Coronavirus – A Game Changer? 

Every dog has his day….well maybe that is what this new Coronavirus is all about. After all, it apparently has been passed on to humans from animals, but probably not dogs. However, the way that the world has handled the annihilation of so many animal species through human greed and ignorance has probably resulted in this being the price we are all going to pay as we face the stress and anguish of a virus which may have the potential to reduce the earth’s human population if it goes totally out of control. Who knows if it isn’t going to be a case of we, the clever, educated, know-it-all homo sapiens becoming a rare commodity one day and animals having the last laugh!

Picture if you can the following scenario: Mummy Rhino takes baby Rhino out for the day and they happen to come to a fenced area with a sign on the front reading “only 100 of this rare species, known as the human race, are to be found worldwide”. Baby looks at the creature in the enclosure and, sounding puzzled, asks Mummy, “what is that animal?” Mummy replies, “My boy, that creature is the reason that our little family is so small and that you only have a couple of cousins.  Those cruel individuals used to kill us so that our beautiful horns could be sold to some unintelligent yellow people across the sea. They were so stupid that they believed that our horns had amazing, almost magical health benefits. It was all a lot of unintelligent garbage, but it meant that we Rhinos were hunted and butchered, often leaving little babies without their mums.”

“So, what happened to those cruel creatures, Mummy?” “Well, they all started to get sick, coughing and sneezing, and then gradually dying, one after the other. That one in the cage is one of the few we still have here in Africa, and I don’t feel at all sorry that his species is now endangered, with only about 100 left in the entire world. Have a look at his face and you can see that he is very unhappy to be caged up and have animals staring at him every day, but he is having to suffer for the cruelty and greed of his ancestors and now knows how we felt when those of us who were not hunted, were often caged and gawked at in zoos around the world”.

“Let’s go Mummy, I don’t like this place and that strange person makes me feel very sad thinking about all our poor family members who must have been killed by people like him.”

Update and Comments: 14 February 2020

Pavlov and the salivating dog scenario

Well, our dear Kelly, who is now 16 months old and an almost fully grown, very spoilt and rather bolshy German Shepherd, has finally decided that the pool can be a lot of fun. It has been a bit of an effort to get her to realise that, if she gets in on the top step, she can stand quite comfortably. Ever since she was a young puppy, she has had an obsession with water. She was the only member of her puppy socialisation class who raced straight over to the large bowl of water in the middle of their cordoned off area and proceeded to splash around like a lunatic. Here at home, being sprayed all over whilst the garden is being watered, is the fun activity on a hot afternoon, but this summer she has been reticent about getting into our pool.

Allthough last summer we did manage to encourage her to venture into the pool on two occasions, she made sure to get as far away as possible from me each time I had a swim. Obviously dreading my trying to get her to join me. So, last week, we decided that it was time to get her over that barrier of avoidance and try to coax her into the water. After all, we are heading towards the end of summer, so it’s now or never. My better half (so named for this article at least!) put the chain on Kelly and she soon decided to slide onto the top step of the pool. That first day we didn’t force any swimming, but she seemed to enjoy the wading around for several minutes, before trying to clamber out on her own. She has serious hip dysplasia (which was never revealed to us by the breeder) and swimming is highly recommended for her.

On day two, as soon as she had the chain around her neck, it did the trick and she didn’t need to be chased around the garden. I removed the chain as soon as she was in the pool and that day, I actually pulled her off the top step and she swam like an Olympic athlete and appeared to be very proud of her achievement. We had decided that we should put a few layers of bricks on the top step to assist her so that, instead of her having to struggle with her weak back legs, she is able to clamber out with her dignity intact.

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The point I am making here is that, when one looks at how relatively easy it is to teach a young dog, then Pavlov’s theory of Classical Conditioning is certainly what it’s all about. She associates the chain with the fun of getting into the water. Fortunately, there is no food involved in Kelly’s swimming training, so it is far more pleasant to see her doing her strong strokes in the water than salivating all over the place! Maybe I will soon be able to show her the chain without actually putting it around her neck, and she will get into the pool with no encouragement so she can have her daily swim. It makes one feel a bit more comfortable knowing that, if she were to fall in the water, she now recognizes that she has to swim to the shallow end in order to be able to get out.

