Friday, June 25, 2010

Zoo days

Those of you who have only known me as an adult may not know of my "previous life". It probably comes as no surprise to those who know me that I was always an animal lover; I started out as the typical horse crazy little girl who also loved dogs, but early on broadened my horizons to encompass the entire animal kingdom. My birthday always meant either a trip to the zoo or to the Kentucky Horse Park. When I was still in grade school I talked my parents into a zoo membership so I could take some of their classes (for those who have not taken advantage of it, the Cincinnati Zoo has a long history of GREAT educational opportunities. The best part is the education is disguised as fun!). Eventually I learned of their Children's Zoo volunteer program. I believe at the time you were supposed be be 15 to volunteer; however somehow, by luck, omission, or a downright lie I got accepted to the volunteer program when I was 12 years old. That was the beginning of half a decade of intensive involvement (dare I say obsession) with the zoo, eventually culminating in getting hired on as an "official" Children's Zoo employee until I had to leave for college. The picture above is with "Zot", a long time CZ resident and a very affable giant anteater. And let's just say from the beginning, NO comments from the peanut gallery about my hairstyle or as always impeccable sense of fashion!

Here's a picture with me and my beloved "DJ", an arctic fox who was a resident of the CZ (children's zoo). DJ definitely had "his" people, but when you were one of his inner circle he would greet you with a big toothy grin, eyes squinted in delight, bushy tail swishing, and an earsplitting yodel of joy. He was such a beautiful boy, one of my favorites to work with for the entire five years I worked at the CZ. Sadly, when they shut down the old CZ to build the new, fancy Children's Zoo he was sent to a zoo in Rochester New York and I lost track of him without getting to say goodbye (lesson learned; don't give your heart to an animal that you do not own).

Initially my responsibilities as a volunteer including staffing both petting pens (walk in with deer, goats, and other barnyard type animals, and sit-down, with small exotics and native wildlife such as raccoons, opossums, guinea pigs, ferrets, etc). In those days where threats of a lawsuit or OSHA were distant unlikelihoods, there were LOTS of hands on opportunities for the general public, and we didn't think much of taking a bunch of teenagers and putting them in charge of a zoo full of wild animals without so much as a signed permission slip. I am SO glad I grew up in that world rather than today, though sometimes I look back and shake my head at some of the risks we took without even blinking an eye. The CZ volunteers provided much of the hands on animal contact and one-on-one interaction with the public. It was a lot of fun, and for someone who was painfully shy it was an excellent experience in teaching me how to talk to strangers.

The luckiest (read, hardest working and most gullible!) of the volunteers were invited to stay on and work weekends over the winter. Winter was great fun, as the number of visitors dropped dramatically and there was much more time for one on one interaction with the animals, and usually opportunity to work with some more interesting and exotic animals than we were allowed to as part of the general volunteer population in the summer.

Eventually I was hired and worked full time during the summers as well as on Saturdays in the winter. Not only were the animals lots of fun, but I also made an interesting and eclectic set of friends. Some of you may recognize the girl may know her now as Dr. Kathy Wright (Huff), our veterinary cardiologist at the CARE center. Kathy and I worked together for a number of years at the zoo, doing lots and lots of wildlife rehab together (her mother was MUCH more lenient than mine when it came to sheer numbers of cages full of wildlife in the backyard) and ultimately she was the one who got me hooked on dog shows. This picture below is of Kathy and one of the grey foxes she raised as part of the Raise and Release program. I believe this one was named Pumpkin and ended up on display in the Woodlands exhibit when the new Children's Zoo opened.

Below is another friend, Rachel Perlstein, and Kubla Kahn, our baby camel that we bottle raised one winter. Rachel also worked in the CZ for several years and was so much fun! I have lost track of her over the years but I'm sure she is doing something interesting and unique! Kahnie grewup to be part of the camel rides at the zoo. He was one of my favorite babies that we raised.

One year the zoo somehow ended up with a surplus of lion cubs and we ended up raising several in the CZ. I believe the two below were called Bo and Solo; how lucky was I to grow up playing with lion cubs, raccoons, and camels? They were SO much fun, though I did have a few bumps, bruises and scars to show!

