Make sure you check out Charis Maloy’s piece on how she juggles multiple roles and plans for future happiness. Lena Corazon talks about learning to love the spaces between and shares her poetry, and Louise Behiel describes keeping her sanity when it feels like she’s between a rock and a hard place. These ladies stories are all inspiring, you won’t want to miss them!
Thank you to SJ Driscoll for hosting the Being Between series.
“Look! A seal!” A little boy points excitedly. Mom, walking nearby peers in the direction her child is pointing. A sausage-shaped creature lolling just above the surf line blinks back at her.
“Is it a seal, Mommy?”
I know this has been a burning question for so many of you. It’s even tripped up animal expert Randall. In this video he refers to a seal as a sea lion, incorrectly. Oh the horror!
Aside from that, it’s a cool video and for an excellent cause too. Yay Randall!
I know, it’s a huge issue, and I’m here to help. In a few brief sentences, I’m going to make all of you pinniped experts.
Pinnipeds are aquatic mammals; the name means wing-, or fin-footed. This group includes seals, sea lions and walruses. No one has trouble recognizing a walrus.
Big tusks, googly eyes and a huge moustache of sensitive whiskers. Easy!
Seals and sea lions are just as simple, once you know what to look for. Just remember, a true seal has no ears.
See how this lil’ cutie above just has a hole immediately behind his right eye? No external ear flaps for the true seals. These guys have very short, clawed front flippers, although you can’t see the claws in this pic. The true seals are incredibly graceful swimmers, but they inch along like fat worms on the beach. Their front flippers are too short to prop them up very far, and they drag their hind flippers behind them.
Their movement on land may be slug-like, but seals are able to climb and maneuver over obstacles such as rocks and logs.
A sea lion, on the other hand, has external ear flaps.
See how this pretty girl also has long front flippers? Sea lions can pull all four limbs underneath their body and run down a beach like a dog. They’re actually pretty quick, faster than you and me over the short distance, so if you ever do see one, or more, on a beach make sure you keep your distance. Federal law actually prevents you from approaching them; all pinnipeds are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Do not attempt the following:
Yes, it was the best job in the world. Harpo was a total sweetie, and he met thousands, quite possibly even millions of people in his years at the San Diego Zoo as an animal ambassador.
So, what is Harpo?
I had dreams of writing, even when I worked at the Zoo. Then, I used to think I’d write my memoirs. I figured by the time I’d put in 20 or 30 years I’d have enough memories cached away to make some interesting stories. I even had a title for my autobiography: Dead Mice In My Pocket. Catchy, right? I mean; if you saw that sitting on shelf at Barnes and Noble, you’d pick it up, wouldn’t you?
When you work with exotic animals, you get used to having a lot of odd things in your pockets, dead mice being only one of them.
It was a great career; I had a blast, made lasting friends and have treasured memories. Animal training is every bit as rewarding and heartwarming as it looks on TV. Exotic animals are not pets, but the emotional bonding is the same, at least on this human’s part.
I worked with sea lions, wolves, some big cats, birds of prey, many different types of reptiles, wild dogs, porcupines, and so many more. I get asked all the time, ‘which one was your favorite?’ They all were, for very different reasons.
Akela, the timber wolf, was such a funny pup. We took turns babysitting him off site for a few weeks, before the hospital had room to quarantine him. Those were some rough shifts let me tell you! Daytime TV, a wolf puppy snoozing in my lap, and I’m getting paid? Sweet!
Harpo was the first sea lion I worked with. He was already elderly and blind by the time I started, and he was the one all trainers started on. Harpo was the equivalent of the solid, reliable plug you put first-time horseback riders on; won’t startle, won’t bolt. But he was no push-over, if you weren’t consistent or clear in your training, he wouldn’t work for you. Same with Corky, the harbor seal.
Honda, the small-toothed palm civet. Get it? Honda…Civet… oh well, I didn’t name him. He really was a sweetie, but he bit so many people he intimidated most. I learned from Honda that sometimes the loneliest ones are the ones that look the scariest at first. Honda was a big love once you knew how to work with him, and not let him bite.
