Humane Education: Opening Your Heart to a “Fur-ever” Friend

It’s been one year since I adopted Clemmie, a now 8-year old yellow Labrador retriever mix. During that time, she’s really come into her own. She’s still an anxious girl, but she’s made tremendous progress.

As I reflect on this past year, it makes me smile to think about all that Clemmie has learned and overcome. When she first came home, she had protruding ribs and visible signs indicating that she’d been used to breed lots of puppies. She had no idea that she was supposed to go to the bathroom outside. She was terrified of Frankie, my cat – so much so that she couldn’t even look at him. She would sometimes cower when I put my hand out to pet her.

It’s taken a lot of patience and persistence and a consistently calm demeanor to help Clemmie break out of her shell. Sometimes people have the perception that as soon as you adopt a companion animal and bring them home, they will instantly adapt. But there’s an acclimation period for animals of all ages. It requires dedication – it can take months or even years – but it’s also a joyful process as you watch your beloved companion overcome obstacles and become a true part of the family.

Having empathy really does lead to patience during times of frustration; for example, during the first eight or so months, Clemmie was having daily accidents. When I would pause for a moment and recognize all that she had been through, my outlook always changed.

Clemmie very rarely has accidents these days. She’s learned how to shake with her paw. She stops mid-walk to look up at me because she wants me to pet her and give her a hug. She’s recently played with a toy in front of me. And the thing that touches my heart the most – she and Frankie have become the best of friends, often curling up with one another or watching the world pass by out the front window. I couldn’t be more grateful for my two rescued furry companions. They bring me immense joy and fill our house with love.

If you’re thinking about adopting a dog or a cat, local rescue organizations and shelters can support you in finding the perfect companion animal. Unfortunately, an estimated 10,000 dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each day due to a lack of homes. That adds up to 3-4 million animals in the U. S. each year. So when you adopt an animal, not only are you bringing home a new member of your family, you’re also responsible for saving that individual’s life.

Join us on May 18 and 19 at Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo – one of the nation’s largest off-site companion animal adoption events – where hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are available for adoption to loving homes. And be sure to stop by the Zoo’s humane education table while you’re there and learn more about how we work to help people help animals.

Lisa Forzley is the curator of humane education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Animal Welfare: The Detroit Zoological Society to the Rescue

Eight years ago this month, Detroit Zoological Society staff took part in the largest animal rescue effort in the world. More than 26,000 animals were seized from an exotic animal dealer in Texas when it was discovered that animals at the dealer’s property were living in crowded, squalid conditions, many without access to adequate food, water and veterinary care. Leaders at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contacted us to help. The conditions in Texas were so bad that for some animals, help came too late, but many – from small mammals to amphibians – came to live at the Detroit Zoo in habitats that would meet all of their needs. This significant effort to help animals is just one of many DZS animal rescue stories.

Prior to the historic Texas rescue, we’d previously worked with PETA to rescue polar bears traveling as part of a circus based out of Mexico. Bärle was one of those fortunate bears, and once she found her forever home at the Detroit Zoo, she enjoyed the comforts of her habitat in the 4-acre Arctic Ring of Life and gave birth to Talini, a female polar bear – now 12 – who is still living at the Zoo. Other rescued animals living at the Detroit Zoo include a lioness named Erin – who, along with two other lions, was rescued from a junkyard in Kansas – as well as several ring-tailed lemurs from three different rescues (including the Texas rescue described above). Forty of the amphibians rescued in Texas in 2009 are still living in the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center.

Not all of the animals we’ve helped rescue come from bad captive conditions. Sometimes, animals are found injured or otherwise unable to care for themselves. Such was the case for the three male grizzly bears, Mike, Thor and Boo, whose mother was killed by a poacher, leaving behind three cubs who were too young to be on their own. All five seals living in the Arctic Ring of Life were rescued from the wild after they were found on beaches and deemed unable to care for themselves, and the bald eagles at the Detroit Zoo suffered injuries in the wild that rendered them unable to fly. Without the Detroit Zoo, animals like these would likely not have a home, and could be euthanized.

A western pond turtle – an endangered species – was rescued in California and is now living in the Detroit Zoo’s Holden Reptile Conservation Center after a concerned citizen saw a Facebook post by a man who was intending to cook and eat the animal.

Animal welfare is at the core of the Detroit Zoological Society’s mission, and is reflected in our efforts to rescue animals. Requests to provide a life-long home for rescued animals are frequent. Such requests can place a strain on resources for zoological institutions, not all of which can accommodate them. We will continue to assist whenever possible, and we encourage you to come visit the rescued animals at the Detroit Zoo. To learn more and see how you can help, visit: https://thezoothatcould.detroitzoo.org/animal-welfare/

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare and Ethics.

