Friday, July 8, 2016

Campers Helping Cats

Camp season is in full swing at HAWS.  Each year I look for new things to do with the campers.  Many of the kids are repeat campers from previous years, and we have quite a few that attend multiple sessions.  New activities are important so that these children have opportunities to experience and learn something new. 

Over the years we've seen that some of the cats in our adoption ward are stressed or even afraid of the environment while in their cages.  In an effort to help these cats our staff and volunteers will frequently drape blankets over a shelf to provide a tent where these kitties can hide. 

And now that we have our shelter cat Toby I noticed that he adores sleeping in boxes, and I've learned that this is common with cats in general. 

One of the Five Freedoms of providing for humane treatment of an animal is the freedom to express normal behavior.  Cats love to hide in general, and stressed cats need to hide to feel better.  Giving a cat a choice about whether he will hide our come out will make a cat secure, and many times stressed cats will take a break in their hiding spot and then make a choice to come out once they feel better. 

Given this information I decided that making hide boxes for the cats would be a good camp activity.  Boxes are pre-cut and handed out to the campers to decorate.  They're given magazines, construction paper, and drawing material and told to get creative.

The kids love this activity and we found that they needed more time than originally anticipated to finish up.  The boxes are adorable -- the campers really outdo themselves. And best of all it seems that the HAWS cats are loving the boxes too - many times we'll see them snoozing in their cozy boxes. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blogger Dog, Brito!

My passion is my dogs and part of that passion and the way I connect with my furry family members is through training.  Training a dog shouldn't be looked at as a chore.  Training can be fun and if done properly becomes one big game for the dog.  It's a lot like the way we like to run our education programs here at HAWS; the kids do some fun activities and learn something along the way!

Because of how I want to train my dogs I've become a big fan of dog trainer Denise Fenzi whose training philosophy matches my own, and who has an amazing way of building relationships with dogs.  I've learned a tremendous amount since I've started reading her blog and books.

Recently Denise published a book for children called "Blogger Dog, Brito!".  The book is written from her dog Brito's point of view in a blog format and he writes about being adopted from a rescue, his introduction to his new family, learning new things, and playing fun games.  We get to see how dogs express themselves through body language, and how they can thrive when someone understands them and allows them to have choices.  It's the perfect book for HAWS humane education program. 

Since our camp started this week, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce the book to our campers.  We read the children a few of the chapters, talked about Brito and how he felt during the situations he described, and then we had the kids do an activity.  The kids could choose to either write a blog from the viewpoint of one of the adoptable animals at HAWS, or they could comment on Brito's blog post from the viewpoint of another animal and draw a picture.  Here are some of the results. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kitten Season

We're coming up on what is commonly known as "kitten season".  That time of year when kittens start streaming in from people who have found them under their porches, on their farms, or in an old shed.  They come in for the most part without a mother, some too young to eat on their own, and others a bit older and showing signs of becoming feral. 

These kittens typically end up on a foster home.  The very young ones will be fed by bottle and pottied by hand.  The older ones will be handled, played with and hopefully learn that living with humans is not such a bad thing after all.  Many times they come out of their shell and become more social. 

When I first started working at HAWS 12 years ago kitten season came rushing in with baskets, boxes and carriers of kittens coming through the doors starting in March and running right through until the end of October -- sometimes even later.  Then most of our cat adoption ward was filled with cages upon cages of 8 week old kittens.  And even though the little ones were adopted quickly, there was a never ending stream to take their place. 

We've noticed a huge change in the last few years.  Kitten season has started with a trickle, and doesn't really get going until the middle of June.  The students in my education programs during the school year repeatedly ask to see kittens, and it's rare that I have any to show them in the spring.  And while our cat adoption ward has many cages of kittens at the height of kitten season, it's not nearly to the level that it was years ago. 

I give credit to HAWS for this transformation.  Our spay and neuter clinic offers free spay/neuter to farms with barn cats, and to residents taking care of community cats; the cats that have no owners. We've also created alliances with other organizations to take cats if we are over-full and they are able. 

HAWS has a goal to create a no-kill community.  Right now we fulfilling that definition with dogs and our small animals.  And we are ever so much closer to that goal with the cats that we take in; we get closer every year.   Spay and neuter to reduce the population works, and HAWS is proof of that. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Hee Haw!

Where do donkeys go when they've been neglected, mistreated, or no longer wanted?  Luckily there are non-profit rescue organizations that are able to take these animals in and care for them either for life, or until they've been adopted into their own homes. 

Holyland Donkey Haven in Mt. Calvery, WI is one such place, and this semester's group of Critter Club members was lucky enough to be able to visit there last Sunday on our regular semester field trip. 