Jezebel, my sweet Harris hawk; she was nothing but joy to work with. She came to us a naïve, untrained bird, and became one of our most reliable free-flight birds. I’d go running up to the top of the stadium to catch her as part of the show, a glove on one hand and a dead mouse for her in my pocket. The best part was hearing the squeals as people seated close by watched her eat; she was not dainty and entrails frequently went flying. Nature in action, people, it’s what you came here for.
Every day, I was grateful. “Man, they’re paying me to cuddle a cheetah!” went through my head more times than I can count. I’m still grateful, and yeah, I do miss it. But, right now, I’m content with my dogs, cats and chickens. Oh yeah, and one fish. I tell Max (he’s a Betta. Get it? Betta Max? **sighs**) he’s lucky he’s so small, or he’d get thrown at a sea lion.
Not really, and Max knows I’m just kidding. He’s shaking his fins at me right now.
I was lucky enough to have that dream career. When I was a kid, if you asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always answered, “Animal trainer!” For eight years I lived that dream, and it was glorious. Really.
But what happens when you’ve reached a goal? Do you stop setting them? I loved my job, but I stopped growing, and I needed to get away from an environment that was entirely too comfortable for me. I didn’t think in these terms when I was going through it, but in retrospect I can see that I needed to grow in ways that my animal training career and lifestyle couldn’t provide. So I uprooted and transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, and learned about new goals, and how to grow.
What’s your dream job? Do you have it? Are you seeking it? Have you reached your goals?
I love hearing from you! I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read and comment and I value your insights and opinions.
Wild Wednesdays will return! However, I’m putting them on hold for a few weeks. Extra days and longer hours at work are keeping me from getting my weekday posts up, but Weird Weekends will continue.
Thank you for reading, and I promise, there’s more animal training, zoo tales, and garden adventures in the works. By the end of the month I will have plenty of free time for writing, and after my surgery, well, writing is probably all I’ll be good for, at least for a little bit.
A long, busy day, but I am determined to keep up my Wild Wednesday posts. Today I made chicken dinner, a whole lot of chicken dinners, actually. When I started the day, I had 15 of these:
Now I have this:
But nobody really wants the details on that, and I’m too tired at this point to wax eloquent on any subject. Instead, I’m going to let my pictures do the talking. Let me introduce to some of the animals I used to work with:
I am really looking forward to sharing some of their stories with you, but you’ll have to come back and visit again. I have a lovely 4-day weekend coming up, so I’ll make it up to all of you with the next installment. And, you won’t want to miss the upcoming Weird Weekend!
Ready to sink into my comfy chair with a good book. Goodnight all!
At work, I am affectionately (I think!) known as the Crazy Chicken Lady. Not many people raise their own meat and egg-producers, and as someone pointed out, “You know, they sell eggs and chicken at the grocery store, you don’t need to go to all this work.” Yeah, I did know, thanks! I raise chickens because I really enjoy knowing that some of the food my family and I eat is raised, and killed ethically, treated humanely and that I provide them with the best life possible while they are with me.
But that’s not the only reason…chickens are fun, they give you eggs, they’ll rid your garden of pests, and they’ll eat your weeds. With the right handling they can even be affectionate. Really! Okay, I also know not everyone wants to commit to this level of urban farming, and no worries, it’s not for everyone.
However…if you’ve ever thought you might like to try your hand at chicken ranching in the city, go for it! I’ll bet you find it’s easier and more rewarding than you thought. Here’s what you need:
A safe place for the chickens to sleep and lay eggs
A safe place for the chickens to spend the day
See? Simple, but, of course there is also the time commitment factor. Expect to spend some time every day with your flock, feeding, watering, gathering eggs and cleaning their pen. It’s important to get to know your birds, so spend some time observing their behavior and how they interact. If you know how your girls act normally you’ll be able to quickly spot if one starts to exhibit signs of stress or illness. On workdays, I take between 5 and 10 minutes in the morning to let the girls out and make sure feed and water is full for the day. I take 15 minutes or so in the evening after work to check each one, gather eggs, top off water and food, and close them in for the night. Weekends and days off I move them to different pens for variety, clean pens and scrub feeders and waterers.
Where do you get your chickens? I ordered mine from McMurray Hatchery but most feed stores will have live chicks in the spring, or you can search online through places like Craig’s List or even the newspaper will likely have a pet or livestock section.
