006: Cougar Attack and Getting Fired were Unexpected Gifts

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006: Cougar Attack and Getting Fired were Unexpected Gifts

Being fired from her dream job ushered in the beginning of the end of Arwen’s first marriage. Major confusion ensued as all she knew was unexpectedly and forcefully ripped away. From the time she was five, Arwen desired to work with wild animals and by the age of 20, that dream came true. She ran a wildlife care facility in charge of 300+ animals a day, one being a 110lb cougar named Sasha.

Today, Arwen is sharing the story of how she found (and lost) her dream job – and how this loss both ended her first marriage and led her to her business partner and second husband. You’ll hear how she prepared for the unknown, let go of the past, and reinvented herself into a new season of life.

Overcomer Playlist Recommendation 

You’re Gonna Be Ok by Brian & Jenn Johnson 

Pearls of Wisdom


“No matter how much passion and drive you have for something, life has a way of creating detours that initially can seem extraordinarily devastating.” - Arwen Becker Share on X “Many of the women that I meet have been beaten down by life or lack of resources or by those who should have loved them. They need my help now.” - Arwen Becker Share on X “God cannot direct somebody who's standing still.” - Arwen Becker Share on X “You'll get through this. It won't be painless. It won't be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime, don't be foolish or naive and don't despair either. With God's help, you will get through this.” - Max Lucado Share on X


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Connect with Arwen Becker


Arwen Becker: So, I have this overcomer playlist on my phone. It's something that I have been building over the last few years and continuing to add songs to it that just really inspire me, not just because of the way they sound because some of them are upbeat, some of them are a little bit more subdued, depending on the mood that I might be in. But they're all great words. That's the point. So, for any of you out there who really listen to the words of songs, that's how I'm built. My husband's very much a melody guy as a guitarist. He a lot of times doesn't hear the words necessarily as I do but that's something that really speaks to me. So, this is one that I have really fallen in love with and enjoyed listening to. It's called You’re Gonna Be OK by Jen Johnson. Of course, I can't sing it as well as she does but I just love these opening words.

I know it's all you've got to just be strong

And it's a fight just to keep it together, together

I know you think that you are too far gone

But hope is never lost, hope is never lost

Hold on, don't let go

Hold on, don't let go

Just take one step closer

Put one foot in front of the other

You'll get through this

Just follow the light in the darkness

You're gonna be ok

You're going to be okay. We're going to get you through this. We're going to get through it together.

From the time I was five years old, there was only one job I wanted to do growing up. That was it, working with animals. I grew up in a house where we always had more than the legal limit, I suppose, of animals. Usually, at least three cats, a couple of dogs, and other random things would find us along the way like our pet squirrel, Mama, who would literally come and eat in our house but she lived outside with her kids. And many rats. I probably had about a dozen rats in my life. My first rat, of course, was named Templeton because what other rat name would you give a rat because it was the only rat name I knew from Charlotte's Web. But back in junior high, I can remember all of the girls wanted to be dolphin trainers. I thought that was too inhumane because of them being these large captive marine mammals. However, when they all found out how little you would make financially working with wildlife, I'd say pretty much all of them dropped that dream. However, for me, it remained constant. I wanted to be a marine mammologist.

I loved this idea of working with animals, especially wildlife, I think because I thought it would be really interesting to do something that a lot of people didn't do. However, I never wanted to be a veterinarian, certainly to dogs and cats. To me, that just seemed a little bit too boring for me and I wanted something a little bit more out of the ordinary. But I think also more than anything, I didn't have the money to become a veterinarian because I had given up my full-ride scholarships to go to the University of Washington to follow a boy. I had full-ride scholarship offers to go to University of South Florida, which would've been a great place to become a marine mammologist, Colorado State, but because my future ex-husband was going to the University of Washington, I gave up my full-ride scholarships to follow him. So, I guess I didn't want to go that far in debt to become a veterinarian but I figured that there had to be another way that I could scratch this itch that I had within me to work with wildlife and to work with marine mammals.

