The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Asian Ele-Diary 2010

December 29, 2010

2010: The Year in Pictures

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December 20, 2010

This past week, Dulary began showing signs of gastro intestinal irritation. Her vet team and caregivers have been monitoring her constantly, and as of today, we are relieved to report she is beginning to show signs of improvement.
In the afternoon of last Sunday the 12th of December, Dulary stopped eating. The minute we noticed symptoms of moderate abdominal discomfort, we proceeded with our typical treatment for any elephant exhibiting the early signs of colic. Throughout the night, Dulary rested normally and defecated periodically without strain, however her abdomen continued to bloat.
On Monday, Dulary drank only marginally and nibbled at just a few pieces of food, even though her color and temperament were good. But then she stopped defecating, and her belly was becoming more distended. Medical treatments and vet visits continued through the day and night. By Tuesday morning, things looked brighter. Her bloating was down a bit, appetite slightly improved, but our sigh of relief was short-lived. For the remainder of the week, Dulary would have a series of ups and downs.... binge-eating two apples and three pears, another day eating only two granola bars and four peeled oranges, with the highlight being 3 bowls of popcorn saturated with oil and a little salt for palatability. In between these signs of appetite were the rare and occasional bite of hay, but her appetite was still not up to par. 
By late last week, Dulary had essentially stopped drinking—instead of the normal 20 gallons a day for this time of year, she was only drinking maybe 3 or 4.  Enemas continued and Dr. Scott inserted a catheter in Dulary's ear, where she has cooperatively allowed us to give her more than 35 liters of fluid each day to prevent dehydration. Yesterday and today, Dulary began to drink water again on her own, selectively eating produce, crackers and cranberries. The greatest highlight for all of her caregivers is that Dulary “pooped” last night. While that event may not sound very glamorous, it is an awesome sign that her digestion is beginning to improve. We are hopeful that Dulary is on the road to recovery.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention Misty, who has stood by Dulary throughout her ordeal.
Dulary is without a doubt the best patient ever: frequent enemas, daily fluids, caregivers and vets doting and coddling... quite simply, Dulary is an absolute gem. With every passing day, she becomes a little brighter, rumbling a little more... and we even hear a few “gargles and grunts,” a sign she is definitely on the mend.
As for what may have caused Dulary's gastro intestinal irritation, unfortunately we may never know. With limited diagnostic tools available for elephants, there is no way at this point to determine if it is a blockage or obstruction, or just excessive gas. We hope to find more answers on what may have caused this later, but for now we are 100% focused on her recovery and satisfied just knowing that Dulary continues to eat, drink and defecate... the simple functions of life that we all take for granted.

December 7, 2010

Some of our enrichment supplies have arrived, so at the New Asian Barn, we have been busy hanging "toys." Each of our Girlfriend pairs have been given either a hanging barrel or a hanging ball feeder that spins from above in their stall. The Ladies can certainly smell the popcorn that awaits inside, and as this video shows, each individual finds her own way to get the treats! For the full story, see the December 6, 2010 Ele-Notes.


December 4, 2010

After Lottie's passing, we began discussing the idea of letting Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie into the same yards, so that Minnie wouldn't be without companionship. In the past, Minnie has been too rough with Debbie and Ronnie, which was why she was separated from them in the first place. Interactions with these three continued over and through a common barrier—a safety net that protected Debbie and Ronnie should Minnie get too rough. Debbie would play trunk games with Minnie, while Ronnie would periodically climb part way up the fence and engage Minnie. Minnie was never rough with Lottie, though. With Lottie gone, we want Minnie to enjoy physical companionship; unrestrained ability to rub and play and hopefully grow closer to her companions. Of course there is concern for Debbie and Ronnie as well, if Minnie is too rough with them.
On Saturday, December 4th, we decided to give it a trial. Scott and the caregivers began by distracting all the Girls with some hay, then opened the gates that normally separated their sides of the habitat. Much to our surprise, when Minnie walked away from her hay, she took a few steps into the "60 Yard" where Debbie and Ronnie were—and then promptly turned around to explore the Night Yard Extension. Granted, she had not been in this area for quite a long time, but we were surprised that she seemed more excited about her access to this yard rather than reuniting with Debbie and Ronnie.
After a quick, almost-running tour of the Night Yard Extension, Minnie rolled around on the ground for a little while, covering her body with dirt. When she finished, she got up and walked back out into the 60 for a reunion with Deb and Ron. Debbie distanced herself a little bit but Ronnie was eager to engage Minnie with some trunk wrestling and gentle pushing. Fortunately, Minnie never pushed too hard or too much, and we were ecstatic with her gentleness for Ronnie.
The following day, we opened all the gates right away, and the day went wonderfully. Debbie still kept her distance from Minnie, but she remained calm. Ronnie and Minnie continued to wrestle and play. In the early afternoon, Minnie went off to explore the 60 on her own, and Debbie and Ronnie wandered closer to the barn like they normally do.
The next day followed the same successful pattern until the early afternoon. When Debbie and Ronnie started coming closer to the barn, this time Minnie followed them. She started to behave more roughly with Debbie, at which point we felt that it was becoming too much for Debbie. A caregiver drove out with hay to lead Minnie away, and after only a few minutes, Minnie followed willingly. We then shut their gates to give Deb and Ron some time by themselves.
The next few days were "off" days for the Girls, as they remained separated in their regular yards. On Thursday we opened their gates again, but with the same result as Monday: Minnie's play became a bit too rough, so we separated them again.
The elephants and the caregivers need more time. Clearly, it is not quite the time for Minnie and Debbie to share the same space all the time, but we're delighted with the progress Minnie and Ronnie have made.