Chicks Or Older Girls?
This is entirely up to you. Chicks are fragile and require extra care, can die easily and often without warning or sign of sickness, but they will be the least expensive option. For best success you should keep them indoors, in a draft-proof pen (I used a large cardboard box) and a heat lamp is a must. They won’t start to lay until they’re around 4 months old, so you’ll have to be patient, but you’ll get the most eggs out of a bird in her first year or so; after about 2 years, egg production drops off. Pullets (hens under 1 year) or hens will be anywhere from $8 to $20 per bird, but less likely to die on you spontaneously. You’ll have the instant gratification eggs almost immediately, but if you buy older girls, you may have slower egg production. You might consider this a bonus if it’s just you or one other person and you don’t know what you’d do with a bunch of extra eggs. I just sold my 2 ½ year old hens, 4 of them, to a family that wanted to try chickens but didn’t want to bother with chicks this year.
Where Chickens Come Home to Roost
Hens need a henhouse; someplace they can sleep at night, with nest boxes for egg laying. A henhouse needs to be secure from predators; things like foxes, coyotes, cats, raccoons and even rats love to find henhouses with easy access. Chickens shut down in the dark. Their eyesight is poor at night and they know that lots of things out there in the dark like to eat them, so their instinct is to find a safe place to roost when the sun goes down and not move until morning. If a night-roaming predator makes it into your henhouse, your girls will not have a chance, and the predator will have an easy meal.
Nest boxes should be big enough that your hens can stand up, 12” x 12” x 12” should do. Make them easy to access for egg collection and cleaning.
Chickens also need some land they can forage around in during the day, but you still need to protect them from wandering predators. Cats, hawks, roaming dogs are all a danger to your flock.
There are plenty of online chicken supply sites. Check out places like My Pet Chicken, Omlet, or Backyard Chickens for more information on breeds, chicken coops for sale, plans to build your own coop, feed and equipment. A plethora of chicken information is available to you.
You should check your local laws regarding keeping chickens in your town. Some have limits on how many birds you can keep, and many prohibit roosters. You also want to be a good neighbor; let yours know you plan to add chickens to your yard. Generally, free eggs help smooth things over.
This is my henhouse. It’s in my garage, so my hens are doubly protected from the elements. It also means I can clean it in the coldest and wettest seasons and still stay dry. The nest boxes are on the left, the perches are on the right, and there is a door cut into the garage wall that gives them access to their enclosed run. The run is roofed over with chicken wire, and it runs on two sides of the garage, giving the girls plenty of room to roam. They are safely enclosed in the run, and I don’t worry that the neighborhood cats are stalking my hens while I’m at work. I’ve never, ***knocks on wood***, lost a bird to predation. Also, I have two other pens that I can rotate my flock to during the day to give them some variety and a change of scene.
Feeding. There are lots, and lots, and lots of commercially available chicken feeds out there. I give my girls a locally milled, non-GMO, organic feed, but your local feed store should have a good selection or be able to answer any questions. You can also give your chickens scraps: left over greens or fruit, plain yoghurt or cottage cheese. They love to hunt for bugs; if you turn them loose in your yard to forage they will help control pests. However, if you have delicate or valuable plants, you will want to protect them from scratching chickens. Laying hens need extra calcium for making shells, be sure to provide plenty of oyster shell (again available at feed stores). I just fill up a feeder and leave it to the hens to eat it when they need it. I figure they know better than I when they need more calcium.
Hens drink more water than you think. Provide them with plenty of fresh water daily.
Enjoy those fresh, delicious and good-for-you eggs! Read here about why your eggs will be healthier than those produced by factory farm chickens. Yes, there is a difference!
Have you raised chickens? What are some of your favorite breeds? Do you long for some little cluckers of your own? What else do you think you’d need to make your fowl fancies come true?
I always enjoy reading your comments! Thank you for stopping by and please share your thoughts with me.
All pictures are taken by and under copyright to me. Please ask permission before using. Thank you!
Usually on Wednesday I post dog-training articles. Lately though I’ve been including posts on my growing chickens and spring gardening and I’ve been considering including some of my animal training stories from my zoo days.