It is much easier to waterproof a dog than a child, but the responsibility of ensuring that there are no unforeseen occurrences is something which one has to be aware of in order to prevent a tragedy. Taking responsibility is part and parcel of life, whether we like it or not.  Therefore, it is with a certain degree of relief that we now know that Kelly is a good swimmer and knows how to get both in and out of the water without any discomfort.  In fact, today she didn’t need to use the bricks at all and clambered out with total ease. Success!

I am off now to get the canine family member back in the pool, as rainy weather could arrive unexpectedly judging by the rather threatening clouds I can see from my office window.

“I’m trying to do the best I can
– Michael Phelps

Oh, nearly forgot – for those of you who are romantics – A very Happy Valentine’s Day for 14 February.

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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The Joy of Teddy Bears

The Teddy Bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, who was a keen hunter. He was out on a hunting trip one day when he came across a bear who would have been an easy target for shooting. The president took pity on the animal and refused to harm him. This resulted in a cartoon being drawn showing this event and, consequently, a toymaker took the initiative to produce a soft toy to mark the occasion, and called it Teddy’s Bear (Teddy being the nickname for President Roosevelt). The toy soon became so popular that everyone wanted to have a teddy bear of their own.

What would childhood memories be without a favourite teddy bear. Years ago we lived in Italy when our eldest son was 2 years old. He had left behind all that was familiar to him including grandparents, most of his toys and not least of all, his spaniel, Suzie. It must have been a very confusing time for the poor little boy who was only just starting to speak English. Suddenly he was in an environment where children were revered and a lot of attention was lavished on him, but practically every word spoken was in Italian. We didn’t realise initially just how much living in a foreign country was affecting him.

One Saturday afternoon we were in the toy department of one of Milan’s largest departmental store where there was an entire wall dedicated to teddy bears of every conceivable size and form ranging from the tiniest to almost adult human dimensions. We told our little boy to pick a teddy for himself. He toddled over to the bears and picked up one which was almost the same size as himself and started chatting non-stop to this newfound toy. At last there was someone who listened and seemed to understand his baby talk. The bear was purchased and named Arturo, as he was, after all, an Italian bear.

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Arturo and friends

Now, many years after the arrival of dear old Arturo, he has become part and parcel of our family history. He is still around, although not quite as sprightly as in his heyday, but still wears a very snazzy knitted Italian outfit.

It is customary in South Africa, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, that where there is childhood trauma, teddy bears are given to the affected children to help ease the pain that they are currently enduring. The fact that teddies are usually fairly soft and chubby makes them easy to cuddle and research has shown that when children are given a choice of dolls, they will usually choose ones which are rounded and cuddly looking. Having a favourite teddy to take to bed at night has been a comforting factor in the lives of many children in various parts of the world for a long time.

Teddy Bears come in many styles and varied price tags. If they were made a long time ago and are jointed (arms and legs and head which can be moved into different positions), and especially if they were made by a respected toymaker, they could fetch a very high price on auction. A hand made and jointed bear made from mohair, would be far more valuable than a bear which is not jointed and was mass produced in a factory using a manmade material such as nylon. By the same token, if a bear was owned by a famous person, then it could also have a high selling price attached to it regardless of the kind of bear it might be.

Let us not forget some of the bears who, over the years, have become household names. Among these are Winnie the Pooh, made famous by A.A. Milne,  Rupert the Bear (still going strong and appearing in cartoon form in certain newspapers, after decades of wearing the same yellow check trousers and red jacket) and the delightful Peruvian bear who was found lost and bewildered at Paddington station in London.  He has even become a renowned movie star in his own right!

For most of us, the value of the teddy bears which we remember from our childhood days has far more to do with the memories connected to them than their potential re-sale value. One of the first bears that grandparents gave to one of our children was named Growly Bear. Not only was he jointed, but when turned onto his tummy he growled quite fiercely.  Somehow, he disappeared over time, and sadly he might have proved to be valuable by now, if only we knew where he has been hiding all these years! Perhaps he attended a Teddy Bear’s picnic and forgot how to find his way home!

Fortunately, despite today’s children being techno savvy from an early age, some things just don’t change and a love of teddy bears seems to be one of them. May the humble teddy remain as popular  with future generations of children as has been the case since President Theodore Roosevelt saved the life of that fortunate brown bear so many years ago.