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Class leads to zoo leadership

Saugus grad now works with exotic animals

Posted: October 29, 2008 8:01 p.m.
Updated: December 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Alisa Johnson Behar, a 1997 Saugus graduate, wears a unique hat at the zoo at Moorpark College, where she works as assistant manager in zoo operations.

Alisa Johnson Behar was only a junior at Saugus High School when she discovered that her true calling was working with animals.

She enrolled in an animal care class offered through the Hart district's Regional Occupational Program, which started her on the path to her current position as assistant manager in zoo operations at nearby Moorpark College.

Nancy Heinisch, career adviser at Saugus High, recently arranged for Behar to return to her alma mater to do a presentation on Moorpark College's Exotic Animal Training and Management program.

Behar told the Saugus students that when she attended the ROP class in spring 1996 at Six Flags Magic Mountain she worked with wolves, a bear, goats, ducks, geese and other small mammals. The love of animals she developed through that class stayed with her as she graduated from Saugus in 1997 and earned her bachelor's degree at California State University, Northridge.

If was there that she heard of the Exotic Animal Training and Management program.

At Moorpark, she learned about animal behavior, interned at a veterinarian's office and at the zoo. After earning her certificate in exotic animal behavior, she worked at Wildlife Safari in Oregon, Living Desert in Palm Springs, and the Bronx Zoo before returning to Moorpark College and her current post.

"She is doing what she loves to do," said Karen Varela, Saugus ROP adviser. "She has followed her dream and never gave up. She says her friends often tell her how much they envy her in doing what she loves to do."

In her current position, Behar not only works with animals but teaches and guides the new students at Moorpark College to follow her lead. She currently works in Moorpark and lives in Sherman Oaks with her husband, who is going to medical school.


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