Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Inspiring family puts the fun in functional!

Animal Planet features a marvelous series of programs about wild animals "growing up," following them from birth to adulthood.

The most intriguing and pleasing side story that isn't even mentioned in episodes that feature baby wildlife being raised by humans for their safety or survival is the incredible closeness and functionality of the human family raising these unique animals.

In one of my very favorites, Growing Up Black Leopard, little Eddy, a black leopard who must be taken from his abused parents or they will harm him, is taken at birth - weighing 1.5 pounds - and raised on Colorado's Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center; the same reserve that rescued his parents.

The animal sancturary, run by an extraordinary family - dad Pat Craig, mom Shelley, and two (now teenage) sons Casey and Kelly - was the subject of a Reader's Digest story that reported how it was for the family caring for unwanted and abused large wild animals as the kids themselves have been growing up.

Many of the animals in the sanctuary are rescued from people who thought it would be fun to get a tiger or lion cub and realized too late that they are not domestic pets. In too many cases, ignorant owners abuse the animals in an attempt to "train" them or keep them from harming others and destroying property.

Having worked at the Seattle Animal Shelter for two years as a volunteer, I can say this is the major reason dogs end up being brought to the "pound." Because owners don't know how to train themselves- um, I mean the puppies as they grow, they surrender them to shelters since dogs don't train themselves to be well behaved and non-destructive. Like any animal they don't know what "destructive" is until someone shows them not to behave that way.

Each Craig family member takes part in Eddy's upbringing, nurturing and care. Everyone works together around the clock and it's clear they love all their animals. In addition to caring for dozens of large wildlife on the huge sanctuary, the family has several dogs and cats - all of whom do their part to play with and help Eddy grow up. Well, one cat didn't seem too pleased with his company, but the rest were just fine and enjoyed interacting with him.

Eddy learned just how far he could go extending his claws and biting as he grew larger to make sure he did not hurt the domesticated pets. The only way Eddy could be raised properly is to have nearly - or literally - 24/7 supervision, which is why each of the four family members was vital to his healthy growth.

None of the Craigs feel this is something they "should" do - they want to do it; it's their passion.

They love their work, each other, and have a great respect not only for one another but the animals and the knowledge it takes to raise these unusual and in some cases endangered and dangerous beasts in a way that is healthy and safe for the wildlife and themselves.

There's no "generation gap" between the Craig adults and teenagers because the kids have been raised to nurture and care for others since birth (Pat and Shelley were married and caring for the big animals years before their children were born).

Everyone must communicate and cooperate; each person has a meaninful task to carry out, and the each member is needed to make the whole rescue operation function. They are proud they do what they do, of who they are and the difference they make in the world of the animals for whom they care.

During the growing up period, Eddy sleeps with Casey, and takes his daily shower with him as well. In the wild, Eddy's mother would clean him completely every day, so the shower is a must. The cub grew to love being in and around water.

This Animal Planet episode is narrated by none other than multi-award winning actress and animal lover Edie Falco, who does part of her work at the sanctuary itself, interacting with Eddy as a juvenile.

A black leopard is the same as a lighter leopard, only the spots are more difficult to see because of its black coat; likewise, the black leopard is also known as a black jaguar.

If you want to know the lastest about Eddy, you can catch the latest news, plus pictures, here. Be prepared to see him as an adult - he has grown to be a proud, beautiful and *huge* kitty!

The program itself showing Eddy growing from a pound and a half tiny cub to 100 pounds, which is when he needs to be socialized with other wildlife, can be viewed periodically on the Animal Planet Channel (check the schedule), downloaded here for $1.99/USD from the Discovery Channel store, or purchased as a DVD here.

As I say, if you want to see how a family stays close, positive, functional, peaceful and happy - take a look at how the Craigs make it happen - effortlessly.

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