Monday, January 11, 2010

Life in the menagerie

I'm just kinda laughing at myself today thinking about how much I do and how much of it involves our various animals. Without them I think I'd have so much time on my hands I'd either get something truly amazing done or go insane! Well, ok, insane-R. But really I can't honestly imagine my life any other way. Sometimes they're a pain and certainly a load of work but I believe the benefits they bring to my life far outweigh it all.

It's been just too cold for me to train the horses every day but I'm pleased that I have been out and done a few sessions with the gelding. I've worked with quite a few different animals doing whatever you care to call it, training, molding behaviors, teaching cues, and I feel that while there are some obvious differences in methods depending on the type of animal there are some basic beliefs and such that are common. One of the biggest that quite a few horse trainers locally seem to disagree with me on is that training an animal should not include pain. I feel that a trainer who has to resort to hurting an animal to get a sought after response is a poor trainer. That's exactly why I'm just getting in there and training this horse with no horse training experience all on my own. And with just a few sessions I have to say that I'm very pleased with the results!! I still have to help him get the idea of what I want him to do by waving or flicking the string at him but he really seems to be starting to understand that when I point left I want him to walk left at the end of the line, switching hands and pointing right means I want him to change direction to go right, whoa means to stop and face me, "up!" means to stop dragging his feet and pick up his pace a bit, clicking with my tongue means I want him to trot, and "easy" means I want him to slow down. Plus I'm having a lot of fun really working with an animal again like this, figuring out together how to communicate, and the excitement of seeing them start to understand.

One of the next things I want to add into my schedule is some real training sessions with the dogs too. They're wonderful dogs, we love em dearly, and since we're very critter friendly people their little idiosyncracies don't bother us usually but it can be a little chaotic and embarassing when other people come over! It's something I've heard and have learned is absolutely true, professional dog trainers often have some of the worst trained dogs! lol The problem usually is that when you've been training dogs all day every day for a living you just don't feel like doing it when you get home. I don't have that excuse though! My dog training procrastination comes from the fact that it's not challenging anymore. I speak dog and know just what to do to teach them a cue while training a horse is something a little familiar but still all new. Ah well naughty me! Maybe I'll ground myself to my own room...wouldn't that be great??? lol I'll just have to think up some way to make it fun again.

And something that will never change about my life is dealing with the obstacles of living with cockatoos. Folks, lemme tell you something with all sincerity, the larger birds, amazons, cockatoos, macaws, etc. are NOT domesticated animals. They are still wild animals and therefore can be unpredictable, dangerous to some degree, and not whole living in captivity. They can certainly adapt to some degrees to living with people, some better than others, and made more people oriented by being hand raised by people from the time they hatch but they are still ruled by certain instincts and desires that we interfere with that leaves them at times frustrated, unhappy, unfulfilled, neurotic, viscious, and self destructive. Hand fed young birds usually start off very cuddley and sweet making them very appealing but when they reach sexual maturity all they know is they have the overwhelming urge to mate. If that means tearing through someone to get to mate then that's what they'll do because that's how nature has programmed them. And what's more natural to a BIRD than to fly free??? But they can't do that when we make them pets. I love my two umbrella cockatoos dearly and do everything I can to enrich their lives but a part of me just weeps for them because I do love them so much. I wish they'd been born wild and free even though that means I wouldn't have them in my life. It's on my mind particularly today because Lilly nailed me GOOD this morning.

We rescued Lilly from life with a woman who didn't have time for her anymore and her husband who was openly hostile and abusive towards her so she was just stuck in a cage too small for her without anything to do. That's the exact equivalent of taking a baby and for the first 2-3 years of her life giving her all the love, attention, and mental stimulation you can then suddenly locking her in a cage with very limited movement, ignoring, yelling at, sometimes even throwing things at or hitting her, with no toys or anything other than watching others move around day in and day out. It's horrifying and leaves scars! As a result Lilly hates males with a passion! From the first time I saw her she climbed right up on my arm happy and excited but if any male gets too close she lunges out doing her level best to tear a chunk out of them. She even leaves my arm to chase after any male she sees to try and get them! This morning my husband went to kiss me, I put one hand on Lilly's head to control her momentarily, and in complete frustration she bit the daylights out of my thumb! These birds have beaks that I've seen go through a coconut shell like it was tissue so I know she didn't bite as hard as she could've but I've still got two nasty holes, one on either side of my thumb. You really can't discipline a cockatoo, anything you do just makes them angrier and therefore tougher to handle next time, but when one of them gets too out of hand like this I put them back in their cage to "cool off." It's just one of the things you have to accept when you bring one of these birds into your life! If you can't take a bite then you shouldn't take a bird into your home in the first place.

I wouldn't have things any other way though. I'm an animal lover and I understand the good, bad, and ugly in each of my critter babies. They're family. It's not always easy living with them but it's not always easy living with my husband and children. My husband and children even claim that it's not always easy to live with me! They're completely wrong headed on that score but I just chalk it up to one of the things about them that I've learned to live with *snicker* They've got some bad habits but who doesn't? In reality if I could put everything it takes to have them on one side of a scale and everything that I get back from them on the other I know that they give me more than they take. What else could I possibly ask for from them?

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