If you missed the AcroCats, YOU MISSED OUT!!!

AcroCats and Rock Cats!I just don’t know how to describe the amazing talents of the AcroCats.  It…it was as if a big jar of awesome spilled all over a sparkly purple stage filled with incredible cats.  It was…it was perfectly imperfect, because after all, we were watching cats performing, and they are CATS.  It was incredibly surprising because…because the show did not devolve into a chaotic pandemonium of cats fleeing into the audience and causing a massive storm of attacks on ankles and allergic outbreaks…no no no!  These cats, THESE cats, were simply mindblowing.

And not just cats, but a chicken (named Cluck Norris), groundhog and three rats all BROUGHT IT!  All the animals were clicker-trained using positive reinforcement, which led me to two conclusions: 1) HOLY SHIT YOU CAN TRAIN CATS, and 2) WHY DO MY CATS SUCK SO MUCH???  Seriously.  They don’t do anything except know when to come running when I open up a can of anything.  The AcroCats performed all sorts of tricks, leaping through hoops, jumping obstacles, BOWLING, running around in a non-random order, and jeeze – they even ran INTO their individual crates when a whistle sounded.  My cats, on the other hand, sleep, eat, dirty their litter boxes at an alarming rate, and require a front-end loader to get them into their travel crates.  The AcroCats and Rock Cats:  play actual musical instruments, recognize visual commands, and don’t necessarily seek to cause panic and alarm (except for Tuna, who possibly has plans for world domination, but I’m not sure).  My cats:  play with the horizontal blinds in our bedroom at 2 in the morning, decide that demons are chasing them in the wee hours of the night, and are plotting a biological attack on the world starting with me by weakening my immune system to the point of giving me crippling allergies to these sneaky, plotting kitties.  I’M ON TO YOU, THOUGH!!!  I will not succumb to your evil plotting!

Anyway…how about some pictures of the show?  It was magical, and I hope that you get the opportunity to see them some day.  Go to www.CircusCats.com to learn more, and see if the AcroCats and Rock Cats are coming to a theater near you!!!  Grab yo’ cat ears and yo’ cat leggings and yo’ cat shirts and see these amazing kitties…it’s totally worth it!!!

This just happened.  Gritty Cat meets the Rock Cats!

This just happened. Gritty Cat meets the Rock Cats!

Related Posts:  At Least I’m Not Allergic to Lucky Charms, Bu bu bum! Bu bu bum! Bu bu bu bum…CAT SHOW!!!, Cats cats cats cats cats!

Writing 101: Lori The Llama Lady

Napoleon and me at the seniors' expoI met Lori at a seniors’ expo in downtown Vancouver.  I’m not sure what was more odd – me being at a seniors’ expo on a Saturday afternoon, or seeing Lori at her booth connected by a short lead to Napoleon, a cream-colored alpaca wearing a red hat and sparkly accessories gazing serenely at the seniors gathered around him.  I was at the expo volunteering for Columbia River Pet Partners, an organization that matches people and their pets (usually dogs) up with various programs that bring therapy animals to people in need – folks in retirement and rehab centers, kids in hospitals, reading programs in libraries, and similar groups.  Lori was at the expo promoting her non-profit organization, Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas.  I’m in the process of getting a couple of certificates, one in Animal Assisted Therapy (more about that in a future post), and had never heard of llamas or alpacas being used as therapy animals, so after chatting with her a bit, Lori invited me to come along with her to visit a rehabilitation center a few weeks later.

I took an afternoon off from work (hmmm…sitting at my computer, or playing with llamas?  Sitting at my computer, or playing with llamas?  It wasn’t a hard decision, honestly) and drove out to Lori’s home and small farm on a hot, dry day.  Lori met me at her door and immediately gave me a hug as she hurriedly went around back to finish preparing Rojo for our visit to the rehab center.  I followed her to a shed behind her house where Rojo, a 12 year old llama who even has his own Facebook page, waited patiently for Lori to finish grooming him.  Rojo towered over me, with a long furry neck and very fluffy legs, resembling a camel wearing pantaloons.  Lori explained to me that llamas and alpacas are more related to camels than anything else, which makes sense when you look at them.  Rojo didn’t seem to mind that I was there as Lori finished brushing his coat, making it soft, smooth and shiny.  He was so very calm and proud, and didn’t even seem to care that I was there.

