[00:00:00] Peter: Let’s look at some real measures of welfare and let’s shoot for better than they survive, breed, and eat. Let’s work on, what’s optimal for them. I want the focus to be on the welfare of each individual animal.
[00:00:13] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…
[00:00:32] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…
[00:00:33] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.
Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Peter Amelia. Peter Amelia, they/ them pronouns, is from Seattle and started working with birds over 15 years ago.
Peter’s goal is to improve animal welfare by creating choice and encouraging voluntary participation from learners in as many situations as possible. They began training early on and started the journey toward positive reinforcement based least restrictive methods. Since then, Peter has trained all kinds of animals from parrots to crows, to hoof stock, to snakes and lizards.
They live with parrots, pigeons, goats, dogs, ducks, snakes, lizards, tortoises, fish, and tarantulas. Along with consulting locally, Peter travels and provides virtual consultation. Peter is joined at the hip with Carrie Davis, another reptile trainer and co-founder of Reptelligence. Together they teach virtual reptile training courses and run a Facebook group called Reptile Enrichment and Training, RET. When not training animals, Peter trains people as a contortion and trapeze coach at a Seattle circus school, as well as freelance performing.
You can connect with Peter on Facebook and Instagram at Taking Wing Consulting and Facebook Reptelligence, Facebook group, Reptile Enrichment and Training (RET), Instagram reptileintelligence, and reptelligence.com. All of those are in the show notes.
I think a lot of times when we think of pets, we’re thinking about the furrier side of animals. I love talking with Peter because they remind me that there are so many more species out there in people’s homes than the ones I typically work with, and I love getting to see how they work with other species so that I can take those ideas and apply them to the species that I typically work with.
And of course, applying them to my own, not furry pet Zorro, a red eared slider. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Peter talk about the disparities of quality-of-life metrics between different species, what a day looks like when your pets hit the double digits and you have a lot of different species with different needs, keeping everyone safe in a multi-species household from management, to training, to selecting the right species and that bunnies, are shell-less tortoises. All right, here it is. Today’s episode, Peter Amelia, enrichment in a Multi-species Household.
Oh, hi. Before we get started with this episode, we wanted to warn you that we had some technical difficulties with Peter’s mic. We did the best we could in editing, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much editing can do. So there are some amazing, great gems in this episode that we felt were really important to air, so please be patient with the sound quality in this episode, and if you have sound sensitivities that make listening to this uncomfortable or difficult, you may want to opt to read the transcript for this episode instead in the show notes. Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding.
[00:03:41] Emily: All right, let’s get started. I’m going to have you tell us your name, your pronouns, and tell us about all your pets.
[00:03:48] Peter: Alrighty. Hi, my name is Peter Amelia. I go by, they, them pronouns. Pets are a whole thing. My roommate and I lived together all these animals. So, we’ve got, three dogs, nine snakes, six or seven spiders, four tortoises, two lizard species, well one’s a gecko, but that, yeah, they’re still Squamates. Six ducks, 13 chickens, eight goats, all Nigerian dwarves, eight pigeons, a little Finch, couple of fish tanks, and your rabbit right now. We have Bundini he’s a delight.
[00:04:20] Emily: Yes. Peter and Dana are taking care of Bundini for me while we find a house that allows rabbits, which is harder than I thought it would be. That’s been a whole journey.
[00:04:30] Peter: I still think it’s crazy that they’re like, “Parrots? Fine. Rabbits? No.” Have they met a parrot before?
[00:04:36] Emily: Nobody tell them that. I had a client with a Moluccan cockatoo who got out of his cage and broke down an entire chair from their dining room set in the four hours that the client was gone and reduced it to match sticks. Nobody tell them that.
[00:04:52] Peter: That sounds about right. That’s consistent with most of my Moluccan experience. We own the house, so, or Dana does at least.
[00:05:00] Emily: Yeah, and it’s funny because I have known Dana about a decade longer than I’ve known you, and so I’ve watched the zoo grow as time has gone on. The expansion of the species.
[00:05:13] Peter: Yeah, and really not a good influence on each other at the end of the day. I got her into the whole reptiles and spiders thing, and she used to be terrified of spiders. Now, she has a spider and she’s got another one or two on the way, and one of the tortoises is hers. Our bearded dragon, I actually got off of Craigslist spur of the moment, Craigslist, isn’t a good place for me. He really needed a home, he was in pretty bad shape, and I was like you know what? This’ll be a fun project. I’ll get him healthy; I’ll work on some training and enrichment with him, and then I’ll find him like a super good like kid home.” He really wants a bearded dragon, they’ll have the whole set up, it’ll be great, he won’t be living in a 10-gallon, blah, blah, blah. And Dana just fell madly in love and was like, “There’s no way, you’re getting rid of this dragon.” And I was like, “Okay.”
So, now he lives downstairs in her bedroom, and there are daily Credence posts on the Facebook, and now most of the things that I get her are either meerkat or bearded dragon related paraphernalia, or Harry Styles.
[00:06:11] Emily: I also really love all of her updates. I love how much she loves that dragon.
[00:06:17] Peter: She really loves that dragon. I love Credence, too, but when I got him, I had vision of him going somewhere else bearded dragons are really, really awesome, but natural behavior for a bearded dragon is not an entirely way less sedentary than they often are in captivity, but more sedentary than like most of the interest in species I do have.
And so, I’m more interested in like super active animals, and he’s just like really happy to like chill, and bask, and look grumpy the way he does. And she just thinks that’s the best thing in the whole wide world, and I’m cool with that. Oh, Credence.
[00:06:50] Emily: Oh, Credence. So, that’s actually why we’re here today. We’re going to be talking about what it’s like to have an enrichment plan for a multi-species household. I just thought like who else to invite onto the show to talk about this then Peter Amelia? I’m glad you’re here. This is really exciting for me, so talk a little bit about why people should care about this topic today and how it’s relevant to them.
