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okay…so now I want a pet tarantula

IMG_1043No joke.

We did the coolest thing after school yesterday! Our local library hosted a session with Travis Potts, local “Spider Man.” Not the kind that swings from building to building rescuing damsels in distress and battling villains, but a hero to the public, just the same. He’s a tarantula fanatic, and he brought his pets to share with us.

I have a morbid fascination with spiders. I think they are super creepy, but, yet, I can’t take my eyes off of them. Kind-of like a train-wreck. And there’s Charlotte. Who doesn’t love Charlotte? Spiders are completely enchanting. So when we heard that there were going to be spiders at the library, I was completely pumped. Porter, my six-year-old son, was excited, too. And Campbell, my four-year-old daughter, told me she didn’t want to go, but I made her, anyway, and when they opened the door to allow us to approach the spiders, she shriveled and cried, but, because I’m such an awesome mom, I drug her in. Yeah, I suck a little. SPOILER ALERT: She lived. And she loved it.

Travis brought four live tarantulas, and we got to view them and ask questions.

He shared all sorts of information about them that I didn’t quite absorb because I was keeping my eye on the creepy buggars, but as he talked about them and answered these crazy kid questions, the spiders became less creepy to me, and to Campbell. Porter dove right in. He asked tons of questions, and then when Campbell finally let her curiosity get the better of her, she asked more than tons of questions. I think she may have driven Travis insane. He got a small taste of what I deal with every day:

Excuse me. How much venom do they have? Excuse me. How many spiders do you have? Excuse me. Do they bite? Excuse me. What are their names? Excuse me. I think the baby one is really cute. What is her name? Spidey? Excuse me. What do they eat? Excuse me. How old is this spider? Excuse me. What is her name? Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me…

My daughter is a total chatterbox, but at least she’s semi-polite. With the excuse me bit. The first question of hers that Travis addressed was “how many knees does a spider have?” I chuckled a bit because spiders don’t have knees. So I made eye contact with Travis to let him know that Campbell was so naive to ask about spider knees. How cute.

Travis answered Campbell’s seemingly absurd question and explained in all seriousness that spiders have eight knees. And, better yet, if a leg gets caught in something, they can purposely separate at the knee to preserve themselves and then grow back the leg gradually with each molt. Huh? Yeah, that’s what I was totally thinking. I learned today that spiders have knees! Wow!

Porter asked some really valid and well-timed questions. So between the two of them, we learned a lot. And then I asked some questions, too, like how he got into this whole mess. He chuckled a little bit and explained that he took his son to a reptile show about four years ago and ended up with his first tarantula, Rosie. I loved hearing how he just stumbled upon being the local spider man. He taught us about their warning signs…how they “kick their hairs.” Porter was fascinated with that.

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Porter questions Travis while Campbell tries to edge in.

The spider with the knees that Campbell asked about was his first, named Rosie, because she’s a Mexican Red-Knee (the official name to officially slam it home to me once again that spiders have knees). She was really beautiful, once you got to know her. According to Travis, her breed is one of the ten most docile tarantulas, and a great one to start with, if you’re going to go arachnid. We even got to see her feeding.

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Rosie.

There were others. L.P. was an abbreviation for his scientific name–it escapes me–as well as being a “little Potts,” and he will someday be 12″. Wow! He ate a cockroach right in front of us and spun some silk to make himself more comfortable while he ate.

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L.P. eating a cockroach.

And, then, there was Max from Argentina who was named after Travis’ friend, Max, from Argentina. Max was huge. Impressive.

Max

Max from Argentina.

Campbell’s favorite was the “so cute” baby one who hasn’t been named, yet, because Travis wants to get to know her, first. Well, that’s awesome. Campbell took it upon herself to attempt a name, but I think Travis is looking for something more original than “Spidey.”

Baby

Baby no-name.

I am beyond thankful that my children and I had this opportunity to experience tarantulas up close. What was once creepy is still creepy, but not quite so much. Travis talked about how he can hold Rosie, and it made me want to hold her. And for the first time in my life, in the presence of spiders, I didn’t have the urge squeal as if I was in a horror movie.

So I asked one last question, which, is of course, the ultimate FAQ: “Have you ever been bit?” His response: “Not yet. But I know it will happen.” And it’s worth it to him. And that is completely awesome.


The Animal History Museum: Understanding and Celebrating the Human-Animal Bond

Animal_History_MuseumII_biggerThe grand opening date may still be in question, but the mission is not.

