By Ashlyn Amanda Rollins
Special to S.F. Examiner
When she was in fifth grade, Lowell softball senior catcher Ella Gibson wanted to attend a camp at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter, where she could learn how to care for rabbits, rats, puppies, cats and other small animals. But the fifth- and sixth-grade group was full.
The animal advocates group for seventh and eighth graders still had open spots, but that group would be watching a few graphic videos about the meat industry, videos which might be upsetting to elementary-school-aged children.The mature 10-year-old animal lover attended the camp anyway, and one of these videos would change the way she lived her life. That video showed how a French cuisine called foie gras is made.
After seeing the video and learning about the milk industry, Gibson decided she was going to stop eating meat. Seven years later, she still hasn’t.
“She decides something, and she pursues it,” said her mother, Jenny Gibson.
That same drive has made Gibson into not only a star softball player for first-place Lowell (10-5, 9-0 in Academic Athletic Association), winning two San Francisco Section championships, earning an All-League nod and hitting .700 thus far this season (as of Friday), but also a future college athlete. It’s why, even once she’s off at college, she won’t stop helping animals.
Playing softball nearly all year — including practicing six days a week during the season — along with going to private lessons and working out on her own, Gibson still makes time to help at the San Francisco SPCA.
Normally, the counselors for the SPCA camp are in seventh or eighth grade, or in high school. Gibson became a counselor as a sixth grader. She has volunteered every summer since her first camp, and she now works in the humane education department, where she teaches the campers how to care for animals. One of her favorite parts of the camp is when she helps the kids put on gloves and gowns to go play with the puppies.
“The puppies are so cute and so sweet,” Gibson said. “They’re so innocent and pure.”
Gibson and her family have two rescue dogs of their own. A little over 10 year sago, they rescued Lilly and Luna, who were street dogs in Taiwan, her mother’s home country. She visited Taiwan a few years later.
“There’s a huge stray dog problem,” Gibson said. “… There are so many dogs running around, and they don’t have food or shelter.”
Every year, Gibson works with new animals that have included sheep, lizards, rats, a tortoise and even a tarantula.
“I think it was the ferrets she was obsessed with,” said Eliza Speece, San Francisco SPCA humane educator. “Every time she had a break she was always spending time with them and doing extra cleaning for them just so that they are happier and really going above and beyond.”
Gibson has developed into a leader not only at the SPCA, but has used those attributes to become a leader on the softball field, as well. In her first San Francisco Section championship win at Lowell, Gibson, who started playing softball at 9-years old, drove in the winning run against Galileo as a freshman. This season, along with her .700 batting average, she is sluging 1.400, with an on-base percentage of .763.
“She’s the rock every single year,” second baseman Eunice Go said. “I’m pretty sure even the seniors [during] our freshman year looked to her for guidance. Whenever she goes on the field, she has this calming aura.”
Gibson’s teammates at Lowell “watch her in awe,” said head coach Sascha Ray.
At the SPCA, the children who Gibson leads during the summer camps look up to her knowledge about animals, Speece said. Gibson even teaches some of the lessons.
“I swear she’s been an adult since I met her freshman year, and I’ve just always been astounded by her motivation to get things done,” Speece said.
In addition to helping at the camp, Speece trusts Gibson to take care of animals when she’s gone. Last summer, Gibson watched a crested gecko named Toothless.
“He would just hang out with us while we watched T.V.,” Gibson said.
This spring, Gibson will graduate after finishing her last season with the Cardinals, hoping to win her third championship. After playing summer ball with her travel team, the Cal Nuggets, she is signed to play at Cal State Monterey Bay, where she plans to study humanities and communications. That doesn’t mean she’s going to stop helping animals.
Ever since she watched that first, graphic video — with a goose having a tube shoved down its throat — she’s dedicated herself to the cause.
One of her friends from SPCA traveled to Thailand to help elephants and other animals hurt by the tourism industry, and Gibson hopes to eventually take the passion that started with a video at a summer camp in San Francisco with her to spend a summer in Thailand as well.
“I love animals so much, and I didn’t like to see them being hurt and killed,” she said. “I didn’t want to support that.”