We also were responsible for the Frisch's Discovery Center, which was a hands on lecture area with its own group of demo animals. At that time, the zoo maintained a tiger cub who was the Bengals mascot ("Benzoo") and attended the games. He lived in the Discovery Center and we were responsible for his care part of the time. The big cats were some of my favorites to work with.

Somewhere during this time frame, I was at the education center one day when a special delivery arrived...a 12 week old cheetah cub from, I believe, the Columbus Zoo, who was to live with Cathryn Hilker and be the first of her demo cats in a new education program. "Angel" started a whole new era at the zoo. I remember this was the first time I saw someone using a clicker to train with and I was very intrigued, but there was not much opportunity for me to get involved at that time.

However, Cathryn was good friends with Kathy Wright and her family and so I was included in an invitation to go out to Cathryn's farm and play with baby Angel. Another experience of a lifetime...I am so lucky to have had pages of my life taken from a Disney nature film!

Below is "Whistles", a Moluccan cockatoo who was another of my "special" babies. Whistles was truly a devious and evil bird; she HATED volunteers and definitely could recognize the signature red shirt. However, she delighted in tricking them into THINKING that she liked them- she would sidle closer and closer, cooing and muttering to them the whole time, and when they finally couldn't resist and reached out to pet her she would nail them with lightning speed. Then she would screech and laugh and dance around with her feathers all standing on end- she thought it was the best game ever! Luckily she loved me and would ride around as I did rounds with my pooper scooper either on my shoulder or on the handle of the dolly I lugged my trash can full of poop around on. Birds can live to be quite old, I suppose it's possible she is still living at the zoo, though I haven't seen her since a few years after I went away to college.

At that time the children's zoo was run by a crew of mostly teenagers in the summer, high school and a few college students who consisted mostly of pretty bright, motivated kids from all walks of life. We had amazingly little supervision at the time- one of our supervisors would typically check in once or twice a day, but otherwise unless there was a problem we handled most everything else on our own. That included care of all of the animals there as well as handling hordes of zoo visitors on a daily basis in the summer. (Working at the zoo gives you a whole new appreciation for the IQ of the animals as compared to the average zoo visitor- the animals come out way ahead!). We had all kinds of animals ranging from typical barnyard animals, to native wildlife, to exotic babies too large for the nursery, and then anything that didn't really fit anywhere else.

Working at the zoo also led me to some other interesting opportunities. I got very involved with wildlife rehab through their old "Raise and Release" program (more on that in a future post). Also, at that time one of the nocturnal house keepers, Paul Strausser, was involved in starting up a Red Wolf Sanctuary on his land in Dillsboro, IN. There was much work to be done and so any and all hands were welcome. In exchange for building fences, digging post holes, feeding birds from their raptor rehab program, and taking care of the feeder rats in the "rat room", we got the opportunity to interact with some of the animals at the wolf sanctuary.

Red wolves were quite endangered and it was going to take quite a bit of work to prove that the sanctuary was an appropriate placement for them, so in the meantime a number of other animals found homes there and served as goodwill ambassadors and fund raising stars. Above I am pictured with one of the grey wolves.

At that time, four grey wolf cubs arrived and there was much work to be done to accomodate them. We helped to build a huge enclosure with 15 foot tall walls. At the time of these pictures I think the wolves were going through a "teenage" stage. There were two males and two females; Bridger, Sierra, Aspen, and the fourth name escapes me...

While not exactly tame, the wolves did enjoy interacting with people though you had to exercise some caution and obey some basic rules. In addition to these babies, there were three red wolf/coyote hybrids, a cougar, and numerous birds of prey.

I have pictures of the other animals and birds but have not scanned them yet; I will save them for another post some day. Our overnight camping trips to the RWS, sleeping out in the woods with just a sleeping bag and listening to the wolves howl, were some of the most fun experiences I had as a teenager. We worked HARD but the trade off was worth it! It was a beautiful place and I was terribly jealous- who WOULDN'T want to live there?