So, in my third year in college, my marine mammalogy professor recommended me for this program that only 15 undergraduate students were chosen from to go study in the San Juan Islands. Those are the islands off the coast of Washington State. When you kind of look at the shape of Washington and it comes down in this little dip in the middle, there's all these islands and that's the San Juan Islands, which the San Juans happen to be Jacques Cousteau’s second favorite place in the world to dive. That's where you get the biggest octopuses. I don't think it's octopi, to be honest. I think it’s octopuses. It’s weird. But a lot of really, really cool things that you could see there. So, it was everything that I wanted to do and it was by far, zero question about it, the best experience of my childhood. So, during the time that I was living out in the San Juans, I got to learn to dive but I became acquainted with a type of work I had never heard of, wildlife rehabilitation. And one of the teacher's assistants that worked with us in our marine zoology class, she volunteered at a place on the island where they cared for animals from that area, deer, eagles, harbor seals, and a lot of other animals, foxes, things of that nature that lived on the island.

I did not know that this work existed and I was so enamored with the thought. And so, by the time I was done with my study after I lived out there for three months, I got back home, I called my local vet, and he put me in contact with a couple of wildlife rehabilitation centers in my area. Well, in my area meant 42 miles away from my house but I had to check it out. And so, I arrived at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center on my first day of volunteer orientation. I will never forget this. I walked into this home that had been renovated into this wildlife medical hospital and it sat on this beautiful five-acre property in Arlington, Washington with these really large enclosures for the myriad of animals that we had to rehab. And this older gal who owned it, started it in the 70s, she was frail, she was a heavy smoker, had battled cancer but, man, she was a spitfire. She definitely put the fear of God in all of us around that place. But she said she was going to show me around but she had a couple of other things to do. So, she asked if Laura who was working in what was called baby room would hang out with me for a few while she went and did some other stuff.

So, I remember walking down into this sunken living room that the entire stretch of walls, four and five high were filled with incubators that had tons of different types of baby animals in it. They had raccoons, Eastern grey squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, robins, hummingbirds, even silver-tipped and brown bats. I was a kid in a candy store, I could not contain my excitement. And so, Laura invited me over and she said, “Hey, you know, I've got to feed some babies,” and she showed me this big board that was on the wall where it had all the designated times that these babies had to be fed. And she said, “Have you ever fed a baby raccoon?” “Haha, no.” I don't even know. Imagine how big smile on my face was and my eyes as well but she pulled out this little baby raccoon that was definitely no longer than my hand, had these little teeny gangly arms that were flailing, these big black eyes, and she wrapped it in a washcloth and she handed it to me with a baby bottle. I was shocked. I could not believe it. I was in absolute heaven. And so, I went and sat down on these steps and I'm looking at this little perfect baby raccoon and he's got his little hands and they’re wrapped around the nipple of this bottle and he's drinking it until his belly was just so distended with milk.

And as I sat there marveling, I mean, I was in a daze and something walked up behind me and completely unexpectedly began suckling on my earlobe. And it was a little fawn that had been released from its cage while it was being cleaned and it found the first thing, I guess, around that mimicked its mother's nipple, which was my earlobe. And so, I continued. I had this little raccoon in my hand and this little fawn is suckling on my earlobe and I just melted in this pool of happiness and elation. I was sure I was never going to leave this place. And so, that started the next four years of my life.

So, I eventually got escalated from a volunteer to one of only two paid employees as the assistant clinic director. I had, gosh, about 110 volunteers a week under my direction upwards of 150 to 300 animals a day under my care. I got to do some of the absolute coolest things, well, I guess in my opinion the coolest things. Raised harbor seals. I've given blood transfusions between eagles. I've pinned eagle wings and hawk wings. I've cared for loons and owls and bears, bobcats and otters. And then the weird things that would come in occasionally like a snake or a butterfly or a mountain beaver, which I didn't even know those existed. It's not a typical beaver. There's a lot of weird things out there too.

