Disco, Dart Frogs, Cats, and Canines!

Disco_cats_dogs_pet tips_conscious companion

Hello gorgeous!

Considering the current state of affairs around the world, I thought we could all use some levity.  We all need a break from the fear, hate, insanity, and the seemingly never-ending drama.

This post serves to give you just that.

As promised, I will be swaying between science and spiritual stuff U.F.N. 😉  Since my last post swung to the spiritual side, I thought we could dance to a different beat today!

And once again, I am grateful you are here.

I have to mention; the grammar nerd in me got a kick out of playing around with the comma placement in the title of this post.  If you were confused, this post isn’t about disco frogs, disco cats, or disco dogs, but it does involve these species, with a touch of the genre of music I just adore: disco!

disco shoes dancing retro

I appreciate that this genre of music isn’t everyone’s preferred choice.  But since I am a child of the 70’s I have a super positive association with DISCO that stems way back to childhood and well into high school.  From rocking out to The Bee Gees in the backseat, to breakin’ it down until the break of dawn with my girlfriends; Disco was my dope.

It was a natural high for me.  Even to this day, if I am in a funk, I play F U N K!  Disco can get me movin’ and groovin’ unlike no other music!  Play me some Soundgarden or Bob Marley and I am ready to rock-n-roll or love everything around me.  Put on “Super disco, disco breakin” by The Beastie boys, and I am amped!  But when real old school Disco starts to play … watch out world … my sass emerges and I am ready to shake-that-aaaaaa … !!!

Ok, you get it. 😀  The right kind of music can totally shift me out of a funk.  And as someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain for more than half of my life, music is my medicine.

But I am not unique in this way.

We are all moved by the right kind of tune.  Music shifts our mood.  Chemical reactions occur.  Endorphins are released.  Music promotes positive movement,  and dare I say, healing?

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
― Bob Marley

 

Movement Shifts Energy.  When we physically move the body, it supports and facilitates the movement of Life Force Energy.  When the physical body moves, the energy shifts within.  This is not woo; it’s legit.  Science has yet to prove this fact, but Eastern cultures have known this for centuries.  Our western world is just catching onto this fact.  But this fact is not limited to humans.  Because physical movement shifts energy, physical movement supports the chakras of all living beings.  Animals of all shapes, sizes and species benefit from positive movement and motivation.

But are we, as animal guardians, providing this opportunity enough?

The body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other.” ~ Dr. Candice Pert

 


Back in another life, during my Audubon Zoo Dayz, I was an Enrichment Coordinator. Providing species-specific enrichment for everything from parrots to poison dart frogs was my passion!  So now, providing this necessary, science-based enrichment for companion animals is second nature to me.  My hope, is that once you learn how, this will come naturally to you, too!  Knowing how to do this is vital if we want to provide a healthy environment for our animal companions to thrive in captivity.

blue poison dart frog enrichment _
blue poison dart frogs (Dendrobates) enjoying novel multi-sensory enrichment (hunting for fruit flies out of a seasonal pumpkin)  Seriously. How adorable are they?

 


So what do poison dart frogs have to do with disco, cats, and dogs?  A lot, actually.

We now know that offering a coconut foraging feeder to captive Dendrobates (poison dart frogs) produces new behaviors.  This particular kind of enrichment feeder produces the greatest increase in frog activity in both traditional and new exhibits.  The increase in mobility is most likely due to a coconut feeder’s complicated nature, which randomizes the release of insects into the exhibit.  The complexity of the enrichment increases both mental and physical aspects of the frogs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now think about how we can create something like this at home or in shelters, and why it’s so important.  If something as simple as placing prey (fruit flies) in a coconut feeder for frogs to foraging and hunt from, creates more desirable behaviors and healthy mental stimulation, what can we offer to our companion animals??

The possibilities are endless!

They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.  Create choice, offer control, and add complexity.   The goal is to elicit species-specific behaviors and to stimulate their natural abilities, senses, and enhance cognition.   This is what proper enrichment offers.   Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs.  The scientific principles in which structured enrichment programs are created are not reserved for lions, tigers, bears, and sea lions in zoos and aquariums.

Enrichment Is For Everyone.

And considering the high number of unhealthy pets in homes, increasing behavioral problems, and animals surrendered to shelters every week, I say we aren’t doing enough enrichment.  But we can change this.  And when we do it will shift everything.  Not only will we shift the energy within the animal, which will result in healthier bodies and minds, but we will create a more empowered way of living for each animal within the home.  We will also shift the energy between guardians and the animals.

We create a total shift for everyone on every level.


“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

― Frank Zappa


 

There is enough craziness and fear unfolding around the globe.  Why don’t we bring some joy and humor into our home?  Why don’t we pull our focus from that insanity and consciously create really fun but safe ways to shift the energy with our animals?  There are amazing souls right under our nose!  Let’s engage with them more!  Let’s focus on the joy and love that’s waiting for us!

That is where we can choose to focus our energy.


Creating fun games that are tailored for the individual animal/group are one way that we can pull away from the drama and fear in the world and create harmony at home.  We can create our own music that moves us all!  Music moves us and gets us groovin, but what can we offer our animal companions to get their bodies and minds movin’ and groovin??