The Animal History Museum is the first museum dedicated to understanding and celebrating the human-animal bond. Its purpose is to serve and educate the public through the creation of a museum in Los Angeles County, California, for the collection, preservation and exploration of the history, culture, science, and law relating to the relationship between human and non-human animals; by presenting exhibitions, lectures and other activities that are consistent with, and supportive of, the museum’s educational goals and purpose.

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Amy Breyer

I spoke with Amy Breyer, Executive Director and President of the museum’s Board of Trustees, about how the museum was conceived, what it’s all about, and what the status is on the grand opening. Ms. Breyer has spent most of her career in Chicago practicing animal law, and I got the feeling from her that however stressful working on a museum opening may be, she feels like it’s a breath of fresh air. She said that though she didn’t wish to practice litigation any longer–after opening and running Illinois’ first animal law practice–she wanted to “bring up these concepts in a non-confrontational setting.” Her passion for the project is insatiable, and she’s humble as can be. Though the museum is her brain-child, she was much more comfortable talking about the elite team of “pioneering individuals in all disciplines related to animals” that she has surrounded herself with. “It’s a privilege to know these people,” she said.

Ms. Breyer began working on the Los Angeles-area (a specific site is still in the works) museum with her founding board, and though the museum is not yet a physical building, after speaking to Breyer and looking over their online exhibits, I feel as if I’ve already visited it. Breyer is warm and smart and informative, which is exactly what I imagine the Animal History Museum to be.

So what’s the scoop? Breyer and her team are in various stages of discussion regarding pinning down a site for the physical museum. She’s not exactly sure when it will open, but projects that we won’t have to wait much longer. In the meantime, the online gallery her team has curated is nothing short of spectacular. The online gallery currently has six exhibits including fine art, historical photography, and even art and stories culminating from social media.

I asked Breyer about these non-traditional exhibits that were curated from social media. She explained that the exhibits Breaking Stereotypes: America’s Pit Bull Rescues & the Human-Animal Bond and Single, Experienced Animal Seeks Mature, Loving Relationship: Stories of Older Animal Adoption were a surprising result of Facebook contests. The Animal History Museum received such an overwhelming number of quality submissions that the sensation evolved into a community, of sorts, from which the exhibitions were born. I found this fascinating both in the role that social media can play in the development of such an exhibition and how open Breyer is to taking advantage of societal trends to create exhibits that people will not only be naturally drawn to, but that they can participate in, all in the name of animals.

Both these innovative exhibitions and the museum’s more traditional exhibitions will be featured online and in the museum, some on a rotating basis, and some permanent. Even when the physical museum opens, Breyer plans to continue to grow the online gallery, both as a support to the museum and as its own entity with separate, unique content. Upon entering the online gallery, the museum’s Web site states:

The Animal History Museum plans to make its online gallery an important part of its mission–both as a way of giving you, our guest a taste of what the brick-and-mortar museum will offer once it opens–as well as growing along side it once the museum opens its doors as a vibrant, integral complement to our physical collections.

Like our brick-and-mortar plans, the online gallery will feature both permanent collections as well as rotating ones. We believe it to be the first permanent, virtual museum collection dedicated to all things animal anywhere in the world.

Throughout my conversation with Breyer, she was reluctant to toot her own horn, and quick to highlight the efforts of her contributors, scholars from all over the English-speaking world. “No one person is a museum all to themselves,” she stated. Aside from being pioneers in their chosen field, these initial contributors–now two dozen individuals–”didn’t have a place to put their work in front of a mainstream audience,” Breyer explained. Some of these individuals are highly specialized and are doing groundbreaking work, so to have them contribute to this collection and to be able to see all of their efforts come together is quite special.

Piers Locke

Piers Locke

Breyer holds all of her contributers in high regard and mentioned Piers Locke as an excellent example of the pioneering work these people are doing. She explained to me that Locke is instrumental in creating a new field, that of elephantology. Though Breyer is well-versed in Locke’s work, she spoke about this emerging field like an excited little girl as she shared information with me regarding these studies in human/elephant interaction, including the elephant’s role as worker, protector, and companion. Her passion shone. As a New Zealand-lecturer in Anthropology, Locke has found a new audience with the Animal History Museum. The museum Web site describes that Locke

is pioneering the nascent field of elepantology, through his efforts conducting historical and ethnographic research involving elephant and human communities in Chitwan, Nepal since 2001. This research raises issues in: apprenticeship learning and expert knowledge, practice and identity in total institutions, human-animal intimacies and the ritual veneration of elephants, and the role of captive elephant management in nature tourism, protected area management and biodiversity conservation.

It’s no wonder Breyer is so excited about the work contributors such as Locke are doing.

What’s next? The museum is currently working on an exhibit of Seth Casteel‘s Underwater Dogs, scheduled to open this month in the online gallery.