Donkey Haven founder, Angela Langoski could not have been more welcoming to our group as she explained about how she started rescuing donkeys and created a sanctuary.  

We heard personal stories about some of the donkeys -- both sad stories about their past, and happy stories about how they went to their loving new homes.  

Much like HAWS, Donkey Haven is a private non-profit that relies on donations and volunteers to care for the animals and ensure that they will always have a safe place to live. 

Critter Club members all fell in love with these wonderful animals and were astounded at how affectionate, gentle and playful they could be.  We all laughed to see them rolling around on their backs in the dirt, and moved out of the way when they got a bit frisky.  

There were a lot of requests to take one home, but unfortunately getting one on the school bus would have been a logistical problem.  We reluctantly left the donkeys behind with promises to visit again.   

Monday, April 18, 2016


A few weeks ago I was a presenter at a High Interest Day held at Rose Glen Elementary.  Mystic and I spent a morning teaching three different groups of children about training animals, which is one of my favorite topics.  Part of the presentation was a demonstration of Mystic learning something new, and then showing off all his tricks.

Earlier this week I received a large envelope filled with wonderful letters and drawings thanking me for my visit at the school.  There is nothing better for someone who works with kids than to get letters and drawings of appreciation!

I wish I could post all of them, but there are just too many.  Here are some of my favorites!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

It's that time of year!

Things are warming up, we're getting rain instead of snow, buds are forming on trees and grass is getting greener.  In addition to life becoming more enjoyable to us humans, it's also the time of year that HAWS sees a huge increase in the number of wildlife being brought into our shelter.

These animals typically are injured, sick or thought to be orphaned, and will be transferred to a wildlife rehabilitation center until they can be released back into the wild where they belong. I use the term "thought to be orphaned" because many times baby animals are removed when they should not have been. rabbits and fawns in particular are misunderstood.  A concerned citizen sees them without an adult and assumes that they've been abandoned by their parents.  What many people don't realize is that these prey species absent themselves from their babies deliberately.  Hanging around where your baby is located is a good way to tell a predator where to find an easy meal.  The mother rabbit and deer come back  to feed their babies, and then leave again. 

If you are convinced that a nest of rabbits has been abandoned you can lightly cover them with grass and check on them the next morning.  If the grass has been removed the mother rabbit has been by for a feeding.

A fawn will only require assistance if it has been crying for more than 3 hours, or if it is obviously injured.  Observe from a distance - getting too close means that you're spreading your scent in the area of the baby deer and your scent may attract predators.

If you want to help a wild animal you should first find out if it actually  needs help and what kind of help it needs.  A great resource is the Wildlife In Need Center in Dousman.  They have a great FAQ section on their website, or you can call during their clinic hours with questions.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How Long?

"How long did it take you to train him?"

That's a question I hear quite often as Mystic and I do our education programs and he shows off the tricks and manners that he knows.  And it's a question that I'm never really sure how to answer because it's a question that has many answers.

Mystic knows a lot of behaviors.  He started learning stuff at the age of 9 weeks when he first came to me.  But I didn't barrage him with learning new things all at once; a lot of the things Mystic knows were introduced over a period of several years.  As a matter of fact I still sometimes teach him new things.  So does that question mean all the behaviors he knows?  If so the answer is 11 years (his age), although that might make him sound as though he isn't very bright, and Mystic is very smart. 

Mystic learns quickly, but like any individual he picks up on some things faster than others.  His "wave" trick was extremely easy for him to learn because he tends to use his paws a lot.  "Say Your Prayers" on the other hand took many, many sessions of training.  So I could ask the person which trick or behavior they are asking about.

Another aspect to training is the different stages an animal goes through.  There's the initial teaching of what it is the trainer wants the animal to do, the training the animal to do it on cue, and then there's training the animal to do it in a variety of situations with a variety of distractions.  So does the question refer to learning the initial behavior, or getting Mystic to do it reliably no matter when I asked him to do it?

But what most people think is that training an animal is like putting siding on the house.  Once the siding is up it's pretty much maintenance free, and they think that once an animal is trained he's trained.  But training is actually more like learning a sport or musical instrument.  There's learning the skill, perfecting the skill, and keeping up on the skill.

Professional football players don't come back from their time off and play their first NFL game without practicing.  Skills get rusty over time if they aren't practiced and it doesn't matter if you're a human or an animal.

So Mystic might know a lot of stuff, but if I don't practice his skills he will noticeably deteriorate in his performance.  So doing training sessions to practice things he already knows helps keep his skills sharp.

So I guess the answer is still 11 years.