[00:07:16] Peter: So, I think for me as someone who works almost exclusively with exotics, and especially species like reptiles, spiders, or just invertebrates, species that are really left behind in the, conversation about, not only just enrichment, but just welfare in general, or that, the measures that are used, to, measure welfare are lower than, they really should be for a lot of these species. Birds have come a long way since I started with birds, that’s great to see, but there’s still a long way to go, and so for me, especially with those species that I work with, it’s super important for me just because most of the time we’re working from a point of trying to have discussions with people that breeding, eating, and shedding are not measures of good welfare. They are, in that they should be a part of that, but they are not the only measures of good welfare, and the assumption that if they are doing XYZ, they must be doing well. When I think rather than looking at it as, ” Wow, they need so little I think of it to be successful, happy, blah, blah, blah, animals.” The way I look at it as “Wow, these are such resilient animals that we can keep a Ball Python in a little Rubbermaid tub in the dark, and they will still breed, lay eggs, and hatch. So, rather than, “Oh, this is all they need.” I think about like the resilience of them to less than optimal conditions, and we see that in birds a lot too.
[00:08:35] Emily: Absolutely. I love that point because you’re absolutely right. A lot of times the conversation is, “Why should I care about enrichment or positive reinforcement when what I’m doing works?” And that’s exactly the response, is our measures shouldn’t be how much we can get away with. We should look at that instead is it’s incredible that they can survive that, but is that really our goal? Just survival? I personally don’t agree, so I love that you brought that up. One of the most common questions that we get about the implementation of enrichment, and in fact, why we’re talking about this today is how to provide enrichment in a multi-species home.
This has been really eye-opening for me, since I’ve always had multiple species, and never really thought much about it, but yeah, it’s actually a big deal for a lot of people. So, one of the reasons I wanted to bring you specifically on as one of our first guests of this podcast is because you and Dana have so many species in your house, and on your property, and you do such a phenomenal job of meeting all of their needs. Can you please tell our listeners about your setup and what your routine looks like with all your pets?
[00:09:43] Peter: Yeah, I’m actually really excited about this question because it’s not something I’ve really been asked. I’m sure that I’ve been asked similar questions in the time that I’ve been doing this, but I’m excited about this question. And part of the reason I’m excited is I’m not sure I have a super great answer, so it’s like forcing me to think about it. What I will say is that being only two of us and having the number and diversity of species I have, often makes me feel like I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m living my dream, despite the fact that sometimes I lay in bed and I’m like, “Why are there jungle animals in my house? What kind of a sociopath, but do this to themselves?” So, I am not under an, not going to say that it is easy, or that it is fluid, and every law does look different.
We have some there’s routines of the day, especially, I have a hard time with routine, whereas my roommate Dana needs it to be successful, and I’m sure that I would be more successful if I had better routine, at least that’s what my therapist says, but it’s something that’s more difficult for me.
So, everyday it looks a little bit different. The way the morning starts out, and let me use the term morning loosely.
Dana works in a hospital, and so her schedule is pretty different, and she works seven on seven off. So, basically if I were to keep a normal person’s schedule, I would see her every other week for about half an hour, a day. And part of the reason Dana and I live together is we’re best friends, and I’ve known her since I was 13. She is much older than I am, so we’re quite the pair. But so, I keep a different schedule in terms of that, and also with my other job of teaching circus, I tend to teach later in the day, and online a lot. So, I just put my schedule around that. So, my alarm is generally set for about 11:00 AM, and I will sometimes be interacting with animals until 2:00 AM in the morning, which is something I want to do a little bit more research into in terms of like photo periods for some of the species and how that may affect them, and if that’s something I need to change, I really hope it’s not. But it’s something I want to look into.
The morning, like I said, loose term starts out with us getting bird bowls together, and again, it’s one of those things where like, yeah, I could throw a pellets in a bowl, or I could like thaw and mixed veggies and add some greens in it.
But we about once a month fill a big bin, usually a couple people come over and help us, and we pay them with some of the food that we all make, we chop up probably about 30 or 40 different ingredients, freeze it, and they get that thawed every day for their first half of their meal, we put coconut oil on it, and we put powdered pumpkin seeds and flax seed on it, probiotics, calcium, if they’re a female during breeding season, all that kind of thing. And then they get fed again later in the day, and then that’s fed almost exclusively sprouts, with some fruit mixed in, and mild variations based on the species. And then while Dana’s doing that, I’m usually making up reptile bowls.
[00:12:29] Emily: For those of you listening, who aren’t bird people, let me explain chop real quick. Chop is when we gather together a bunch of different produce, and herbs, flowers, grains, other things that parrots eat, and then we chop everything up, really finely, mix it all together, and then separate it out into daily servings, which we can then freeze, and thaw when it’s ready to be fed to the birds.
[00:13:00] Peter: So, for all of our herbivorous reptiles, they eat almost every day, not every single day, depending on their age, and for the tortoises, I’ve gone through a little bit of a change after doing a little bit more research of how I was feeding them and also feeding them in the winter is different than feeding them in the summer.
During the summer I, a few times a week go out and cause I live on a mountain basically, we’ve got lots of wonderful weeds and all that kind of thing around, so I go and I pick those fresh, wash them, and then that’s most of what the tortoises get during the day. In the winter, that is not something that I can do, to the same degree at the very least, so then they get a little bit more dried, which is pretty way I only have African species right now of tortoises, and so that’s more hay type-based dryer vegetation. And so, with them, like the winter versus summer preparation looks different.
And then, usually when it’s time to like feed reptiles and spiders, or all my herps as we call them, herptiles, the non-herbivorous species that usually happens in the evening, but I have to pull, thawed or frozen prey items out the night before, and so every day looks a little bit different. And then after inside feeding, I go out, I do water buckets for the goats and the pigeons.
[00:14:04] Emily: I think there are a couple things that really stood out to me about what you said.
One is that you have found ways to adapt to both of you have hectic schedules, you have multiple jobs, dana has an all-consuming job, and you’ve found ways to adapt to your schedule. And the other aspect of that is that even though you found a way to successfully provide for your, all these animals and meet their needs, you are still considering, is there a way I can make it better?