In it’s quest to open the facility, the Animal History Museum is offering the public opportunities to contribute. An especially exciting and attainable opportunity is to become a “Founding Member.” By joining for as little as $30 per year, you can help this museum and receive gifts available to only to members who join during the initial fundraising drive. And your annual membership won’t begin until the doors open. Large donor opportunities and corporate sponsorships are also available.

I, for one, can’t wait for the Animal History Museum to open! Until then, my family and I are enjoying all that the Web site galleries have to offer.

Follow the Animal History Museum on Facebook and Twitter for information and updates.


it’s okay that my first grader is failing Spanish

He got +2. He’s IP (in progress) in Spanish.

He’s going down. Mayday.

But let’s put this into perspective, okay? He’s in first grade. It’s Spanish. And he didn’t know there were hints at the bottom!!! He didn’t know! He said he didn’t know, and I totally believe him, because he’s rad, and he would have gotten them all, had he noticed.

So let’s look at the positives, shall we? Of the two he got right, he got 2/2 for pets. So, technically, he got 100% where it really counts, right? And he even threw in some French. Because he’s so advanced. You know…I don’t want to brag.

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National Geographic Kids goes totally techy

IMG_7325I grew up with a library of National Geographic magazines in my home, so it’s only natural that my jr. pet sitters have a subscription to National Geographic Kids magazine (called National Geographic World back when I had a subscription). We love, love, love reading it together! We’ll usually read an article or two after our nightly book-reading ritual so we can savor the magazine all month.

Since we’ve been busy with summer activities and slackin’ on the reading a wee bit, we were behind on the last issue. We noticed only a couple of days ago that a few of the articles have a new techy feature that blows my mind. There are now “digital extras” in the form of “bonus videos” that you can watch on your phone. No joke!

All I had to do was download the “free NG Kids Scanner” on my iPhone, scan the picture in question, and up popped a totally awesome video that showed footage of what was described in the article. How crazy cool is that?!

Totally simple instructions…IMG_7326

AND we just received the September issue in the mail today! And it has driving dogs. Enough said.

NGKidsBonusVideoArrow

National Geographic Kids magazine was already awesome, but this adds another level of excitement. I’m happy to say that my littles are already really excited about reading, but this takes the magazine-reading experience to a whole new level. And I imagine it might entice children who don’t enjoy reading to give it a try. And, again: driving dogs. Yes.


future vet camp at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is one of our favorite places to go, especially to escape the summer heat in the desert. We last visited during companion animal month, when we participated in all sorts of animal-related activities.

ImageThis past Saturday, the littles participated in the Banfield Future Vet® program at CMoP. The interactive program is designed for school-aged children as an introduction to the field of veterinary medicine, and was a great activity for our animal-loving family.

Dr. Molander, a veterinarialn from Banfield Pet Hospital, led the class of about a dozen with assistance from Dr. Duncan, also from Banfield, and Dharti Patel, a student in veterinary medicine from Texas A&M participating in the student job program at Banfield. Service dog Benson and his person, Justine, from Pet Partners® were also on hand to participate in a sample examination. Dr. Molander interacted with the kids right from the start, giving them the opportunity to talk about their own pets. Molander, Duncan, and Patel shared with the class the reasons why they wanted to become veterinarians. Dr. Molander related a childhood story about watching a vet stitch up her injured horse, saying “I want to do that!” Dr. Duncan told the kids how veterinary medicine was the perfect combination for her two passions, animals and science, and Patel told us that she loves animals, but was never around them growing up, so she wanted to learn about them and work with them. They made it clear to the kids that people arrive at the career choice from different backgrounds and for a variety of reasons. The kids also learned that becoming a veterinarian is a lot of work and requires four years of school.

Dr. Molander talked to the kids about what vets do, and aside from taking care of injured and sick animals, the students learned that vets sometimes travel to large animals who won’t fit in the office, such as farm animals and zoo animals. Veterinarians also spend time teaching, researching, and performing tests to further the field of veterinary medicine. Veterinarians also do meat inspections–something I learned–to help keep people who eat meat healthy.

Dr. Molander displayed posters on various topics and allowed the kids to come up and mark correct answers. They drew pictures of what a pet would need to stay healthy and discussed individual symptoms and whether they meant that the animal was feeling well or not well.

Things really got fun when Dr. Molander called Benson, a gorgeous English Golden Retriever, up for a mock examination. She described what she does and why as she looked Benson over. “I start the examination before I even touch the animal,” she explained. Whether or not the animal greets her when she walks in the room is important. She notices the animal’s balance and gait and looks at the eyes, all before she makes contact with her hands. The kids learned that veterinarians do a nose-to-tail examination, and Dr. Molander showed them how she feels different parts of the animals’ bodies and what she looks for. Benson was quite cooperative and seemed to enjoy the attention.

