Newsletter November 2017

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November 2017

What's New? 

Equine programThe Animal Behavior Institute is proud to announce our new program in Equine Behavior & Management. This program is designed for horse trainers, owners and enthusiasts that would like to develop a deeper understanding of equine behavior - including training, cognition, emotions, health and nutrition. Our comprehensive program will improve the management of the horses in your care, enhancing their welfare and producing a stronger human-equine bond.

Click here for a brochure describing the program.

Michelle Gregory: Caring for the Caretakers

This article is dedicated to Olive, Gregory’s late dog, whose passing motivated Gregory to help others who have experienced loss.

Where can an ABI education take you? For Michelle Gregory, a graduate of our Zoo and Aquarium Science program, the possibilities are endless. Gregory has had a deep connection to animals from a young age; she always wanted to protect animals and give them a voice. Gregory began by working for her local SPCA, and since graduating from the Animal Behavior Institute, she has launched her own business, Compassion Wellness.

While working at the SCPA, Gregory began to notice that working directly with animals presented a challenge: she and her coworkers were constantly giving, and as a result, found themselves without much energy to create personal lives. Gregory wanted to do more outside of work, but came home each day exhausted, unable to forget about the animals she worked with during the day. “When you clock out, your heart is still in your work,” Gregory explained. It was hard for her and others not to feel guilty for taking time for themselves at the end of the day; this is what led Gregory to Compassion Wellness.

What Gregory and many people who serve as caretakers experienced is referred to as compassion fatigue: the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion resulting from a constant demand of caring for others. Once she learned about compassion fatigue, Gregory was inspired to help educate others so that they could begin to practice compassion wellness, the prevention of fatigue and burn-out through self-awareness and self-care. She began by presenting about compassion fatigue at the Wildlife Rehabilitators of North Carolina Symposium. She found out about it from one of her ABI professors, Toni O’Neil, who encouraged her to attend. “That experience really took off my career path,” Gregory stated. 

Gregory’s presentation explained the symptoms of compassion fatigue as well as self-care strategies such as meditation and mindfulness. All attendees of Gregory’s class took a self-assessment test called ProQol, or Professional Quality of Life. It tests level of burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion satisfaction in the workplace. Afterwards, Gregory taught management strategies for dealing with the emotions that come with a caretaker job. Gregory hopes that people left her presentation with heightened awareness and a toolkit to assist in dealing with compassion fatigue. After presenting, she realized how much she enjoyed talking with others and helping them in their own careers. This inspired her to become a speaker and ultimately to launch her own business with the goal of helping others become aware of compassion fatigue.

Compassion Wellness’s website provides information for anyone interested in having Gregory speak. She provides valuable guidance for any audience where people are caring for other living things. On the website, you can find more information about Gregory, as well as information on what compassion wellness is. In her work, Gregory aims to provide tools for caretakers to continue doing compassionate work. This moves beyond spreading awareness to providing self-empowerment to battle fatigue.

However, Gregory has not stopped caring for animals since launching her own business. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Gregory travelled to Texas to work with Pets Alive shelters in rescuing animals who had been displaced and separated for their families. She described it as an “emotional yet rewarding experience.” In the devastation, Gregory felt a touching sense of community with people standing together to do what needed to be done. Together with other volunteers, she took animals on walks, fed them, and took care of all of their necessities for living. Pets Alive takes a deeper look into Gregory’s contributions here.

For Gregory, the most important part of her job is helping people to stay healthy so they can keep caring for others. She explained that caretaking can be an exceptionally emotional experience because “we get into this field to save lives.” Animals often need care that they cannot provide for themselves; they are extremely dependent on humans. However, if humans aren’t strong and don’t take care of themselves, they lose their ability to take care of animals. Gregory aims to help those with large capacities for caring to stay in their jobs and avoid burning out due to these challenges. “The most rewarding part is seeing animals happy and healthy, and seeing people feel inspired because of my presentations,” Gregory said. ABI is proud to call her an alumna, and looks forward to what she will continue to achieve throughout her career.

Visit Compassion Wellness on Facebook or via email at

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Smoky the Canine War Hero

In February 1944, in the midst of World War II, an American soldier was trekking through the New Guinea jungle when he saw a tiny movement in an abandoned foxhole. Though it might have easily been overlooked, the soldier went to investigate. And to his surprise, he found a tiny four-pound Yorkshire Terrier standing only seven inches tall. In a moment of compassion, the soldier picked up the dog, who was barely a year old at the time. Shortly after, the soldier sold the dog to Corporal William A. Wynne for only two Australian pounds (about $6.44 at the time). The amount was enough that the soldier could return to his poker game. Wynne was happy to pay the price, however. After being named Smoky, the dog backpacked through the jungle with Wynne and the rest of his team for the remainder of the war.

