Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's in a name?

Naming animals is one of my favorite things!  Whether it is a bird, a new dog, a friend's show dog, whatever, I am all about choosing the perfect name for every animal in my life.  That is why it is a bit of a criteria shift for me to be working with animals that have no names.

The organization where I volunteer and am lucky enough to handle raptors is Native Bird Connections.  When the organization was founded the decision was made not to name the animals. There are a few reasons for this thoughtful decision.  First, they didn't want the public to view our program animals as "pets".  It is difficult for people to see an amazing wild animal like a hawk or an owl and not say, "I want one!"  As humans when we see an animal that we view as cute, beautiful or appealing in some way, we want to touch it, connect with it and even own it.  This may be fine for a domestic dog or a cat, but it isn't so wild animals, particularly non social animals.

People sometimes seemed stunned that we don't pet them or touch them, other than to handle them on the glove, but the reason that we do this is because it is what is best for the animal.  Unlike dogs or parrots or some other animals, these animals are not social.  Most are not social even with their own species, so humans "petting" them is not something that would be welcomed.  Our goal is to handle and treat them with respect which brings us back to the naming of our program birds.

Some organizations that have non-releasable program animals do choose to name them and this is okay, it is an decision that each organization needs to make for itself.  When Native Bird Connections was formed in 2000, the decision was made not to name them.  Another reason that they decided not to name them is that they didn't feel like these animals are "theirs".  The philosophy is that we are lucky that these wild animals that can no longer survive on their own, in the wild are willing to accept a life in captivity and that they are willing to give us the best that they can which is a working relationship based on trust, cooperation and negotiation.  We don't ask them to perform or do things or tricks or behaviors other than coming to programs, remaining on a perch, standing on our gloves, being moved from carrier to enclosure to perch and allowing us to interact with them cooperatively. We also don't feel that we "own" them or that they are "ours".  Yes, we are responsible for them, but they are not "ours" and never will be.

When I first started working with them and met the birds I was told it was okay if I gave them nicknames or called them what I wanted.  I honestly thought that this whole idea of them not having names would be difficult for me.  I am all about names!  But honestly, it doesn't bother me at all. There is something very organic, natural and good about just saying, "Good morning Red Tail!" or "You want a shower, Roughie?"  I have come to enjoy calling them by who they are.  Just another shift in thinking and learning a new way to live with and interact with a different type of animal.

I just call her Eagle