Archives for September 2007

Homeless Pets & the Housing Market

One of the things that has bugged me a lot over the years is how irresponsible people are over the commitment to pets. Many people don’t have one–so when the road gets tough–the animals get relinquished or abandoned.

At one time I worked as an adoption counselor. It was one of the most heartbreaking jobs of my career. People would leave their pets outside the shelter hoping we would keep them and gave ridiculous reasons for relinquishing the animal.

Now the reasons for dumping the animals? They didn’t have permission from their landlord, the pets were too unruly, they were allergic, they were too expensive, they made a mess, the left fur on the furniture and carpet, they didn’t have time for them, they didn’t match the latest outfit (okay, okay, I just stuck that in to see if you were paying attention), and now in my area one shelter says they are seeing an increase as foreclosures escalate.

This is a theory mind you as since some of the other regional shelters are not reporting an increase. I suspect the fee differences and other requirements (or lack of) are among the reasons. However, this coincides with recent stats saying parts of this area are among the highest for foreclosures.

So, check out this article about four-legged victims of foreclosure.

I remember the one time in my life where my father made me go relinquish the cat I rescued and saved to the animal shelter. Her cries and wide eyes are etched in my memory and it was one of the worst things (in many) that my family did–and to have a kid deal with it–well that is a different topic altogether. I have a couple of examples when life dealt a tough decision when it came to animals but that one was the worst.

My comments on this suspected trend are not forgiving. Today’s throw away society is creating havoc on the earth. It used to be that you got large bottles of water or big containers with food instead of individual servings packaged for convenience. The trash generated by such changes ends up on my local hiking trails and in the lake. Not great for the environment and the local wildlife who get injured by the crap.

No longer do shoes go to the cobbler, they go in the trash and then end up in a landfill. My last hair dryer lasted 20 years but the new one didn’t even get used much and bit the dust in less than a year…and don’t get me onto the lousy clothing market or vehicle manufacturing and the lousy petroleum industry when other options have been around for at least 40 years that I know of.

My point is that the lifelong problem of pet relinquishment fits right in this type of picture. If people were committed to their pets they would keep them no matter what. I’ve seen many a homeless person with their pet. They often work to get food for the animal to make sure the critter is taken care of…never mind that the pets they have are often better behaved that most families.

I interviewed one homeless man with his dog and he shared some of the things the two had to do, like sleep under the stars. Shelters wouldn’t accommodate them together so he chose to be out in the elements rather than abandon his dog or sleep in a place where critters were not allowed. He did jobs for food for himself and his pet…

If you have guessed that this topic has pissed me off, you are right. It is time that people quit getting pets as disposable property and then abandoning them due to inconvenience. AND don’t think I don’t know about this issue. I lost everything about 12 years ago–including a place to live–but my pets stayed with me and things worked out. The most stress was over their care and comfort and how I would feed them–but not for one moment would I have considered giving them up.

Animal Career Secrets Explores The Elephant School

Animal Career Secrets Explores Elephant School. All content copyrighted 2007 by Diana L Guerrero. Some rights reserved.

There are many people who are enamored by elephants. The future is bleak for these massive creatures due to habitat loss, poaching, and other challenges. Of all the careers with elephants there are not too many places where you can get hands-on experience. One of those places is the Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1990. Located in the Ozark Mountain foothills in Arkansas, the 330 acre site is an elephant paradise. Founded by Scott and Heidi Riddle (Heidi and I went to animal training school together), this non-profit sanctuary accepts any species of elephant.

The Riddle duo have extensive elephant experience. Scott has worked with a variety of elephants since 1965. His work has encompassed zoological management, private sector performances, and elephant consulting.

Heidi started her career with elephants back in 1981. She has worked with both sexes of Asian and African elephants, oversees the activities of the place, and serves in the Elephant Manager’s Association.

The sanctuary always has a variety of activities and projects going. Past activities include an intensive semen evaluation project, a veterinary training program for ultrasound and elephant examinations, behavior studies, and much more.

In addition to their elephant experience opportunities, one of their most popular programs is The International School on Elephant Management. Instituted in 1994, the course covers the essentials of elephant care and management. Nutrition, husbandry, foot care, reproduction, and conservation related issues are just some of the topics.

The curriculum is vast and includes: Anatomy, Behavior, Physical Maintenance, Chaincraft, Ropecraft, Medication and Disease, Handling of Difficult or Dangerous Elephants, Elephant Training Techniques, and Elephant Breeding.

The top elephant experts from all over the world can be found instructing. Students come from all over the United States and from countries such as Canada, Australia, England, Germany, Japan, Africa, Spain, Sweden, and many more places around the globe.

Students and instructors stay on the premises. Although space in the school is limited, the bunkhouse is very comfortable and can hold over twenty people. It is quite nice and has both shower and toilet facilities. I visited in the summer and it was comfortable and very clean. The big social interactions took place in the cook house which is not just a place to dine.

When we drove into the place the first thing we saw was three elephants meandering down by a natural pool. It isn’t something you see every day and the girls were having a good time. They get walked out in the am and then walk trunk to tail on their way back to the barns for the evenings. Elephants on parade!

Sadly, Heidi emailed me to say that the school has temporarily suspended the two week training opportunities at the elephant school. I didn’t ask why yet but assume it has something to do with the fact that they have two elephant calves due in the near future.

At the moment the opportunities include a Elephant Ultrasound and Veterinary Procedures Workshop for professionals, with the elephant specialist vet, Dr. Dennis Schmitt, once year around May.

AND the newest addition for the general public is an elephant experience weekend. You arrive on Friday and spend that evening and the next two days under supervision to get a taste of hands-on work with elephants. Heidi told me that these weekends are really popular and usually run April through June and then again in September and October.

If you live in the area, or plan to travel through, they also have a visitors day on the first Saturday of every month when the facility is open to guests. So, if you think you want to work with elephants, or if you are interested in getting a first hand look and feel for what it is like–try this program.

For more information visit the Elephant School section of the Riddle’s website.

On a side note, when I visited they were collecting semen for an artificial insemination program for elephants. Now, I’ve been an associate of a clinic that was a cryobank for dogs–but collecting from elephants takes the process to a whole new level!


Diana L Guerrero is an animal career specialist and has extensive experience in many areas of the animal world. A well known animal expert, she has worked professionally with animals for over thirty years. Guerrero is the author of several books and the host of the syndicated, Ark Animal Answers.