Wynne initially hypothesized that Smoky was a Japanese war dog who had gotten separated from her owner. However, he soon discovered that she did not understand commands in Japanese or English. Regardless, Wynne took her in as his own. Smoky began sleeping in Wynne’s tent and sharing his rations. At night, she slept on a blanket made from a green felt card table cover. Unlike the official war dogs of World War II, Smoky had access to neither veterinary medicine nor a balanced diet formulated specially for dogs. Instead, she ate what Wynne ate, with the occasional can of Spam. Despite this, Smoky never got sick, and avoided the paw ailments that many other war dogs fell victim to.

Smoky served in the South Pacific with the 5th Air Force and participated in 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions. She survived 150 air raids on New Guinea and made it through a typhoon at Okinawa. After the war, she was credited with twelve combat missions and awarded with eight battle stars. Wynne called her his “angel from a foxhole.” She saved his life on multiple occasions, guiding him in the midst of open fire. Smoky even parachuted from 30 feet in the air out of a tree using a special parachute made just for her! There was no doubt that Wynne considered her part of his team and went out of his way to take care of her.

In 1944, Yank Down Under magazine named Smoky the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area.” Besides boosting morale, her greatest contributions to the Allies were her exceptional hearing and sense for danger. Smoky saved the lives of Wynne and other soldiers on multiple occasions by warning them of incoming fire. She made national headlines when she helped engineers build an airbase at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. A Signal Corps team needed to run a telegraph wire through a 70-foot-long pipe that was eight inches in diameter. This would have been a difficult task if not for Smoky’s help: Wynne attached the wire to Smoky, who was just the right size to run through the pipe.

This video shows Wynne’s reflections on Smoky’s life.

According to Animal Planet, Smoky was also the first war therapy dog on record. After World War II, Smoky was smuggled back into the United States hidden in a modified oxygen mask carrying case. Once in the U.S., Smoky became a national celebrity. She often performed for crowds, showing off tricks such as walking a tightrope while blindfolded. She learned these tricks during her time abroad, which she often performed for the entertainment of troops with the Special Services and in hospitals. After the war, Smoky performed 42 live television shows without ever repeating a trick. On Veterans Day 2005, a bronze life-size sculpture of Smoky sitting in a CI helmet was unveiled above the spot Smoky was laid at her final resting place. The monument reads, “Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and the Dogs of All Wars.”

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The Tegu: A Rewarding and Intelligent Pet Reptile

If you like having dogs, but you also want to impress your friends, the tegu may be the pet for you. The Argentine black and white tegu has unusually high intelligence, and has been known to regularly and clearly seek out human affection like a cat or dog. These lizards can form a strong attachment to their owners. Some can come on command and be house-broken, and as they become older, they can become more docile and less fearful of humans, allowing for the type of human-animal bond that pet owners strive for. In addition, tegus are beautiful creatures that can enrich any home with the proper care and attention.

Tegus are native to Central and South America, and are known for their large size. Although they resemble monitor lizards, they are only distantly related to them. They are eaten in some areas, but are a popular pet in many others. There are many types of tegus, but the Argentine black and white tegu is the largest and most popular. In the wild, it inhabits tropical rainforests, savannas, and semi-desserts. Like many reptiles, these tegus go into brumation (a type of hibernation) in autumn when the temperature drops. However, they are very active during the time that they are awake.

As hatchlings, Argentine tegus have a gorgeous emerald green coloring from their snout to their neck; after a few months, this becomes black. They also have solid yellow and black bands that become speckled as they get older. Adult males are much larger than females and can grow to over four feet in length. They are one of the few partially warm-blooded lizards. However, they only have this temperature control during their reproductive season.

As juveniles, tegus eat a wide range of invertebrates as well as fruit and seeds. However, as they get older, they begin to eat more and more protein, preying on eggs from other animals’ nests, or small birds and other vertebrates. Despite this, they do continue to eat insects and wild fruits into adulthood. Many captive tegus enjoy bananas, grapes, mangoes and papayas. In captivity, they are commonly fed high protein diets including ground turkey, dog food, chicken, eggs, insects, and small rodents. However, it is very dangerous to feed any pet a live animal as the animal can fight back and seriously injure your pet. If you feed a tegu any of these items, make sure that it is prepared as food from a pet store and is not alive during feeding.