Enrichment.

I have talked about enrichment at great length before. But if you haven’t read those posts, here’s a quick run down on enrichment:

  • promotes naturalistic behaviors
  • stimulates the mind
  • increases physical activity
  • reduces stress
  • promotes overall health
  • increases an animal’s perception of control over their environment
  • empowers the animal with more choices
  • provides constructive ways to occupy their time

animal enrichment_zoos

Enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.

All of that is so important, but one of my favorite by-products of proper enrichment is the bonds it strengthens. – both between animals of the same species and between different species.  This has been a powerful tool in our home.  One of our favorite ways to shift the energy of our group while building bonds that last is by providing species-specific enrichment every day.

For the 3.0 cats (3 males) and 0.1 dog (female) in our family, this was not only a way to shift stagnant energy in their body, but it was a tool to build a bridge between them. We created conditions to create a fun, harmonious, and happy home.  Hocus Pocus and King Albert once had a very combative relationship, but these kind of enrichment activities (and other tools) have dramatically changed their relationship to one based on trust. Physical challenges in older animals were addressed and healing occurred.  Minds were stimulated and stagnation faded.

Behavioral enrichment is the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.

Now to the disco.

In the short video below, “Wake-and-Hunt” (not to be confused with Wake-and-Bake)  😉 you will see one example of how we do this.


“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Of course the cats and dog aren’t dancing to disco while they do these foraging activities, but you can see how excited they are to participate!  Seeing their energy shift from stagnation to determination, and boredom to curiosity, is similar to shifting our energy via the right kind of music!  We just need to find the right tune and melody, so to speak, for each individual.

Seniors, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger. Nose work is one way that we can do that.


casey bdaty (2)
Casey, the critically endangered lowland gorilla enjoying his birthday carrot cake

For 18 years I have been creating I.E.P.s (Individualized Enrichment Programs) for animals of all shapes, sizes, and species, so it’s now second nature to me.  I often forget that this kind of program isn’t in everyone’s go-to-tool box.  But it should be!  I believe that proper, individualized, species-specific enrichment can be more powerful than basic training.

Choice, control and complexity are key.

Providing conditions in a captive animal’s environment (home, shelter, zoo) that parallels a life were they would normally have endless choices is empowering.  It’s life changing!  Science and experience have proven that by providing this for all species of animals living in captivity, we have the power to reduce and eliminate a myriad of medical and behavioral issues.  When we create conditions that enhance cognition, encourage movement, and improve overall well-being through resources that tap into the individual species’ senses, we can change lives!

With the right kind of movement and music to match the soul, we shift out of pain and suffering into bliss and joy.  – Conscious Companion

You don’t have to be a professional in this area.  You can learn how to provide safe and species-appropriate enrichment to the animals with whom you care for, in your shelter or home!  It does require some planning and creativity, but the effort pays off in the long run.  I will be creating a free E-Book that discusses this in greater detail, but for now:

You can View one example of how we created an I.E.P for one of our geriatric cats here. 

You can view another IEP for our younger cat here.

You can download an overview of our Guidelines for planning an Individualized Enrichment Program here.

Dog and cat foraging enrichment

You too, can create and provide this kind of fun but carefully created mental and physical stimulation for your animal companions every day.  Heck, even once or twice a week could completely shift so much energy in your home!  But before you do, please remember to ask these questions:

Creating enrichment program for CATS_What's the Goal_Questions to ask_Conscious Companion

 

We need to ask important questions BEFORE providing this kind of food enrichment.
A successful food enrichment program is goal-oriented and considers The Big Picture.

  • Do we have a goal in mind?
  • Is the enrichment for one cat? Multiple cats? A cat and another species?
  • What behaviors of each do we want to encourage?
  • How will these behaviors be encouraged?
  • Will the foraging enrichment be created (or purchased)?
  • Is it safe? (see unsafe/failed enrichment here)
  • How will we implemented it?
  • How will we evaluate the response and the effect?
  • Are there any diet restrictions?
  • Health issues?
  • Is there any oversight that should involve a feline nutritionist or a feline health practitioner?
  • Are we utilizing the 5 categories of enrichment? – If not, why?


“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer


You might have noticed that I am highlighting cats in this post.  I am because the majority of people believe that cat’s don’t need as much mental and physical stimulation as dogs.  But this is untrue and very harmful.  Another misconception is that senior and geriatric cats don’t need to get moving daily.   Friend, they DO!

Some Cat Stats at a Glance:

• Cats are currently the most commonly kept pet in the United States
• Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs).
• Cats are mislabeled as low-maintenance pets.
• This leads to cats housed in suboptimal environments.

• Cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
• Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)

When the environment of house cats don’t match the conditions they need in order to thrive, medical and behavioral issues arise.  Medical issues lead to behavioral issues which leads to a stressful household.  It can be a vicious cycle.  All of this can lead to a weakening of the human-animal bond, which often results in the owners surrendering the cat to a shelter, tossing the cat onto the streets, or euthanizing the cat.