But for my absolute highlight, the highlight of my job was Sasha. And so, I'm going to actually read you an excerpt from my book, She Handled It So Can You, about this beautiful, beautiful girl that I got to work with.

One of my absolute highlights in my role as assistant clinic director of Sarvey Wildlife Care Center was getting loved on by a 110-pound cougar named Sasha. A tawny brown color, Sasha was stunning, graceful, playful, and powerful. An interesting fact about cougars, they're the largest of the small cats meaning they are more closely related to a domestic cat than they are a lion or tiger. One primary distinction is they can purr. Big cats cannot. Can you imagine the deep, wonderful purr of a cat that size? It was intoxicating. You could feel it deep within your chest. Sasha was one of our permanent residents. Someone bought her legally from a breeder in Texas but then illegally brought her to the State of Washington as a cub. By the time she was a juvenile at the age of 18 months, she was too much for the owners to handle. She could get really nasty at times, a commonality of domesticated wild animals. They may eat fancy food, wear nice collars, crave human attention, and answer to their name but wild is still in their DNA. Sasha was no different.

She needed love and attention and affection just like a house cat. Sasha loved to be touched but possess the wild instincts of a deadly predator. Her previous life of domestication had given her simple trigger, children. Her owner would let neighborhood kids come in to see her and they often poked her through the cage bars with sticks or other instruments. The sight of children began sending her into a frenzy. It became too much for the family to keep control over the beast within and she landed at Sarvey unable to be released in the wild but not safe for domestic life. How sad. At Sarvey, volunteers would bring their children to show them around and educate them about our wildlife operations. When they walked by Sasha's enclosure, it would throw her into a fit. She'd flatten her ears against her head, bare her teeth, and she would lunge at the fence growling and hissing. It was a terrifying sight to witness. Only four people who worked at Sarvey could handle her. I was one of them. I loved her. Sasha was my precious beautiful girl.

Every day she would hear me walking down the path, she would catcall me, “Nya, nya, nya.” A massive cat chirping to me with excitement was a singular thrill. Her purr would kick in the moment she heard me catcall back to her and it was so loud you could hear it from 20 feet away. It was a wonderful bond. Because of her trust in me and the relationship I built over many years, I was in charge of cleaning her enclosure, changing her water, and removing half-eaten carcasses. But the ultimate joy I experienced was playing games with her. Many of the times when I went in with Sasha, I would bring a large rope toy, the kind you would use to play tug of war with a German Shepherd or Rottweiler. I would use it in the same way. Sasha would lie on the ground and we would play with his big rope as if playing with an overgrown house cat. It was an absolute blast. In my years of working with Sasha, we'd only had a handful of incidences where she'd become a bit unruly, often the result of overstimulation, just her way of telling me, “I'm done playing.” Never had she been outright aggressive with me.

One warm summer day, a volunteer asked if she could come in with me and take photos of Sasha while we were playing. I had no reason to think it would be an issue and agreed. Judy and I made our way through the first chain link door to the holding area, part of the double door of security just in case Sasha ever made it through the first door. We got all the things ready we were bringing in, in addition to the rope to play tug of war. As the first door locked behind us, I opened the second and we made our way into Sasha's enclosure. Sasha catcalled to me from her perch, “Nya, nya,” purring like we were long last pals. As Judy and I entered, she jumped down and came up to rub the scent glands on the side of her cheeks on my pant leg. The second door clinked behind Judy, who prepared her camera, and Sasha's body tensed. She again rubbed her face against my pant leg, this time aggressively, then swung her mouth around and bit down hard on my right thigh. Something had changed.