I love that you said we’re doing stuff at two in the morning, and also, I would like to learn more about the photo periods of these species to see if I need to restructure it. And that is something that I resonate with a lot. There was a five-year period, when I first started my business in Austin, I was working as a relief vet tech, which sometimes meant I was working overnights, and sometimes it was mornings, and sometimes it was swing shifts, and I was also a pet sitter, and I was also doing behavior consulting, and I also ran Austin Parrots Society with, I had 12 parrots in my house and I was fostering dogs and cats, and I had my own animals.
And that really resonates with me that there were times when I was like, ” I’m getting out of work at two o’clock in the morning, and now I’m starting the animal care stuff, is this something that is okay?” And I worried about that, too. I think for me, one thing that I discovered is, if we can do the best we can with the resources and constraints that we have, that’s still better than doing the bare minimum. So, certainly where I fell in an and I think you probably have too, but I love that mindset of always looking to learn more so that you can do better. That’s beautiful.
[00:15:46] Peter: And I also try to remind myself that I am a human, I do have constraints, and I try to regularly evaluate ” okay, is my current lifestyle conducive to keeping this animal in appropriate ways?” And overall, I would say yes, there’s always things I’m going to want to change. One thing I’ve learned with the reptiles is this little Wi-Fi plugins make my life so much easier in terms of like, when the lights go on and off and, oh God, they’re great. I love them so much. Those have made my life so much better, I can just change them, you know, all that kind of thing, and so finding ways to streamline is great.
But the other thing I thought I would mention in terms of like how every day does look different, so our days look different, but for the most part, with the exception of working in a hospital when there’s a pandemic going on, things look pretty similar in terms of, okay, you work seven days on seven days off, sometimes you have to go in an extra day for a meeting or something like that. The way I do my other jobs is that in terms of my scheduled classes, they change almost every two months, and then I’ve got private lessons, and consulting that are different almost every week. And keeping up with that in itself, even though I work, if you look at the hours and the end of the month, Dana works way more hours than I do. The variation in my schedule makes it difficult for both of us as well, and especially because it’s hard to move a bale of hay up the pasture alone.
[00:17:06] Emily: But the thing is there’s really something important to learn there about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and understanding that it like it isn’t perfect, it’s messy. Life with animals, life especially with multiple species is messy, and as long as we’re putting the animals at the center of our focus, and committed to learning and growing, we’re going to, take good care of them and you and Dana certainly do that for your animals.
One of the biggest concerns that people have with housing, multiple species is keeping everybody safe without being too restrictive. Can you talk about how you strike that balance in your home?
[00:17:44] Peter: Yeah. What I will say is that we are imperfect on that, and things that will have been fine for years are suddenly not okay, and for instance I have a pigeon right next to me who, she’s doing as well as she can be, but she was recently attacked by a pheasant, who’s lived in her aviary with her for years, and I’ve never had a problem with her and the pigeons ever.
Last night I moved the pheasant out of that aviary, put her in another aviary because I’m in a place of privilege to have that option, and that’s one of the things that is so important is one of my goals, and it probably involves a rich husband sometime, is have basically empty enclosures waiting that I can just be like, “Whoops, that’s not working out. Let’s separate them.” Same thing with the reptiles, that would be great, and then I could still use them as like an enrichment enclosures when I don’t need to separate someone, all that kind of thing. So, sometimes stuff happens. I had the same thing where I had a pair of birds living together for a really long time, and then suddenly there was a beak injury and I thought it was okay, I thought it was a one-off it wasn’t. And so, now they’re not allowed to live together anymore.
And one thing I will say too, in terms of that, my smallest parrot that I have is a love bird, and I started out ages and ages ago with back when I was at, when I was at even younger thing, not that I’m old now, I feel it sometimes, but, was a flock of budgies. I started out with a flock of seven budgies just like Petco budgies or budgies that I got off Craigslist, and that’s where I learned how to train. I was managing and training seven different budgies and a couple of cockatiels at a time to do all different flying behaviors around the room and around the house.
And I think that built me as a pretty good trainer, but aside from that, I started out really small. And now honestly, most of my interest is in larger birds, macaws are like my favorite parrot species. And I’ve got a cockatoo, and a Amazon and we’ve got the smaller birds as well.
But Nelson, the love bird is by far the smallest parrot in the house, so Nelson’s getting up in years and he’s starting to maybe have a few health issues and I’ve decided that when his time comes, I do not plan on getting any more smaller birds, because the management is difficult.
And it’s not that he’s being attacked by the macaws or anything like that, it just becomes more difficult, and when he slips through a macaw cage bars, I have a heart attack. It’s just one of those things where I’ve decided, I was like, “Okay, my, my animal keeping interest in care is going in this direction.” That doesn’t mean I’m going to rehome Nelson or anything like that, I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing for a while, as long as I need to, but that’s one way I’m going to make things a little bit easier. I always say I’m a size queen when it comes to birds, but not reptiles.
Despite that, I’ve ended up with, really on accident, I am next to an eight foot by four foot enclosure with a 10-foot Python in it, and two of the tortoises I have are the fourth or fifth largest species of tortoise in the world. But one of the things I’ve considered in that scenario is I’ve always thought that some species of monitor lizards would be really cool, but I’ve been like, Okay, what happens if a cage doesn’t get locked, and a sizeable monitor is now, monitor is a large species of lizard, they’re related to Komodo dragons for clarification, now I’ve got a massive lizard who is a carnivore and a hunting carnivore in a house open with a bunch of parrots, or smaller snakes or all that kind of thing. And accidents happen, and then there’s like, why did I do that? Right.
I love ferrets. I’m not going to have a ferret. Ferrets can get through anything and will kill birds, I’m sure there are people who can manage it, I can’t deal with that stress. My life is so hectic, I do forget things, and I don’t want that to mean that I lose one of my other animals as a result. I even get worried about the fact that we have Jack Russell in the house, and he is very good, but I get worried sometimes, I try to be really careful and that the end of the day, it wouldn’t be their fault.
