First Day in the Field
After resting a day to acclimate myself to the 10,000 feet elevation, I went out with Kunzang, Sonam, and Tsering to capture dogs. Although the Tru Catch (48F) folding dog traps had arrived long before I arrived no one wanted to take them out until they were shown how to use it. I was soon going to learn that they were going to teach me how to use a boxtrap! That first day I went out to merely watch and learn.
Although I have handled over 1,000 dogs they have always been on my terms in my way. It was time I learned how other people caught animals. It is not only different types of equipment, I wish to learn how other cultures influence their actions, how does the public react to them, what are their greatest challenges and needs. It is also important for me to watch to see if they have an inherent desire and dedication for compassionate and respectful handling and if so how do they convey that when handling the dog.
Kunzang and his team definately had an inherent care and compassion for the animal. Their primary approach was to use long handled nets and catch dogs who were sleeping. There were several escapes but they were very quick. I could see they can concern about working in front of the public. Chasing dogs with nets and then hearing them yelping as the other pack members are barking and upset makes the public upset and the animal handlers were often scolded even though they were helping their community. It usually does not have to be that way.
I taught Kunzang, Sunam, and Tsering how to scruff a dog and how to muzzle it with a leash. This combination safely and humanely controls the front half of the dog and if it is moved another person can hold the hips for a two person carry. I also taught them how to be calm and use the breath to relax when the animal is tense. The crazier the animal is, the calmer we should be. I explained that animal handlers usualy add far to much excitement and tension and the animals are very sensitive to this and react to it. Throughout my trip as we were handling dogs, I would stop in the middle of a crazy moment of excitement remind them how to watch ourselves and our behaivor and relax so that it will reduce the struggling of the dog and help us better control and guide the situation. As in all things in life what we are being is usually more important than what we are doing.
On our second day out they asked me to teach them how to use the boxtraps. I set one up at the clinic and big, slow moving Boris came by. Boris snores as he breathes because of a previous bite wound resulting in a chronic draining infection of his nasal sinuses. Boris casually walked into the trap to check it out and everyone laughed and screamed with excitement when they saw how easily the trap closed. Boris layed down in his clumsy but frieindly way and enjoyed the attention.
We quickly took the traps out for a try. I had expected that we would be setting up a line of traps and drive back to check them out. This is the way I have always used them. Instead, Kunzang drove until he saw a dog resting in the shade and offered it a treat (biscuits were all we had at the time). The hungry dog started coming to him and he told us to set up a trap. We set it up, he put in some food and the dog walked in!! No chasing. No barking. It was extremely quiet and humane. They were in awe.
Our next few days consisted of catching dogs in this way. I wanted them to get creative on how the bait was placed in the trap, where the trap was placed, and so on. Each morning we would go to a local butcher shop to buy scraps of meat. It is interesting that at the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, feral dogs did not recognize or enjoy raw meat. It had to be cooked with spices! Here the dogs loved raw meat scraps.
One time we had set up a trap as a dog was approaching, but I quickly noticed that the dog had a veryclose buddy with him. I shouted to Sunam to chase the dog away and he was very confused. I quickly set up a second trap next to the first trap (doors in the opposite direction). The dog we chased away was slow to come but his buddy, a yearling stepped into one of the traps. As he entered a third dog walked into the same trap trying to get some meat. The yearling triggered the trap and the third dog, a pup, was touched on the but by the closing door and pushed both of them in! We are all ecstatic!!! As the young pups whimpered the first dog came back and walked into the other trap.! We had three dogs in two traps. Not bad.
The Training Workshop
On day 6 we began my three day training workshop. I have created a page to show the general outline of my feral dog workshop. It was a great honor to teach in Leh and for the Lakakhi Animal Care Society (LACS) and Vets Beyond Borders.
In addition to the LACS, there was VBB staff and animal handlers from Sikkim. Also, Dr. Sunil and Ragendra from Help in Suffering in Jaipur attended. Dr. Sunil has run a spay/neuter program for over 25 years. He provided considerable input in the course. Ragendra is a gifted surgical assistant and animal handler and could do just about anything.
There was also Rinchen Wangchuk of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust. Rinchen has been working hard on ecotourism to save the snow leopard which lives in the surrounding mountains. We visited several times after the workshop, I have great respect for who he is and what he is accomplishing and I value him as a friend. Rinchen and his colleague, Rodney Jackson have waited for years to get a permit to capture and radio collar a snow leopard in Ladakh.
I could not have taught this course without the help of my awesome translator, Pooja from Mumbai who translated everything into Hindi.
It is best to describe Pooja as a dog whisperer. She was extremely caring, sensitive, and patient with each and every dog. Her focus and patience was incredible. Although I do not recommend it, at times she would crawl into a trap with the dog to slowly earn it’s trust and lead it out rather than yanking the dog out. I truly believe that how we handle each animal influences who we are as individuals, as an organization, and as a human population in relationship with the animals.
The class room was a gathering room in Kunzang’s home a former royal guest house. It was more ornately painted than any room in the house and it was the most beautiful classroom I have ever taught in. We had lecture and discussion each morning with t
ea, then we are graciously served lunch, and went to the clinic for afternoon labs. For one lab we learned how to use a boxtrap. Another lab focused on learning how to use the Y pole.
I started the workshop as I do each time with attitudes and perspectives. I established a basic foundation and understanding of care, honor and respect for each animal. I explored in depth who and what a dog really is and explained the difference between aggression and fear.
I described the challenges and opportunities of the animal handler and honored them for the essential and important people they are. I suggested that our tools are not only traps and nets, our tools are our Confidence … Calmness… Pride…. and Compassion.
I then introduced the idea of making a connection with the animal and later in the workshop decribed how we can seek to blend with the animal, especially with the Y pole.
For the last part of this section I talked about the value in exploring and observing ourselves as we handle each animal. Our we contributing to the calmness or are we adding to the fear and excitement. Are we fighting the animal or are we blending and making a connection.
You can see the course outline on another page in this blog. I am slowly writing this up and making more teaching aids such as videos and handouts. I am also redoing my website at www dot wildliferesources dot org. I hope it will be up and running in May. There will be a section on my new website which will be a library of resources on humane capture and handling of feral dogs.