I was wondering how we were going to get Rojo to the rehab center, when Lori opened the sliding door on a minivan behind the shed and Rojo jumped right in the back and sat down.  Well, ok!  I’d never ridden in a minivan with a llama before, but there’s a first for everything, I suppose.  On the way down, Lori carefully navigated the highway drive into Portland while chatting about her experience using llamas and alpacas as therapy animals.  She’s had Rojo since he was six months old, and has been using him as a therapy animal since he was four.  Her shoulder-length blond hair blew in the air-conditioned breeze from the minivan’s vents…it was hot in the car, and Rojo was probably warm underneath all that hair.  An extrovert, I can see why Lori makes a good facilitator for interactions with her animals and clients – she explained the ins and outs of her business with me, and was very candid about some of the challenges she’s had to overcome.  But she passionately explained that alpacas and llamas are great as therapy animals because the are so patient, calm, large and sturdy, and can take petting and touching from people who aren’t necessarily very coordinated due to age or physical ailments.  They generally aren’t shaken up by noises, activities around them, and are easily maneuverable around equipment and furniture.  I learned a lot from Lori during that car ride, and Rojo listened as well, patiently as ever.

I even got to lead Rojo into the rehab facility!

I even got to lead Rojo into the rehab facility!

During our visit to the rehabilitation center, Lori confidently steered Rojo to every single resident of the rehab center, which also seemed to be a nursing home for many older residents.  She engaged with each and every single person, asking questions, and even guiding hands over fur for those clients who couldn’t see or move to touch Rojo themselves.  I was the carrot girl, doling out short slices of carrots to everyone to feed to Rojo, who will never have a vitamin A deficiency, I’m sure.  Some of the

Even the staff looks forward to Rojo's visits.

Even the staff looks forward to Rojo’s visits.

residents were even brave enough to put a piece of carrot between their lips and get a kiss from Rojo!  I was enamored by the caring and gentle way that both Lori and Rojo interacted with each person.  Lori explained that for some of the residents, visits from her animals are sometimes the only visits they receive.  Lori is able to visit this particular center every month or two, but you can see the recognition and happiness that these visits bring.  It was almost magical, the effect that Lori and Rojo had on the people at the rehab center, including the staff, who spend their days caring for the people living there.

I was so fortunate to spend the afternoon with Lori and Rojo – Lori taught me a lot about the healing power of therapy animals, and was a great example of how to interact with this very special group of people who need all the love they can get.  It was an honor to observe their work, and I hope to get to do it again sometime soon…I’d even be willing to take another afternoon off of work!


This is Day 6 of Writing 101.  Today’s assignment was to answer this question:  Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?  And the twist:  Turn your post into a character study.

I know I’m a little behind in the writing assignments, but I had to write about my experience with the therapy llama.  I realize that I chose to write about *both* Lori and Rojo, who are *both* very interesting, and I hope I gave you at least a small picture of who they are and what they do.  I’m so glad I got to meet both of these unique individuals!

 

Writing 101: A sense of place (or, as Liz Lemon says, I want to go to there)

I can feel the heat from the sun blazing down on me, and I know my surroundings feel it too.  The top of my head is burning, and my dark hair does nothing to reflect the heat, but only absorbs the constant rays, unobstructed by clouds or rain, at least in this season.  There is a breeze, which I welcome on my skin; it is cool when it rushes across the thin sheen of sweat on my face and arms.  It is a welcome cool.  The breeze brings me dust from the road I am standing on, a dirt road, cracked under the sun with layers of clay crumbling up towards the atmosphere as particles are swept into the air.  They tickle my nose and I sneeze.  I can smell the earth, but I can also smell and almost taste the grasses – it is the sweet scent of dried grasses, uncut, waving in the wind.  I can hear the grasses brushing together as they sway in waves with each breath of air that chases the next across the savannah.  With that wave I hear more sounds.

There are birds chirping in the distance.  Perhaps a loud squawk of a corvid defending its food from another large bird, or the song-like chirps of smaller birds hidden in the leaves of a grove of nearby acacia trees.  I can also hear other animals, larger animals, many animals.  Herds of them, grazing slowly under the heat that surely affects them as much as it affects me.  Their dainty hooves trample the crisp dried grasses that brush up against long legs that slowly move from one patch of grass to another.  Their hooves also make a dull thud on the dusty earth where there is no vegetation, where they are crossing the road in which I stand.  Their mouths make a slow grumble as they tear plants from the ground or leaves from the trees, masticating the tough fibrous materials between their grinding teeth, lazily, up and down, back and forth, before they swallow.  I can smell the salty-sweet excrement they leave behind, that is already drying into chips under the sun.  Insects scurry towards them, clicking their wings and legs as they go, humming as they fly towards their destination.

