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Service Dogs Receive Valuable Training During Recently Held Theater Performance

A typical audience for the performance of a popular musical tends to feature young and old people alike with varying levels of experience with the medium. Some may know lyrics to all the songs while others may just be trying to keep up with the happenings.

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Still, you don’t usually expect to see dogs taking part in the festivities, but for one recently held show, that turned out to be the case.

Via Little Things, a performance of the acclaimed musical “Billy Elliot” at the Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada was attended by numerous dogs. It was a unique audience to say the least, but there was a good reason behind why the dogs were asked to be present for the performance.

These were not ordinary dogs catching a show. They are from K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs.

The performance itself was not of the usual variety. On the aforementioned occasion, the theater company put on a “relaxed performance.”

Per the Stratford Festival’s website, relaxed performances differ from the regular performances in that they are meant for attendees who will feel more comfortable being a part of a “less restricted audience environment.”

To further differentiate the relaxed performances from their more conventional counterparts and to also make them more accommodating, they also feature reduced lighting and sounds so as to prevent any audience members from being startled during the performance itself.

The relaxed performance of “Billy Elliot” was not just for the sake of entertaining the service dogs as it was also intended more to provide training for the hounds. The dogs who were present for the show were asked to sit along theater seats and they were taught how to properly behave as the show progressed.

Speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Laura Mackenzie, the owner and head trainer at K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, said that the training was “important” for the dogs as it can prepare them to act accordingly in the future when the time comes for their handler to attend their preferred activities.

Mackenzie also pointed out that the dogs being at the performance was beneficial because it gave them an opportunity to be exposed to different kinds of lights and noises.

The theater company was also complimentary of the service dogs who were on hand for the relaxed performance of “Billy Elliot.” Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager said that the dogs were “extremely well-behaved” during the performance. Swerdfager also highlighted the way in which the dogs moved about the theater, saying that they acted just like people would for a performance.

It’s not just the service dogs and their potential future handlers who benefited from the recent relaxed performance. Swerdfager said that the dogs being in the audience also helped the performers. Thanks to the experience, the performers were able to get a sense of what it’s like to put on a show for an audience made up of people as well as some service dogs.

The hope here is that the training will make it possible for more people to attend theater shows.

More service dogs could also be heading to the theater sometime soon. Mackenzie already has plans to bring new service dogs to future performances.

While nothing is set in stone just yet, it’s possible that more service dogs could get a taste of the theater when a relaxed performance of “The Neverending Story” takes place in October. To be more specific, a relaxed performance of “The Neverending Story” is expected to take place on Oct. 2 at the Avon Theatre.

For those eager to see the service dogs as they were attending the show, K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs has an Instagram account featuring them.



An Alligator Comfort Pet…Wait Wait What?

Shannon Jackson



Joie Henney is the first to admit he has issues. Suffering from repeated deep depression, he has regularly had to seek out help to get out of deep funks that could become seriously negative. However, while many folks use counseling, pharmaceuticals or support groups, Henney has an odd comfort pet for emotional support. He has an alligator.

Personal pets are well-known for their mental health benefits, especially for people who otherwise suffer significantly from loneliness and isolation. And that emotional bond is not restricted to ordinary pets like dogs or cats. Many farm animals have been known to provide emotional support as well, like horses, ducks and even pigs. Some even had fictional made about the same. However, no one until Henney has specifically identified an alligator as a comfort pet.

Alligators are normally treated and placed in the category of dangerous predators. They are typically cold-blooded, no pun intended, killers that will snap at anything they consider food, including people. As it turns out though, Henney is also an alligator expert. So he knows a bit more about big lizards than the average person.

Dubbed, “Wally,” Henney’s comfort pet is a wayward fellow who first crossed paths with Henney when Wally mistakenly parked himself in a pond at the local Florida Disney World. Obviously, Wally and Disney visitors were not a good mix, so Henney was brought in to remove the confused alligator. Under state law, relocated alligators can’t just be dumped in the wild again once they’ve been exposed to developed human areas, so Henney adopted the fellow instead. Wally can’t complain much; he gets a steady diet of raw chicken legs and Cheetos at Henney’s home in Pennsylvania.

Henney isn’t an idiot about alligators either. From his own training and experience, Henney knows alligators will snap at anything near their face or head. Wally, for some reason, was not a snapper. In fact, Wally doesn’t like to close his mouth. The odd behavior might explain why the alligator ended up at Disney World, unable to function normally in the wild. So, Henney figured out that Wally was very different and treated him accordingly. In his own words, Henney would describe their friendship and bond as very unique and special.


