Tuesday, 26 July 2016

should they miss us? A tribute to Mhlaba

With the age of selfies, have we taken ‘being glorified’ to a whole new level?  It begs the question.
Am I in it for how I look in relationship with this animal?  Or am I in it because I care about this animal?  If the second is the answer – Share the love!!!  They can feel if you do.

I attended a funeral this weekend.  Of a man who worked with us for almost 14 years.  He was a trainer with the seals.  He had experience doing dog training too.  He was exceptional at what he did.  Unafraid, clear, calm and loving.  The words spoken at his funeral and memorial service earlier in the week all were testament to his amazingness.  We have lost a friend, a mentor, a peer, a steadfast incredible person.

He is a Zulu man.  And proud of his culture.  It is a culture I am familiar with because of where I live, but I am certainly no expert.  I do find something quite significant about the Zulu funerals, and this is that they honour the man who has passed, but they are also unashamedly able to express their own personal sadness at his passing.  My experience of western cultures is that we feel the need to only honour our loved ones.  We almost feel unworthy of expressing or sometimes even feeling our own feelings.  (See my emo post) 

I have written a few blogs recently about animals that have left our realm.  I have done similarly in those blogs – honour the incredible souls that they are.  And felt unworthy of expressing my own sadness and attachment. 

But this is not what this blog is about.

It is about the animals that are left behind.  Our friend Mhlaba leaving us is also felt by the animals that he trained.  For a while they will behave differently.  His passing was sudden.  There was no possibility to prepare the animals for his loss.

A reminder that we always have to work with the animals we care for as though we are leaving at any point.  Maybe not even for the long term.  When we leave our dogs in the care of another - are they okay with that?  How can we teach them to be okay with that?

A sign of a truly unconditional human being is one who is able to share the privilege of loving an animal with as many people as possible.  This requires us to mentor others in – not only the communication theory with that particular animal, but also the heart and care – let them fall in love with each other. 

It was once said to me that we cannot love one person or animal more than another.  All that is in the way of love is our stories about the other.  Love in essence is the absence of those stories.  Joy in being in relationship is about the freedom to enjoy that relationship – no strings attached.

Our friend was a master mentor.  He shared the love.  Thank you Mhlaba for the lesson.  For your diligence.  For your clear thinking care.  Hlabathi, Illanga, Mobi – all the seals are richer for having had you in their lives.  I am sure they will miss you – just because you are incredible.  However you are supported by an incredible team who will continue to care as you did – for the greater good.

RIP dear angel soul

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Celebrating Gambit

He recently won the Paaza ambassador animal award. He is 45 years old. So honoured to know him and his family. Blessed too by the fact that he is so loved and loveable. All 480kgs. 

Really look to see

imagine painting this picture.  Look at the water light....

We really really need to look to see.  Pay attention.

Had some wonderful lessons recently on this.  First from the all time guru teacher Frodo.  I was busy teaching her to move backwards to a cue.  Basically reverse.  You need to know that Frodo sees and experiences life in much more detail than most of the other dolphins we teach.  And this has led trainers, in the past, to believe she is not very smart.  The truth is - she is way smarter than all of us combined.

When asking her to reverse, she was getting the concept quite nicely.  Then in a session she suddenly began puffing out during the behaviour.  I knew I had not unwittingly reinforced the behaviour of puffing.  But it seemed that she was becoming a little frustrated that I was not acknowledging the puff.  I watched a fellow trainer work with Frodo later in the day - fortunately - because then I saw why the puff.  My colleague was teaching Frodo to blow bubbles in the water, and to get this right, setting her in the exact same body posture as I had been setting her for the reverse.  So, we could easily have confused her and given up on her - 'because she is not that smart' (-: (-:

Truth - if she had failed we were the problem.

And this usually is the truth

I recently took up painting as a hobby.  I am currently painting Frodo.  I have looked at her delightful face for nearly 30 years.  And yesterday when I was painting her I saw, for the first time, that she has dark colouration at the base of her rostrum.  Now it is obvious.  But I have never seen it before.

I was playing with a dolphin called Zulu the other day.  She was following me around the area.  I noticed that at one points she would do an odd movement in the wrong direction.  She was playing, and not confused or worried.  It was only when I really looked that I noticed that she was actually playing with my shadow - not with my presence outside the water.

So how do we learn to see. 

I personally think - it takes a sense of humour. 

If you really are not attached to the outcome of the game with the animal's in your life - if you really are able to just play - you will see. 

Every time I have the goal alone  in mind - I go blind.

Goals are customised with journeys that need to be lived and enjoyed.
Else why bother doing this. 

We only have now after all.  That is the only real truth.

Thank God for dolphins

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Emo animal people

What provides liberty to do our jobs as animal trainers?  The difference between what is required and what the professional industry expects, is real.  When we are employed as animal keepers, we are told to leave emotion out of the equation.  Or we are criticised for being too emotional.  Our careers are halted because we feel too much. 

Heck, many of us don't even want to go further.  We just want to work with the animals.  Also, there are some really good animal people out there who also make exceptional managers - and why?  Because they not afraid to feel. 

Problem.  Promoted animal managers manage intuitively.  Doing what they do and ensuring that stuff gets done - because the welfare of the animals is the cause.  More than that, intuition is well developed in a good animal trainer.  So they know how to feel what needs doing.  And this does not seem to be the accepted management technique.  So we are sent on management courses...  To put us in a box and teach us to fall in line.  Stop feeling.

Scientifically it is not possible to be intuitive unless you feel. 

In the normal run of the mill management circles there are strict rules.  
Rule number 1:  Be objective - at all costs. 
Rule number 2:  Don't let emotions cloud your judgement.

Funny story that.  Because you cannot know whether emotions are clouding your judgement unless you are feeling them and recognising them consciously.  And if you don't allow yourself to feel them, you will loose touch.  Not only with the people you are managing - but sadly, also with the animals you care about. 

Because as any true scientist will tell you - the ability to be completely objective is impossible.

In truth - rules rob us of our ability to be true.  Because we give ourselves away to rules and no longer make sound judgements.  We use rules to control, so cannot feel anything except whether we are winning or losing.  Competition sets in and our egos take over.

There is a better way.  Just feel.  This keeps you conscious.  and helps you to see what needs doing.  I long for the management lesson that animals teach - that it is okay to feel.  Just be conscious.  And work on that ability.  To the point where you can truly see - so when you feel, it is just guidance as opposed to a reaction.If we have learned anything as animal trainers, it is this.  Because when we are being guided we are able to move through our communication with the animals that we care about.  And the reason why we do - because we care about them.

This is a picture of one of my greatest teachers.  Her name is Frodo.  Frodo's rule - feel and be right here, or go play in the traffic.  What an honour to know and be taught by her.  Over and over.  Just when I think I have learned the lesson I sit in front of her and realise again that I am distracted from her when she looks at me sideways and backs away. 

The ultimate Zen master(-:  Just feel...  And for her - the feeling is BIG LOVE AND RESPECT!