Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou died today. I must confess that growing up I didn’t pay much attention to her. That wasn’t about her specifically. I didn’t like to read and I especially didn’t like poetry so I just didn’t have the appreciation that I gained as an adult.  For me, she was a hero in recent years. A few years ago I started getting depressed. Not just a little down, I felt the darkness starting to take over me. Keeping the rescue going in a down economy just tends to take a toll on someone. I had read a few books and was working to keep myself from being completely consumed but it was Maya Angelou that helped me snap out of it.  I was flipping through channels and caught a program on Oprah’s network called Master Class and the whole hour was about Ms. Angelou. There was something about the way she spoke and the words she chose that drew me in.  I felt so uplifted and inspired after watching her. It doesn’t seem real that someone can just “snap out of it” when they are so depressed but it certainly felt that way for me. What she said made a difference to me at precisely the time I needed to hear it.

“Just do right.  Be all that you can be. Live your life in a way that you won’t regret.  You make your own choices.  Make it a better world.  It can be better.  It must be better, but it is up to us.”- Maya Angelou

THE Bite, Part 3

I’ve now attempted to start this next part about 3 or 4 times but it’s proving to be very difficult to write. The early years were full of extremes. At the time I lost my finger my parents had just split up after 24 years of marriage, I split up from my fiancĂ© at the time 6 weeks before the wedding and I had just moved to South Carolina from Connecticut less than a year before and didn’t have a whole lot of friends. My life seemed to be in shambles and then I go and lose a finger. Maybe I simply went into survival mode but I made the best of the next couple of years. I made lifelong friends and had wonderful experiences. It was also the beginning of what was to become a life of being a work-a-holic.

It’s now been 20 years since the bite happened and as clichĂ© as it sounds, I really do remember it like it was yesterday. Last week Dave came into town and we got together with everyone we could to celebrate that anniversary. It was wonderful to see everyone and great to reminisce. It’s bitter sweet though to think of “that” place. So many good times, good memories and good people but unfortunately there’s a side that is unpleasant. Back when we were there it was a privately run zoo which gave us amazing opportunities and taught us so much. Now that I have a whole lot more experience there are so many things that really should have been done differently. It’s true what they say, ignorance is bliss. For me, I will cherish the memories and be grateful for the lifelong friends I made. One thing about it is that we all formed such a tight bond. We were (are) family.

I (as with most of the others) did pretty much everything there since it was a small zoo. I cared for animals, did group tours, stage presentations and other educational needs. But one of the best experiences I had back then was being able to hand-raise some of the babies. The theory was that if all the animals were hand reared they wouldn’t be afraid of people and make for better exhibit animals. It was a novelty and seriously, who can resist a baby anything?  Today I prefer any babies to be parent reared (whenever possible) because it really is better for the animal.  I was fortunate enough to hand raise black leopards, lions, tigers, jaguars, caracals, monkeys, wolves and bears. They came home every night so they could be cared for through the night. It wasn’t easy because you had to learn to distance yourself no matter how much time and effort you put in.  These animals quickly grew up to be big and dangerous so it’s not like they were staying as pets. I must admit there is quite the adrenalin rush when the animal you’ve raised is full grown and you could still work with it. I clearly remember one of the black panthers I raised bringing his chicken over to eat while sitting in my lap. 

Little did I know that raising such a variety of animals back then would be so useful for our own rescue today. Here at Safe Haven we’ve had animals come in pregnant, monkeys that had birth control failure and babies dropped off.  One of the monkeys (Valentino) had to be hand raised because he was rejected by his mother. Nigel was still in England at the time and I went at it alone but he was good enough (for a monkey) that we used him for programs. Most recently we’ve been raising Bardou, a coyote pup that was dumped in someone’s yard (as mentioned in one of my earlier posts). New things and circumstances come up all the time when you run your own sanctuary; I still get surprised when I look back at my past and find some connection that has truly benefitted our own animals.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

THE Bite, Part 2

The hospital we went to was not able to do the surgery. I had to be wrapped up and given lots of drugs then transported to another one. Dave drove and we picked my mother up along way. When we walked in it was like my 15 minutes of fame. Everyone was talking and commenting about “you’re the one that was bit by the monkey”. My first thought (then and it is now) was that it was an ape, not a monkey. I didn’t always correct them. For some reason, I remained rational about the whole thing and came to accept it very quickly. I really didn’t have much else to do while sitting in the hospital for many hours waiting for my surgery. I remember a nurse coming in to take my blood and asking me about what happened. She then asked so “what are they going to do?” I matter-of-factly stated that “oh, they’re going to take it off”. She actually went pale. To this day I’m not sure what upset her so much the thought of the amputation or my casual attitude.  I was given a choice when it came to the surgery. I could have my hand numbed, my arm numbed (so I could watch) or put fully under. I really wanted my arm numbed and to be able to watch. Just as they were wheeling me in they changed their mind and put me under. To this day I regret that; I wish I could have watched it. To me the worst part of the whole thing was waking up from the surgery. I had a very hard time with that and literally thought I was going to die. Something went wrong and I was choking and gagging yet not able to stay awake to get enough air. I made it through and arrived home at something like 5:00 in the morning. You really learn who your true friends are when you go through and experience like that. So many people stepped up and did so much to help me through. I also lost a few friends over it too. One in particular could not understand why I would possibly go back to work there after all that. She quit talking to me over it. That’s ok though; the friends I made then have become lifelong friends and will be celebrating the 20th anniversary with me.

The doctors told me to stay away from the zoo for several weeks for risk of infection. Of course I couldn’t wait that long. On day two a friend drove me up. The very first thing I did was walk over to that chimp enclosure. I knew it was something I had to do.  Of course, I stayed on the visitor side but I was proud that I went over there at all. I did go back to work at the zoo a few weeks later.  I needed to understand why it happened. Here was a permanent thing that happened and I wanted to know absolutely everything I could about the reasons behind it. I was told that the chimp was jealous. That sounded so weird to me but it took me another year to fully realize that it was absolutely true. Rosie liked her regular keeper Dave and I was too new to see the signs that she did not appreciate having me around. It would not have mattered if Dave was there or not for her to bite me. Chimpanzees have the intelligence to wait for the right opportunity no matter when it is.

I moved up to becoming the full-time primate keeper and not only worked with chimps but worked with the very chimp that took off my finger. It was a daily battle between the two of us. She was constantly spitting at me or throwing things. I did well with them though. No one knew better than I did what could happen if you make one simple mistake. A male chimp came along that developed a crush on me. He was amazing to work with and so gentle with me. I could put my arm along the cage (keeping it on the outside) and he would groom my arm and under my nails. But if a person came in the building, especially if it was a male that was close to me such as my brother, he would go berserk. He had an enormous plastic drum as part of his “furniture” and he would pick it up and throw it against the wall like it was a soda can in a fit of rage. The strength behind these animals is truly amazing. I have a huge amount of respect for them and enjoyed the challenge of working with them. That being said, I would never have one here at our sanctuary. 

I do have to say that there was one piece of advice from a dear friend at the zoo that has always stayed with me. I did have some moments of struggling with the concept as you would expect. She told me that I had to mourn the loss. I had lost a part of me as if I lost a best friend and that I had to allow myself to mourn. That concept was so healing and made all the difference in the world.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