Sub-optimal conditions are associated with increases in dozens of health and behavioral issues. Aggression, attention-seeking behaviors, and stress-related behaviors can be results of suboptimal conditions of captivity.  In fact, House-soiling is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people. Below are just a few common conditions created by sub-optimal conditions for house cats:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Joint problems
  • Chronic lower urinary tract issues
  • Behavioral and mental health problems

 

The Reality is that house cats and their conditions don’t match.

The conditions house cats are kept in are often the least natural to their species. Our feline companions are very similar to their closest ancestor, the African wildcat, in terms of their behavioral needs and instincts.  Therefore, the conditions of house cats should parallel those of their closest wild ancestor, the African wildcat.

Scent is another biggie that’s overlooked in companion cats.  A cat’s sense of smell is 40x stronger than ours.   Scent is crucial when it comes to social situations, locating prey, and  maintaining safety.  Scent is also crucial when it comes to evaluation of food.  If more cat guardians gain a better understanding of the vital role that scent plays in a pussycat’s life, they can use this tool to enhance their feline friend’s life!

“Importantly, a better understanding of cat chemical signals has critical applied implications, as scent (and marking) plays an important role in many species-typical cat behaviors, problem behaviors, and can also serve as enrichment if properly understood and applied.” – Vitale Shreve and Udell

Providing various scents for cats to find is very enriching to cats. We can use everything from catnip to canned food.  Some other great options are  silver vine, honey suckle, local bird feathers, potting soil, beach sand, etc.  Encouraging cats to harness these innate abilities and natural instincts is necessary.

Senior and geriatric cats, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger.  Nose work (like you saw in the video above) is one way that we can do that every day.   When we set the scene for a cat to use his/her exquisite senses we are helping our house cats to live a life worthy of their ancestors. We are allowing house cats to THRIVE.

That is why we provide these kind of fun enriching activities every day!

Albert foraging yard

The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors

Animal guardians can learn about who their pet is as a species. We can learn their individual hunting styles, personal preferences, and dislikes /fears.  Guardians can provide proper species-specific conditions inside their home that parallel the animal’s natural life in the wild.  People can learn how to help their companions to thrive inside!

  • We can change lackluster homes into thriving environments!
  • We can enhance the lives and longevity of our animal family members!
  • We can enhance the bond between animals and their guardians!
  • We can build bonds between every species in the home!
  • We can keep animals in homes.
  • We can Build Bonds That Last!

My challenge to you is to allow yourself to let go of the drama and stress of life by creating a peaceful kingdom at home.  Let laughter and joy become the centerpiece of your home.  Create memories that last, well after your beloved moves on.  Create harmony by enriching their environment … and yours.

There doesn’t need to be any pressure.  There is enough pressure in this crazy world; we need not add any to our life.  The idea is to create therapeutic, enriching, and fun activity time together every day.  We all need more fun!  Funk it up!  Help them get their groove back! And yours! Create the time to add in more playtime, more ways to bond, and to release the stress of life.  Together.

 


You know you ought to slow down

You been working too hard and that’s a fact
Sit back and relax a while
Take some time to laugh and smile

Lay your heavy load down
So we can stop and kick back
It seems we never take the time to do
All the things we want to do

The S.O.S Band (video)


 

I am curious.  What kind of fun mental and physical games do you play with your animal companions?  What has worked well?  What kinds of exciting enrichment opportunities will you create this week together?

My hope is that you will choose to create moments of joy together and memories that last forever.  My hope is that you will create your own musical masterpiece together and dance to your own tune.  My hope is that you will turn to your beloveds when the world is too much with you.  My hope is that you can find peace within your animal kingdom at home.

Be well.

Be at peace.

Let your heart be light.

Let your animals be your greatest teachers.

Let go and remember to laugh with the ones you love!

Abstract background blue,yellow and orange


 

Recommended Videos and Links:

 

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” ― Arthur O’Shaughnessy

 

Dial Up the Dopamine!

feeling-good

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh…
And I’m feelin’ good.

~Nina Simone


 

Backstory: In a recent post I discussed the implications and far reaching effects of fear . This post will be about the first tool that I recommend when helping pets and their people to effectively cope with stress and fear.

 


The Chemical of Feeling Good

Feeling Good is what everyone strives for. Whether it’s that much needed hug, a glass of wine, mediation, a pay raise, play, or the touch of a lover or loved one, we want and need to feel good.  Animals need to feel good too.  And they will behave and respond to their environment in ways that enable them to feel good, or at the very least, feel better.

Thankfully there are chemicals at work that help both people and animals to feel better.

One of these is Dopamine.

“It’s like one of those scenes from a feel-good Hollywood movie. Where everybody is happy and nobody’s hair fizzes in the wind. Where it doesn’t rain, your shoes stay comfortable all day, and everybody’s jokes are funny.” ― Randa Abdel-Fattah


Dopamine is a chemical in the body.  It’s one of the chemical signals that pass information from one neuron to the next.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in humans and animals. Dopamine helps regulate movement and emotional responses, It also enables one not only to seek out rewards, but to take action to move toward rewards.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helps regulate movement and emotional responses.

The chemical Dopamine helps to regulate:
-movement
-memory
-pleasurable reward
-behavior and cognition
-attention
-inhibition of prolactin production
-sleep
-mood
-learning

A single molecule in the brain can do all of this! Dopamine Is Powerful.