Dr. Molander examines Benson.

Dr. Molander examines Benson.

Dr. Molander further illustrated her examination with models, showing the kids what goes on inside a dog.

The models allowed the kids to see what goes on inside a dog.

The models allowed the kids to see what goes on inside a dog.

After Benson’s exam, Dr. Molander talked to the kids about what they can do as a pet owner to make sure their pets stay healthy and happy, including making sure they have twice-yearly exams, helping control the pet population with spaying and neutering, the importance of vaccinations, nutrition, regular teeth cleaning, exercise, parasite control, and identification such as microchipping. I’m glad that Dr. Molander talked to the kids about the importance of identification for our animals, as I just wrote about a revolutionary app that hit mobile devices for the first time last week.

Dr. Molander also talked about how to handle pets in the heat of our Arizona summers, telling the kids that although exercise is important, we need to be careful that we don’t push our pets too much when it’s hot and we need to be careful of their paws on hot outdoor surfaces, another subject I touched upon recently. She also explained that just as we increase our water intake during the summer months, so do animals, so, as pet owners, we need to make sure that we are providing our animals with plenty of fresh water.

The kids had great fun learning all about veterinary medicine, and were awarded for their efforts with a graduation ceremony.

They received working stethoscopes, graduation certificates, and a bag of goodies that included bookmarks, stickers, and an activity book. My kids love “stuff,” so they were thrilled.

FutureVetCertificate

After the ceremony, the kids got to get their feet wet by examining ever-patient Benson.

Good boy!

Good boy!

When the kids were done being vets, we enjoyed exploring the rest of the museum, as there is always something new going on. In fact, on October 19, the museum is hosting 5K and Play, which will include a 5K, 1-mile Fun Run/Walk, and Toddler Trot. Registration includes admission to the museum on the 18th, 19th or 20th, healthy post-race food and drinks, and a t-shirt. All race finishers will receive a unique handmade piece of museum artwork, and the top three finishers in each five year age group will receive prizes. Sponsorship opportunities are available. All proceeds will benefit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. It sounds like an awesome, healthy family activity!

The Banfield Future Vet Program was an amazing experience for my kids, who are true animal lovers, and all of the kids in the room seemed to really enjoy themselves and get a lot out of it. The program is designed for children aged 4 and up. Though very interactive, it is a true classroom-style affair and may not be suited for younger kids without classroom experience. My four-year-old daughter, Campbell, enjoyed most of it, but did get antsy every once in a while. Porter, my six-year-old son, soaked in every minute and described the experience as “totally awesome!” The Children’s Museum of Phoenix offers the Future Vet program periodically. Reservations are required, but the program is free with paid museum admission.

Disclaimer: We received admission to the museum in exchange for my honest opinion about the Future Vet Program.


debating the hunt with Greg (part 2): the ethical hunter

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Greg, the “ethical hunter.”

I’ve been speaking to my brother-in-law, Greg, about his avid hunting for years, and I’ve written about it before. Although I’m now aiming at a vegan lifestyle, I’ve eaten his kills in the past with delight, as long as I didn’t have to see their faces. Yes, I was that kind of meat eater. A crispy, tender breast is not nearly as lovable as the duck from which it comes.

That is becoming more difficult for me to swallow. I had a conversation with Greg about the hunter and the hunt. Since Greg most often hunts water fowl and upland game birds, we focused on that.

WM: Greg, I know that you are an “ethical hunter.” That will sound like an oxymoron to a lot of our readers.

Greg: Well, first off, let me say that a good ethical hunter does not take game for the sake or thrill of the kill, and they only take what they need or will use. I think that water fowl and upland game birds are delicious–a delicacy–so I always eat what I kill.

WM: So the meat doesn’t go to waste for the sake of a studly picture, and you’re not hanging them on your wall. How much do the animals suffer?

Greg: Not every shot is a good clean kill. There are times when you might only break a wing or create an injury that renders the bird flightless. When a bird is recovered that is not dead, a quick ring of the neck is usually what is done to kill the bird.

WM: Ugh.

Greg: With that said, practicing good ethical hunting can greatly decrease the amount of crippled birds. A good ethical hunter knows the distance and range that is lethal and will only take shots within that range, which results in more clean kills.

WM: So less suffering?

Greg: Yes, and the use of a well-trained dog greatly increases the amount of game recovered.

