In addition to dogs, there were other animals I encountered while working at Animal TV Trainers in Washington, DC. From 1963 to 1966. Margays and Ocelots are not the size of big cats, still, a deep scratch, bite, or pounce from a 50 to 100-pound cat be tragic. As a trainer, it did not take long to learn that wild cats are not trained, rather they are tamed.
Skunks are great pets. BUT, be sure to start with one that is de-sacked. I made the mistake of purchasing one that was supposed to be…wasn’t…and four stores on 14th street in downtown Washington closed that day.
My Boa was named Noah. If you could straighten him out he’d push six and a half feet. Some snakes will not eat in captivity, Noah was one. Once a week I’d have a lottery-drawing of white mice. I’d take the chosen one by the tail, whack him on the counter to knock him out, and then force-feed him to Noah. The force-feed part sounds easy. It wasn’t, especially if Noah was moody. While Noah wrapped his body around mine, I’d force his mouth open, and with the eraser-end of a pencil, I’d push the whacked-out mouse down his throat.
Birds are easy to train based on one concept. They always walk to the highest point. Therefore, scaling a ladder, traversing a tight rope, or walking from your arm to your shoulder is an easy trick, all based on the ‘highest point’ theory. Our ‘shop bird’ was a Military Macaw by the name of Ole Momma. Her wingspan was over three feet, and she could bend a small piece of metal with her beak. When she was out of her cage, she rested on a T-bar with a do not touch sign attached. She was a major attraction.
Ignoring the sign, a know-it-all lady reached up to pet the chest of Ole Momma, who immediately jumped on the lady’s wrist while squawking and wildly flapping her wings. Aghast, the woman dropped her arm, trying to shoo the big bird away. Ole Momma would have none of it. Based on the highest point theory, she skirted up the lady’s arm, to her shoulder, and removed an earring while the lady screamed, and our customers applauded, thinking we were providing entertainment. I retrieved Ole Momma while pointing to the ‘do not touch’ sign. The woman ran out of the store and never returned.
Note: It’s not just the “do not” touch signs in pet shops that people have trouble with. I’ve come to realize that the words “do not” are somehow offensive to the human psyche. Those two words seem to challenge us, turn us into super-beings, and let lose within us an uncontrollable force of opposition. Other challenging examples that humans slave over; do not enter, do not turn, do not smoke, do not take drugs, do not lie, do not jay walk, do not text, do not kill your neighbor.
Mynah birds are conundrums. They can talk, whistle, and find the smallest sun flower seed at the bottom of the food bowl. They are loud, outspoken, and they sling food everywhere. Note: always teach birds to talk before teaching them to whistle. If first taught to whistle it is near impossible to get them to talk.
Chimps are a challenge. Back in ’63, exotic pets were not difficult to bring in to the US. We ordered one for a client and three months later a four-foot square wooden crate arrived at the shop. Hester had been boxed up for 48 hours, and from the sounds inside the crate, he was not a happy camper. At 70 pounds, he obviously was not the baby we ordered, rather he was at least two years old. I was given the challenge to uncrate him, and, knowing that God never created a monkey that wouldn’t bite at maturity, I was sweating profusely. I tried verbal enticement, food, and water. He wouldn’t budge.
Finally, out of desperation, I balled my hand into a fist, and reached in. He grabbed my fist and put it in his mouth. I immediately realized this was not an act of aggression, if so, he could have taken my hand off. I leaned in the crate and soothingly, talked to him. The stalemate was on.
Fifteen minutes later, he released my hand, bounded from the crate and jumped into my arms. Hester and I became best buds until he had to leave for his new home.
Lastly, I want to tell you about Boomer, an attract-trained Doberman Pinscher. My boss told the client that I had a special knack with dogs and that I could de-synthesize the big dog. Boomer belonged to a local policeman, who had been shot on a drug bust. The cop was forced into retirement but could keep his dog. He had heard of the work my boss had accomplished with dogs and asked for our help. About midnight one evening, I was working with Boomer on 14th street when gunshots shattered storefront windows and burglar alarms screamed.
I froze, until Boomer started pulling me in the direction of the gunfire. He wasn’t in a hurry. Each step seemed measured and calculated. A team of horses couldn’t have held him back.
Two men burst through the broken windows of a jewelry store and skidded to a stop as flashing lights and sirens approached. I don’t know where my voice came from because at the time I was scared to the point of…well, you know. “Get ‘em” I yelled as I dropped the leash. He lunged for the criminals.
The first crook saw Boomer, screamed, threw his gun at the dog and jumped up on the roof of a pickup truck with his hands in the air. Airborne, Boomer knocked the second crook across the hood of a Volkswagen and into the path of the oncoming cop cars. He then jogged back to me, head held high, as if to say, “my master retired, but not me.”
Yeah, I know. This column was supposed to be about animals other than dogs…but, I just couldn’t keep myself from telling you about Boomer!
Thanks for reading, John
John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia.