Molly Meshaka can honestly say she has yet to be smitten by an Adonis.
But she has been bitten by one, and that experience reinforced her desire to pursue a passion that has been part of her life since childhood.
“My dad had rescued a green iguana and it got itself stuck in a milk crate,” recalled Meshaka, 17, a senior at Harrisburg Academy who aspires to be a veterinarian.
“I felt bad for him,” she said. “So I decided I was the one who was going to rescue this luckless lizard.”
Named for the Greek god of beauty, the scaly creature was wedged tight within a handle of the crate. Every shimmy forward only made the problem worse and her effort to help the lizard just added to its distress.
“I had absolutely no strategy,” Meshaka said. “I just reached right in there. My arm went directly in front of his mouth. It was essentially me saying to the iguana ‘Please bite me, but I do mean well.’ I tried to be impressive, but it backfired.”
Sure enough, the lizard followed through with enough force to break the skin and draw a tiny bit of blood. Adonis was scared and had reacted to the pain with pure gut instinct.
The nippy iguana from a few years back could have ended it right there, but Meshaka was not discouraged. She pressed on with her passion to help living things, figuring her career choice would probably lead to many more bites, scratches, bumps and bruises.
“I don’t like failing. ... I will keep trying,” said the Florida native now living in East Pennsboro Township. “My entire life I have been focused on something animal related. It was very easy for me to like animals. Both my parents are biologists.”
There have been pets in the family ever since Meshaka was a child. But the roots of her interest in veterinary medicine started in the sixth grade when she became involved in the care and training of horses.
“Over summers, I leased a horse and rode it every day,” she wrote in her resume. Her interactions included training each horse, riding it in lessons and taking care of it. When a horse got injured, the barn owner would (give) me the medicine that concerned the injury because he knew I was interested, and then he let me treat the horse until the animal’s recovery.”
She handled the work in stride, cleaning cuts, giving shots, bandaging wounds and applying ointments. “Sometimes I would join the barn owner in his search for new horses at Amish auctions where he would point out signs that horses are unhealthy and explain if the horse is capable of recovering,” Meshaka wrote.
This foundation in equine medicine continued through the 10th grade when she became a horse walker for the Chasing Rainbows Equine Therapy Facility. As a volunteer, Meshaka led horses for disabled riders and was there to take control of the situation if something happened. During her sophomore and junior years, she worked as a groom for the Lancaster Polo Club, caring for the horses and treating their minor injuries.
Through recent opportunities, Meshaka has been able to diversify her knowledge. In June, she worked as an assistant intern for a turtle research study undertaken at the Powdermill Nature Reserve in Westmoreland County. There she helped interns at the State Museum of Pennsylvania catch, mark, record and release turtles for the project.
Two months later, in August, Meshaka was among 50 high school and college students chosen for a two-week hands-on summer class taught by the faculty of the Royal Veterinarian College at the University of London. The class enabled Meshaka to do rotations at a number of facilities, including the Queen Mother Hospital for Small Animals, the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital and the Equine Referral Hospital.
“It was really something to see,” Meshaka said. “I was a very good shadow. We did a lot of different labs. Every single day, I was learning something new.”
While in England, she had the opportunity to stand in on patient referrals and observe cataract surgery on a dog. She attended a series of lectures and workshops on clinical skills, animal behavior and particular injuries and diseases.
One of the most challenging things Meshaka had to master was “sheep tipping” – that is to maneuver the animal in such a way that the veterinarian can verify whether it has been vaccinated. “It takes a while to learn,” she said. “It’s an extreme sport.”
Most recently Meshaka has been working as an intern at the Camp Hill Animal Hospital where she has been able to stand in on referrals and help staff with minor tasks.
“Molly thrives in an applied learning environment,” said Keo Oura Kounlavong-Sabath, director of college counseling at the Harrisburg Academy. “She is a self-possessed young woman who goes confidently into the world. She is an adventurous spirit that enjoys taking the road less traveled in the hopes of having an unexpected encounter that will lead to a grand adventure.”
Her plan is to attend a pre-veterinary program at a college before pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine and a specialization. One career path she may pursue is to care for large exotic animals at a zoo.
“I think it would be a really fun career,” Meshaka said. “I can study new things and apply what I am learning. I don’t think I will get bored with this profession.”
Aside from her pursuit of veterinary medicine, Meshaka has been active in the arts at the academy. In her freshman year, she was the lead female role in “Raus,” a play about the Holocaust written by a fellow student. In her junior year, Meshaka was the co-director of a musical titled “Jamaica” that was also written by a fellow student.
She has also worked as the backstage manager for every school musical during her high school years. Her jobs have included getting props to where they are needed, getting people to where they need to be and helping with costumes.