But so is food. 


Needed Nutrients from Food

Animal Behavior  (including people) is regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones. These substances have precursors – chemical compounds that precede them in metabolic pathways.  For example, Tryptophan, is the precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter).

If we can make these precursors more or less available we can alter behavior.

One example is the presence (or absence) of Tryptophan in canines. Scientists believe that this may affect both aggression and stress resistance in dogs. Tyrosine is a precursor of catecholamines; hormones produced by the adrenal gland. These may also affect aggression and stress resistance.  You can read more about that here.

The nutrition (or lack thereof) that we provide our animal companions affects not only their body, but also their mind, which in turn affects behavior.

The right kind of food can literally change an animal’s brain chemistry. This is an important first step in everything from training basic behaviors to addressing aggression.


Food has the power to not only enhance a dog’s ability to learn but also to help a dog overcome fear or anxiety by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulating the desire to seek or move towards the food reward. 


Using Food to Feel Better

We all know to feed our pets when they are hungry.  And most people feed their pets in the morning and night. But what if there was another, better, more effective way to feed them?

What if we fed our pets throughout the day (or night) when they need to feel better?

What if we used food to help them feel better in challenging situations?

What if we used food when they were afraid?

What if food could be a tool you could use to reduce their stress?

What if food appeared when that frightening fox dashes past the window?

What if food was present when you took him to the veterinary’s office?

What if it rained food when she is frustrated, confused, scared, or reactive?

What if food you knew that food was this powerful?

What if you knew you could wield this power to help them to FEEL GOOD?!

Food is that powerful. This is how we should use their food.

BOOMER


The Power of Food

Food can increase the level of dopamine in the brain!  This is why we recommended using FOOD when training, modifying behavior, and when we need to minimize an animal’s stress, fear, aggression, and anxiety.  If an animal is offered food before reaching a high stress level, while in the presence of a stimulus that frightens or triggers her, a positive emotional response occurs.

FOOD IS A TOOL.

Food is not a bribe. We are not teasing, luring, or bribing an animal to get them to do what we want. When we are using the right kind food, there are actual chemical reactions taking place in the brain and the body! Here is some of what is happening when food is used as a tool.

  • When you present a highly desirable food option to an animal you turn on the animal’s ‘seeker system.’  This dials down the emotion of fear.
  • Instead of feeling fear the brain begins to be overcome with the pleasurable feelings that food provides to an animal.
  • It also allows the animal to have a greater ability to focus on the good-feeling sensation and less on the negative emotion (fear, frustration, stress, anxiety, etc.)
  • This enhances an animals positive, focused attentiveness
  • In turn, it allows the animals to shift into a calmer state in their mind and body.
  • In this calmer, more relaxed state, learning and behavior modification can occur.

 

conscious companion_food in training_dopamine


When To Use Food

Visits to the vet. Walks in the park. Unexpected Visitors. Using the vacuum. Bringing a new baby into the home. New people in your apartment. Getting into the cat carrier. Moving. Staying in a hotel.  You name it; there needs to be high value food involved.

I honestly cannot think of when food would not be appropriate to use when working with an animal of any species. Whether you are working with a crocodile to station politely and practice self-restraint, or you are asking a cat to station on her cat tower instead of the counter, food is at the heart of it all.  One of my favorite opportunities to use food is at the vet’s office.  Whether we are at the cat specialist for King Albert’s acupuncture, or we are at the veterinarian waiting room for Hocus’ annual exam, you can bet that I have food on me.

Food should be used during any kind of family transition, or any situation that your animal companion finds challenging.  Food should be used in any situation where your pet might experience anxiety, stress, fear, and even aggression. Yes, you read that correctly. Food can (and should) be used to help a pig, parrot, cat, rat, horse, dog if they are struggling with a variety of behavioral issues.

Anxiety, aggression, frustration, and fear can be managed safely and positively by using food as a tool. Food can increase one’s focus, their attention, their mood, and more!  Food can change a crazed canine into a cool canine. Food can change a fearful feline into a confident kitty. Food can help a bird to not be so bashful.  Food is powerful. And we are not using it enough.

 

Food and Fear_cats


Food to Use

When use are choosing what food to use, think High-Value and practical.  If you are feeding your pet a high-grade pet food, sometimes this can be used as a behavior modification tool. We feed Hocus Pocus the Cadillac of canine food, so she goes bonkers for her kibble! The cats never get dry food these days, so when I break out the grain-free cat kibble they lose their minds!  These are the kind of food responses you want from your pet when you are using food.  If you aren’t sure if your dog or cat’s dry food will make the cut, you will need to experiment with foods that your pet will go nuts for. Some good foods to begin with are turkey, bacon, cheese, hot dogs, fish. etc. -anything they don’t normally receive, or anything they are super psyched to get!

One of my favorite on-the-go-food-treats is Stella and Chewies. These don’t crumble, and are not greasy. And the end goal is met: they are irresistible to the animals.


Pay me in food, human!

Studies have shown that dogs don’t want petting or soothing words as much as they prefer a primary reinforcer (food).  They prefer petting over soothing words, and they prefer food over petting!  I have found this to be true for cats as well. And for parrots and reptiles as well.

