Leticia Fanucchi is not your average veterinarian.

Between time spent researching the behaviors of animals, tossing in a few classes as a clinical instructor at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, treating animals at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, sitting on the board of the Whitman County Humane Society and hiking, boating and riding her beloved motorcycles in any spare time, Fanucchi is a busy woman.

How does she find some time to herself between all that?

The 60 seconds it takes to reach the ground after jumping out of an airplane seems to do the trick.

As a professional skydiver, her weekends between March and October are consumed with skydiving.

The 41-year-old Pullman resident began her journey to the Palouse skies from the southern Brazilian state of Parana, best known for the Igacu Falls - larger than Niagara Falls and featuring the world's largest damn, she said.

Growing up, Fanucchi said, she was surrounded by animals, flying and the world of academia, with her younger brother and parents, Francisco and Waldrez. Both parents worked for the state university teaching and in research, she said, but her dad was also a pilot and flight instructor.

Fanucchi said it was mostly experimental, working up ideas in their backyard. But those weekends spent in the air with her family led her to pick up the hobby seriously about 13 years ago.

Around that same time she was wrapping up her veterinary school program in Brazil and preparing to move to southern Florida, where she would end up working in private practice for five years, so she gave up the sport.

While still in Brazil, Fanucchi had a dog with some extreme behavior issues but there was no one around who could help her understand why or how to fix it. As she worked in private practice, she continued to see the problem and decided to dedicate herself to the issue.

That's when she wound up at WSU to work toward her doctorate in animal behavior, focusing on behavioral medicine. Fanucchi said it is basically psychology for dogs.

She also uses that specialty at the Whitman County Humane Society, whether it be working with dogs exhibiting behavioral issues or with Pups Parading the Palouse, a walk that teaches reactive dogs to walk with other dogs and people without acting out.

"As the only behavioralist in the area, it is my job to help," she said. "That's why I like Pullman, because we can do things that matter here."

Fanucchi added that if she can stay at WSU for the rest of her career, she would gladly stay until retirement.

"I've been everywhere, but I've found peace in Pullman," she said.

WSU allows her to combine the things she grew up loving, academia and animals. Fanucchi said her mother claims she has been saying she wanted to be a vet since she was 4 years old, which is no surprise given the wide range of animals her father owned and her interest in understanding why animals acted the way they did.

And finding a location nearby to skydive has only helped solidify her love of the Palouse.

Only a few years ago, Fanucchi was watching the news and saw there was drop zone in Ritzville, so she signed up, took a training class to get certified and now jumps as often as possible.

"Fear is always there, it is what keeps you alive," she said of jumping. "You have to always be focused.

"I am 100 percent focused on my dive. ... I don't have time to think about anything else. It is that intense of a moment."

For those 60 seconds it is like traveling to a different world, but, she said, the reality is that any second not spent concentrating on the jump can be the difference between life and death.

"Gravity is not forgiving ... you have to stop at the right time," she said.

Fortunately for her she has only had one "hard landing." A year and a half ago, only weeks before defending her thesis, she came in too fast for a landing and ended up breaking three vertebrae in her back. She was home within days, forgoing pain medicine to focus on her thesis work.

"That was when the meditation came in again," she said. "But I did defend it and it was done."

By the next summer, she was back in the sky ready to jump again.


Samantha Malott can be reached at (208) 883-4639, or by email to smalott@dnews.com.

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