October 31, 2010

The Divas celebrated Halloween with a little bit of "trunk or treating." Each Girl received a carved pumpkin filled with tasty treats (generously donated by our supporters), including fig newtons, alfalfa cubes, apple and oat treats, and honey oat biscuits, as well as some pieces of fruit. Most of the Girls approached the pumpkins in much the same way, carefully inspecting them with their trunk, maybe picking up a loose treat, then stepping down on the pumpkin with a loud CRUNCH to split it open and allow easy access to the hidden treats inside. Typically, the Divas don't eat all of their pumpkin, so it was a surprise when Lizzie began eating the squashed pieces of her pumpkin after finishing the treats she found inside.

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October 28, 2010

Fall is one of our favorite seasons at the Sanctuary. We think the Girls in New Asia agree!


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October 13, 2010

Adjusting to unexpected change takes many forms and comes with many challenges.  Yesterday, we struggled with the difficult balance respecting the peace of a recently passed loved one, with the necessity of performing a necropsy to learn all we can, so that we can help all captive elephants live longer, healthier lives.

Lottie’s necropsy left us with a few answers and more questions; some that won’t be answered for a few more months while samples are tested and analyzed.  We can’t say with any level of certainty what caused Lottie’s sudden passing, so we wait with the peace of knowing that at least she passed quickly.

Late yesterday afternoon, Lottie was buried about 50 feet from the base of the giant cedar where she passed. Today was a day of passive resolve; our world has shifted and we begin to awaken to this new reality.  For the most part, we are all doing well…then you see the food bins with Lottie’s name lying empty on the shelf; it is the little reminders that come up when you least expect it.

Minnie appears to be doing well. She is quiet but remains grounded. This afternoon, she wandered out to the back of the property,  grazing and dusting along the way. She entered field 7 (Lottie’s Field), passively grazing before making her way to the edge of the forest, fiddling with branches and scratching on massive oaks. Occasionally Minnie would pause to raise her trunk toward the back of the pasture and Lottie’s grave, stopping for a few minutes before returning to grazing and scratching.  About an hour after entering “Lottie’s Field,” Minnie circled to return home without visiting Lottie’s grave. It may be too hard right now—or more likely, that the strength of connection to Lottie’s spirit will carry her forward.

The walk back to the front of the Quarantine facility began with a few pauses looking back, then it turned into a stroll at “Minnie speed” ...a triple time walk, on a mission past prime grazing, to rejoin Debbie and Ronnie for social time, reassurance, and a few extra treats from Angela.

The rest of us humans are still stuck in the physical realm. It is still hard to accept that our stoic, strong and stable Lottie has passed. She was always one that you could count on being ready for every meal—being a pillar of support for Minnie, helping her to emotionally grow into her physical confidence, and overall, being a presence of strength for all of us.  As one caregiver mentioned, “Lottie is…Lottie. It just felt like she would always be here.”   Somewhere we know that she still is. In time, we will make the shift like Minnie has, connecting with Lottie’s spirit overlooking the Sanctuary—our pillar of strength is now larger than life.

October 10, 2010

Today we are both saddened and shocked to announce that our Lottie passed away early this morning. Until this discovery, Lottie had appeared to be fine, with no signs of discomfort or ailing health; her energy level had been up, her appetite normal, and she and Minnie had been relishing in the cooler fall temperatures lately, wandering and grazing the pastures.

