Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Asking for information about your local wildlife

I'd like to hear about your pets or any of your encounters w/ the wild ones (wild animals) in your area.

You are from all over the world -Where do you live and what kinds of wild animals do you encounter and what are the encounters like? What is your attitude toward your local wildlife and what do you think your community's attitude is? I've very curious about this. I think a lot of communities make wild animals into the enemy whenever there is an altercation w/ one of them, demonizing them as these terribly destructive and scary creatures.Yet, we get into our cars every day and drive around, knowing full well that a huge number of poeple die in cars every year. Yet there is no great uprising to go out and destroy all the remaining cars, if one car gets into an accident.

So why do we react this way w/ wild animals?

Stacey O'Brien

Can Dogs Read?

This is one of the most amazing discoveries of the last few years, I think:

The Gorilla Foundation, the one w/ Koko the Gorilla, has made great strides with Koko. They started experimenting with teaching her to read, and she was able to do so! THAT makes sense to me, because her IQ is a human level IQ, about that of a human child. And, of course, human children can read. Also, Koko is great with American Sign Language, which is a human language. So they taught her to read and to use written language to communicate!

What she now does is communicate using words that are printed on hard plastic cards similar to credit cards. Each card has one word on it, and she lays the words out on a table in the order she wants them to be in, to make sentences and say what she wants to say. She even leaves messages about what she's thinking to her keepers when they're gone.

A recent example is that she wrote that she wanted a puppy. They got her one. After one night w/ the puppy she wrote something like "Bad dog, no want". I'm paraphrasing. The dog was playing pretty rough and Koko didn't like that. Koko is extraordinarily gentle. If you haven't read about Koko the Gorilla, you ought to. She has had kittens as pets and treats them the way a mother gorilla would treat a gorilla baby, snuggling and playing gently with them. When her first kitten, All Ball, was killed, she howled with grief.

So, after the first experience w/ the rough puppy, she wasn't so enthusiastic. But then, after a few more nights, she left a message saying something like:
"Good dog. Happy, keep, family, happy holidays" (It was right around Christmas/New Years like it is now as I write this).

So they kept the dog.

This was all happening during the time when they were training Koko to point to words on a board to say what she wanted to say. The DOG was WATCHING, and picked up on the WORDS! I kid you not!

So, within the first day, the dog was touching the words for "potty", "food", and "play", I think. That's pretty close. Anyway, the dog learned 3 words on the first day.

Of course, seeing this, they decided to teach the dog, too!

And here's the really exciting news: YOU can order the board and instructions and teach your own dog to read and to communicate with you by pointing to words on the board. I haven't signed up yet but I am going to try this with Fiona. It'd be crazy not to try. Fiona is an exceptionally fast learner, having learned "sit" and "Fiona come" in one little session. I haven't had a dog since I was a kid, so I am betting that all dogs are about as smart as Fiona. I read about a border collie who learned words faster than a 5 year old kid in a controlled study (article is in the National Geographic, March 2008).

Having looked at the board, it's hard not to notice that there are symbols above the words, so I can't say whether the dogs are responding to the symbols or the words themselves. I wonder how well they'd do without the symbols....

On the other hand, it's impossible not to notice that dogs can understand an awful lot of what we say to them. Fiona understands the difference between going for a ride, going for a walk, going to Grandma's, going to the puppy park, going poopeepee (yes, ridiculous as it sounds), going out, going in, going "up" (getting into the car). And that's just variations of "going". She is also very good at using gestures and vocalizations to tell me what she wants. I didn't teach her to sratch at the door w/ one paw to say she wants out, but she does it to tell me she needs to go out and "poopoopeepee".

One of her dog friends, a Chihuahua, of all breeds, named Martini, came to my door w/ her owner one morning at 9:45am. After that, Fiona paced in front of the door and howled at around 9:45am every morning. I took that to mean she wants to play w/ Martini, of course, so we arranged for her and Martini to play all afternoon recently and then she stopped the pacing and howling at 9:45am.

If she wants to specifically go the puppy park, she indicates my hiking boots, which I wear to the puppy park (really it's a dog park), because the terrain is rough and the dogs are rowdy. She knows I wear those shoes there so she tells me that's where she wants to go by indicating those shoes.

And on it goes. So the communication is two ways. I know this isn't news to any dog owner. It was news when it was a Barn Owl communicating so well, because we just didn't know it was possible, and their wild nature and peoples' misunderstanding of Barn Owls lead to a lack of communication between the species. Those walls of misunderstanding had to be broken down before we were able to realize just how able the Barn Owl was as a communicator! Amazing!