The zoo provided so many of the area's youngsters with a unique opportunity to learn hands on about the world around them. Thanks to the efforts of people like Barry Wakeman (then curator of education), Thane Maynard (now zoo director, then I believe assistant curator of education) and Randi Mohn, who mentored the volunteers and interns, as well as my long suffering boss Frank Hoffman and his "second in command" Carol Schottelkotte who ran the nursery and Children's zoo, a whole generation of kids got to grow up knowing what it sounded like when a cheetah purrs, what it's like to get up every three hours to feed a litter of baby raccoons, and how to handle work responsibilities with your pockets full of baby possums. I might have missed some birthday parties and trips to the mall, but I wouldn't trade my zoo days for ANYTHING!

If any of my old zoo friends, coworkers and volunteers happen to find this post, I would love to hear from you again!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thunderstorms and fireworks...

Tis' the season! In our area we are enjoying a bumper crop of thunderstorms lately; plus at my house at least it seems that we are hearing fireworks more and more. At my previous house, I lived near the riverfront and we had fireworks almost nightly from the Reds and Bengals games and various fireworks displays; my dogs got very well socialized to them and so they and thunderstorms were never an issue. However, it has been almost 4 years since we moved; and since Andy has been gone Cory has suddenly decided that he is worried about fireworks. Great.

These phobias often times seem to worsen with age (though eventually as the dogs get quite geriatric they often get hard enough of hearing that they start sleeping through them). I thought it was good timing to post a few tips for how to deal with the early or milder cases.

Firstly, a word towards PREVENTING problems. When I got both Andy and Cory as new puppies at my old house, I took advantage of the frequent fireworks exposure. EVERY time we heard fireworks I would jump up from the couch, run into the kitchen calling them excitedly, and it would start to "rain cookies"- I grabbed a handful of small treats and literally threw them up in the air so they showered down and the dogs wer diving and gulping them as fast as they could. This created a GREAT positive association with the noise, pretty soon as soon as the dogs heard the fireworks they were running for the kitchen. You can do this at home with new puppies (or even adult dogs- it never hurts!) every time you hear thunder rumble or a neighbor starts firing bottle rockets. It also may work for dogs who are mildly anxious but not in full fledged phobia mode.

For dogs who already are showing signs of anxiety, there are several things that may help. CDs of thunderstorm sounds are not difficult to find; I believe they are even sold at Target; but googling them should provide lots of options for ordering. Start out playing it at a low enough level that you see no reaction from the dog; play it at night just at dinner time or if you prefer, play it and offer special treats and games. Gradually increase the volume until (over probably several weeks) you can turn it up to full, window rattling volume without bothering the dog. This often works; but for some dogs can take a LONG time; also there is more to the phobia than just the noise, so dogs may acclimate to the CD but still show fear during actual storms.

One relatively safe, inexpensive, and benign option to try is melatonin. Melatonin is available over the counter without a prescription as a nutritional supplement; people often take it to counteract jet lag or help them sleep. In dogs there are several uses but one is to help with mild anxiety. Most dogs can take one standard size tablet (usually 3 mg) at bedtime- check with your vet as there are a few contraindications but in general it is safe and has few interactions. Particularly if you catch the problem early, before it is deeply ingrained, this can be helpful.

Another product I have found useful for anxiety issues in general is the DAP collar. DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone. Pheromones are chemicals that are secreted by the body in order to stimulate a response from other members of the species. It is thought that pheromones function in "chemistry" between people or the "love at first sight" response (though the pheromone colognes do not seem to have any magical powers!). In animals they may serve to help mark territory, send an alarm message, or even guide bees to a new hive. The DAP is the pheromone secreted by bitches when they are nursing their young, and is thought to be a stress relieving substance. It is available commercially as either a spray, or a collar. The collar is similar in appearance to the old flea collars. It lasts about a month; it must be fitted snuggly as the heat from the dogs' body activates the release of the pheromones from the collar. I have used one on my own dog for mild stress related issues and found it to be fairly helpful. It may be one useful tool for dogs with thunderstorm phobias as well. I plan to make sure my dog is wearing a fresh one when he boards by himself for the first time in a few weeks; and also have one for my potential new puppy to wear when he makes his trip to his new home and also begins to travel with us to various dog shows. While I have not found it to be a "miracle cure", I definitely have noticed a calming effect when I have used it on my own dogs and would definitely give it a try.