THE Bite

*warning: graphic description

I saved this one for today. Today is a special 20th anniversary. Good or bad, depends on your perspective but none-the-less it was a life changing event and I have embraced it from the beginning.  I was brand new to the zoo field and had only been working at this particular place for less than a year. I wasn’t even full time animal staff (yet). I had to work my way up and did that by helping the animal staff as much as I possibly could. This particular day I was helping Dave feed the Chimpanzees.  It was just before the park closing and we were standing in front of the chimpanzee enclosure in the park.  This meant that visitors were standing behind us watching us feed them.  I dropped some food and reached down to pick it up to move it closer.  One of the chimps named Rosie reached out and grabbed my arm and pulled it into the cage biting down on my hand.  Dave instinctively grabbed my arm and Rosie’s face poking her in the eyes to get her to let go.  I didn’t scream or cry out.  In fact, I felt nothing.  I was focused on the fact that I could not feel a finger anymore, it wasn’t just numb; I actually felt nothing.  I have no way to explain it but I knew there was a void.  I immediately grabbed my hand so tight that Dave had to literally pry my fingers apart to get a look at it.  All he said was that we need to get to the hospital.  I don’t remember what we talked about but he kept talking and managed to keep me from going into shock.  At the hospital I had several doctors looking at my hand.  They had me go through a series of movements to see if any mobility was left.  The truth was there would never be any mobility.  In fact, although the bones were there absolutely nothing was left on them. I was never able to look it straight on. I could see it out of the corner of my eye and was able to stay detached. It was like something out of a movie, a horror movie no less.  I was told my choice was a series of extremely painful skin grafts or to amputate.  I chose amputation.  It was the better choice especially since we were dealing with an animal bite.  It was only then that I started to cry. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Introducing Bardou

It’s been a lot longer than I anticipated for my next post. When one is in pain the ability to do so many little things is lost. I managed to get bit by a fire ant (or possibly spider) and have an allergic reaction to it. I was in a great deal of pain for 5 days. For me that's saying a lot because I have a high threshold for pain but I am finally on the mend although the site looks quite ugly. I will spare every one of the nasty details.  I got bit because I was sitting in the grass with our newest animal.

We have been hand-raising a baby coyote for about 2 weeks now.  The couple that turned it in found it in their front yard. The strangest part about this was that they live on an extremely busy main road.  They knew it was not just a puppy and could not possibly care for it properly, not to mention he was badly dehydrated and not doing well. We took him in and found that he was less than 3 weeks old. At this age it’s remarkable at how much wolf pups, coyote pups and fox kits all look alike. He was named after a wolf, Bardou, although it was the least likely option because of his size. In only a few days enough of him grew to see the details. To be perfectly honest, we had to send photos to experts because we do not have the experience needed to see such minute details in wild canids (aka canines). What we have is a coyote and why he was in someone’s front yard will forever be a mystery. It was too late for him to be rehabbed and released (unfortunately) because he had been imprinted on people so we decided to hand-raise him ourselves and use him for education.

Nigel and I both have hand-raised quite a few animals but it has been number of years for each of us. Our combined list includes lions, tigers, leopards, lemurs, parrots, monkeys, bears and wolves (among others). It’s an amazing experience. Very rewarding and exhausting at the same time.  People always tend to offer to the help through the bottle feeding days but they don’t realize that that is not the hard part. The tough times are when they get a bit older and more mobile. You not only have to keep up with them but teach them all sorts of new things about being a wild animal living among people.  It’s the little things like not allowing anyone to “play rough”. It’s cute when they’re little but when they grow up to be a full grown lion (for example) it’s not so cute. 

Bardou struggled in his first few days so we didn’t even announce him to the public.  He had to overcome his dehydration only to get constipated by baby formula. It was all a new change to his little body. We got him through it all and he is now eating canned food very well.  He’s exploring more and more now and it’s wonderful to see the world through the eyes of a baby animal. Every noise, every insect, every movement is something new to his world. What a way to learn to appreciate the little things. Although… I got a bit too close to those at least one of those little things. See, now you’ve gotten the first ‘bite’ story and I didn’t even plan on that one.  I don’t do well with fire ants. I would much rather deal with blood and guts before creepy crawly fire ants.  Enough about the bugs though, I got a bit side tracked. I'm sure you will get many updates on the adventures with Bardou. He has already won over the heart of everyone that has seen him.