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Unusual animal safety for first responders

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GCART Workshop Includes Some Unusual Guests

By David Josselyn

  The Gilpin County Animal Response Team, headed by Vicky Nemec, hosted a workshop for first responders to help develop handling skills for some unusual animals on Sunday, April 23rd. GCART is preparing their volunteers to handle animals in cases of emergency; most likely an evacuation for wildfire endangerment. The Gilpin Community Center has agreed to set aside areas of their property for animal shelter should the need arise. The event, held at the Gilpin Community Center, featured several workshops, including knot tying, webbing use, large bird handling, and large animal handling. A wonderful lunch of homemade chili and coleslaw along with hot dogs was provided by the High Country Auxiliary.

Cold Blooded Critters

  Perry Conway, from Aerie Nature Series, Inc. www.perryconway.com, gave a presentation on the handling of unusual amphibians, reptiles and birds. Conway queried the gathering on what is the most dangerous animal in the world other than humans. No one could guess that the answer is the mosquito. Perry was speaking in terms of deaths by animals when he said dangerous. Time Magazine published the statistic of 3 million deaths per year were due to malaria contracted from mosquitoes. The second most dangerous animal, Conway was hesitant to say, is the dog which causes one death per year in Colorado. These death statistics were used to highlight the relative safety of handling venomous snakes and lizards.

  He brought out the official state amphibian (as of 2012), a tiger salamander. He showed the audience how difficult it is to catch a salamander by putting his amphibian friend on a table in front of some guests, then showed his lightning-fast trick of grabbing it from behind, wrapping the fingers around the front legs. The salamander was so quick, it was able to move about one centimeter during the ten seconds while Perry was talking he reached down and grabbed it. Cold-blooded critters, Conway explained, don’t move so fast in Colorado except maybe in July and August. The important thing to remember is that amphibians and reptiles need to be kept in a warm environment of at least 60 degrees or they will die. Even at 60 degrees, they will only survive for about half an hour before they need to be moved to a warmer locale. Temperatures that reach three digits on the other hand, are too hot for the creatures. A good rule of thumb is what is comfortable for you, is comfortable for the cold-blooded animal.

  Conway also presented the audience with a toad, warning of the white milky substance they produce in their parotid gland. Conway showed the location of the gland and said that as long as you don’t press down on the gland, you should be okay. He then demonstrated what not to do by pressing down on the gland causing a quick, short stream of bufotoxin to shoot out about three feet.

  He then brought out for show-and-tell a large, black toolbox. Opening the tool box, he held up a Gila monster. He said it would be uncommon to come across these in this part of Colorado, but there are some people who illegally keep them as pets. The specimen he had originated in Arizona. It is illegal in the state of Colorado to keep a venomous animal as a pet. The handling of a Gila monster is similar to the lizard; you can pick them up fine as long as you do so in a manner that prevents the head from latching on to you.

  Perry then brought out a large burlap bag hanging down as if whatever was inside weighed a lot. He reached into the bag and drew out a ball python about two and half feet long. He held the python in his bare hands and even draped it around his neck. Ball pythons, like all snakes, are big cowards which only strike at you when they feel back into a corner and have no choice. It’s simply not in their interests to attack a full-sized human. Similar to the Gila monster, as long as you grab the snake right behind the head, you’ll be fine. You can then use a sack, pillow case, or even a jacket sleeve to put the snake in until you can bring it to the shelter. Regarding the only other venomous snake you’re likely to encounter in Colorado, remember this: Red and yellow will kill a fellow, red and black and you’re okay Jack. This rhyme refers, of course, to the bands of color on the coral snake often mimicked by other harmless snakes.

  Things started to warm up a little when Conway brought out his next guest – a golden eagle. At one point during the presentation, the eagle, perched on Mr. Conway’s arm, tried to take off, showing its entire six foot wingspan. Perry let us know that birds do not sweat, so high temperatures close to 100 degrees can kill them.

