UC Davis graduate, Spring 2022
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
“Care Bear, come!” I called, as she pressed her rubbery nose against Nora’s hand. We were trying to train the piglets recalls by calling them back and forth between us, but our words were as meaningless to them as their constant grunting is to us. Instead of finding patterns in our speech, they randomly moved back and forth between Nora and I and offered various behaviors, such as jumping on us or sitting, hoping for a treat. Perhaps the piglets felt a frustration similar to what Nora and I felt when we started designing the Green Care Lab website, unable to comprehend the language of the software we were using.
Nora and I had no previous experience with website design, so we used a basic website builder with a modifiable pre-made template. We initially found the software fairly intuitive, but we soon discovered many limitations. For example, the “Read More” link on the blog posts was tiny and grayed out, as if it could not be clicked. Like the piglets trying random behaviors in hopes of earning rewards, we clicked random things on the website, attempting to make it cooperate. We also googled the problems we were having, but the solutions offered in forums often involved editing the code, which seemed daunting. We eventually accepted that we would not be able to make the “Read More” link more obvious, change the color of buttons, or make other seemingly simple changes. We also gave up training the piglets to come, focusing instead on training behaviors that relied on body language, which is more intuitive for them.
While Care Bear’s incision was healing after she got spayed, we couldn’t take her on walks, so Nora and I decided to work on recalls in the stall again, after giving up weeks earlier. To our surprise, after a few repetitions, she seemed to be responding! She didn’t come every time we called, but her response rate seemed better than random chance. Care Bear had finally begun to crack the code of verbal communication, and I decided it was time for me to tackle the website’s code. I found code online that was supposed to turn the “Read More” link into a more obvious button, and I figured out where to paste it into the existing code. It worked, but it also mysteriously added ugly gray margins to the sides of the website. I spent over an hour trying to get rid of them and trying not to scream, and I finally discovered a line of code that said “Full width: off.” I changed it to “on” which, miraculously, fixed the problem! When Care Bear began to understand her first verbal cue, I hope she felt as victorious as I did when I successfully edited code for the first time.
Although I feel like I’ve only learned a couple of words in a foreign language, like the piglets, I am now more attuned to different communication methods. The piglets and I are ready to click a metaphorical “Read More” button that, until recently, we didn’t know we could click.
The piglets and I have continued to progress in our respective decoding endeavors. I’ve reached out to family and friends who are experienced in programming and graphic design, and they’ve helped me learn about both communicating visually through design and communicating with the software to make the design actually happen. While I’m learning more about how graphics and computers communicate, the piglets are learning more about how humans communicate. Nora and I recently asked Jessie to help us train the piglets, and the three of us took turns calling them so it was harder for them to guess correctly by randomly moving between people. Adding a third person was challenging for the piglets and they sometimes made mistakes, but they were clearly responding to our voices. Later, when Care Bear was sniffing around after training, I decided to test her: “Care Bear, come!” I said, and she immediately turned and trotted towards me.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!