They’re behaving the way that they’re behaving, it would be up to me and all that kind of thing. In terms of actual logistical, things that we have in terms of safety is pretty much all of the animal enclosures have locks on them. A couple of them are keyed locks. So, for a couple of the snakes, that’s literally, you have to have a key to unlock them. Which makes me like a little uncomfortable in terms of if there were a fire or something like that, but for the most part, I keep the keys in the lock the whole time.
The other thing is Dana’s roommate before me was our good friend Nyla, and Nyla is a really amazing bird toy and aviary builder and does almost exclusively custom stuff.
And the perk of having her live here is she built an aviary off of one of our windows and she enclosed our living room in stainless steel wire, and so I can have macaws out in the room and my little love bird in the next room and still be able to keep an eye on both of them. Now it’s not double wired, so when a little bird gets on the wire, I call him off and start reinforcing him for staying somewhere else, or adding toys, doing all that kind of behavior management. So, it’s not fool-proof, but it’s still better, and they both have space and some sacrifices that need to be made in terms of that.
One thing I want to add is like a double door system in both of our front door, front, and back door, just as a precaution and all of my birds do fly, and so it’s something that I need to be mindful of even for Dobbs and all that kind of thing. So, there’s steps to be taken, and I have plans for more ways to take those steps to but work with what I have at the moment.
[00:22:57] Emily: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think that there’s so much there that deserves highlighting because there is always a balance to consider of risk versus reward, and one thing that you, I think was implicit in what you talked about, but you didn’t specify, which I think we should specify is the amount of training that you and Dana have done to help animals improve their own safety.
So, like you mentioned that when the love bird lands on the wire, you can call the love bird off, you can call him off and he’ll come to you. When I brought Bundini over to your house and we were getting him set up in his little space, Wilson is the Jack Russell, right?
[00:23:41] Peter: Yes.
[00:23:41] Emily: Wilson was like, “Oh my God, what is that?” And I remember thinking as I was setting up Dana and Peter are some of the only people on the planet that I would entrust my rabbit to, with a Jack Russell in the house.
There’s no way, if anybody else had a Jack Russell and was like, I’ll take care of your rabbit. I’d be like, oh, you gotta think about but it’s because I know, and Dana even said, he’s really excited right now because of the novelty of the rabbit, but we’ll spend some time, getting him used Bundini and they’ll be fine.
Trusted that completely, because I know how you and Dana train, and how well you train and that I think is such an important component of that multi-species safety is that you have to teach animals the skills to survive in their environment, and that certainly happens in the wild. Animals learn how to protect themselves and how to stay safe, there are skillsets, which is why early rerelease programs weren’t super successful, is because those animals haven’t learned those skills, and if we’re going to have a multi-species households like this, training them how to protect themselves or to just be safe is a part of that process.
I have a feral dog. Bree was feral for the first year of her life. She survived by hunting rabbits and birds, and I have rabbits and birds and that was a whole training process, and we still manage it. I would never trust Brie with my birds and my bunny unattended, but we have a level of safety where I feel safe with them because of the training that went into that kind of co-housing situation.
[00:25:18] Peter: And I think you would probably agree that when I’ve got an animal who I could say that I trust no matter what, I’m never going to forget that it is a dog. It is Jack Russell. They have canine teeth, and my bird doesn’t, right? There’s never going to be a point where I think that everything is just going to be fine with rare exception.
We do have two livestock guardian dogs and I don’t worry about them hurting the goats.
That’s one the ways, Jack Russells were trained to hunt rats, livestock guardian dogs for trained, not, or like bred excuse me, not trained, bred and trained, but bred to not hurt goats, the way Jack Russells were bred to chase rats. So, there are things that are in line with that, but at the same time, if I end up with a goat with an injury, I’m not going to be like it couldn’t possibly have been the dog because they were bred that way. You know what I mean?
[00:26:09] Emily: Yeah, training is a really important layer of safety, but it’s only one layer. And you talked about all these other management strategies that you have, like keeping the keys in the lock so that if there’s fire, you can easily get the snake out, but you have to unlock it snake to have access to the rest of the house.
Things like that, management is another layer, training is a layer, and the other layer that I love that you brought up is the thoughtful selection of species that you are together. Like I was going to bring up when you were talking, I was like, ah, that’s why I’ll never have ferrets. I love ferrets.
And I love sighthounds. I love sighthounds and I love ferrets, and those are two species that I will never have as long as I live with birds, because that would be the level of management and training that I would have to do is not something that I’m necessarily able or even willing to attempt.
And so, there are species that I feel comfortable mixing in my house, but yeah, I’m not going to put a ferret in with a bird, and again, like you said, there are people who can and do that successfully, that’s them and their environment and their circumstances, that’s not my reality, that might be theirs.
And so, thinking, not just about how species mix in an abstract, but how in my environment do these species mix. And with my capabilities and my constraints, and like you, I love macaws. Macaws are some of my favorite species. I am an Eclectus girl, I should mention here that Eclectus are species of parrots that reside in various countries in Southeast Asia.
And when I was doing all this bird fostering, when I was involved in Austin Parrot Society, I realized pretty quickly that the amount of effort I would have to put into creating separate spaces for macaws versus the 500 gram birds, I stopped bringing in macaws, not because I don’t love them, but because my house was better suited to keeping birds within the 500 gram range than the 2000 or 2,500 gram range. It’s not just about how species interact with each other, it’s also about how you interact with the species in your care, in your environment, your constraints.
So, all of that just gold, I really appreciated that whole discussion. Thank you so much. Time is another concern that a lot of people have. And I know that certainly true for you and Dana as well, but the demands of various households and struggled to find time as relative. So, even though you struggle finding time to do everything with your, whatever you said, almost 80 animals, you and Dana, nevertheless managed to do an extraordinary job with all of them.
Can you share with our listeners some of the ways that you found to get more bang for your buck or be more efficient with providing for all of your pets?