But the dog? Most of us have seen dogs or read about dogs doing amazing things and communicating very well. Look at Lassie! She had to learn how to tell the family, on a near daily basis, that Timmy had yet again thrown himself down the well out of sheer boredom, apparently. Did the parents ever think to cap the well or put a locked lid on it? No. I think they secretly enjoyed that little bit of excitement, every day, when Lassie came to them whining and barking, and they pretended not to know that Timmy was down the well, humoring the dog by saying, "What is it girl? What is it?" As if they didn't know, after all these years of Timmy down the well. But I digress....

I was thinking that we ought to try this communication board w/ our dogs together. Those of you who have dogs ought to also order the board and instructions, and we ought to all work on it and we could share our progress and results with each other through the comment section of the blog and the blog itself.

what do you think? I think it would be fascinating, and we could all be doing a behavior/animal intelligence experiment together! I'm not saying it would be easy, but it would certainly be an adventure!

Here's the page with the information and brief instructions:


And this is the pdf of the board itself:


Please let me know, through the comments section, if you've downloaded it and how it's going w/ the doggie!

Stacey O'Brien

I apologize for neglecting the blog!

I meant to apologize BEFORE I put those other new blogs on but I got into a writers' zone and wanted to write and share pictures first. But I DO apologize. I really appreciate those of you who read the blog and I didn't communicate for a long time. I had the flu and didn't go online for quite a while.

My New Year's Resolution is to be MUCH better at blogging and sharing what's going on in the wildlife world. I hope you'll come back, those of you who have given up on me ever writing here! It means a lot to me to read your comments and to just communicate with you.

Have a great New Year everyone!

Stacey O'Brien

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A bit of a rambling post

I got a comment from La Isla d'lisa, saying that I crack her up because I said, ""I'm fat." and she said, "It doesn't matter".

La Isla d'lisa is right - it doesn't matter if we're fat, thin, tall, short, freckled, bald, or what color or heritage we have - it's what's in our hearts that matter. I should not be self conscious about being fat. My meds do this to me. BUT, even if I had an eating issue, so what? We all need to learn that people mostly take you at face value and most people are more worried about what others are thinking about, and are not obsessing over what you look like. If they ARE obsessing about what you look like, then they have problems with their own self esteem - they feel inadequate. Bullies are pretty much people who feel inadequate and overcompensate w/ bullying, I think.

When I meet someone who's "fat" or overweight, I just take them at face value and I never think about whether or not they are fat or thin. I'm interested in what they think and say and their personality. I think that's how most people are. And yet, people/we worry about the smallest things

Also, I think the basis of the fear of public speaking is the idea that the audience is possibly judging you or sizing you up, whereas in reality, they are also just taking you as you are and are interested to hear what you have to say.

When a public speaker is visibly nervous, the audience suffers with them because the audience is rooting for them, silently cheering them on and empathizing, not looking down upon them for being nervous.

So there's no real reason to be nervous! People are NOT being critical, usually.

I love public speaking because I really enjoy connecting with the audience over the subject we're talking about. I figure theyr'e there because they're as interested in the subject as I am, so to me, it feels like a discussion rather than a presentation.

Luckily, growing up in showbiz, our family had a band and my sis and I started singing, playing, and fronting the band when we were about 6 years old. We travelled all over California doing more gigs than I can begin to try to count, each time connecting w/ the audience and enjoying them. I learned that mistakes were no big deal.

For example, almost every musician has had the experience of suddenly blanking out in the middle of a song they've done a thousand times. Instead of freaking out, you just continue to play and I used to just make up words if I suddenly forgot the words, until I was back on track. Some of the audience caught it but some didn't, because I didn't freak out. Freaking out would be a lot worse than just continuing on.

Once, we were playing at the Wilshire Ebel Theatre, and I sat in for the band before ours because their keyboard player had become ill at the last minute. So, after this band played, my family band was supposed to come on stage and do our performance. I had been told to just stay at the keyboard and my family would join me, but then they started waving me in from backstage, urging me to come off the stage. I resisted. The curtains were still up so I just sat there. Nothing happened and their waving became more urgent backstage.

Then the curtains closed so I stood up to start to walk backstage. Obviously the plans had changed. Just as I was making my way across the dim stage, the curtains opened and I tripped on a cable and went sprawling across the stage, sliding on my stomach in a very ungainly manner almost to the edge. The audience froze, not knowing what was going to happen.

I got up, went to the microphone, and said, "And that was my clown act." and left the stage. The audience laughed, I think, with relief.

Then my family went up on stage and played. no big deal.

So now, when I go to speak about Wesley, I don't feel even one butterfly wing of nervousness because I know the people are there because they WANT to hear about Wesley, and I love to share about him, and I feel like we're all a bunch of kindred spirits who just haven't met each other yet. It's always so rewarding and the people I meet are always so kind and gracious and interesting and so into wildlife and learning.