Animal Welfare: A Brown Bear’s Journey

This month, we are celebrating the 20th birthday of Polly, a Syrian brown bear who was rescued and found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo when she was young. She arrived in September of 2000 after spending the first three-and-a-half years of her life in deplorable conditions. Polly was born at a private breeder’s facility in Virginia in 1997. When she was 4 months old, she was sold to a roadside circus on the East Coast that already had a small menagerie of other animals. When she became too big to handle, Polly was relegated to a small cage with a large, hamster-like performance wheel where she rocked back and forth incessantly.

Several complaints from disturbed circus visitors concerned about the bear’s living conditions prompted PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to try to secure her freedom. After months of negotiations, PETA was successful in convincing the circus owner to relinquish the bear. The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) accepted PETA’s request to provide a new home for Polly, providing her with the chance to finally experience an environment in which her welfare was of the utmost importance.

After all these years in a safe and stimulating environment, cared for by dedicated DZS staff members, Polly still demonstrates some of the unnatural, stereotypic behaviors she developed living in a small cage, despite being in an environment that is much larger and more suitably complex and stimulating. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see animals continue to demonstrate such behaviors even after they are removed from the conditions that caused the behaviors in the first place.  These “behavioral scars” are not a reflection of current conditions, but rather of past traumatic experiences that forever alter an animal’s behavior and life. DZS staff members monitor Polly closely, as they do all of the animals, and use positive reinforcement training and environmental enrichment, as well as allowing her to exercise as much choice and control over her environment as possible to provide her with a safe and comfortable home that meets her physical, behavioral and emotional needs.

Polly reminds us that animals which are forced to perform for human entertainment in circuses and other “shows”, are usually harmed in the process of their training or their living conditions, and often irreparably. All animals deserve to live in environments in which they can thrive, not just survive, and once they are scarred, they often can never be fully healed, despite the great care sanctuaries, like the Detroit Zoo, provide them.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.

Education: Instilling Respect for Gorillas and the Environment in the Congo

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), located in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). GRACE is truly a special place – it is the only facility in the world that cares for highly endangered Grauer’s gorillas that have been rescued by wildlife authorities after being illegally captured by poachers and traders.

Grauer’s gorillas are endemic to this region and only approximately 4,000 remain in the wild. There are currently 14 gorillas residing at GRACE, where a dedicated Congolese staff provides daily care and monitors the group while they explore a 24-acre forest – the largest gorilla enclosure in the world.

GRACE is overseen by a dedicated board of directors, which includes Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) CEO and executive director, who has also served as board chair. In addition to Ron’s valuable leadership, the DZS’s involvement with GRACE also includes financial and staff support. In 2015, Ron helped secure funds for a new night house enclosure for the gorillas, which I was able to see in operation while I was there. Also in 2015, DZS Director of Animal Health Dr. Ann Duncan traveled to the Congo to perform health examinations on 12 gorillas, which had never been done before.

I traveled to the DRC with three staff members from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the executive director of GRACE as part of the GRACE Education Advisory Group. We carried quite a bit of luggage with us, which included a number of veterinary medicines and supplies provided by the DZS.

While at GRACE, we worked extensively with the Congolese education team. We observed current programs, provided our feedback and facilitated trainings focused on methodology, messaging and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of their various audiences. We also began to draft a strategic plan for their education programming and evaluation efforts as they move forward. The team’s reach is vast; not only do they work with primary and secondary school groups onsite and in local villages, they also conduct programs with community groups and the military, to name a few. GRACE doesn’t have open visitation hours, so all of the groups that they work with have been scheduled by the educators. Throughout all that the team does, there’s a common theme of instilling reverence and respect for not only gorillas, but all animals and the environment. They work with people of all ages to help foster behavioral changes that result in a positive impact for people, animals and their shared home.

I can’t say enough about the amazing people that I met throughout the course of our visit. The team at GRACE is truly a hard-working, dedicated, passionate group of people and they give tremendous hope for the future. Additionally, on our last day at GRACE, we were fortunate to take part in a tour of the local village, led by the women’s cooperative, where we met many members of the community. We were invited into homes to see cooking demonstrations and to learn about some of the small-scale businesses they own and operate. We also visited Muyisa Primary School, where we were greeted with song and dance and hundreds of smiling faces. Everywhere we went, people were kind and welcoming. They definitely made it difficult for me to leave.