Henney himself has been through a lot. Having lost a number of close friends and relatives, he’s been through the ringer with depression and many times would feel very down day to day. For some reason, Wally picked up on this and clearly made it evident he was there to help and comfort Henney. How was that signaled? Well, Henney would be sleeping on the couch and, since Wally was never kept in a cage, the alligator would find a way to get up on the couch and park himself on Henney. At least he didn’t bite.

Some could argue the alligator just wanted to warm up on Henney since cold-blooded animals can’t regulate their body heat well, but Henney has decided it’s something more. These days, Henney brings Wally with him wherever he goes, whether it’s on a walk or a visit to the doctor. Of course, they do have to keep their distance from folks, and the duo use the drive-through option a lot. Henney did get married as well, and Wally was the ringbearer. That said, no one was quick to grab the ring from the big lizard.

And for Henney, Wally has been a lifesaver, keeping the alligator expert out of depression and looking forward to tomorrow.

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Population of Endangered Lemurs Is Growing At New Zealand Zoo

Kevin Wells



On October 11th, Wellington Zoo’s primate manager announced that their population of endangered ring-tailed lemurs had more than doubled after their four females gave birth to two sets of twins.

Endangered ring-tailed lemurs, found in Madagascar, have been at Wellington Zoo for less than two years. They obtained Zeus, a male lemur, early this year with the goal of increasing their population.

Lisa Ridley, the primate manager, said that they were not 100% confident whether they’d succeed in breeding the four adult female lemurs since they were all first-time mothers.

“We’re ecstatic that we’ve had four sets of twins, and they are all very healthy,” she said.

The first set of twins was born in August and the second, smaller set was born last week.

The number of ring-tailed lemurs in the wild is decreasing. A contributing factor to this decline is that female ring-tailed lemurs are only interested in mating a couple of days per year.

Ridley said that the window for breeding is very small, usually only 24 to 36 hours. She added that Zeus is a relaxed and respectful male who understands his role within the group.

Ridley said that the zoo was unsure what sex the young lemurs were; they try not to disrupt them until they are older, in order to find out what their sex is.

Once they reach maturity, it is likely the new males and Zeus will be divided to create a bachelor group, which occurs in nature.

Ridley said that Zeus would be used for breeding for several more years before being replaced in order to stop the genetic pool from shrinking.

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A Funny-Named Bat Gets Australian Top Honors

Kevin Wells



When winning an election, it helps be popular. That was the case for one particular mammal. Over the period of a month and a half, or six weeks, a massive voting event occurred. Some 50,000 animals were included on the ballot. And only one of them was going to be the winner. If selected, the particular animal would be voted as the Australian Mammal of the Year, and the 2022 selection would be the first one of the event in history, a pretty hefty title even if that particular mammal had no clue about its significance.

As it turned out, with a whole lot of voting and wondering and finally a selection, the winner turned out to be, hold tight, the Southern Bent-Wing Bat. Yes, a flying animal won the honors for being the inaugural mammal chosen for the title above.

The dingo was assumed to be a favorite, but that contender fell by the wayside pretty quickly in the early weeks. Day after day, week after week, the Bat just kept climbing the ranks and holding on, almost as if playing out a voting version of what it’s been doing in nature, surviving as a microbat and an endangered species.

In real life, the Southern Bent-wing Bat doesn’t live in such a glamorous hallway or venue as the voting podium online. Instead, it’s a cave-dweller, making a home in the stretch between the southeast part of South Australia as well as Victoria. Sizewise, the Bat is extremely small too, only measuring some 5 centimeters in terms of body length. It’s practically a feather in terms of weight.

Like other bats, the Southern Bent-wing Bat uses its ears and echo-location to find its way while flying, as well as to hunt. The Bat can definitely see, but all of its primary sensory work happens with ears and listening. It’s also a long-distance flyer, usually traveling well over 70 kilometers at night to find insects for dinner.

While they are extremely proficient at using body heat and consolidation of numbers to create the perfect breeding and maternity environments in caves, easily boosting the humidity and heat for new pups, the Bat species in general has been significantly harmed by encroachment of development and the loss of viable cave systems for homes. The population is at serious risk of decline, with a 97 percent collapse expected over the next two or three decades without serious protection.

