Monday, December 28, 2009

Animal Nerds Click

I am a self-professed animal nerd. Pick a species any species and I can usually find something I love about it. I guess that's why I love going to the zoo or aquarium (those that are accredited and focus on conservation, mind you). I have a habit of staying at one exhibit for hours, just watching, without thinking twice about it. So when Kev and I spent Christmas week 2009 at Disney World, it wasn't a shock to anyone who knew me that we spent 2 of our 6 days at the Animal Kingdom - and it wasn't because of that awesome Everest roller coaster they have there.

One of those mornings we took Disney's "backstage safari," which allowed us access to the animal habitats, zoo keepers, researchers, vets, nutritionists and other non-public areas that most visitors never get to see. They only allow 12 guests per day on the tour and it does cost extra, but it is totally worth it for animal nerds like myself.

Now the folks at Disney tell you up front that you probably won't see many animals on the backstage tour, because they prefer their animals to be "on stage" where the guests can see them and not behind the scenes. But the morning of our tour was very cold for Florida - 42 degrees - and the trainers and zoo keepers kept many of the animals behind to do some exercises since most weren't in any hurry to get out of bed that day anyway. Jackpot!

We spent time at the white rhino barn and spoke with the head trainer and keeper. She introduced us to Samson (Sammy for short), a 40 year old white rhino who is her favorite due to his playful nature even at his ripe old age (you can see him on the right getting in the way of our safari vehicle "on stage" later on that day). After answering about 100 questions from our tour group - which consisted of a handful of other animal dorks like myself, a vet tech, a researcher from Costa Rica, and a vet from Mexico - Sammy's trainer showed us how and why they train these huge animals.

You may be thinking Sammy was going to get his giant rhino hiney on a pedestal and spin around or something spectacular, but you'd be thinking wrong. All of the animal trainers/keepers are required to work daily with every animal to teach them to help assist with their own vet care. And how do they do that - clicker training!

They teach the animals how to tolerate sticks from needles by poking them with a paper clip. All are trained to open their mouths on cue so that their teeth can be cleaned and inspected without it being a big deal. The lesser primates are taught to present their arms to receive shots, while the larger gorillas understand language better and understand the word "yes," which also helps to improve their vocabulary. The large animals, elephants included, are taught how to walk onto the scale and wait until they are released. The big cats are taught to tolerate their tails being handled, which I can only imagine is a bit challenging if my "little" cat is anything like a lion. All animals, great and small, are placed in the situations for blood draws or possible moving on a regular basis to desensitize them.

I watched Sammy show us how he could open his mouth on cue and expect a treat (hay) for his good work. Sammy showed us how he could touch a pool buoy when asked, something that helps when moving the animals, as keepers/trainers are not allowed inside the barriers with any of their animals for safety reasons. With the rhinos, elephants and giraffes they have found that whistles work better than clicks. They think it is the pitch of the sound that they respond to vs the dull click.

At Rafiki's Conservation Station, I watched as a trainer for the domesticated hoofed stock showed kids how they could teach a sheep to recycle. It was a cute trick where the sheep put a water bottle into the bin, but of course it was done with a clicker. I pulled the trainer aside once he was done with his demo and he told me that the bottle is something the sheep are naturally interested in due to the sound it makes. All of their domesticated hoofed stock - goats, sheep, donkeys and llamas that are in the petting area are all clicker trained. He said that the goats are the smartest and catch on so quickly that they can't use them for the demos because they usually learn something on the first or second try.

So for all of you out there (me included sometimes) who get totally frustrated with your greyhound not being willing to do something, think about Sammy the rhino. If all 3800 lbs of him can figure out how to open his mouth on cue for a bite of hay and a whistle, I think my 54 lb greyhound can figure out how to sit, pick up something, or even open her mouth on cue for her teeth to be brushed. Maybe Seka should have been on that backstage tour to get a lesson from Sammy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

She's Crafty

My whole family is crafty. My father could build anything out of wood. My mother can create amazing dolls out of a few rags. My sister can bake and decorate a cake like no body's business. Me, well, I like to knit and most recently I like to sculpt beads out of polymer clay. My crafting time is relaxing to me. I get that creative itch and I have to scratch it.

