UC Davis graduate, Spring 2022
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
Romeo’s round, wet nose pressed against my fingers and his tail swung like the pendulum of an overzealous clock. He and his two sisters hurried to explore every inch of their new home and investigate the new humans who had entered their lives. As the piglets learn more about me and how to be therapy animals for research, I want to learn as much as I can about them, both through training and observation and by reviewing literature. I’ve had a passion for training animals since I was 12 years old, and I’ve done research on animal behavior through UC Davis. I recently graduated with a degree in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology. I was thrilled to find an internship that integrates my experience in research with my hobby of animal training, while learning about the human-animal connection.
Jelly Bean grunted enthusiastically as I rewarded her for pushing her big head through the harness, and I felt the same rush of satisfaction that hooked me on training when I was a kid. It started with Lily, the little fluff ball who I trained in Dog Agility and eventually competed with in several national competitions. But the satisfaction I felt most often was not the thrill of running at the nationals, but the everyday triumph of breaking the communication barrier between two different species. Lily gave me lots of challenges, from peeing in the Agility ring to running in circles like a broken wind-up toy, but I learned to think of them as puzzles that required creativity. When I found a solution, it was always worth the spark of understanding reflected in her eyes. When I started training the resident wildlife at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, I was able to see that same spark in the eyes of other species, including coyotes, raccoons, and a skunk. Training is like a common language that provides a deeper connection with another animal. I’m eager to develop that connection with the pigs and share it with other people when the pigs are ready for therapy work.
As the piglets settled down for a nap, Care Bear smacked her lips repeatedly. Was she content, perhaps remembering the sensation of suckling? In addition to training the piglets, I will also be documenting their behaviors, trying to interpret them, and reviewing literature. Since I started at UC Davis, I haven’t had as much time to train animals, but I’ve learned about animal behavior in a different context through research projects. During my senior year, I conducted an experiment on social dynamics in goldfish and performed detailed analyses of their behavior. I also have an internship with the UC Davis Road Ecology Center, assessing the behavior of wildlife near roads. The research I’ve done has required lots of hard, tedious work, but it has given me a deeper understanding of the animals I’ve studied. As we develop a research plan for the therapy pigs, I’m curious to learn more about their behavior and how humans can benefit from interacting with them.
Now that I’ve graduated, I’m not sure what comes next, but I’ll see where this internship takes me. Training animals gives me comfortable nostalgia while research seems to hold possibilities. Thus, working with the pigs feels like coming home and setting off on a journey at the same time. It feels like rooting around with your familiar littermates while exploring a new, larger world. Take me with you, little pigs. I want to see the world through your beady eyes, hear it through your perky ears, and smell it through your round, wet noses…constantly curious and hopeful.
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!