The goal of the contest is to boost awareness of the most endangered animals worldwide, an Australia has a significant share of them, found nowhere else and in short number where they are. As a result, by boosting people’s awareness through the contest, the hope is that it will also increase conservation efforts for the species that are endangered, ideally reversing the trend if possible.

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Baby Giraffe Surprise for Zoo Visitors

Renee Yates



When you go to the zoo, you expect to see animals from the other side of the world, get a bit sunburned, eat some overly expensive park food, and feed some peanuts to the farm animals. You don’t expect to get a front row seat to nature at work. That’s exactly what happened to visitors who happened to be watching the giraffes at Milwaukee County Zoo and who got the odd but amazing miracle of seeing a new giraffe come into the world.

The mother to be until the special day was a giraffe named Ziggy. She was expected to have her baby soon, but the exact day was still a surprise and hard to predict. As it turned out, Ziggy’s new baby decided to arrive just before lunch at 11:40am. The staff were alerted the giraffe mother was in labor, and everything went into operation to prepare for the arrival. Less than an hour later, a new baby giraffe was born. And, amazingly, by 1:40pm that same baby giraffe was up and walking around. It is amazing how fast animals start fending for themselves versus humans, who take years before they can even move properly. The Milwaukee County Zoo got the announcements out online within minutes of the arrival.

Even for the Zoo staff, the giraffe’s sudden arrival still caught folks a bit off guard. Mainly, the speed of the birth caused folks to scramble. The last time a giraffe was born in the Zoo was somewhere in the 1990s. Lots of other animals have had births, but giraffe newborns are extremely rare, maybe a once in a generation event.

As for a name for the new giraffe, the Zoo staff will get the privilege. Some hoped it might be a contest, but the staff who worked so hard to make everything run smoothly with little warning earned the right.

As for new arrivals in 2022, the new giraffe was not alone. Spring heralded a big wave of new animal arrivals at the Zoo. That list included a new baby seal, two jungle birds and a second giraffe baby that ultimately was named Poppy.

For some Zoo visitors, the birth was a bit of an abnormal experience. Most times, animal births are kept out of sight. The newborn animal just appears one day after it’s been cleaned up and is able to walk. In this case, however, Ziggy’s baby was born in front of everyone. Some of the visitors weren’t used to seeing nature play out in raw display. As for the mother, Ziggy could have cared less about privacy. She was in her home, and her baby was going to happen regardless of the Zoo staff’s wants or schedule.

And as for the giraffe baby, he’s healthy and doing just fine, nursing with Ziggy and growing every day.

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Gaza Lion Cubs are a Rare New Sight

Kelly Taylor



The Gaza Strip is known internationally as a place of ongoing conflict and strife between Israelis and Palestinians. However, in 2022, it’s now also known as the home to three brand new lion cubs as well. Born in Gaza City’s own zoo, located in Nama, the three cubs didn’t even have their eyes fully open during their display. Everyone locally came to see the new arrivals, even with air bombings and rockets flying in the background.

Unlike the typical zoo presentation in big cities, where typically the new animals are showcased in protective clear plastic zones with lots of fancy lights and similar, the Gaza City Zoo has to make do with what’s available. So, the lion cubs were presented in a cardboard box to protect them and make sure they didn’t wander off.

The fact that three cubs were born is considered a huge miracle. The continuing smattering of explosions rocked the area and stressed out the zoo animals. The lion mother had previously had multiple miscarriages as a result. However, each of the latest cubs shows a healthy sign of life, weighing in at 700 grams each. While outside the fighting between military forces continued, in the zoo it was a special day.

Born on a Friday, the three cubs arrived during a ceasefire period with some relative calm. Given the amount of risk and damage going on all around, it’s amazing that a zoo even operates in Gaza these days, and the fact that the lion cubs arrived is even a greater miracle beating the odds. The only way the zoo has been able to operate has been through charity support. And it’s been a fight. A number of other zoos have folded out of a basic inability to function or even provide food for the animals contained; most starved to death, unable to be moved anywhere safe. Add in the fact there isn’t much sympathy for trapped animals when some 2.3 million people are also effectively trapped as refugees in the Gaza zone as well.

However, for at least one day, all the above was forgotten. Instead, people and their kids just wanted to marvel at seeing the new lion cubs. They will join a population of animals supported by the local community helping run the zoo, including birds, monkeys, wolves, foxes and a small pack of hyenas as well. It’s not much in comparison to other cities, but it is the Gaza City Zoo.

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