More intermittently, I hear other noises, those of animals I must be wary of.  Animals that I have come to meet, to encounter from a distance.  At this time of day they sleep in the shade, unless disturbed by their young who play and climb and tug on their fur demanding attention.  I hear the chirpy mews of the cubs, and every once in a while a rumbling growl from one of the adults followed by a quick scamper of paws in the grass as a cub runs from the scene.  I would like a nap too, in the shade.  I can hear tails slapping flies away from backsides covered with fur, paws scratching at something itching underneath a heavy mane.  In the distance, the far away distance, I hear a trumpet-like calling…and another one answering…a family, checking in and letting each other know where they are.

Do you know where I am? What do I see?  Can you see it too?


This is Day 2 of Writing 101.  Today’s assignment was to answer this question: If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?  And the twist:  organize your post around the description of a setting.

I really want to go to Africa to see all those fascinating creatures of the plains.  I’m especially interested in the cats, but all of the animals there call to me.  Africa is at the top of my bucket list, and I can’t wait to start planning that adventure when I am able to go!  I wanted to write a description of the place without using the sense of sight, just information that I could get from touch, sound, smell, and taste (to a lesser extent).  Did you feel it?  Could you see what I was describing?  Let me know how I did in the comments below, and tell me where you would go if you could drop everything and zoom off right now!

Savannah, from Simon at www.GoodFon.su

Savannah, from Simon at http://www.GoodFon.su

 

Ladies I Love: C is for Ceratiidae…or “warty sea devils” to you and me

https://www.etsy.com/listing/48878881/a-light-in-the-dark-angler-fish-art

So cute, right?

Ladies and gentlemen…for today’s A to Z Challenge “C”-related post, I give to you our first non-human, but very real, Ladies I Love: the female warty sea devil!  Oh, come on – I’m a fish biologist – you can’t tell me you weren’t expecting this, can you???  Well, since it’s my blog, and my Ladies I Love theme, I can do what I like.  And what I’d like is for YOU to learn something about the deep-sea anglerfishes of the family Ceratiidae, or the warty sea devils!  This is no ordinary family of fish, you understand.  Anglerfish on their own are very interesting; surely you’ve seen them before (you know, from your nightmares, or from this scene in Finding Nemo).  Their name comes from an appendage that extends from their head to out in front of them, with a bioluminescent bulb dangling from the end, acting very much like a lure (making the fish itself an angler).  Smaller fish are attracted to the light (“ooh – what can that be down here in the darkness?  I must investigate…”) and then CHOMP!  The anglerfish takes its prey (clever girl!).

Triplewart Sea Devil – um, maybe not so cute.

But to be more specific, sea devils, and warty sea devils in particular, are quite interesting for one primary reason and two words: sexual parasitism (ok, I can feel your eyes glazing over, but this gets better – I promise).  There’s a great amount of sexual dimorphism in anglerfish – that is, females and males physically vary quite a bit from each other .  The female is often quite large compared to the male, and they’re not very common, either.  You’d think that these two would never actually even find each other, hook up and create new cute(?!?) little baby warty sea devils, but here’s where it gets interesting.  The male has either very good eyes or a strong sense of smell that alerts him to the presence of a female.  As soon as he nears her, he grabs onto her with his mouth, at which point enzymes immediately fuse the male’s mouth to the female’s body.  Their circulatory systems soon merge, and the male basically lives a parasitic life, with its organs dissolving away until he becomes no more than a sack of gonads that is ready to provide sperm when the female wants to reproduce.  Crazy, huh?  What’s also unique is that these fish are genetic chimera (one organism having more than one genetically distinct set of cells, in this case, cells from both the male and female), and that the chimera is a required part of its life-cycle.

Want to learn more about the anglerfish?  Here’s a “somewhat educational but mostly entertaining” video about the anglerfish, NOT narrated by Morgan Freeman:

And finally, this cartoon lovingly drawn by The Oatmeal (click here for the full strip).  Oh, I love the Oatmeal.  And he definitely loves my anglerfish lady.  And you should too!

Vancouver in February? Screw That! Hellooo, Arizona!