This morning while making her normal rounds, Samantha found Minnie in field 6 by herself, which is not at all out of the ordinary. After feeding Minnie, she carried on to look for Lottie, who was usually not far away. Sam checked all of Lottie’s normal hangouts, but kept a watchful eye on Minnie too, hoping that she would help by calling for Lottie with loud rumbles and bellows. But today was different. When Minnie finished eating, she wandered toward the front of the property, meeting up with Debbie and Ronnie at one of their new waterers and rendezvous areas. At that point, Scott joined the search too, and they continued on four-wheelers and on foot, looking in all of the valleys and crevices, in the creek beds and even unexplored hill tops.

Eventually Minnie headed towards the back of the property again, grazing slowly just like any other day. When Scott entered field 7 on a four-wheeler, Minnie was grazing on the left side by the creek bed. Scott went along the right tree line, approaching previously explored areas but from a slightly different angle... when Lottie was finally spotted lying down behind some brushy growth under a giant cedar tree. This was the same tree Delhi could be found napping under in the chilly days of winter. A closer approach revealed a surreal image; Lottie was lying in an abnormal position, and with no sign of life.

Minnie methodically grazed over towards Lottie's body, moving with a grace that suggested, "I know, and I am okay." When we asked Minnie to step away so we could examine Lottie, she did so willingly, standing just 20 yards to the side, giving us some time with Lottie to explore.

The biggest struggle right now in losing Lottie is trying to determine what might have happened. There were not any signs of distress—it simply looks like Lottie collapsed and passed in an instant. Still without answers, we are all finding a little solace in the expression on Lottie's face; there is a peace beyond words.

We are all in shock. Minnie may be as well, but for now she remains passive and calm, eating, drinking and socializing. While Minnie appears to be okay, she has lost her best friend and closest family, so we know that this will be a difficult journey forward. We’ll be there for her in every way we can, with a few extra treats or just to stand close by. The coincidence of this date Lottie chose to leave has also not escaped our thoughts today--October 10th was also Ned's birthday.

Today is the first day of a new tomorrow, where Lottie has changed us all, and with her passing, we will all continue to grow in the shadow of her spirit. Our team of pathologists from the University of Georgia have scheduled a necropsy for Tuesday, and we are hopeful it will provide new information that will help us determine why Lottie left us so suddenly. Her grace and presence will be missed by all. We love you Lottie and miss your beautiful eyes already.

Namaste, sweet girl.

September 29, 2010

A few weeks ago crews finished construction on the new "Minnie-proof" fencing around the pond near the Phase II barn. Debbie and Ronnie took immediate advantage of the new security barrier from any interruptions by Minnie, and proceeded to relax and have a blast. (Well, Ronnie preferred to make her dip brief and seemed more interested in dusting herself on the sidelines, so most of the time Debbie had the pond to herself!)

While this is certainly not the first time they have enjoyed the Sanctuary's spring fed ponds, this was the first time Debbie actually allowed herself to be filmed in one of her playful moods by a caregiver. Previously, she would always freeze and stop what she was doing, as if she were trying hard to maintain a reputation of being serious and "all grown up." Maybe letting down her guard here is a sign of a new level of comfort with her family of caregivers? Whatever motivated her decision, we feel very fortunate that on this day at least, Debbie decided she wanted to share her happy mood with us all.


September 12, 2010

Winkie celebrates ten years at the sanctuary today. These past ten years have been a journey of discovery, trust and growth. Winkie arrived with an intensity that was incomparable to most Asian elephants. She had a past reputation of lashing out at keepers and solving any dilemmas with violence, and from the beginning, it was evident how fractured her spirit had become.

For her first 3 days at the Sanctuary when not in the company of other elephants, she incessantly paced, and for 3 days she was given the space to decide how she wanted things to play out. On that third day, while Scott was cleaning the stall next to her, she backed up to the bars and gave an unassuming vocalization, eliciting his affection. Although cautious, that touch was transforming; her body immediately loosened and her one tiny vocalization erupted into a variety of noises and trunk taps.

Sissy helped her over her next hurdle: leaving the barn. Although Jenny and Shirley had tried to usher her outside, Winkie decided she wasn't ready, but that didn't deter Sissy. She would return back to the barn and wait outside. If Winkie did not come, she would join her other sisters, but return to see if it was time yet. Then one random day (to us of course) it was time... Winkie followed Sissy outside and began to explore. But they didn't remain in close proximity to the barn as Sissy usually had, together they ventured to places neither had been; and so began the symbiotic healing relationship of Sissy and Winkie. Although Sissy took Winkie under her wing, it seems Winkie's reliance on Sissy gave her a sense of self and confidence that facilitated her own healing as well.