So where’s the beef ?  It needs to be used.

Food is a primary reinforcer for our pets! Primary reinforcers are biological.  Food, drink, and pleasure are the principal examples of primary reinforcers. We can use food as a tool with regards to its importance to an animal.

Using food as a tool is not hard, people.  It can be very easy.  Rather than dumping all the food in a boring bowl (ahem, we have talked about this before), it’s better to keep high-value treats (and food that they LOVE) handy.  This food should be hand around the home, convenient in your car, and easily pluck-able from your purse or pocket.

Here’s  Why:  You never know when fear might strike.

Here’s How:  Make it Rain Treats!  Rain those goodies down when and wherever something frightening, startling, or scary happens. (Even if you don’t think the person, place, or event was scary, your pet does), so make it rain, baby.  Rain down the treats!

If you are unfamiliar with food as a tool, you can see how we use food in these videos:

 

Hocus food_conscious Companion_food as a tool_dopamine
Preparing to go for a walk!  We always have food as a tool.

The Dope Rewards

Let’s get back to Dopeamine for a minute.  Dopamine is considered a “reward” chemical. When we are using food, we are able to increase the level of dopamine in the animal’s brain.   What we as humans, call rewards, are often things that are unexpectedly good. Let’s say for example, you run into an old, favorite pal, or your boss surprises you with a pay raise. Or maybe your spouse takes you on a romantic vacation.  These unexpected events lead to positive prediction errors, and increases in dopamine.

As cool as that is, there is more to the dope, hip chemical called Dopamine. More and more studies are showing that this neurotransmitter is not responsible for pleasure per say, but it has more to do with motivation.


Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself. – Salamone, a UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,

Dopamine-and-addiction-relapse22

Researchers have found that in animals, dopamine levels can actually spike after stress! This could be something such as losing a fight with another animal, or seeing a predator outside the window.  Humans also experience a spike in dopamine after stressful encounters.  Soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing recorded gunshots and other combat sounds.

So what’s with dopeamine coming out during negative experiences?

One researcher believes he has found the reason.  A scientist was able to artificially raise (or lower) dopamine levels in animals. Then he gave them a choice between two rewards with a different value, which could be obtained through different amounts of work.  For example, he wanted to see what a rat would do when given an easy or difficult choice. On one end of a corridor he place a pile of food. On the other end there was a pile of food twice as big, but this end has a small fence that the rat had to jump over to get the food.

The results are fascinating!

Animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easier, low-value reward. But the animals with normal levels of dopamine didn’t mind exerting more energy and effort to jump the fence to receive the high-value reward.  (I know many species of animals and people who behave the same way!)  Other studies in depressed human patients have corroborated these results.

The scientist who did the study believes, “This lack of perceived energy is maladaptive, because it reduces the tendency to interact with the environment. But, it could also reflect the body’s attempt to save energy in a crisis.”

I found that study fascinating and helpful.  If motivation is directly related to dopeamine, and food can increase the level of dopeamine, then why are we not using food more often?  Why is food not front and center and at the heart of any training or behavior modification program? Why are we as animal guardians not using food as a tool with our pets?

Maybe today you will.  Maybe one day we all will.

I have hope for us all!

 


 More To Come!

This is part three of a four part series about how to help you and your pets cope with grace and ease during times of stress or Big Family Changes.  Stay tuned for the next post.

But in the meantime, Get Some High High-Value Food … And Don’t Leave Home Without It! 


 

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ good

Nina Simone

The Secrets and Splendor of Squamata

People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer. ― Andrew Smith

snake eye

My heart is so happy right now.   My social media news feed has been overtaken with posts about snakes!  These post are not snake-hating posts; they’re posts from snake savvy people who absolutely adore these magnificent, valuable, and misunderstood species.  They’re posting about snakes today because it’s World Snake Day!

Snakes (like most reptiles) are one of the most misunderstood and least researched animals in the world.  Before you decided to disengage from this article, please give me just a few minutes of your time.   It’ll be worth it.  And one thing is for sure:  You’ll learn something new!  And, if you are lucky enough, you might see snakes in a new light by the time you are done reading this.


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In my watershed/wetlands class my students found a juvenile Queen snake (Regina septemvittata) 🐍 We said hello then released her back into the water.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I usually discuss companion animal topics, but I have a secret: Reptiles are my passion.  When I see a snake, toad, frog, turtle, or lizard my entire being lights up with glee.  While others are screaming and running away, I am trying to figure out how I can get closer to the animal without freaking him/her out!  I know that might seem crazy to many, but if you have been in my shoes you would feel this way, too.

I have worked with snakes for nearly 20 years.  I was indifferent to them prior to this, but things change after 20 years of educating and research.  After working with exotic and domestic snakes, venomous and nonvenomous, boas and pythons, constrictors and prey chasers, common and critically endangered, captive and wild, I saw every species of snake in a new light.  Each snake taught me something new and captured my imagination.

I would like to share some of this with you.

During my career with snakes one of the most amazing things I was able to coordinate and witness still warms my heart. Youth and adults (many who were once afraid of snakes) learned to love and respect them.  Then, if that wasn’t amazing enough, I watched these youth and adults share their love and appreciation of snakes with strangers.