WM: So a crippled bird isn’t left to suffer in a bush?

Greg: Exactly. There is no doubt that you are killing an animal, and some people will never be able to look past that. For me, it is something I have been able to look past, as a hunter.

WM: You often talk about how hunters benefit the population of animals they kill, as a whole. Will you please explain that?

Greg: Hunters do more for wildlife conservation, preservation, and habitat restoration than any other group. It is the revenue, donations, and volunteer hours from hunters that have attributed to the success of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, as well as state and federal game regulatory agencies.

WM: So how does this help the animals?

Greg: Simply put, if you were to remove hunters out of the equation, you would see a rapid decline in wildlife populations, habitat, and funding. It is the revenue generated from hunting that allows many of the wildlife organizations to exist. Many manufactures of hunting equipment direct percentages of revenues to support various wildlife organizations. In some instances, 100% of state and federal funding comes from the sale of hunting licenses of species specific tags.

WM: Isn’t this all a bit self-serving in the name of conservation? I mean, the greater the population of animals, the more there is to hunt, right?

Greg: We, as hunters, are advocates for the well-being and long term health of the species we hunt. We do not do this with the hopes of killing more animals. It is to ensure the animals’ survival and the protection of the habitat needed to support a healthy population.

WM: So there is thought given to the natural balance of things?

Greg: As humans, we have corrupted the natural ecosystem and destroyed millions of acres of habitat through development, farming, and pollution. It is our responsibility as hunters to restore the habitats needed to support healthy populations of wildlife, and it is our role as hunters to keep populations at a level that the available habitat will support. Different states and regions will set game limits accordingly. If it were not for hunters, some species would literally overpopulate and destroy their own habitat and run the risk of spreading diseases that could threaten the long term survival of the species.

WM: So hunters are actually helping maintain a balance between habitat and population.

Greg: Ducks Unlimited explains it well:

Ducks Unlimited is the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

DU got its start in 1837 during the Dust Bowl when North America’s drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows. Determined not to sit idly by as the continents waterfowl dwindled beyond recovery, a small group of sportsmen joined together to form an organization that became known as Ducks Unlimited. Its mission: habitat conservation.

WM: Thank you for speaking about this, Greg.

Greg is able to take what I tend to see simply as an lighthearted, thoughtless slaughtering of innocent animals and raise in me a greater appreciation for the ethical hunter. I may not be able to accept it, but at least I can better understand it.

It does raise other questions for me, however. Though the “ethical hunter” seems to be doing his part to give back, what percentage of hunters are ethical? And if you’re not an “ethical hunter,” what category do you fall into, and what does that look like?

Do you have any questions for Greg?


reptile adventures at the library

When you think “library,” do giant reptiles and squealing children come to mind? If not, then you have not been fortunate enough to witness Rich Ihle’s Reptile Adventures this summer. The Phoenix Public Library hosts a fantastic kids summer program, where nearly every weekday there is someone cool presenting something awesome at various libraries across the city–and it’s free to attend! We go to our local Ironwood branch every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. to catch the fun. Yesterday’s presentation was our favorite!

Rich Ihle, the creator of Reptile Adventures brought his friends, small and large, for families to oooh and ahhh at. The kids were all pumped, and Rich delivered. His funny, friendly attitude, coupled with the confidence and sternness to keep the kids’ energy from getting out of control made for an incredible experience.

Rich began his presentation by telling everyone a bit about himself and how he came to be the “reptile guy.” It seems he had a deep love for these creatures from an early age and would spend all of his money on reptiles. He encouraged the kids to find their passion and open books to learn all they can about it, as he did, which I thought was a wonderful message. He also expressed the importance of caring for pets properly, and how much work they can be. The guy kept it real.

Like all good entertainers, Rich brought out the little guys first. We met Sunset the Bearded Dragon, Slim the Blue-tongued Skink, and Freckles, the Leopard Gecko, among other friends.

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I was totally impressed with them, but had no idea that the big guns were waiting in the wings.

Enter T-Bo the Rhinoceros Iguana.

He was incredible! And incredibly huge! Rich’s interactions with him were nothing short of a headliner at The Comedy Spot. The kids (and adults) were squealing and shaking with excitement. Rich took him for a ride on his cooler, a giant-iguana RV, of sorts.

T-Bo

Just when we thought we’d seen the grand finale, out came Sunshine, who we got to touch.

SnakeCollage

 

What an experience! You can still catch Rich and “The Ultimate Reptile Experience” at libraries around the valley during this week and next, the last week of the program. I would highly recommend it, even if you don’t have kids! Rich and his friends are also available for birthday parties, school presentations, and special events.