Maybe that's what Seka has had the last five months while she has been hurting and recovering - a crafty itch. However, hers is the sneaky type. I present to you her latest crafty hobby: hole digging.

Now I would have blamed this behavior on Roxy if I didn't catch Seka in the act yesterday, and I guess I'm still not sure who actually started the hole since I did watch them both take turns making the dirt fly. I almost felt bad for correcting them because they looked like they were having so much fun, but our backyard is not the beach.

Roxy could care less that I covered up the hole, but this afternoon, I caught Seka outside getting the hole back to where they left off yesterday. Needless to say, she is very proud of her dig site - even if it really isn't that big. I can only wonder what she might be after. Roxy did bring me a dead mole one afternoon about three weeks ago. Maybe Seka is trying to match her hunting efforts by digging one up herself? I can only imagine what my silly girl has dreamed up while she was on her rehabbing on the sofa.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting Your Groove Back

Yep. I checked out for awhile. Totally and completely checked out without any warning to my readers. For that, I apologize. I guess I was just sad and just didn't have it in me to write and despite what my husband will tell you - I really don't like to whine.

It wasn't that we didn't do cool stuff in September and October. Quite the contrary. We took the girls for a spontaneous trip to LSU to meet Mike the Tiger, check out Kev's old stompin' grounds and attend the LSU/Vandy game. It started the month of September (aka road trip month) off with a bang.

We attended our first Beach Bound Hounds at Myrtle Beach, SC., and had a total blast playing in the sand, meeting new friends, and drinking, er, hanging out with old ones.

Then we were off to Boone, NC., to see the Mountaineers stomp Ga Southern Eagles.

And through all of this the girls were perfect travelers. Roxy only got car sick once. After all that driving, I would consider this a huge success.

What I didn't realize was lurking was the pain that the GBD was in. Seka put on a brave face through all of our ramblings. Let me put her walking boots on and never turned down the opportunity to go on a car ride, but once we got home and settled down, she went from bad to worse and couldn't/wouldn't walk at all on her 3-toed foot.

Now this wasn't all that strange, as we have had our battles with corns on that foot which caused lameness every now and then, but what worried me was that she lost all interest in being a part of the family. She didn't want to come downstairs. She only wanted to potty in the morning and at night (2 times a day). She didn't want to go for a walk and even turned down car rides. She wasn't my girl.

Off to Auburn we go, after receiving the report from Dr. Hottie that there wasn't anything else he could do for her. X-rays showed nothing. No fever. Corns didn't seem to bother her. They were out of ideas. I cried. I'll admit it.

After a 45 minute exam with Dr. Gillette, he determined that Seka has sesmoiditis in both of the outside toes of her 3 toed foot. This is why, despite her therapaws, pain pills, corn surgery, padding, and treat bribery, she would not use her foot as this injury is very painful, even at rest. So after a steroid shot in both joints, we soak the offending foot 2 x a day in epsom salt, apply heat wraps 2 x a day, and crate rest for the next 14 days. After this time, I scraped the little hard spot from her corn off and the most disgusting puss poured out of the opening. I don't know where this was living, but once it was out of her foot, she has been using it ever since.

Now Seka's got her groove back. And so do I. She's back to playing in the house - something she hasn't done since June! She and Roxy are now running and playing in the backyard - something they have NEVER done. Their games of tag are something I will never get tired of watching. We're taking walks again - still in our therapaws, but she's along for the ride and no longer crying at the door when left behind.

The funny part is that Seka seems to have a new attitude toward life in general. She's spunky, something that she wasn't like before. She's underfoot in the house, curious and more playful than ever before.

Seka's got her groove back - and thanks to her, so do I.