These mini miracles happened at The Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Me and my amazing volunteers and inters on Discovery Walk
Hanging with my amazing volunteers and inters on Discovery Walk

In a very special area of the Audubon Zoo, called Discovery Walk, we focused on educating the public with facts not fear. And since most people are scared of anything that slithers, snakes were the perfect teachers. Some snakes were common snakes you could find in your backyard, and some were critically endangered.   Our collection of public education snakes were animal ambassadors. They were the voice (and face) for snakes all over the world.

My volunteers and interns learned how to care for each snake in our collection, they learned each snake’s temperament, and learned how to safely handle the snakes. They learned how to transport snakes on outreach programs, how to recognize when the snake was stressed, and when the snake was having a really good time!

Yes, you read that right; snakes can have good times!  In fact, snakes are very sensitive to our emotions, our moods, how we are feeling one day to the next, and our scents.  Some of our snakes even had a favorite handler!

Snakes are not the mindless creatures that many believe them to be.  In a word, they are spectacular.

Below is a slideshow of images that capture fun-filled education and appreciation of the species of snakes in our ambassador program.
(Note: You can see the images & captions better from your computer, not on your mobile device).

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“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”― Marie Curie

There are so many ridiculous myths out there about snakes.  And honestly, fear is at the heart of these misconceptions. The initial reaction when someone finds a snake is to kill it.  People do this because they are afraid.  So I am going to share a few snake facts with you today, in honor of World Snake Day, to help people to not be so afraid.

Let’s Remove Fear and replace it with Facts!

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Anaconda researchers in the field with a live specimen – Notice the snake is NOT trying to eat the humans (another myth perpetuated in the movies).

Snake Stats:

  • “Squamata” means scaled reptiles.
  • Squamata is the largest order of reptiles, comprising all lizards and snakes.
  • Worldwide, there are about 3,000 species of snakes.
  • Snakes are on almost all continents except Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, and New Zealand.
  • At least 50 % of Americans are afraid of snakes.

    snake skeleton
    Snakes have a beautiful skeleton
  • A true fear of snakes is known as ophidiophobia
  • Only about 15% of snakes worldwide can do actual harm to humans.
  • Only about 1/4 of all snakes are venomous.
  • There are hundreds of snake species in the U.S. but about 90% of them are non-venomous. Only 10% have venom!
  • Snakes are not “poisonous”.  Snake can be venomous.  Poison and venom differ in the method of delivery.  Poison is ingested orally or absorbed; venom, is injected. There are no “poisonous” snakes.
  • The venom gland is a modified salivary gland, and is located just behind and below the snake’s eye. The size of the venom gland depends on the size of the snake.
  • Venom is a protein. In fact, it is a very precious resource to snakes. This protein exists to subdue their prey (not to inject into humans!) Snakes do not want to waste this precious resource on us.
  • This is why over half of the snake bites that people receive from native venomous snakes are “dry bites”, meaning no venom is injected into the person.
  • Venom delivery is voluntary — snakes squeeze their venom glands with muscles to deliver venom. All venomous snakes could deliver dry bites.
  • Some snakes, like the Coral snake deliver venom to their prey (other snakes) by chewing on the snake. They use teeth in the back of their mouth to deliver the venom.  Coral snakes are extremely reclusive and are not aggressive towards anything except their prey!  In fact, no deaths from coral snake bites have been reported in the U.S. since 1967.
  • You are 9 times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die of venomous snakebite.snakebite_death_stats
  • A snake will bite a person (and other perceived threats) as an absolute last resort. They depend on camouflage and retreat as their preferred method of avoiding threats. When someone is bitten by snake, it is always the persons fault.  Always. And many times it could have been avoided.  I have worked with hundreds of snake species over the years, but have only been bitten 3 times.  Every single time it was my fault.
  • Snakes try to avoid human contact. Wild snake bite incidents occur when humans inadvertently step on or otherwise disturb the peaceful creatures.
  • Snakes (and other reptiles) allow more energy to remain in the food chain compared to mammals and birds. Snakes can convert 10 times more of their food to actual biomass (instead of losing it through metabolism).
  • Snakes’ presence is important for healthy ecosystems as they are predators as well as prey for other species.
  • One of the most vital roles that snakes hold is their position in the food chain. As voracious predators, snakes provide an indispensable contribution to human survival. If snakes were to disappear, we would be besieged with vermin, pestilence, plague and crop destruction within a matter of months.
  • Snakes are important to our medical advancements: Medicines for heart disease and diabetes were derived from snake venom. And new treatments for cancer, autoimmune diseases, and pain management are currently being developed using proteins and peptides in venom toxins.
  • Copperhead venom has cancer-fighting abilities and is being tested to treat breast cancer and other forms of cancer: The vemon has a protein that inhibits the growth of tumors and growth of blood vessels into tumors without damaging healthy tissues.
  • The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) estimates that about 28% of snakes are threatened.
  • 1 in 4 snake species are threatened worldwide.
  • 12 snake species are listed as Threatened (9 species) or Endangered (3 species) in the U.S.
  • Sea snakes are now critically endangered due to over fishing and habitat loss.
  • 1.5 – 2.5 million snakes are killed for the skin trade yearly.  Even with their skins removed, they can live on in agony for days and days before dying. ~ Eden Bio-Creations, LLC © 2015
  • Conservationists believe that habitat destruction and climate change are to blame for snakes’ declining numbers.
Indy, the endangered Indigo snake, one of our snake ambassadors.  Indy was so gentle. He would sit calmly as I removed eye caps - parts of his snake skin that were stuck on him after she had an incomplete shed
Indy, the endangered Indigo snake, one of our snake ambassadors. Indy was so gentle. He would sit calmly as I removed eye caps – parts of his snake skin that were stuck on him after he shed incompletely