Big Bird Might Bite You

  The next presenter was Karen Spaulding from Humane Connections at www.humane-connections.com. Karen is a Colorado native who has been cleaning out dog kennels since she was 16 years old. She has also trained dogs for more than 30 years and worked as a police officer for the city of Fort Collins. Spaulding was there to present skills in handling large birds. For her demonstration, she brought along two of her friends, Lucky and Sisco. Lucky is a blue-gold macaw and stayed outside his cage during the entire presentation. Sisco is an African gray parrot, but stayed inside its cage the entire time. Although most parrots can be tamed, Sisco was deemed un-trainable after ten years of handling by Karen. This dichotomy was a good visual reminder that when you go into a residence, you can’t assume that the animals are trained. Trained or not, all birds will bite stated Spaulding. There are three tools of the trade when handling large birds; a wooden dowel, bird gloves, and the dreaded blanket or towel. Trained birds will be able to ‘step up’ on command to a wooden dowel, or less likely, your gloved hand. If these do not work, then you can use an over-sized towel or blanket to wrap around the bird, although no birds like being wrapped in a blanket and they will complain. The danger of this last method is it makes it easy to suffocate the bird. Birds have air sacs and no diaphragm which means squeezing the abdomen too hard will cut off their airway and they will die. The birds have really strong neck muscles, so holding the bird by the neck with one hand while stabilizing it underneath with the other hand will work. Karen and Lucky demonstrated each technique giving tips as they went. One thing to keep in mind when handling the birds is that large birds like the macaw will eat anything. Lucky showed this by taking a chunk out of the wooden dowel he was perched on. Later, Lucky screeched his indignation when wrapped in a blanket. A volunteer from the audience, James Rioux, cautiously clipped Lucky’s nails while still wrapped in the blanket. Karen explained that Lucky did not like to have his nails clipped and birds have a long memory, so she prefers to get someone else to do it. Lucky holds a grudge.

Have you heard the one about…?

  What do you call a yak that wants to take over the world? A megalomaniyak. What’s a yak’s favorite liquor? Cognyak. Yak, yak, yak! The large animal handling included skills instruction on horses, llamas, alpacas, and yaks.

  Joe Phillips of the Mystic T Ranch gave the presentation on yak handling along with his wife, Cynthia Hoffman Phillips. Joe warned that if the yak is coming at you with its head down, watch out. Otherwise, yaks are pretty tame and will most likely allow you to herd them and lead them around. Their primary weapon is their horns and with eyes on the sides of their heads, they can see exactly where that horn is pointing and are very accurate at jabbing with them. Yaks spook easily, like cattle, and will jump at blowing objects, changes in light patterns and even a reflection in a puddle. For this reason, come at them from the side so they can see you coming. Grab the horn on the side you’re standing so you have some control and protection in case they get spooked. Yaks can jump over anything they can get their head over. They have no sweat glands, so overheating in the summer is an issue. Water works. Also, you can wrap a wet towel around their horns to cool them down.

  Llamas and alpacas were demonstrated by James and Jackie Rioux from Ridgeline Alpacas at www.facebook.com/Ridgelinealpacas. Both alpacas and llamas are considered prey and are similar to yaks with a couple notable exceptions. Llamas and alpacas do sweat, so will not overheat as quickly as the yak. Although they have no horns, they can do a mean wheelbarrow kick with their back legs. Alpacas have padded feet like a dog, so a swift kick will only yield a bruise and possibly a scratch from their nails. Unlike yaks, the nasal bone on an alpaca does not come down the snout very far. What this means is that an improperly worn halter can block the air passage and suffocate the animal. Alpacas and llamas have great eyesight and have a guard mentality. They often will be collectively looking in the distance at a threat long before we can see what it is they’re looking at. However, they pay attention to the closer threat, so they will pay attention to a person in their pen long before they are concerned with the coyote outside their pen. A trick to herding multiple alpacas is to pick up and carry a baby. The mother will stay close to you and the rest of the herd will gather around to see what’s going on. If this method doesn’t work, the snow fence maneuver can be used. The snow fence maneuver utilizes several people linked together acting as a fence around the herd. They can then corral them in whatever direction they like.

  The horse handling demonstration was given by Larry Sterling of GCART. He advised that “if you treat them like children, they’ll give you anything you ask from them.” One of Larry’s horses would not enter a trailer no matter what he did. So Larry took all the feed and water and put them inside the trailer, then left matters to themselves. All night long, you could hear the horse going in and out of that trailer. The next morning, the horse entered an empty trailer almost without direction. Another time, Larry had to take his horse across a creek.  That particular horse had never been near a creek and didn’t know what it was. Sure enough, it stopped and refused to go into the water. Larry dismounted and took a couple steps into the creek, showing the horse it was no big deal. He then splashed some water on the horse’s legs and led the horse a couple steps into the stream. He mounted the horse and had no problems crossing creeks after that. Similar to the other large animals, Sterling warned to always approach from the side so the horse can see you coming. Larry then demonstrated putting on a halter and had volunteers who had never done so come in a give it a try.

That’s No Bull

  The next GCART event is the BULLS Class on May 12th, which appropriately stands for Big Useful Livestock Lessons and is taught by Code 3 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

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