As I tried to regain control of this deadly predator that weighed only 20 pounds less than me, Judy screamed. Sasha let go of my leg and lunged again wrapping her powerful front paws around my waist and sinking her razor-sharp teeth into the left side of my chest, and then the right side. Then she dropped back to all fours clamping down on my left thigh. Judy panicked and I was terrified that Sasha would go for her. I was utterly shocked at how fast it went from bad to worse, awed by the sheer flexibility and speed of a cat like that. If she hadn't been declawed in her front paws, I would have been vastly outmatched that day. Still screaming, Judy escaped the enclosure leaving me to defend myself. I shoved my left hand into Sasha's mouth, grabbed her throat with my right hand, and kneed her in the chest over and over. She moaned and hissed, and finally let go allowing me to leave. Allowing me to leave. The moment the door closed behind me, Sasha went back up to the side of the enclosure purring as if we were long lost pals, as though nothing had ever happened. I've had domestic cats all my life. It was reminiscent of their bizarre behaviors. One moment they're relaxed, you're petting them and the next, they bite your hand flicking their back legs and claws all over your unprotected arm leaving some nasty scratches as they run off. Imagine that pet cat at 10 times the weight.

Severe maiming or damage was not part of my story that day but it wasn't due to luck. Averting a serious injury was a result of planning and preparation for the unknown. It was a 75-degree day in July but I was still wearing jeans and a heavy denim jacket with wool lining on the inside. I received pressure wounds on both sides of my chest and my thighs but nothing broke the surface in those areas because I had the right protection for the job. I suffered a one-inch gash on my hand that I'd thrust into her mouth but that was the only part of my body fully exposed. Thank God. If Sasha had wanted to really hurt me, she could have chomped down on my hand breaking every bone in it but that was never her intention. She loved me but she was still wild. I cared very deeply for this wonderfully confused animal torn between being wild and wanting to be touched, played with, and petted. Yet I knew Sasha was wild down to her bones and I never took that for granted so I always went in with proper attire and prepared for the unknown.

Individuals face unknowns all the time. We see it every day. People want to hope for the best and we do too but they often avoid planning for the worst. When life comes at you like an angry cougar, you can be prepared and make it through with little harm but you may suffer from some minor discomfort but you can recover.

So, as you can see, my book is not your typical financial book. It's filled with a lot of similar stories to this as I talk about many different topics and I recommend that you pick up a copy on Amazon. It's funny. I did mention once on a radio show that I had been attacked by a cougar and it was a woman who was talking to me and she said, “Oh, really? Was it somebody's ex-wife?” I thought that was so funny. Yeah, that was pretty good. So, my job at Sarvey, it filled every bit of passion that I had inside of me to care for animals. I loved it. I gave every bit of myself to it. I woke up with a joy in my step at like six in the morning. I wouldn't get home until 9 or 10 at night. I put in 12 to 14-hour days. I had to drive 42 miles one way to get there because it gave me so much joy and excitement and just filled this part within me that was basically there since I was five. And I was absolutely sure I was going to do it the rest of my life… until God changed the plan.

And so, we were heading into the new millennium and the owner who had not been in very good health but myself, the other clinic director, and our bird of prey specialist, we put a lot of time and thought into a proposal of how we were going to help keep this nonprofit going long past the founder’s death. And so, we were so excited. We presented it to the Board of Directors, felt really good about it, yet knew something had changed. And the clinic director and I spoke that night before I headed home and she recommended that I take everything that belonged to me. Neither of us knew why. We both just had a bad feeling. I don't know. Maybe it was women's intuition. So, I woke up the next day. It was my day off to a voicemail. The husband of one of the board members left a voicemail on each of our phones letting us know we had all been fired. Then he proceeded to add this other real fantastic unkind final statement, “As a reminder, this is private property and if you step foot on this property, we will call the police.”

What the hell! Are you serious? This is a place that the three of us combined who were all fired at that moment had put 24 years of our life in with little to no pay and we were all swiftly and cowardly fired? This is the only job I ever wanted to do. And now it was gone. I was fired. And I discovered through that experience, no matter how much passion and drive you have for something, life has a way of creating detours that initially can seem extraordinarily devastating. And over the next year, I found myself thoroughly unhappy trying to be this great, awesome stay-at-home wife, a role that I just could not seem to succeed at because everything I wanted to do was ripped away from me. And that certainly I would say marked the beginning of the end of my first marriage and how God has such an interesting way of doing things because now I needed to get a job that could actually pay for my bills now that I was single again. And I thought the idea of going back to work for a veterinary clinic, no, it just did not feel right. And so, I felt that I just needed to do something different for a while that could just make me a bit more money while I determined what I'm supposed to do to build my own wildlife center. That was kind of what my next thought process was.