[00:28:53] Peter: Yeah. Parks and Recreation is my favorite TV show, and there’s this line that Leslie Knope says where ” If we never sleep, and shirk all our responsibilities, there’s nothing we can’t do.” And sometimes I go back to that where I’m like if I just never slept and I will say that the amount of time that I spend with the animals and working on the animals to the degree, the number of blood species, blah, blah, blah, that I have, one of the, as I, as my therapist and friends, like to point out occasionally, is that my animals eat way better than I do. Am I saying that’s fine, and okay? No. Am I saying that I’m comfortable with that right now? I’m fine with that right now. And I don’t have a perfect setup. I don’t have a perfect lifestyle, in terms of like certain levels of like self-care, so that’s something that I am like really aware of.
And something that I’m constantly trying to improve on. But sometimes that means I didn’t take that shower that morning that I planned on taking. I usually try not to leave the house with bird poop on me, that’s one of my or, a shirt that has, I have what I call bird shirts and then work shirts. And so, I’ve got shirts that I wear at home and that I change out of before I play with the macaws or before I, run outside and start doing water buckets with the goats.
I had messaged you Emily beforehand. I was like, okay, am I going to be visually recorded been macaws in my hair all morning, and I just don’t think I have the time to look presentable. So, in terms of time management. The routine is really important and really helpful, and there’s a handful of things I do, that again, going back to maybe I make them more high means than they need to be. Is there’s some things I do that might not be entirely necessary, but that I’ve decided are important enough for me to actually spend the time doing, and that usually ends up being sacrifices in other areas.
And sometimes it means I really need to get this bird out today and really train this bird. So that means that X bird is not going to have the time that they usually do for that day. And I believe that I’ve, we’ve worked with them to a degree where that’s not going to like super damage them.
They’re going to be okay. And I’ll do my best to make up for that the next day. The other thing is that when we do look at okay, taking on the bunny. One of the things that you and I talked about when you hit us up about if we could do this and I’m so glad we did it because I love him is adding another parrot to a household.
Not that I’m planning on doing it, but adding parrot is different than adding a whole new species or having dogs and then adding a cat is different than adding another dog in terms of the amount of time. Like the diet looks generally the same.
It’s just an extra bowl in the morning, along with more, the increase in litter box and blah, blah, whatever, all of that. But when you go from adding a whole new diet to that preparation in the morning that’s a different trip to the fridge, and honestly, that’s how I think about it.
I make my food for the animals, eight feet away from the fridge, but I genuinely think about, okay, that’s another trip to the fridge. Right? Like in terms of like, how do I spend my time? If you include the freezers attached to our fridges, we also have three separate freezers that are full of dog food, and snake food, and parrot food and all that kind of thing, so there’s stuff that’s added to that. And even when Dana and one of us goes away, we have to make sure the other person is up to date on what we do every day. Cause that change is based on the number of animals or like the last time that Dana left, I spent, I was gone for most of November, but the last time Dana left, not long before that I had two sick animals in the house.
And so that added an extra layer of stuff that I needed to be really conscious of, and of course those animals took priority, and when there’s only one of us, we don’t do as much training, we don’t do as much conscious enrichment, so the time management is definitely, is always a struggle.
But I also, I think, that if I had two birds, I’d still had time management issues. So, sometimes I’m like, yeah, it’s time management, but if I suddenly went down to four birds and one snake, I don’t know if I would feel any better about the amount
[00:32:44] Emily: Yeah.
[00:32:45] Peter: I have to do stuff, TikTok exists and there was an hour of my day, right?
[00:32:50] Emily: Yeah. When I was first approached about taking care of a bunny that ended up being abandoned with me and I was a hospice foster for a year. That was one of the things that I was thinking about too. How can I incorporate the rabbit into my existing schedule, my existing space? Where are the dietary overlaps? Where are the toy overlaps? Is there a way for me to minimize the impact that this is going to have on my existing infrastructure? And in my research, I found actually, there’s a lot of overlap between parrot diet and bunny diet, and parrot toys and bunny toys, and housing, and spacing.
And so, it was easier for me to incorporate rabbits into my household, but that is definitely part of it, and you mentioned that before with how you make the chop that 30 to 40 pounds of food is how much overlap can you get? How many species can you feed with one strategy of chopping up produce, and just like maybe adding some additives to the separate species chop that you already do. And that is an, a really important part to maximizing efficiency and making things easier for yourself. Yeah, that’s, it’s so important to find places to do that kind of stuff.
[00:34:04] Peter: I remember when you were talking about Bundini and I was like, ” Rabbits are tortoises without a shell.” And you were like, “Oh my God, I had never thought about it that way. And it’s totally true.” Honestly Bundy, with the exception of his litter box and going in and working with him a little separately, I make his food when I make tortoise food in the morning. I almost never come in there without some snack for him. He’s not getting fat, I promise!
[00:34:26] Emily: No, he’s actually lost weight. I have to tell the story. The bird room had been cordoned off so that the bunny only had access to the foods that he should have been eating. One of the reasons that Bundini has needed to have a special diet is because I found out after months, that Bayou was on the fly, for whatever reason Bayou took it upon himself to take food that Bundini absolutely should not have been eating and carrying it over to the bunny section and feeding Bundi. So…
[00:34:57] Peter: It’s the cutest thing, but birds, man.
[00:35:00] Emily: Yes, birds. So, one thing that I find interesting about the pet community and how it differs from the zoo community is that the pet community seems to largely focus on active enrichment, where the animal has to actively engage with something in order for their needs to be met, but zoos by necessity have learned to rely on a lot of passive enrichment where the environment does a lot of work for them.
Allie and I rely on a lot of passive enrichment as well, due to our busy work schedules and our chronic health issues. And one of the many things that I love about your home and your setup is that you and Dana employ a lot of passive enrichment as well. Can you talk about the ways that you’ve created environments that do a lot of the work for you and how specifically your pets enclosures meet their needs?
