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behind the scenes

Field Hockey’s Community Service Project Added Some Furry Friends To The Family

Third-year midfielders Peyton Tollaksen (left) and Annie McDonough (right) are part of the group of UVA field hockey players that fostered animals after returning to Grounds this summer. (Photo courtesy UVA)

By Melissa Dudek

Makayla Gallen and Amber Ezechiels are two very familiar names for fans of the Virginia field hockey team. Gallen, a fourth-year striker and a team captain, and Ezechiels, a third-year back who was an All-American last season, were huge factors in last year’s run to the NCAA semifinals, and are part of a core of veteran players who have returned for the 2020 campaign.

Taco, Queso, Quesadilla, Parkour and Oscar are some lesser-known offseason additions to the UVA field hockey family.

This July when Gallen returned to Charlottesville for preseason training, she came up with a unique solution for finding an appropriate social-distancing activity: fostering animals for the local animal shelter.

“We live in a small apartment complex with seven or eight of us on the team here, so when we came back in July, we had a lot of time on our hands and needed something to do,” Gallen explained. “It was just go to Grounds, play hockey and then go back to our apartments, so we decided it was a perfect time to start fostering animals.”

All-American third-year back Amber Ezechiels helped lead the team in its animal fostering efforts and decided to take in three kittens. (Photo courtesy UVA)

Gallen and Ezechiels were both approved as fosters by the Charlottesville/Albemarle SPCA and soon found themselves knee-deep in baby kittens.

“I got my kitten, Parkour, when he was 7 weeks old,” Gallen explained. “I decided to stay on the smaller end as I’ve never had a kitten before. Before I got him, he was found in someone’s backyard, and they brought him into the SPCA. He’d only been in the shelter for about three days before I got him.”

Ezechiels was not as conservative as Gallen, taking home three 4-week-old fluffballs named Taco, Queso and Quesadilla.

“My kittens all love to play with each other and with us,” Ezechiels explained. “Queso likes to sleep all day. Taco is the one that plays and is very busy all day, and Quesadilla is right in the middle of those two, energy-wise.

“Because they were only 4 weeks old, I had to give them eye drops every morning and every night. They were also very hungry and wanted food all the time, so I spent a lot of time feeding them.”

Eventually another teammate ended up with a dog who is a boxer mix named Oscar.

Taking care of the kittens and a dog has always been a group effort.

“We’re friends on and off the field, that’s the culture of our team,” Gallen explained. “I think COVID has really impacted us in that sense of trying to still stay a team and stay together all the time.

“Having the animals here is one of those ways that we have found normalcy. They’ve been absolutely so much fun and have given us another reason to get together and still follow protocols and all the COVID rules that we have.”

Eventually, all of the animals found forever homes.

With the return of classes and the start of their fall season, the teammates have put a temporary pause on fostering animals of their own, but they haven’t stopped helping the cause.

They started an Instagram account @meetourfosterfriends featuring other adoptable animals in Charlottesville. Through the account, the student-athletes are able to highlight animals that are currently being fostered and help interested people navigate the adoption process.