February is the PERFECT time to escape the Pacific Northwest.  It’s rainy, overcast, gray, possibly snowy (or slushy, more likely) and you’re probably itching to see the sun right about now.  Seasonal Affective Disorder makes me so SAD!!!  So, why not go somewhere warm and sunny?  It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, AND I’m turning 40 later this month, so Chris and I decided to turn mid-February into a Sunny-VD-BD Extravaganza by heading out to Sedona, Arizona!

I did a lot of hiking, camping and backpacking in the arid desert canyon-country parts of the US while I was in grad school (Fort Collins, CO, by the way) and I haven’t seen these parts in YEARS.  I really miss the desert – as I biologist I’m completely fascinated by how various life forms have evolved and adapted to survive in such a harsh environment.  Further, the rock formations make you feel like you’re on a completely different planet.  So, I’m very excited to get back to the desertish parts of the country and enjoy the sun, fresh air, and warm temperatures!  Happy birthday to ME!

We left EARLY on Thursday morning, flying out from Portland, stopping in Phoenix, and arriving in Flagstaff.  We picked up a car and decided to eat lunch at MartAane’s Burrito Palace, which was AMAZING…if you like BLTs and grilled cheese sandwiches and guacamole, the Ultimate BLT is for you.  I highly recommend the curly fries, as well.  And a strange aside, they DO NOT offer diet soda!  Oh well, I’m on vacation, right? Yum!

The smallest baggage claim ever, discovered at the Flagstaff Airport.

I ate this whole thing. Do I regret it? My answer is no. I know you are jealous.

MartAnne's - Amazing artwork by Emma Gardner graces the walls.

MartAnne’s – Amazing artwork by Emma Gardner graces the walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had some time to kill before our hotel room was going to be ready, so we headed over to Williams and spent a couple of hours at Bearizona, where you can ride an open-air bus (or drive your own car, should you wish to exercise that particular insurance risk) around the park and see wolves, bears, sheep, buffalo and all sorts of other critters.  We had a good time feeding the goats in the Bearizona Barn Yard, but watch your fingers!  Chris almost came away with only nine of his!

Just a few pictures of Bearizona...if you request them, I can send you about 200 more.  Lemme know.

Just a few pictures of Bearizona…if you request them, I can send you about 200 more. Lemme know.

Finally, we headed down 89A through Oak Creek Canyon and arrived in Sedona at the Amara Hotel.  Just in time for sunset.  Just in time for desert and drinks (the Almond Joy actually does taste like Almond Joy candy bars, and I had to get three of them just to make sure that this assessment was correct).  What will the rest of this vacation bring?  You’ll just have to wait for the next installment to find out!

Related posts:

Anniversary, Table for Two!

Today is Chris and my second anniversary.  Yay!  Two of my happiest years ever, back to back.  I’m so fortunate to have found him, and that he willingly puts up with all my quirks and foibles.  Last weekend we got away for a couple of nights, staying at Abbey Road Farm B&B, the same place where we stayed three years ago when we were dating.  We did some wine tasting, gambling, goat frolicking…wait, what?  Yes, goat frolicking!  These little guys were only a week old when we saw them…soooo precious!  The little lambkins were super cute too, but they were a bit older, 5-6 weeks.  Here are a few picture for you to enjoy!


Celeste and her two little boys.


Baby goat kisses!


Mabel and her three kids.  We actually milked Mabel three years ago.

Do you know what this is?

Hi!  Do you know what this is?

I’ll give you a hint.  It’s not an eel, and I took these pictures at the viewing windows at Bonneville Dam this past weekend.  Still don’t know?

Here I am doing some guerrilla aquatic education at the public viewing windows in the dam.  And stop looking at my butt.  You can take a closer look at what I’m doing, however.
 
 
Those are Pacific lamprey!  You can learn all about Pacific lamprey by following Luna the Lamprey on Facebook, or do a google search.  Their population numbers are dwindling, and they’re an important part of the aquatic ecosystem as well as native American culture.  The Fish and Wildlife Service, and our office especially, is going lamprey-crazy right now with a lot of research and outreach efforts.  So check them out – they are a very cool fish!  And kind of cute in a way.
 
 

This is one side of Bonneville Dam – it’s a pretty incredible structure and it supplies much of the Pacific Northwest with power.  And this is apparently what a fishery biologist looks like (although it doesn’t much resemble what I look like, even when I’m at work).  Ha!