[00:35:41] Peter: What I’ll say is that I don’t even necessarily think about it that hard. In terms of, I’m not like, okay, now this is passive, and this is active, and that’s something that I’m really looking forward to learning from y’all. With reptiles a lot of their enclosures are almost like me in mini ecosystems, even if we don’t talk about the bioactive things, which I can discuss later, if that’s something that we’re interested in. Outside of the bioactive aspect of things they have water, they have thermal gradients in their enclosures, they have humidity gradients in their enclosures, all that kind of thing. It’s like this mini environment that’s different based on the species. My rainbow has a 100% humidity in her enclosure, almost 24 7, whereas Credence has 40% humidity in his enclosure, cause he comes from the Outback of Australia.
[00:36:28] Emily: We should clarify that Credence himself doesn’t actually come from the Outback, but his species does.
[00:36:36] Peter: So, with that, I think that there’s, that kind of element of it is passive in terms of what I would consider necessities for them, and one other thing I think about that too, that I’ve been pondering is if we look at the five freedoms, Credence has a bowl of water in his enclosure.
[00:36:50] Emily: All right. Let’s talk about the five freedoms because we mentioned them here, but we don’t really define them. The five freedoms are freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, and disease, freedom to express normal and natural behavior, and freedom from fear and distress.
[00:37:18] Peter: And you see this a lot with animals like chameleons, right? That they don’t typically just drink out of a bowl. They’re more likely to, based on their natural history and their, inherited behavioral repertoire, they are going to be lapping water off of leaves and off of vertical surfaces, more dew like scenarios than they are from a bowl.
And so, in the chameleon world, in terms of keeping, it’s pretty standard, you need to have a dripper. You need to have a misting system that provides that. Now, I’m not even getting, gonna get into the whole bearded dragons shouldn’t have water bowls because if there’s any ounce of humidity in their enclosure, they’re going to die.
That’s not true. I’m sorry. It’s just not look at the monsoon season and bearded dragon habitat. They can handle humidity if they need to. 24 7? No, but one of the things I’m thinking about, yes, he has water in his enclosure, so theoretically he’s free of thirst, he has the opportunity to have water. Does he recognize the water that way?
I’m not really convinced he does. He drinks a lot more when he goes into the shower, and we have water running and all that kind of thing. Oftentimes when you’re looking at getting certain reptiles to, to drink there’s this and it’s, it works, I’m just not sure why, or if it’s best policy to soak them in water, which is generally there’s not a whole lot of choice in that objects, option. They can’t necessarily leave the water if they want to, which I think in some scenarios is necessary, you’ve got a constipated tortoise, you’ve got a constipated, a bearded dragon. You do what you have to get them to poop, and oftentimes putting them in a, a container of water, where they can still keep their head out of the water will solve that problem. So, one thing I’m moving towards right now is actually getting moving water in all of my reptile enclosures, and my Eastern indigo snake, Bruce has a little like mini filter in his big water container.
It’s not there to filter it, it’s there to just get the water moving and it happens to filter it, which is great. I just set up my two male garter snakes with actually a two and a half gallon fish tank in there, I have a bubbler and I have some real plants in there and all that kind of thing.
I could look at it as active enrichment, but for me, I’m almost not looking at it as active enrichment and looking at this is a necessity for something, and it’s just something I’m trying to get for all of them. And I also think that we’re probably looking at that for birds too. I think birds tend to respond to moving water better. And so now I’m looking at how do we, how do I provide that for all of them? So, in reptiles, that’s where I’m at, right? Where what I considered their necessity is essentially passive enrichment, and I’m sure that we would all agree that enrichment is a necessity and needs to be a priority. Whether we’re looking at like actual hands-on, I’ve got a clicker in my hand training or not. yeah. We’ve got about, either an acre and a quarter or three-quarter acre. I can never remember how much land we actually have, but I think it might be an acre and a quarter. I don’t know, and a large portion of our land is actually untouched forest that we keep that way, legally and because we should.
My goats have two large pastures and then they have a mini pasture that we call the middle pasture in the center, which is mostly, actually just a chicken run, but we let the grass grow up and then they can go in there.
I wish I could have larger space, so I could rotate pastures for them, but I don’t yet. So, they have a large enough space, I try and provide like more climbing surfaces for them, especially stuff with rough surfaces that they can naturally file their hooves down on, which would take some time out of my day in terms of needing to train hoof trims and then do have trims, especially when I’ve got eight goats and two people.
For my new baby macaw that I just got, I threw down and I got him a five and a half foot, by five and a half foot, by seven-foot-tall enclosure. That is especially important for him right now because he’s in a fledging stage, and I could talk about that for hours and hours, but I need him to be able to fly a lot right now, and I don’t have a setup right now where I can give him an entire room safely or without losing property value.
So, he’s got a larger enclosure and one thing I’m thinking of, because he’s destined to be a free flyer is most of his perches move when he’s on them. They’re not just bolted to the side of the cage because I want him to be comfortable on things that move because eventually, he’s going to be jumping out of trees.
[00:41:13] Emily: As we discussed in Helen Deshaw’s episode, a fledgling is a young bird whose feathers have just grown out enough that they can start learning how to fly.
[00:41:24] Peter: So, I want him to be on things that are moving, and I don’t do a ton of forging toys with my birds simply for one, most of my, almost the exclusive diet of my birds is fresh food, and if I don’t have time to make forging toys with nuts in them or pellets in them, I certainly don’t have time to make forging toys with sprouts and chop in them, cause that’s just 300 times more cleaning and all that kind of thing. When it is a pellet day, because we’re running late or whatever, and we just throw pellets at them, first of all, they look like we’re insane and we don’t care about them. Second off, I generally try and provide those through like mechanical forging toys and all that kind of thing, and all of my birds have looked at those that way. So, I would, I’m assuming you would call that a little bit more of an active enrichment style.
[00:42:08] Emily: Yeah, maybe we’ll have you come back on to talk about foraging, because I think forging doesn’t always have to mean getting food out of toys, right? Like the fact that our birds have to navigate essentially jungle gyms to get to the bowl that has fresh food in it, I still think is foraging.
Because they’re not in a cage with the bowl right here where they’re just standing on the perch, they’ve been standing on for 20 hours and they just lean over and grab food. My set up with my birds, which you haven’t seen yet, but you will, they have these shelves in their bird room and the different bowls with different foods are on different shelves, and they have to climb all over things in order to access those different bowls.
