takes an old truck whose seat heater won’t turn off to visit animals such as Moose, a horse who’s having trouble breathing, and Tiny Tim, a donkey with arthritis.

Horses simply “make me happy,” she says, but she’s also serious about protocol, noting that providing clean water, closing gates—there are hundreds around the sanctuary—and building trust with the animals are the most important things she does.

Not all the equines are approachable, but she’s not fazed by those who need extra patience. Although it takes hours to make her rounds, she talks to each animal as she feeds them. She holds gentle, one-sided conversations that sometimes result in small wins: a scared horse who accepts a scratch, or a horse who takes their meds without a fuss. “As a child I was like, ‘Mom, I want all the ponies in the world,’ ” she says with a laugh. “Well, be careful what you wish for.”

Ashley Orr

Ashley Orr

Animal care manager/Farm

Before joining Black Beauty Ranch two years ago, Ashley Orr was taking a break from animal care. She had previously worked at zoos, and although she loved working with animals she became burnt out after learning about common zoo practices that negatively affect animals. "I felt that I could neither participate in nor fix” the problems, she says.

She worked in a job unrelated to animal care for a few years until her wife, Christine James (a caregiver with the sanctuary’s primate team), found Black Beauty Ranch and thought the sanctuary would be the perfect workplace for the both of them. Orr loved the idea of being a caregiver solely focused on improving the quality of life for the animal residents.

After accepting caregiver roles at the sanctuary, the pair packed up everything and moved to rural Texas. It was a great decision, Orr says. “Seeing thin animals fill out and watching their coats transition from dull to shiny; observing introductions where individuals who lived in isolation finally get to join a flock or a herd of their own; seeing animals who could barely stand move about their habitats and enjoy all that BBR has to offer.... I can't imagine anything better than this.”

Christi Gilbreth
Courtesy Christi Gilbreth

Christi Gilbreth

Senior coordinator of outreach and development

Growing up in a military family that moved frequently, Christi Gilbreth was accustomed to change. But there was always one constant in her life: a love for animals.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and management, she worked at a wildlife rehabilitation center, an exotic animal sanctuary and an accredited zoo. She soon realized her heart was with the sanctuary field, and in 2018 she joined the Black Beauty Ranch team as a wildlife caregiver.

One of her most rewarding experiences has been working with Elsa, a young tiger found wearing a dog harness and wandering the streets of San Antonio during a winter storm in 2019. At Black Beauty Ranch, Elsa learned how to be a tiger and has flourished. On tough days, a visit to Elsa is “all I need to lift my spirits,” Gilbreth says.

Last fall, Gilbreth took on a new role at the sanctuary: senior coordinator of outreach and development. “I love being a voice for the animals,” she says. She hopes that by sharing the stories of Black BeautyRanch’s residents, she’ll inspire people to take action on the exotic pet trade, captive hunting and many other issues that threaten animals around the world.

Shon Hatfield

Senior grounds technician

A skilled craftsman who enjoys working behind the scenes, Shon Hatfield has nearly 16 years of Black Beauty Ranch’s dirt on his boots. He joined the sanctuary as an equine caregiver, then moved over to primates before folks realized he could drive a tractor and had quite a green thumb. One of his vital roles is making sure the sanctuary’s fields and pastures are a buffet of delicious grasses for the hundreds of horses, burros, cows, bison and other grazing animals. When you consider the unforgiving Texas climate and the number of animals who depend on him for dinner, that’s no easy task.

He has quite a knack for landscaping and carpentry—he’s hoping for a few rainy days so he can continue working on the maintenance team’s new workshop, and he’d sure love to upgrade the arbors he built for the rose garden years ago (they looked pretty good to us!). He’s got a long list of projects he’d like to tackle and is thrilled to have help from Black Beauty Ranch’s garden volunteers in keeping the sanctuary’s grounds in tip-top shape. 

Will Escheberger

Will Eschberger

Wildlife caregiver

Will Eschberger grew up loving all types of plants, animals and even fungi. Before he joined Black Beauty Ranch in January 2023, he cared for 97 local species, including 62 types of reptiles, at the San Angelo Nature Center in his West Texas hometown.

At the sanctuary, in addition to feeding and medicating animals and cleaning their habitats, Eschberger must fit in lots of unexpected tasks, such as picking up a 75-foot hose from a local store to supply water to Theodora the tiger, one of his favorite residents.

In the summer, a regular challenge is moving the big cats from their outdoor yards into indoor bedrooms before late afternoon storms. He tries to lure them in with food. Serenity the tiger might not budge. Theodora might be about to enter her bedroom then turn around. But if the weather’s dangerous, Eschberger won’t give up until they’re safe and secure.

Sometimes he rides out the storm with the animals. Last year, when a tornado left the sanctuary without power, he remained long after his shift. “You’ve got to make sure everything ends up OK.”

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia

Director of animal care

Since he was a 17-year-old volunteer at a Florida zoo, Greg Garcia has worked with animals. When his family moved to South Carolina, he volunteered at a nearby zoo after school and on weekends. Following graduation, he continued without pay until he was hired as a temp and then full-time as an assistant zookeeper. “I dedicated all my waking hours to that career path,” he says, eventually becoming a lead zookeeper. When he came to Black Beauty Ranch last year, after 16 years working in South Carolina, he brought all that experience, along with a readiness to grow. “I toured the facility and fell in love with it,” he says, adding that it’s quite different from his zoo background. “Number one, it’s not like thousands of people coming through the gates.” Also, while many zoos focus on breeding animals and preserving species, he says, Black Beauty Ranch focuses on individual animals.

Sometimes Garcia goes to the top of a hill at the sanctuary and watches the horses run. “We’re here to let them be horses. Just to let them be as wild and free as possible.”

Tobey Galetzka
Courtesy Tobey Galetzka

Tobey Galetzka

Equine care manager

Tobey Galetzka says her whole life has been horses. She was born on a farm in a remote part of Ontario, where her family trained quarter horses for show. Later, she volunteered to round up and rehome draft horses used to collect pregnant mare’s urine when that industry was shutting down.

It’s only natural, Galetzka says, that after she moved to East Texas and toured Black Beauty Ranch, she ended up applying for the job she started in October. “I really fell in love with the place and its mission. Even though I come from the show world, I believe wild should stay wild.”

Galetzka says her approach to being a supervisor is based on teamwork. “We’re each other’s eyes and we’ve got each other’s backs.” Caring for horses around the clock runs in her blood, she says. “I’m like 24-7. They eat before I do.”

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