Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sledding in a Winter Wonderland

One of the best things about this years Winter Camp is that the weather actually cooperated with us. We didn't have to worry about a winter storm threatening to shut us down. It wasn't bitterly cold, and we were able to let the kids play outside for a short period of time. And best of all, there was snow on the ground, and it was just the right kind of snow.

HAWS Executive Director, Lynn Olenik has huskys and as a hobby does sled dogging. Each year she brings her dogs and sled into HAWS at Winter Camp time and talks about the hobby and sport of using dogs to pull a sled. If the weather cooperates and the ground has the right amount and kind of snow she takes the kids on a short ride.

Despite the fact that the ride was extremely short, the kids had a blast -- almost as much fun as the dogs themselves!

As winter camp comes to an end I'll start preparing for summer camp. And while taking a ride in the snow on a sled pulled by dogs in July isn't going to be an option, these past 4 days have given me some new ideas to make our kids programs even better in the future.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winter Camp is Back!

In addition to our summer camp, HAWS also runs a Winter Camp during the times kids have off from school between Christmas and New Years. Monday and Tuesday of this week we had 18 kids between the ages of 9 and 12 years of age.

I'm always looking for new activities for the children while they're here at camp. Many of the kids are repeat campers and so I don't want them to get bored. Additionally the number one request from both parents and kids is more time with the animals.

Last week I was reading my November/December 2009 copy of Animal Sheltering Magazine when I came across a very interesting article entitled "Clicking with Shelter Cats" written by clicker training pioneer Karen Pryor who started her career with animals by training dolphins in Hawaii at Sea Life Park in the 1960's (for a fascinating look at her experiences with dolphins read her book "Lads Before the Wind").

The article talked about ways that shelters could use clicker training to make cats more adoptable by teaching them to be more outgoing when potential adopters are in the cat adoption room. A very shy cat who formerly would hide in the back of the cage can be trained to come forward seeking attention through the use of a clicker and some favorite food.

I thought this might be a good activity for our campers, and so I tried it out. The kids were put into teams of two. One held the clicker and a popsicle stick, the other a bowl of tuna with a spoon. When the popsicle stick was put into the cage the cat was clicked for touching it with his nose, and then given a small morsel of food.

This was an extremely successful activity. The cats loved it -- they all came running to the front of their cages once they figured out there was tuna on the line. The kids told me that on a scale of one to ten training cats was a ten, and they all wanted to do it again.

As a dog trainer I am very familiar with the concept of clicker training and use it with dogs all the time. This was my first experience with training cats. We didn't ask them to do anything complicated, but if it made everyone happy it was worth it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

I needed an animal to take to my after-school program at Saratoga Elementary School. It had been a while since I brought a cat there to visit, and so yesterday I found myself in our adoptable cat room looking for a cat to take to school with me.

What I look for in a suitable cat is one that is outgoing, playful, and affectionate. Since I don't often get a chance to spend time with our cats, I rely on the comments our volunteers put on the cage cards, and on how the cats behave as I walk up to the front of their cages. Generally I reject the cats that stay in the back and am more likely to consider the cats that come running up to the door and rub up against it soliciting attention from me. Since this cat will be traveling, going to a new place and meeting lots of kids it has to be a cat that will be able to cope with the stress of that.

One of our adoption counselors saw me looking and suggested I take Grover since he is really affectionate and loves attention. I'm always appreciative of advice in these matters from someone who actually knows the animal. So Grover and I set off for Saratoga School at 3:30 Monday afternoon.

The kids were really excited to see Grover, and once they had settled down and were quiet I opened the crate door. Grover was much less excited to see the kids. He ran off and hid under a cart on wheels. I told the kids we should give him some time to feel more comfortable. As time went on it became apparent Grover wouldn't be feeling comfortable anytime soon.

Poor Grover -- I had to drag him out of his secure hiding place and hold him as the kids petted him. I don't know whether he started to feel more comfortable with the kids, or was just resigned to his fate, but he actually started to relax. And I was able to allow some of the kids to hold him.

No matter how well animals behave in a familiar environment, it's difficult to know how they'll behave when confronted with stress. Grover would have been much happier had he been left behind at HAWS and I had taken another cat. And when he goes to his new home he most likely will need a few days to settle in before he becomes the outgoing socialite our staff has come to know.

Taking an animal to a new place to meet new people isn't the only stressful situation they'll encounter. As we head into the holidays realize that having guests at your house will be just as stressful for many of your pets. Patricia McConnell recently wrote a wonderful post on just this subject on her blog "The Other End of the Leash" and I can highly recommend you read it.

I wish everyone -- human, furry and feathered alike, happy and stress-free holidays!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter in Wisconsin

I had originally thought to write a post about keeping pets inside during the cold Wisconsin weather. But everytime we get a cold snap -- as we are now, the news is full of advisements to bring pets inside. I think most people already know when it's too cold to leave a dog or cat outdoors.

One of HAWS adoption requirements is that the pet must be an indoor pet. Our feeling is that we are adopting our animals out in the hopes that they will become companion animals -- members of the family. If the animal lives outside the humans in the family are less likely to form a strong bond and attachment to the pet. And obviously a pet that lives inside the house is going to spend much more time with their people than one living in the backyard.

I realize that I'm very much an exception in pet ownership -- my dogs share most aspects of my life -- they come to work with me, we hike together, snuggle on the couch as I'm reading or watching a movie on TV. I certainly don't expect that most people will have the strong love and attachment for their pets that I have with my dogs. But I would hope that any pet owner would love their pet enough to enjoy spending time with them on a cold winter day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Great Horned Owl vs. String

While most of HAWS work is with domestic animals, on many occasions we do help out the wild animals of Waukesha County as well.

The other day HAWS was called to come and pick up an injured Great Horned Owl. It turned out the poor bird had gotten tangled in string of some kind. The string was wrapped around the birds body and was tight around one of it's wings.

Mark Hess, HAWS Operation's Manager and Wildlife Rehabilitator gently and patiently removed the string. At the end we had a pile of string and a bird with an injured wing.

Since HAWS doesn't do long-term rehabilitation here, the owl was taken to the Wildlife In Need Center in Dousman for medical evaluation. Hopefully his injuries will make it possible for him to heal and be returned to the wild.

Many times when we talk about how humankind impacts wildlife we're referring to loss of habitat through construction and pollution of air and water. But many times something as innocent looking as a piece of string can be harmful to a wild animal that's just going about it's business trying to survive.