BY SCOTT SMITH
Even though Tracy Burch and Bill Hamilton are neighbors of Primarily Primates, living just two miles from the sanctuary deep in the heart of Texas, their introduction was a long time coming. Thank a local service station for that.
“There’s a gas station close to where we live that has a donation container for PPI on the counter. I didn’t really know anything about the sanctuary, but every time I went in I dropped a few dollars into the jar,” says Burch. “Then, a couple years ago when we were doing our will, we thought we’d channel some of our money to animal sanctuaries in our area. After looking into it, I chose Primarily Primates.”
Before Christmastime two years ago, Bill was searching for a special gift for Tracy. Remembering Tracy’s support for PPI, he decided to sponsor an animal for her. He picked Violet, who, at 58, was the grande dame of the sanctuary, the first in the country to rescue chimpanzees requiring lifetime care following medical research.
“I was just blown away when I learned about Violet, her amazing life story—and I researched a lot more after we got our sponsorship certificate,” Burch recalls. “When we got the chance to visit the sanctuary for the first time and discovered what a magical place it was, we both knew we wanted to be a part of it.”
In early February 2021, a deep freeze wreaked havoc across Texas, leaving thousands without power for days, including the sanctuary. The staff worked heroically to keep the hundreds of animals living there safe and warm. Sadly, during that time sweet elderly Violet succumbed to a serious heart condition she was being treated for.
“The freeze last winter opened a lot of peoples’ eyes to the sanctuary who didn’t know it existed,” says Hamilton. “The calls for help really pulled people and resources together. As hard as that period was, it just reinforced our desire to continue helping the sanctuary going forward.”
Since then, the couple has spent their Sundays at the sanctuary chopping hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables and their weeknights at home making enrichment treats for the animals. They are also dedicated sponsors to chimps Barbara, Buffy, Cheetah and Shu Shu.
“Bill and Tracy are well-known and well-loved among the staff,” says Krystal Mathis, PPI’s executive director. “The animal caretakers really rely on them and know that with Bill and Tracy preparing produce all day, they can get extra things done on Sundays.”
The feeling is mutual: “Krystal and her staff are always so appreciative; it’s almost as though we’re part of the staff, even though we’re just volunteers,” says Hamilton. “Being that welcomed into that environment makes you want to go to the sanctuary not just for the animals but for the people. Everyone there has such a big heart.”