Snakes are not the malevolent creatures portrayed in the Bible. Over time, they have become convenient victims of superstition, bad movies and the anthropomorphic misassumption that animals can be evil. It is entirely possible that if Satan had appeared to Adam and Eve as a squirrel, humans today would try to justify an irrational fear of squirrels.

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Snakes Need Compassion and Conservation.

Snakes deserve much credit for the invaluable role they play within ecosystems, including the ones in our backyards!  Focusing on facts –not fear, can help raise awareness and support to better understand these misunderstood species.  Jul 15, World Snake Day, is a opportunity to see these animals in a new light, and to gain respect for them.   Let’s remove our fears and illusions about snakes.  Let’s help our fellow travelers of this Earth gain recognition as a spectacular species.

An Indian girl from a snake charmer community plays with a local snake on World Snake Day
An Indian girl from a snake charmer community plays with a local snake on World Snake Day

If you want to join the conversation, please share and use the hashtag ‪#‎WorldSnakeDay and ‪#‎CelebrateSnakes365!  And Thankssssssssssss for helping to ssssssssave snake speciesssssssss!

Related Recommended Reading

world snake day education kids

This is dedicated to every snake I have ever met.  Thank you for teaching me what I did not know.  Thank you for showing me that you are to nothing fear, but a species to be understood and respected. Thank you for showing me that within each species, each one is an individual; each having his or her own personality, preferences, and abilities.  May your beauty and gifts be seen by all men one day.  May we loose all fear of you and see you with eyes of love.

And thank you, to all of my volunteers, interns, and colleagues. You all were the greatest, most powerful voices for the voiceless.  You affected thousands of people’s lives. You were the compassionate educators. You literally saved species.  This is dedicated to you as well. All my love.

Wall of Humans Help Endangered Sea Turtle Hatchlings Find Their Way Safely to Sea!

loggerhead Sea Turtle

Each weekend I am going to spotlight a species that may live in your home, or one that may live right outside your front door in the wild.  Why?  Well, I have found that if we care enough about the species we choose to live with, we can learn to teach children (and ourselves) to care more about the species that we share the planet with.

Today’s Species Spotlight is dedicated to an animal found just a few miles from my home here in North Carolina.  However, this particular story that made headlines this week takes place in the Caribbean.

Earlier this week 113 Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) were hatched on the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean.  You may be wondering why the news is  making such a big deal about this.  I think it’s for 2 reasons: the Loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, and because people played a vital role in helping these wee turtle hatchlings safely begin their new lives in a world that does not favor the small and defenseless.  Thanks to a group of volunteers, who formed a human wall around them, these sea turtles had a chance to live.

Watch the video of humans helping an endangered species!

Baby loggerhead turtles – Bonaire from Nathalia Castro on Vimeo.

This human wall was imperative to the newly hatched sea turtles’ survival.   When sea turtles hatch from the nest on the beach, they crawl towards the brightest light they see, which is usually the moon hanging over the ocean.  Sea turtles are born with the instinct to move toward the brightest direction. On a natural beach, this direction is the light of the open horizon.  These turtles hatched on a beach next to an airport.  Because of this conservationists were concerned that the turtles would crawl towards the lights from the buildings and planes.  Two years ago, an entire group of sea turtle hatchlings were lost because they did exactly that.

Dr. Sue Willis, the program director of Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire  told ABC, “We surround the baby turtles on both sides so that they cannot see the airport lights.  We give them ample space to crawl and form a line all the way down to the ocean, so they stay on path.”  All of their efforts succeeded in helping all 113 turtles into the ocean!  Loggerhead sea turtles have been listed as endangered for decades, mostly because of human activities that are detrimental to their health and their habitat.  But this week, people will be the reason these turtles survived.

Source: Yahoo News


LOGGERHEAD STATS

STATUS:   On September 22, 2011, the listing was revised from a single global threatened species to a listing of nine Distinct Population Segments (DPS); four listed as threatened (Northwest Atlantic Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Southwest Indian Ocean, Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean, and South Atlantic Ocean DPSs) and five listed as endangered (Northeast Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean, and North Indian Ocean DPSs).