I often am asked about "thunder coats" or anxiety wraps; these are wrap or jacket type products designed to wrap snuggly around the dog and advertised as helping to decrease anxiety associated with storms. I have not tried them myself and initially was pretty skeptical of how effective they would be; however, in light of some recent studies about how confinement and pressure can relieve anxiety in autistic children I would not totally discount the possibility that they could have some effect. I think it also is possible that many dogs when fitted with such a product will simply refuse to move- don't know that it necessarily means they are less anxious, but may just interrupt the pacing/escape type response. In any case, I think they fall under the category of unlikely to hurt so give it a try.

Some dogs have serious enough phobias that they truly become difficult to live with and may even be destructive or injure themselves. Those dogs may need prescription medications in order to help them cope with their stress. Many of the medications we use take some time to become effective, so it is best to talk to your vet well BEFORE the season starts if you think your pet may have serious enough issues to warrent medical intervention. I am not a fan of tranquilizers for these dogs, as I think it does nothing for the underlying anxiety and may actually accelerate the dogs' fear. In most cases we need anti-anxiety or behavior modifying medications. Talk to your vet about whether or not this may be appropriate.

Finally, a word of warning; July is often a month in which many pets get lost because they are outside in the yard or, even worse, on an invisible fence and panic and bolt during a storm or fireworks. PLEASE remember to supervise your pet closely and not leave him outside unattended this time of year if he tends to have anxiety in response to loud noises, and make sure that he has appropriate identification (collar tags and/or microchip) on at all times. It may save you a lot of grief in the long run!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Your daily cuteness quota!

Cory and Zoe's babies are three weeks old today. I went to visit them last night and they are SOOOOOO CUTE! They are starting to move around and be really active and they definitely have minds of their own. The boy has the wide blaze and white muzzle and the girl has the narrower blaze. If you have a slow connection, you are going to just hate me.

The two above are the boy; below is the girl.


Girl, above and the next five below.

Oh. My. God. I could just snatch them up and steal them (and I generally consider myself to have a pretty good immunity against cute puppyitis!).

Girl on left, Boy on right.

Poor baby boy...being a puppy is exhausting!

Remember when you only had to dodge your annoying friends with endless pictures of their grandkids at the grocery store? Now you even have to look at their grandDOGS clogging up your email boxes! But I just can't help myself!

OK, little guy, you are a DEAD RINGER for Rodney the guinea pig in the Dr. Doolittle movie with Eddie Murphy!

More girl below.

Last little boy shot above. And for those of you who haven't had quite enough cute yet, we have live action cute in the video below.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Early puppyhood enrichment

Cory's babies are thriving and doing well. I visited them when they were one week old; fat, happy and nursing well, but eyes and ears still not open. However, that didn't stop us from giving them their first agility lesson!

Above is the little girl; she is so fat I was afraid her head would get stuck in the tire.

In the tunnel is the little boy. At 7 days old, already he is the mouthy one who complains loudly about everything and barks and cries in his bed. Sometimes you just can't fight genetics....!

Here's the boy again on the A-frame. In case you haven't caught on yet, this isn't REALLY an agility lesson, just a cute photo op! Though it's never too early to get them used to lots of new sensations! And of course, we expect them to be VERY advanced ;-).

Boy on the left, girl on the right. Boy was born first, but girl has been a bit bigger and quicker to mature all along.

And as long as we are on the shameless brag wagon, I will just add that on Sunday June 13 Cory finished his CD (AKC Companion Dog) title. He earned all three legs in a row with a 1st, 3rd, and 4th place in classes with some very nice competition. We still have a LOT of work to do to get him working like I think he can, but I didn't want to get in the same position I was in with his father, of racing the clock trying to finish advanced titles on an older dog. Plus, novice is BORING- now we can move on to open and utility and do the fun stuff!