My girlfriend happened to be sitting at a coffee shop and as she was leaving, a man needed her table. And so, they started talking, found out that they worked in the same building. He had a new company and so he asked her, "Do you know of anybody who might be looking for a job?” And she said, “Yeah, I do.” So, she connected the two of us. I went on that job interview and I ended up accepting the position. That ended up being the only job interview I went on and that man that hired me ended up becoming my business mentor, my business partner, and nearly 16 years ago, my husband and the father of our three boys, Randy. And I can't believe it. That was over 20 years ago. And the funny thing is a lot of people ask me, they say, “Well, I mean, you must have a ton of animals at home. What do you have?” And I'm like, "You know, honestly, I have one geriatric cat.” That's it. And I think once he's finally passed away, which who knows when that'll be, that might be it for me because I think I just got all of that need within me out of my system. And I just have transitioned to new things that provide me this same significant amount of joy and satisfaction just like I had all those years ago working with wildlife.

And as I look back now a decade later, it's pretty apparent to me that that deep need inside of me to care for animals, the vulnerable, the hurt, God fully satisfied with something that really on the surface seemed pretty unrelated. Yeah, I found that my passion it's still alive within helping and uplifting broken and the vulnerable around me. That just happens to be many of the women that I meet that have been beaten down by life or lack of resources or by those who should have loved them. They may need my help now. So, God's calling on my life it’s still the same. Just really who I'm helping, really just doesn't try to kill or maim me on a daily basis.

So, what did I learn in those years? Well, I think first and foremost, oftentimes the roadblocks are the exact detour that we need to usher in this next phase of our destiny. God has the ability to get you exactly where you need to go but only if you're moving. I don't care if you're even going in the wrong direction. He's going to eventually get you where you need to be but God cannot direct somebody who's standing still.

And then secondly, you know, after being attacked by Sasha, I learned pretty clearly that day, you can prepare for the unknown but it takes planning and forethought. Of course, yes, things happen that are totally out of our control but most of what occurs to us is a reflection of what we have or haven't really prepared for. And then finally, you need to be willing to let go of the past. It was really hard for me a lot of those years because I had built two decades of my life around doing one job and I felt really empty once I couldn't do that anymore but that's where God found me and he ushered in a new season of my life. So, if you're finding yourself now kind of like I was where everything you thought that you built your whole life around is now ripped out from underneath you or maybe you know that there's something new, something you should be doing, a reinvention of sorts calling you into a new season of life yet it's absolutely terrifying. Know this, you'll get through this. You're strong. You are highly capable. You are a woman who can handle this. You can handle this. Listen to me, you can handle this.

So, my rapid-fire three questions piece of financial wisdom, if you're in a financial hole, stop digging. When Randy and I found ourselves more than a half a million dollars in debt after the Great Recession, business and personal-wise, we had to stop digging. The clawback took years. It took nearly a decade I'd say a good solid eight years to be able to really get fully past that and it felt like it took forever but we knew that we had to stop digging and make massive changes to not make the hole worse. A book that I would recommend and why is Max Lucado, You'll Get Through This. It walks through in detail the story of Joseph, the biblical story of his life and the absolute hell that he went through of being nearly killed by his brothers, being thrown into prison, being falsely accused of adultery, major, major, major struggles. So much of it had nothing to do with anything he had done and really being victimized and yet how we get through things. And I found that that book, which was recommended by a girlfriend of mine was so instrumental during the hell that I went through in the last couple of years that I talked about in Episode 2.

And then a quote from the book that's kind of littered all throughout this book and I think it's on the back cover as well is Max Lucado says, "You'll get through this. It won't be painless. It won't be quick but God will use this mess for good. In the meantime, don't be foolish or naive but don't despair either. With God's help, you will get through this.”


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