Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's short, and long and doesn't belong in WI?

Yesterday HAWS got a call from the Muskego Police Department asking us to come and pick up an animal. This isn't an unusual request -- HAWS does pick-ups of animals all over Waukesha County. Sometimes it's a stray cat, dog or even ferret that someone found. Sometimes it's a sick or injured native Wisconsin wild animal that we then transfer to a wild-life rehabilitation center.

What made this particular call unusual is that it was a wild animal that isn't native to Wisconsin.

Someone fishing in Big Muskego Lake had seen an alligator over a period of several days and was finally able to capture it. Obviously alligators are not a species native to Wisconsin. The alligator isn't talking, but we assume that he (she?) was someone's pet that had become too difficult to keep, and so that person decided to get rid it it by releasing it into the lake.

Unfortunately the easy way out for the human was the worst thing to do for the alligator. A native of the southeastern part of the United States, the American Alligator would be incapable of surviving the cold temperatures and icy water we get here during Wisconsin winters.

This is not the first alligator found in the midwest this year. About a month ago an alligator was found in the Chicago River -- most likely a victim of a different pet owner unable to care for an animal that was getting bigger and more aggressive.

American Alligators are very aggressive, can live up to 60 years, and can grow to be 13 feet long. It would be very difficult for most people to provide an appropriate habitat for an alligator when full grown, and it would be a dangerous animal to keep without proper precautions. It's not fair to keep a wild animal as a baby only to "get rid of it" as it grows and becomes more difficult to manage.

However, if someone does have an animal they can no longer keep, we encourage them to surrender them to their local animal shelter -- where the animal can be properly cared for.

In the meantime - the HAWS alligator is basking in the warmth of a heath lamp. In a few days he'll be transferred to a reputable rescue in Illinois where he'll get the care that he needs and deserves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Semester, New Start

With the new school year I start my semester-long project with a group of boys from Lad Lake -- a non-profit organization that provides services to at-risk youth. Twice a week five boys from their Day Education Program come to HAWS to learn about dog behavior, training and other topics and actually do some hands on work with our adoptable dogs.

The goal is that they will develop empathy for others, learn patience, and get motivated for academics back at school.

The boys had their first two visits to HAWS this week. The Monday their visit consisted of an orientation to HAWS. They also got to meet Niya -- one of HAWS adoptables.

On Wednesday they watched a PowerPoint presentation on clicker training, had an opportunity to practice their clicker timing with an exercise, and were able to clicker train Mystic to put his toys away.

This is a trick I've worked with Mystic on a few times, but never seem to find the time to actually take it to the next level. The completed trick consists of dog toys scattered around the room -- the dog picks up each toy one at a time and deposits it into a box. By Wednesday's session with Lad Lake I had Mystic to the point where he could pick up a toy a few feet from the box and drop it in most of the time.

At Wednesday's session I warmed Mystic up by familiarizing him with a new box and getting him somewhat consistent with picking up a toy I'd dropped on the floor and putting it into a cardboard box. Then each boy took his turn with the clicker while I gave suggestions as far as when they should click.

The boys did great, however Mystic had a very difficult time when I placed two toys on the floor. He loves carrying around multiple soft toys in his mouth at the same time (his record is 5 at once!) and he just didn't have it in him to drop one toy and leave it behind before he picked up the second. With a little brainstorming the boys and I decided that once he had deposited one toy I would throw a second toy away from the box. This seemed to work better for him.

The Lad Lake boys may be very new at this, but they have excellent timing, and seemed to understand at one point that Mystic wasn't misbehaving, but was a little stressed out. I think this is going to be a wonderful semester.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Animals Aren't People

Over the weekend I went hiking with my dogs. It was a perfect day -- not too hot, and the good company of a friend and her dogs. Mystic suddenly veered off the path, disappeared for a few seconds, and came out of the brush proudly displaying his find. It was the bone of some poor deer that had died from unknown causes. Mystic saw it as a prize -- proudly holding it in his mouth and running down the path. I saw it as a bit disgusting.

One of the most wonderful thing about pets is that animals aren't people. Most pets enjoy our attention, and require very little for them to love us. One of the worst things for many people is that animals aren't people.

Let's face it, we find poop disgusting -- while many dogs like to sniff, roll in, or even worse, eat it. We don't like it when cats scratch up our furniture. Rabbit biting you when you reach in the cage? Almost unforgivable! We want our pets to stop doing such offensive and disagreeable behaviors.

But the truth is -- animals are not people. They have their own instincts, behaviors, and a very different way of looking at the world. While this makes them fascinating to be around, it can also be vexing as a pet owner dealing with behaviors that may not fit in with the "human" way of doing things.

While some of these behaviors can be trained out or modified so that the pet fits in better in our families, we also have to realize that there may have to be some compromise and even allowances of our pet's natural behaviors.

Instead of punishing a cat for scratching -- which is a natural cat behavior, we can teach them to only scratch on a scratching post instead. Instead of getting mad when the rabbit bites and decide not to handle them at all, we can find ways to make it so that the rabbit doesn't feel a need to bite. Rabbits can be territorial and dislike having their space invaded. Allowing the rabbit to come out of his cage on his own instead of being pulled out will make things easier for both of you.

Many dog owners would have made their dogs drop the disgusting deer bone. But I couldn't see any reason that Mystic shouldn't continue to carry it -- since it made him happy. The compromise was that he wasn't bringing it home with us -- I made him drop it at the edge of the parking lot.