Tegus can live for 15-20 years in the wild, and possibly longer in captivity, enjoying a similar lifespan to that of a cat. Keep in mind that if you decide to adopt a tegu, it will be a multi-decade commitment. Furthermore, if not handled regularly, tegus may show more aggressive behavior. Their bite can be painful and damaging due to their very strong jaws and sharp teeth.

This video provides further insight into the details of owning a tegu as a pet.

Keep in mind that tegus are never as tame as dogs. They also need very large enclosures and have specific light and heat needs, like most reptiles. Additionally, they cannot be trusted around smaller animals and will not necessarily get along with dogs and cats. Another consideration is that most veterinarians are not equipped to handle the medical needs of a lizard like the tegu, and if your tegu needs medical attention, you may have to take him to a specialist. This can be both inconvenient and costly. While tegus can be extremely rewarding pets, it is wise to think through all of the commitments that will be required before adopting one. 

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Top Five Pet Birds for Beginners

1.     Canaries

Canaries can be the easiest pet birds to own and take care of. They do not require large amounts of space and are extremely simple to care for. Additionally, they do not need a lot of attention; they are perfectly content to be on their own and will sing regardless of whether someone is there. However, they are also compatible with other pets. They are native to the Canary Islands, hence their name, and still exist in the wild, though they have been captive bred for 500 years. Today, they are available in many colors and a range of sizes, shapes and patterns. If well cared for, canaries can live for ten years or longer. Though canaries need food and water on a daily basis, they can be left alone for an occasional weekend. After sunset, in order to sleep, canaries need to be in a dark room or have their cage covered with a sheet.

2.     Finches

Many types of finches are popular as household pets. In general, finches are excellent for people who want a pet bird, but are not ready to take on the demands of a parrot. They do require a large cage; they should not have trimmed wing feathers and need to be able to fly in their enclosure. Because they are flock animals, they thrive when housed with other finches, but should not be housed with a parrot or larger bird, which could injure the finch. However, it is wise to consult with a breeder when deciding on the combination of finches you will house. Finches of the opposite gender will often breed, but finches of the same gender may not get along. Additionally, some finch species can be aggressive towards other finch species. Finches can eat pellet based diets designed for them and available in most pet stores. However, it is important to supplement this with fresh vegetables, grubs, and seeds.


3.     Parakeets

Also known as budgies, parakeets can live from seven to fifteen years when properly taken care of. They primarily eat seeds and pant material, and often eat bird food with fruits and vegetables as well as other vitamins. While parakeets will be okay if you do not interact with them, especially if they are housed with other parakeets, they are easily hand tamed and can be very loving towards their owners. It is important that parakeets do have some kind of contact with others, whether it be with humans or other birds. Parakeets are good pets for children as long as the children are respectful of them. It is advisable to have your child interact with a parakeet under adult supervision only. Not only can children hurt these small birds, but the birds’ beaks can also be harmful to tiny fingers.

4.     Cockatiels

Cockatiels are some of the most popular pet birds. They are small and have a variety of color patterns. They are also friendly and easy to tame: they are capable of mimicking speech, though they can be difficult to understand. However, they are excellent whistlers and can easily be taught to whistle tunes. Cockatiels should have a large cage, and it is important to provide cockatiels variety in their diet. They eat seeds, pelleted diets, fresh fruit and vegetables, and proteins such as hard-boiled eggs and cooked meats in moderation. They typically live between 15-20 years and have a reputation as a gentle and docile bird; they often like to be pet and held. 

5.     Poicephalus Parrots

If you’re going to get a parrot, this is the one to begin with. These are much more manageable that giant macaws and are actually quieter than most other parrots. Although some talk, not all do. In general, they are quiet, but they can go through louder and more talkative phases. For example, if they are separated into different rooms, they may call to each other. Compared to other parrots, they are small to medium sized and don’t require as much space. However, it is important that they have enough room to move around, play with toys, and spread their wings. These birds are very intelligent and trainable, and can live up to fifty years. Because of this long lifespan, it is important to consider the decision to adopt a poicephalus parrot carefully before bringing one into your home. However, if you believe it is right for you, any of these birds can make loving and rewarding companions. 

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