HABITAT:  The loggerhead is widely distributed within its range.  It may be found hundreds of miles out to sea, as well as in inshore areas such as bays, lagoons, salt marshes, creeks, ship channels, and the mouths of large rivers.  Coral reefs, rocky places, and shipwrecks are often used as feeding areas.  Nesting occurs mainly on open beaches or along narrow bays having suitable sand, and it is often in association with other species of sea turtles.  Most loggerhead hatchlings originating from U.S. beaches are believed to lead a pelagic existence in the North Atlantic gyre for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as 7 to 12 years, and are best known from the eastern Atlantic near the Azores and Madeira.  Post-hatchlings have been found floating at sea in association with Sargassum rafts.  Once they reach a certain size, these juvenile loggerheads begin recruiting to coastal areas in the western Atlantic where they become benthic feeders in lagoons, estuaries, bays, river mouths, and shallow coastal waters.  These juveniles occupy coastal feeding grounds for about 13 to 20 years before maturing and making their first reproductive migration, the females returning to their natal beach to nest.

REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT:  The U.S. nesting season occurs from April through September, with a peak in June and July.  Nesting occurs primarily at night.  Loggerheads are known to nest from one to seven times within a nesting season (mean is about 4.1 nests per season) at intervals of approximately 14 days.  Mean clutch size varies from about 100 to 126 along the southeastern U.S. coast.  Incubation duration ranges from about 42 to 75 days, depending on incubation temperatures, but averages 55-60 days for most clutches in Florida.  Hatchlings generally emerge at night.  Remigration intervals of 2 to 3 years are most common in nesting loggerheads, but remigration can vary from 1 to 7 years.  Age at sexual maturity is believed to be about 32 to 35 years.

Adults grow to an average weight of about 200 pounds and an average length of 3 feet. The species feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other marine animals.

loggerhead sea turtle eggs

REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS:  Threats include loss or degradation of nesting habitat from coastal development and beach armoring; disorientation of hatchlings by beachfront lighting; nest predation by native and non-native predators; degradation of foraging habitat; marine pollution and debris; watercraft strikes; disease; and incidental take from channel dredging and commercial trawling, longline, and gillnet fisheries.  There is particular concern about the extensive incidental take of juvenile loggerheads in the eastern Atlantic by longline fishing vessels from several countries.

MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: In the southeastern U.S., major nest protection efforts and beach habitat protection are underway for most of the significant nesting areas, and significant progress has been made in reducing mortality from commercial fisheries in U.S. waters with the enforcement of turtle excluder device regulations.  Many coastal counties and communities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have developed lighting ordinances to reduce hatchling disorientations.  Important U.S. nesting beaches have been and continue to be acquired for long-term protection.  The migratory nature of loggerheads severely compromises these efforts once they move outside U.S. waters, however, since legal and illegal fisheries activities in some countries are causing high mortality of loggerheads from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS.  Due to the long range migratory movements of sea turtles between nesting beaches and foraging areas, long-term international cooperation is absolutely essential for recovery and stability of nesting populations.

Source:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

View the full Loggerhead sea turtle fact sheet here.

Loggerhead sea turtle beached and preparing to lay her eggs
Loggerhead sea turtle beached and preparing to lay her eggs

The NC Sea Turtle Project, run by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s Division of Wildlife Management, is committed to monitoring NC’s sea turtle population.  This project would not be possible without the help of hundreds of volunteers, as well as many organizations and agencies.   Each summer, the North Carolina Aquarium works with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and local sea turtle rescue organizations, accepting a limited number of hatchlings that did not make the initial trek to the ocean.  Generally, these turtles are discovered during routine nest excavations three days after hatching.  Since last year, and for the first time, the North Carolina Aquarium will track and gather data on newly released sea turtles thanks to evolving technology and a new pilot research program.  Watch Tagging and Release Video Here.

loggerhead

What can I do to help protect sea turtles?

  • Organize or join a beach clean up day. Check with organizations or schools in your area to become involved in clearing the beaches of trash that could be harmful to wildlife.
  • Do not leave fishing line behind.  This entangles many types of wildlife including sea turtles.
  • Do not feed sea turtles or other wildlife.  This encourages them to approach people in high traffic areas.
  • Never buy products made from sea turtles.
  • Reduce the amount of plastic garbage you produce.
  • Turn off the lights!  Keep beachfront lights off throughout the night from May to October as they can confuse sea turtles during the mating season.  Suggested alternatives to decrease artificial lighting include use of motion sensors for safety, dark window tinting and curtains to cover inside light, and yellow incandescent light bulbs (“bug lights”). Studies have also shown that light from low pressure sodium vapor sources don’t attract turtles as much as high pressure sodium lights.  Avoid fluorescent, mercury vapor, metal halide, and white incandescent lighting.
  • Oppose coastal armoring.  The fewer obstacles sea turtles have to overcome, the better their chances of successful nesting.
  • Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use.  Ordinary lawn and garden fertilizers wash into coastal waters killing plants and animals. Look for biodegradable alternatives, and correctly dispose of used toxic chemicals.
  • Use your local newspaper to inform people about the plight of sea turtles and what they can do to help.
  • Adopt a Turtle. Join and support the Sea Turtle Survival League by calling 1-800-678-7853
  • Buy a License Plate.  The next time you renew your automobile registration at your local tax collector’s office, request a specialty sea turtle plate. The extra dollars go toward protection, research, and recovery programs at the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Source for these tips:  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Click here to learn more about How You Can Help Sea Turtles!