The dog-training themed Wednesday posts needed some expansion, and thus the inspiration for Wild Wednesday. If it’s about animals, animal training or the environment, I’ll be writing about it.
The chicks are chicks no longer, and the garden is growing along. The fuzzy little balls of fluff now more closely resemble the dinosaurs they’re related to, with a crazy mix of real feathers, old down and bare skin. Scaly, too long legs and protruding eyes make them ugly cute. When I watch them establishing their pecking order, flapping their tiny wings and bobbing and weaving, facing off with their sisters, I can’t help but think of their extinct relatives. It makes me wonder just how old the behavior rituals I’m watching really are.
We’ve separated the meat birds from the egg-layers, and moved them into the outdoor pen. It doesn’t matter how many articles I read about the incredible growth of these Cornish crosses, I am amazed at how big they are. At just a few days over a month old they are more than double the size of the egg-layers hatched the same day. They have blossomed too, being able to scratch in the dirt, eat grass and bugs and in general, act like chickens, has them bobbing and wing-flapping like their smaller sisters.
We’ve been graced here in the Northwest with some glorious spring weather lately, in a much appreciated pattern; beautiful, warm, sunny weekends, with off-and-on showers during the week. In Seattle? I know, right? Shocking! Seems we’re getting the benefit of the climate change train at this point in time.
I added some pretty to the temporary herb garden. Love me some pansies, dahlias, and gerbera daises. I’m loving the location, but I’m not so sure the plants will. I know it’s still early, but they’re not getting sun until about 1:00 p.m. That’ll change I know, just not sure if it’s going to be full enough sun for herbs or flowers.
I am helpless against herbs and veggie starts, and, okay, plants, at a nursery, but I also really enjoy starting seeds. It is so reinforcing to watch those baby plants poke out of the soil. I swear last weekend I watched the things grow; checked them in the morning and they were barely nosing above ground, checked them in the evening and there were two proud leaves spreading toward the light on almost all of my carefully prepped soil. Look at them now, just a week after breaking ground.
I also went through a bunch of old pics, and scanned a few in. Here’s me, with an old friend; Akela helped inspire my first novel. Don’t worry, I’ll be filling you in on that too in the near future.
Are you a seasoned gardener or a newbie? Are you looking for animal training tips? Do you just plain love animals like I do? Do you long for fresh eggs, and the delicious taste of fresh fruit and veggies out of your own yard, but are afraid to take the huge step of keeping your own chickens or starting your own garden? Then come on in! Drop me a note, let me know your thoughts and ideas. I really love hearing from all of you!
Please keep in mind that all pictures are under copyright to me, and except for Akela’s pic were taken by me. I request that you ask before using. Thank you!
I have been out of the world of dog competition for several years. There was a time when I used to spend a lot of time at dog shows. I would always see clickers for sale, and occasionally discussions would crop up on different training styles. Some were adamant that all dogs should only be trained like dolphins, or marine mammals, others would state that only positive reinforcement should be used “like with animals in zoos” some said you should only train with clickers. But are any of these statements true?
It is entirely possible to achieve results using the above-mentioned methods, but I disagree with the use of the absolute. It has been my experience that the typical dog owner, you and me, does not need to go to the effort of using those types of training systems effectively. A combination of positive and negative reinforcement can be highly effective at shaping the behaviors you want, and raising a happy, well behaved companion. Are you all shuddering now because I used the word ‘negative’? Read on and find out how it’s not as bad as you think. You won’t need a clicker or a whistle.
Being in the worlds of exotic animal as well as dog training I spent a serious amount of time studying and using operant conditioning. I worked at Sea World, I worked at the San Diego Zoo, and I was intimately familiar with training systems used in world-class zoological facilities. I was also teaching dog obedience at the same time, both private and group classes, and I considered several different ways to incorporate clicker training into my classes. I talked about it with my students and got an overwhelming lack of interest in response. It wasn’t hard to figure out why; most people didn’t want to work that hard.
Animal training utilizes the operant conditioning techniques developed by B.F Skinner, and places like this and this will tell you about the man and how his work applies to animal training. It’s a fascinating subject, and far more complex than I’m going to tackle here and now. But I do want to introduce some important concepts.