I meet the most amazing KIDS! Kids who are reading the book at age 5, kids who want to work w/ animals when they grow up. I met a 3 year old who had a big duffle bag full of owl plushies and could identify all the N. American owl species and knew all about their behavior in the wild. THREE years old! And she was so sweet! I meet the most wonderful teens and tweens, too, and elementary school kids. It gives me hope for the future.

With all this going on, what does it really matter if I'm overweight? No one is perfect, and even if they LOOK perfect, they have SOMETHING in their life that isn't totally under control or perfect. As my friend, Cait Reed says, "With all the horror in the world, what difference does it make? That's one of our favorite lines from "What about Bob".

It's been an adjustment, being overweight and not looking like I used to, but so what? Life happens! I think it's an important lesson for all of us to realize that we are who we are and we are what we are and it's OK, and we're here for more important things - and we can be effective and make a difference in this world, so we can focus on that, not on our supposed imperfections. We shouldn't let out insecurities hold us back.

Anyway, I've been thinking about these issues lately. I hope you don't mind me talking about this stuff. With animals, I don't see them obsessing about how they look beyond the basic need to survive. Animals are so good at living in the moment and really experiencing that moment fully, and I'm trying to learn from them to be more like that. To really look at the beauty around me and not get so lost in my thoughts that I miss out on the here and now. Animals help me to enjoy the here and now. I'll be lost in thought and then Fiona will come up and want to play or cuddle, or a hamster will start to bark softly at me and I'll be amazed all over again at how preturnaturally CUTE these hamsters are! Gosh they're cute!

So, Lisa, THANK YOU for reminding me, and the rest of us, that it really does NOT matter. I was amiss when I said that about being fat. Yes, I'm fat, but it doesn't really matter. Thank you so much for your kind and wise words!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Missing Hamster

If you're the kind who prays or sends good vibes, could you send some my way in regards to my hamster, Kissy? She is so sweet that she kisses my face constantly, hence the name. Well, as you may know, I have a sleep disorder where, when I'm in that phase, I pass out frequently. I was holding Kissy and I passed out for just a few moments and she was gone. Usually, she comes when called and is no trouble to find. Well, that was a WEEK ago!

i hope and pray she's ok and not stuck somewhere! I've left food and water all over the house and spent hours chasing the tiniest sounds, calling and calling her. i still haven't seen her but I think I've heard her. It's so upsetting! I'm very worried about her. I hope to have a "Christmas Miracle" today and find her alive and healthy!

Yes, I have hamsters. They are technically Syrian Ground Squirrels although we call them "Teddy Bear Hamsters" in the US. in Syria they live 8 feet underground in eleborate burrows they make for themselves. They are totally solitary and only put up with another hamster during breeding, but when done, the female chases and bites the poor male. They're pretty smart. I don't know why we're so surpised when another animal is smart...

More about my hamsers on a later post. The post following this one is about meeting a bald eale and visiting wildlife rescue and rehab centers in the Waashington area near the water. What an adventure! Check it out!


Stacey O'Brien

Merry Christmas and Holidays to all!

hi Everyone!
it's Christmas Day and I hope everyone is having a lovely day, whether you actually celebrate Christmas or not. I hope you celebrate something - solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanuka (which is over, I think), or St. Stephen's Day or whatever day, because it is SUCH a gorgeous time of year in and of itself! Everything is decked out with lights and colorful decorations.

I APOLOGIZE to EVERYONE for my lack of presence in email and on the blog! I've had a rough fall, healthwise. But I'm back to my normal level of ill health now so I can do the blog and do events if I take my time and plan carefully.

There was a rumor that I wasn't doing events because i was sick! That's NOT TRUE! I just have to plan extra time for sleep and usually an extra night in a hotel to rest before travelling home.

But I do regret not being online. There's so much to talk about!

I went up to the Seattle area to Bainbridge Island to speak at a fundraiser for the West Sound Wildlife Shelter and it was sooo amazing! I took the ferry across to the island and the air was so fresh and the forest was dripping with moss and ferns and the intense smell of the plants and even the earth was better than the finest cologne. I stayed in a little B&B called The Captain's House. The owner donated my visit to the wildlife center, which I thought was very sweet.

I was told that on Bainbridge Island, people read more books per capita than in any other part of the US. I believed it, because as we drove along I could see into living rooms w/ bookcases all the way to celieings and those library attached latters on wheels attached to the huge bookcases.

Plus there was a nice turnout of very enthusiastic participants. I played a DVD in the lobby, of me and Wesley cuddling among other activities.