That’s still foraging. I do have some toys. When I have the bandwidth, like you, I do still have some toys that they have to shred and stuff to get to, but I think that what you’re describing can still be foraging if they’re having to navigate their environment to locate it and then obtain it.
[00:43:07] Peter: Well, and when we’re looking at birds with beaks, I think of whole nuts in the shell as a forging toy, nature’s forging toy. But then we’re looking at macaws who will fly kilometers every day and then sit in trees for hours slowly moving around the trees eating the food. And we’ve got a handful of our birds right now, just a few of them are free fliers, which is a whole ‘nother topic and not something that I recommend most people do with their animals, and I could go into that for hours. When the birds do big laps of the neighborhood, I modify how I give them that reinforcement because that’s something that I want them to continue to do and to increase their natural repertoire behaviors. One of the perks of free flying is they actually get to do more of that behavior where Milo will fly around and then land in an apple tree and start eating apples, or blackberries, or anything like that. He and I go berry picking all the time. So, it’s super cute, I know. I’m sorry. I just saw Allie’s face go, “Oh!”, and it is.
[00:43:59] Emily: So, what I’m hearing is that you’re going to invite me on one of these little foraging expeditions.
[00:44:04] Peter: Of course. I’m not flying him right now, or them right now, cause he’s in the middle of a really hard molt, but yeah, when the berries are out, it’s super fun. Basically, if I’m not working during the summer, I’m just like laying out with the goats, and the parrots flying around me and it’s just the best. Snow white going on over here.
Yeah, so I, I think you’re right, in terms of we don’t have to actually have them in this toy that needs to have three different levers pulled, and then pushed over, and then blah, blah, blah. I think that’s great, and in terms of increasing the duration that they are actually eating, is great, but I don’t think that is like the end all be all in terms of providing food for them. Yeah. And I mean, it’s simple things as if I can, I don’t have food and water right. next to each other for a handful of reasons, but one, because I want them to actually use their entire space of their enclosure. And that’s one thing that I’m actually really happy about with Wicket, my new baby, he’s four months old. Is in his new enclosure, he uses all of it, and using all of it could be interpreted as, oh, he moves around the whole cage. He actually will spend time on different purchases throughout that aviary. And that’s what I consider using the space. I don’t consider Bruce, my snake leaving hide, moving around for a second and then going back in as using the whole space. I want to make sure that he is encouraged through any number of things to actually use the whole space, spend time and all the different areas is my goal.
And that’s something I even approach with spiders as well. Now, I’m not going to restrict them in order to make that happen, but I think that for a lot of species, not all species, but for a lot of species that they’re spending exclusively their time in one spot. I generally look at that as a level of deprivation somewhere else in the enclosure, but I’m not going to no longer provide them with that spot they have in order to encourage that, I’m going to look at other ways to make other places more reinforcing, to encourage them to spend time there.
[00:45:44] Emily: Right, yes. Great. I totally agree with that. Okay. So, we give our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members an opportunity to submit questions for our guests, you be willing to answer some of those questions?
[00:45:58] Peter: Sure thing.
[00:45:58] Emily: Awesome. I’m going to ask you the most popular question now, and then we’ll save the rest of the questions for the groups themselves. So, the most popular question that was submitted was about how much time do you spend training your own animals each day? And what behaviors do you most frequently work on?
[00:46:17] Peter: Great question. What I would say is not enough time spending this every day for both their welfare and mine. I would train all day every day if I could. Because one of the things I focus on a lot, and my favorite part of training that I do is free flying my birds, some of my birds. I work a lot on recall.
A recall is I could talk about recall all day, how some people can talk about a tuck sit or anything like that in a dog all day? Recall, I can talk about it all day. It’s like my favorite thing to train, I can’t think of a way to think about recall that I haven’t thought of, I’m open to it, but I it’s just I spend my whole time thinking about that.
So, when it comes to, what do I actually work on the most 100% recall? And not even just with my free fliers, right? Like we talked about earlier with Nelson, my love bird, when I’m calling him off of, off of the wire, I work with that on him all the time. We actually had our birds, for a part of the summer, we have a few outdoor aviaries, and one of them is pretty big and has several sections in it. And so, he usually lives in one of those sections. One day he slipped out of a food bowl and was now a little, I don’t know, 80-gram bird out in the world, outside of the aviary and was on the side of the aviary.
And I was able to call him off and walk him back inside which was a heart-pounding experience but happened and was fine because of recall. So, even if my plan is not to take an animal outside, off leash, out of an aviary and blah, blah, blah, I don’t put leashes on birds, just a side note. Recall is to me is like one of the most important behaviors.
And to me a recall isn’t done until it’s, they are turning away from me leaving, and I can give a call or cue and they pivot and run back. That’s when I’m like, “Okay. They’re okay. Now there’s a recall there.” Now, my reasons for that are pretty extreme. I need my bird to fly off a mile away from me and then turn when I call.
Obviously not under restriction ‘cause you don’t do that under, under aversive restriction. So, I mostly work on that. One thing I work on depends on the animal, right? My Amazon, Bacardi was attacked by a bird in the past and lost most of his toes, and as a result, I spent time with him working on behaviors that involved him, giving me his feet. So, I work with that on him a lot. The other thing I worked with him on is go back in the cage on cue, which he does, but I, I do mostly foot stuff with him, in terms of present your foot, let me touch it, all that kind of thing.
With macaws, I try to work on let me touch your face. So, with the exception of a couple of species of macaw, like hyacinths, and I want to say like Nobles don’t have a whole lot of bare facial skin and neither do Hahn’s, but for the ara macaws, so severes, militaries, red fronts, blue and gold scarlets, green wings, militaries, the big ones with the exception of hyacinths, have a lot of, have a lot of bare skin on their face.