Animal Training Glossary
Positive Reinforcement. We’ve all heard the term, but what does it mean? How is it useful to animal trainers? The word ‘positive’ is used here in the additive sense. You are adding, or giving something the animals likes, or finds pleasurable, and this stimulus increases the likelihood a behavior will be repeated. When you give a dog a treat, or a sea lion a fish immediately after it does a desired behavior you have positively reinforced that behavior, and the animal is more likely to do it again under the same circumstances. Part of the job of the professional animal trainer working with exotics is figuring out what is positively reinforcing to the animal she’s trying to train. It might not always be food, although that is the most common positive reinforcer. But, what reinforces a dog is not likely to reinforce a porcupine.
Negative Reinforcement. Don’t cringe! This is often confused with punishment, but it is not. The word ‘negative’ is subtractive; something is removed, stopped or avoided. It is the absence of this stimulus that produces the desired behavior. How many of you use a leash and collar, and your dog walks calmly at the end of it? The collar and the pressure it exerts when the dog pulls at the end of the leash is an example of negative reinforcement. The dog is negatively reinforced when he stops pulling and the pressure is relieved. When the dog walks without pulling he avoids that pressure, and he is more likely to walk without pulling your arm off nicely at your side, giving you the desired behavior. It is impossible to put a leash and collar on a sea lion or a dolphin, but a cheetah or a wolf responds well to gentle pressure on a collar.
How is training an exotic animal, a dolphin, a sea lion or a wolf like training your dog? Key principles apply: you need to be consistent, you need an effective communication system, you need precise timing, and you need a lot of patience no matter what you are training. In this sense, training a dog is like training a sea lion is like training a porcupine.
How is training a sea lion not like training your dog? You will never share your home with a sea lion. I loved Disney’s ‘Sammy the Way Out Seal’ when I was kid, but believe me, you do not want one of these in your house.
If a sea lion quit on me during a show, you know what happened? Nothing. The sea lion swam in the moat until he was ready to pay attention again. I did my best to tap dance and the crowd enjoyed a good laugh. Hey, it happens. You review what caused the animal to quit, adapt and move on. Sometimes it was just because it was summer, the sea lion wasn’t hungry and he’d rather be on a beach with the ladies. It’s his biology and DNA telling him what to do, and my fish just wasn’t as reinforcing as the nice cool pool.
What happens if your dog eliminates in the house and you ignore it? Do you laugh? Exactly. We expect certain behaviors from our domestic animals that share our homes that are never taught to animals in zoos. And remember this, they’re domestic! They’re genetically programmed by centuries of breeding to be handled and trained by humans. Domestic animals are very malleable and adaptable to the application of behavior modification techniques, positive and negative reinforcement. The same cannot always be said of exotics.
Can you use a clicker to train your dog? Of course you can, or a whistle, or your iPod if you want to get really creative. Do I recommend it? Nope. The typical dog owner wants a pet that is well mannered, housebroken and knows a few commands. If the dog sits, lies down and comes on command the average dog owner is happy. These are very easy things to accomplish, no clickers necessary.
Ask yourself this: Do you really want to be sure you always have a clicker on you? Can you keep a pocket of treats always full? Remember, consistency is the key to good results in training, if you do not use that clicker accurately, you will confuse your dog. Clicker training is dependent on food reinforcement particularly in the early stages. You would have to adjust your dog’s feeding and limit treats or you could easily train your pet into obesity.
Where is clicker training helpful? Do you want to train your dog to this:
Isn’t that amazing? I don’t know what methods she used, but clicker training is a great way to get such precise, complex behaviors. How many hours every day would you willing to put in to get your dog to do what Rookie does? Most people are happy with a dog that walks at their side as they stroll through the neighborhood, naps quietly while they watch tv and doesn’t freak out when people come to visit. They’re not looking for a dance partner, they’re not looking to compete at dog sports. That is a whole other subject and realm of training. It can be a lot of fun, it builds a tremendously close bond between you and your dog, but it is also a huge time (not to mention money) commitment.
Dogs will respond beautifully if you give them love, and training, but that entails applying positive and negative reinforcement. The animals that live with us need to learn and respect the behavioral boundaries we establish. They need to follow these ‘rules’ all the time, which is the expectation most pet owners have. You want your dog to eliminate outside all the time, right?