One of my goals - this is important to me - is to help to dispell the old wives' tale that has passed from one owl keeper to another for decades that says that "owls hate to be touched" while in captivity. The result of this wives' tale is heartbreaking, because these extremely cuddly creatures (owls), who spend HOURS preening each other and cuddling w/ their mates are entirely cut off from all touch and affection! This leads to something similar to attachment disorder in humans - a deep anxiety and loneliness.

I preened a beautiful Barred Owl behind the ears and along the neck and nose and she bent her head and closed her eyes and leaned into me. That was one of those magical moments for me. I was visiting a wildlife center and Jeff Guidry was with me and we both saw ow this owl responded.'

I hopeo that keepers and rehabbers will use affection as the powerful form of enrichment that it is for unreleasable birds of prey. Of course you cannot do it for releasable birds!!!

Anyway, after I was done w/ my speaking engagements on Bainbridge Island (of course I met such great people there!
), I took the ferry back and met Jeff Guidry who took me up to Sarvey Wildlife center where I met Freedom the Eagle. Jeff's relationship w/ Freedom is very much like mine was with Wesley.

In fact, I only know one other person who has such a deep connection w/ their unreleasable bird of prey, and that's Nancy Connie of SkyHunters. Jeff has a profound, affectionate, and even telepathic relationship w/ "his" eagle, named Freedom. He took me to meet her! What a privilege!

She and I took to each other immediately as if we'd been buddies all our lives. I was so comfortable with her! Her mannerisms were so much like Wesley's and she even had a vocalization that sounded just like his "deedle deedle deedle DEEP DEEP DEEP DEEP deedle deedle dee!", which is an exclamation. of course, it was in an Eagle Voice.

Bald Eagles don't sound like that long beautiful scream you hear in movies echoing through the canyons. THAT sound is the scream of a red-tailed hawk, but it's always used in movies when they depict an eagle. Sign,

No, bald eagles sound like, "cack cack cack cack!" like great big chickens. Freedom chatters away to Jeff just like Wesley used to and updates Jeff on her day. She is all opinion and communication. She gazes deep into Jeff's eyes and really listens to him. He uses telepathy quite a lot to beam pictures to her to explain things to her and there have been some really amazing outcomes from that.

I met Jeff because his book is coming out in May! It is the story of him and Freedom! I think it's going to be called "An Eagle named Freedom". It validates everything I said about Wesley and I'm thrilled to have another voice joined w/ mine in saying that these birds of prey are emotionally deep and complex, they are amazing communicators, they're highly intelligent and know what's going on at all times, and they are cuddly. Freedom cuddles. She throws her wings around you or across your shouldters. She lets you play with her big reptilian feet and bury your face in her big boofy chest or kiss her, all of which I did.

I don't mean to imply that Jeff lets people hold her. It was a rare privilege to hold her, and he trusted me because of my relationship w/ Wesley, so it was a very rare occurrence to hold her! She was so warm and emitted a sweet feathery smell that reminded me of Wesley, yet wasn't exactly the same.

I'm still over the moon about it!

Ok, so you wanna see pictures? I'm FAT, so please overlook my fatness! It's the medication and such and it's embarrassing but what can I do, Hide? No, it is what it is and there are more important things in life,,starting w/ just being alive! I'll take fat and alive over thin and dead ANY day, eh?

With that out of the way, enjoy the pics. oh yeah, you're not imagining that one of the pics is w/ a bobcat! His name is Baxter and what a character he is! Yes, he's tame, but only just. He has a wild energy to him that oozes from him and shifts and glimmers so that one moment he's passive and another he's pouncing and grabbing your ankle and trying to bite it. But he responds to the word, "NO!" and stops. He has a large area to roam and play and he's exceptionally playful. He just glows. There's no mistake that this is a wild creature, not a kitty cat! Anyway, there we are together! His purr was so loud you could hear it from quite far away.

There's almost nothing that makes me happier than gettinig close to the wild onnnnnes. Each one is so special! So that trip WAS my Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season for sure!! What a rush!

Remember, by the way, that you can buy Wesley the Owl plushies on my website and they really do resemble Wesley HIMSELF in a way that's downright uncanny! I always startle when I see one! And you can get Wesley notebooks, gift cards, jewelry boxes, totes, hats, mouse pads, mugs, etc. by going to the website: www.wesleytheowl.com and clicking on the owl store button or something like that... I shoulda woulda coulda mentioned it way back when people were Christmas or Holiday shopping.

I also found out that you can still get the hardcover versoin of Wesley the Owl from Barnes and Noble! I ordered a box of 20 hardcovers from the Barnes and Noble Website. People have asked, so that's why I'm talling you all this. Ok enough of that.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope your heart is at peace and your lifeis going well. If it's not, remember that his IS just a season andthat al ting do pass at some point!

Happy Holidays!