And the nature of that is that it’s going to get scratched sometimes just playing, whether they do it themselves, I’ve seen them literally cut themselves with a toenail, even if it wasn’t a toenail that I felt like needed to be clipped. It’s just a thing that happens, you’ll see it in wild macaws a lot, they often have scars on their faces. I usually work on them letting me put like antibiotic cream on there, flushing, wiping a little bit, cause that’s something that is more likely to be an issue with them. If I’m working with goats, one of the main things I’m always going to work on is let me touching their hooves. That’s a huge thing. With the dogs I’m usually working on like body conditioning, right.
So, getting the terrier to lengthen his body more because terriers tend to just get tight in their muscles. That’s something that Hannah and I talked a lot about, and I’ve been thinking more of obviously as a movement artist, I’m really interested in that. And one thing, one of my goals eventually is I actually want to work on a movement program for parrots, especially because they live so long, and birds that end up with arthritis, a little own birds that don’t even fly or never fly, or have no pectoral muscles, or, don’t stretch their wings because their muscles are so tight they can’t. So, that’s something that I want to work on really bad. Especially with birds who have injuries or one leg or something, which is pretty common in a lot of birds.
[00:50:15] Emily: When Peter mentions Hannah here, they’re talking about Hannah Branigan, a well-known and proficient dog trainer.
[00:50:26] Peter: Yeah. So, I would say those are those. It depends on the animal I’m working with. I have goals for them that are really important. Come back when I call you out of a tree, or I need to work on your hooves, I need to work with your feet, I need you to let me touch your face, I need you to do X, Y, Z, or go in a crate if I’ve got a vet visit coming up.
A friend of mine is a falconer, and she and I are going to start on this little project where we’re going to be looking at a few different ways of teaching color discrimination. She’s going to work on it with one of her falcons, Henry, and I’m going to work on it with one of my parrots, but we’re going to do it together and make a video of the whole process, following all the same steps, which I think would be really cool. So, sometimes I just do fun stuff like that as well.
[00:51:04] Emily: I love that. I can’t wait to see that. All right. So, at the end of every interview, we like to ask our guests the same questions, and hopefully they’ll be pretty quick. So, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment.
[00:51:19] Peter: In terms of profession. I would like people to know that as I’m sure you all would agree, there is a ton of time that is put into this that is behind the scenes. The amount of hours I’ve spent just reading research papers is a lot, and that our time is really valuable, and that training is not an option, in terms of all that kind of thing. Our time is really valuable, and our prices are fair, and that we also don’t have a magic button, and I find that in instances where magic buttons are offered to just suddenly solve a behavior, or train a behavior, they tend to be less ethical training. So, I would just be mindful of that, in terms of profession things that are happening in my life recently that I clearly have feelings about.
With birds and reptiles, which obviously are like my focus, I would go back to that, let’s look at some real measures of welfare, and let’s shoot for better than they survive, breed, and eat. Let’s work on what’s optimal for them. And that doesn’t mean, I think sometimes, especially in the reptile world Which can be a little bit of a hostile environment, not going to lie, and especially when I’m coming in here saying, “Hey, your snakes would probably be able to stretch out and its enclosure.” And I’m talking to a breeder who has 200 snakes, no one has that amount of space. And so, they keep them in what I would consider suboptimal conditions for the sake of being able to make money, and breed, and all that kind of thing, whereas I want the focus to be on the welfare of each individual animal.
And then also, in terms of birds, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be cagey about my opinions about this. Please don’t clip your bird’s wings. I, that’s just something that I personally feel really strongly about in terms of that That’s something I would want people to know.
[00:52:49] Emily: Yeah. Yes, that’s a whole other, there’s just so many topics that we could talk about on this podcast.
[00:52:54] Peter: When you have a wide spread of interests, it’s really hard to stay on topic.
[00:53:00] Emily: Yes. I understand that. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?
[00:53:05] Peter: Attention to data, and caution around certain things, and behaviors that we ask. I think that sometimes things like free flying, like having a 10-foot Python in your bedroom. We need to look at those like a little bit more closely, and make sure that we’re actually focusing on the welfare of the animal, and not just what we think would be cool.
[00:53:25] Emily: Yeah.
[00:53:26] Peter: That’s what I would like to see in the industry.
[00:53:28] Emily: Yeah. Beautiful. What do you love about what you do?
[00:53:31] Peter: I love getting to have complicated relationships with animals. One of the reasons I love birds is most birds, a lot of the time, and certainly with snakes and stuff, they’re not just going to throw down ‘cause you have a hand that will pet them. You know what I mean? So, I love that complicated relationship that you have to build with a lot of these species. I also really love that a lot of the species I work with haven’t been worked with a whole lot in the way that I want to work with them.
[00:53:57] Emily: Okay. Final question, what are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you? How can they do that?
[00:54:05] Peter: So, a handful of places. So, the reptile training, I can’t believe it took me this long to mention Carrie but, the reptile training I do with, my sister from another mister, Carrie Davis, she is the co-founder of Reptelligence, and I, for Reptelligence, am the Director of Media and Training, and so when it comes to most of the Facebook posts or Instagram posts that go through Reptelligence that’s me. So, I’m hoping that we’re going to start teaching more of our multiple week online snake training courses, as well as introducing some more topics in terms of, advancing, our training a little bit further with them, as well as, doing classes on other species of reptiles and amphibians, which would be super cool, through, through Reptelligence most of my consulting that I’m doing through my consulting business, which is Taking Wing Consulting which you can find on Instagram and Facebook, at Taking Wing Consulting, is mostly private stuff.
[00:54:55] Emily: All right. Thank you so much for joining us today. It has been such a pleasure to chat with you.
[00:55:00] Peter: Thank you so much for having me. This was super fun. I could do it for another four hours.
[00:55:04] Emily: We’ll definitely have to have you back on.
[00:55:06] Peter: I’m game.
[00:55:07] Emily: Alright. See you later.
[00:55:08] Peter: Bye.
[00:55:09] Allie: Peter has such a joyful person, and I don’t know about you, but I loved hearing about their life and what it’s like to live with so many species and to just get insight about working with a lot of different species that I don’t come into contact with. Next week, we will be talking about where to start your enrichment journey.
Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.
Thank you for listening and happy training.
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