But how do you know which reinforcement to apply and at what time? Stay tuned!
Wednesday is usually dog-training day, but I’m expanding the topic to include raising backyard chickens. Eventually I’ll add in some of my zoo animal stories as well. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of dog-training tips and advice coming!
Monday I ordered my new crop of chickens! I’m so excited! Before, I’ve always tacked my chicken order on with my friend’s and she’s taken delivery. So I have not had the joy of hurrying to the post office to collect my fluffy little peepers. This year though, I have no one to share a chicken order with, and so placed my order for 25 to arrive at the end of March. Yes, you read that number right; I will soon be the proud parent of 25 fuzzy little babies. They are every bit as adorable as they look in pictures, too!
Ten of the little cuties are egg-layers, and I picked 5 different breeds, some I’ve had before, and some are new to me. The other 15 are meat birds, Cornish crosses, and will end up on my dinner table. Yum! They mature at 2 months, and in that time they grow amazingly fast; they go from little and cute, to huge, to my freezer in that shockingly short time frame.
Most people though, get chickens just for the eggs, and I have 10 new egg layers on their way. This year I’m getting 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Partridge Rocks, 2 Black Minorcas, 2 Araucanas, and 2 Dark Brahmas. Plus, the hatchery is throwing in one very rare, exotic chicken for free! Yippee! Too bad they’re not telling what breed, and it could be a male, which would not be good. But it’ll be a cool surprise, can’t wait to find out!
You probably know there are white eggs and brown eggs, but did you know some birds lay pale pink eggs, some lay blue-green eggs, and some lay a brown so dark it looks like chocolate? Buff Orpingtons lay pale pink, Araucanas lay blue-green, Black Minorcas lay white, the rest of my girls will lay brown eggs. I’ll have an Easter basket with all the different colors and shades! If you ever get close enough to a chicken, look at her ears. The color of the skin of a hen’s ears is the color of egg she will lay. No joke.
Why do I grow my own chickens? Taste and nutrition. Have you ever had eggs fresh from a small farm? Maybe you have had chickens yourself at some point in time? If you’ve only had store bought eggs from large production farms, then you are missing out. The egg of hen who has access to fresh air, sunshine and is able to move about and do normal chicken things, like scratch in the dirt and eat bugs, is richer in vital nutrients than one kept in tiny cage it’s whole life. Eggs from pastured chickens have:
Have you ever thought about keeping chickens? It’s easily done in the city, and many are discovering the joy of having these beautiful birds share their home. I’ll bet you never thought of a chicken as beautiful before, but just check out what my girls will look like when they’re fully grown:
Over the next few weeks I’ll share with you some of my chicken stories. Keep checking back for hints on housing, raising and enjoying a small flock in your backyard. If you have questions or hints, please share them! I’d love to hear about your own adventures in chicken keeping.
I’ve been working on a new information flyer. What do you think? Does this make you want to hire me?
I WILL NOT TRAIN YOUR DOG
BUT I WILL TEACH YOU
HOW TO HAVE THE
DOG THAT YOU WANT
Do you have a new puppy and no idea what to do with her?
Did you adopt a dog, and you’re having difficulty getting him to listen to you?
Did your dog do great in obedience school, but now isn’t quite as obedient as she used to be?
I won’t train your dog, but I will train YOU! You see, it doesn’t matter if I train your dog; you are the one who has to live with her. A trained dog is not stagnant, like a program on your computer, that once installed works the same always. Unless you reinforce the training daily, it will break down. This is why I hear so many people say, ‘he did fine in obedience class, but now…’ What I will do is help you develop the training skills to comfortably live with your pet.
¨ Gain insight into your dog’s behavior
¨ Learn how your body language influences your dog’s actions
¨ Develop a great relationship with your dog
I will teach you the key components to successful dog training so that you will understand how to teach your dog after I’ve gone home.
I offer consultation on an hourly basis. This is not a one-size fits all dog training course. This is a one-on-one assessment of your needs, and the direction to help you get the dog behavior you want. You decide how many consults you need.
I have over 10 years professional experience training animals in zoos for shows and educational purposes, and teaching obedience classes. Plus training my own dogs for obedience, conformation, agility and herding.