As we move forward, the Education Advisory Group and the Congolese educators will continue to meet by way of monthly conference calls. We’ll continue to advise efforts and offer additional training. I’ll also be working on developing humane education curriculum and projects for the children’s conservation clubs which currently exist in five communities. Stay tuned for more to come on that!

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Humane Education: Helping Animals in Need

As animal lovers, when we come across an animal in need of help, we want to take action. But when we find an injured or orphaned critter, often times we’re not sure what to do.

Here at the Detroit Zoological Society, we receive emails and calls throughout the year from people who want to aid local wildlife. Although we wish we could provide sanctuary for all animals in need, we are unable to do so in nearly all cases. But we think it’s wonderful that so many people want to assist these sentient beings, so we’ve compiled a list of helpful resources.

The following links contain contact information for reputable organizations and rehabilitators that are able to provide support. Download the app and jot down the phone numbers found in the links. You can keep a copy on hand so that the information is available should a need arise.

  • Animal Help Now App – Find contact information for nearby emergency wildlife assistance across the U.S., including wildlife rehabilitators, rescues and veterinarians.
  • All Species Kinship Wildlife Hotline – (877) 596-7776

Remember if you come upon an animal that you think needs help, don’t address the situation without first reaching out to a professional for his or her advice. If ever you’re in doubt, call an expert.

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education. Learn more about the Academy, which was created to help people help animals and offers a broad range of engaging programs, at http://detroitzoo.org/education/humane-education.

Greenprint: Upcycling Straw to Save Dogs in Detroit

For the third year in a row, the Detroit Zoo’s Green Team has partnered with a Detroit dog rescue called C.H.A.I.N.E.D. (Continue Helping Animals in Need & Educating Dog owners) to upcycle bales of straw from our annual Halloween celebration, Zoo Boo. This year, we also began a partnership with Dog Aid. We donated more than 150 dry bales of straw to these organizations this week, which will be used throughout the winter to insulate outdoor shelters for dogs left outside by their owners.

Both organizations also take the time to properly educate pet owners on the risk of leaving pets outdoors in the winter, and in some cases they will rescue animals they believe are in dangerous situations.

By simply donating these bales of straw for reuse, the Zoo is greatly extending the useful life of this material, while potentially saving a dog’s life. Additionally, C.H.A.I.N.E.D and Dog Aid are able to redirect the approximately $700 they are saving on straw between them that can be used to purchase other supplies, such as dog food.

In addition, the Zoo donated any remaining bales of straw that might have been exposed to the elements to Detroit Dirt for composting.

This effort reduces waste while also educating the public, both of which are elements of our Greenprint initiative. Among the many steps on our Green Journey, the Zoo has a bold goal to be zero waste by 2020. We are continuing to develop important partnerships like these in order to be successful on our journey.

We would love to know how you’re upcycling fall decorations at your house. Follow the Detroit Zoo on Pinterest to learn more about the different ways to upcycle, such as turning your fall pumpkins into birdfeeders.

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Veterinary Care: Water Monitor Exam

Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

We recently performed an examination on our new water monitor. He is a 5-year-old adult male, weighs 30 pounds and is approximately 6 feet long. Water monitors are native to parts of southeast Asia. They are not an endangered species, but are known to be exploited in the pet trade. We rescued him from a local rescue organization that recently lost its funding, and he is currently in quarantine to ensure he is free from health problems before he is moved to the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

All animals new to the Detroit Zoo undergo a quarantine period; this is a very important practice that allows close observation, acclimation to new diets and caretakers, and ensures we do not transfer any contagious diseases to the rest of the resident animals.

Many of our snakes and lizards can be held by trained zookeepers while we examine them thoroughly and collect blood and other samples for testing. They can often even be radiographed while resting quietly on an X-ray plate. Our new water monitor is a very large lizard, and we knew it would not be possible to hold him safely for his exam. Water MonitorDr. Wynona Shellabarger created a plan for the monitor’s examination, and then went to his holding area to administer a sedative to allow for a safe and calm trip to the hospital. Once there, he was given gas anesthesia through a facemask until he was sedated enough that we could position him for radiographs and safely examine him. We palpated his abdomen, muscles and joints, listened to his heart and lungs, and examined him from head to toe, including the inside of his mouth. We also performed an ultrasound exam of his heart and other abdominal organs.

He appears healthy and in good condition. We will continue to “monitor” him until his quarantine period has ended and his new habitat at the Holden Reptile Conservation Center is ready for him.

– Dr. Ann Duncan