300: UT alumna Carin Peterson handles campus wildlife

Elizabeth Hlavinka

Editor's note: In 300 words or fewer, this series spotlights people in our community whose stories typically go untold.

When UT alumna Carin Peterson gets a phone call reporting a raccoon on campus, she begrudgingly suits up in safety gear, complete with heavy-duty, crush-proof gloves, and begins the battle of capturing the animal.

After earning a degree in zoology and a master’s in wildlife biology, Peterson tried her hand as a surgery veterinary technician, a field biologist and a zookeeper. When she returned to UT, she took a position as a safety specialist in UT’s Environmental Health and Safety department, running the Animal Make Safe program, which was designed to capture animals found on campus and release them back into the wild. With over a decade of experience working with and caring for them, Peterson said it’s safe to say she is an animal person.

Peterson and her team of three assistants are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and respond to over 100 calls per year. Occasionally, they respond to reports of foxes, ring-tailed cats and porcupines.

“It’s unpredictable,” Peterson said. “It could be an incident that takes all day, or it could take 20 minutes, depending on how involved I have to get and how well the animals cooperate.”

Although she tries not to come into contact with the animals directly, some, such as raccoons, require more attention than others.

“Raccoons are the most dangerous,” Peterson said. “They’re smart, big and strong, and they are not afraid of you. They’re definitely the hardest animals to deal with.”

Peterson said she advises students and faculty to admire the wildlife from a distance and let her team handle their removal.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much wildlife we have on campus,” Peterson said. “This is their home, too, so we want to get them back out where they belong.”