Together they have overcome many obstacles, but Winkie still dealt with some internal struggles. Her insecurities still had the ability to get the best of her, resulting in her being pushy with other elephants (to ensure they wouldn't be pushy towards her), and unable to fully trust most humans. With things that would come easy for the other Girls, you could visibly see the conscious effort that Winkie had to exert; it was work for her. But she was determined, and continued to open in new ways, and then we were reminded that in some instances, healing is a forever process.

On a morning in which she had been stung in the eye, Winkie had a momentary lapse of self. When one of her caregivers walked around to view her eye, Winkie turned, swung, and crushed her. Continuing to lash out, her actions were only quelled by repeatedly yelling her name—and just like that—Winkie snapped out of it. She immediately became quiet, passive and approachable. She exited the state as quickly as she had entered it. On that day of July 21, 2006, we not only lost a genuine, caring friend that was deeply loved by both elephants and humans, Joanna Burke, but we also temporarily lost Winkie. For days, she placed herself where the fences met up into a corner, and shunned affection from both her trusted sister and her closest caregivers—she was punishing herself. Her actions hung over her for weeks, and although she slowly allowed others back in, her self-inflicted sentence made everything harder to bear. 

Gratefully, Winkie realized that she still deserved to be cared for, loved, and happy, and again she put forth the effort to return there. She did not allow this tragedy to define her any more than the reputation that had preceded her arrival. Although handled with extra awareness and adjusted parameters, her spirit and freedom are nurtured just like all of the Girls. There is a protective feeling that comes with Winkie. There is no question that she is strong, yet to have seen her so fragile opens up a special place in your heart for her. Winkie is nothing short of remarkable.

Over the past year and a half, she has grown by leaps and bounds, and her once visible effort only shows its head on occasion. Shirley's softer side allowed for better relationships, which instilled more confidence in Winkie. This confidence showed in an increased comfort in herself, and overall contentment. She found the ability to shrug things off that would have bothered her in the past. She no longer stressed at Sissy being a short distance away, and then soon began to wander on her own. To look upon Winkie, grazing alongside her sister with a wet spot on her trunk, indicating that she has been making her “happy noises” so much that the mark is semi-permanent, or watching her gently touch one of her sisters, you don't see all of the things she has endured, and that is part of her beauty. She isn't perfect, and it hasn't been easy, but Winkie has refused to give up on attaining the one thing we should all feel we deserve—happiness.

For more information about PTSD in elephants, visit this link.

August 19, 2010

Last Friday afternoon, when hay was brought out to Shirley, it was noted that she had an area of edema on her stomach.  Edema is observable swelling from fluid accumulation in body tissues.  Ventral (abdominal) edema occurs commonly among captive elephants in North America and has been treated in various ways.  Noted in "Biology, Medicine and Surgery of Elephants" by Murray Fowler and Susan Mikota, the majority of cases are non-life threatening, and resolve without treatment.

Shirley was acting fine, eating and drinking normally, and didn’t seem to understand the fuss over her belly. Shirley's condition, possible causes, and plan of action were discussed with the Sanctuary's three veterinarians. Edema can be caused by many things ranging from parasites, physiological stressors (very high temperatures being a possibility), certain organ involvement, and some unknown reasons. Blood was taken and samples were sent out to help rule out certain possibilities. The blood work shows that Shirley’s organ function looks good and there were no infectious cells present in her sample.  A remedy was prescribed and Shirley was put on an additional supplement, and was monitored closely.

Although the edema initially shifted with gravity, which happens, we are happy to say that, as of Tuesday, it is already decreasing in size.  Shirley has shown no signs of discomfort, and has been cooperative with all of her testing and treatment. In fact, she seems intent on making sure that when you are visiting, you acknowledge other parts of her big frame, not just her belly.  She has been receiving her grain in her bucket to ensure she is eating all of her food and getting all of her vitamins and supplements. This means no sharing with Tarra.  Shirley is still happy and feisty, bathing, coating herself in mud, and thoroughly enjoying the slightly cooler temperatures, along with the rest of the girls.  We will continue to closely monitor any changes, and pamper our grandma in any way we can. It seems there is always room for more pampering.  Though Shirley is 62, she has no problem reminding us that she is a very strong lady in more ways than one.

July 29, 2010

Stretching from one end of the Sanctuary to the other, the Girls are all out and about, enjoying another wonderful summer in full swing. From grazing and browsing the natural vegetation of their habitats, to spending lots of time cooling off in the water and shade... dusting for sunscreen and even savoring the brief chill of a frozen fruit pop, the season is appreciated by all the Ladies from sunup to sundown. See the brand new video with recent footage captured for you by their caregivers.




July 14, 2010

It's been well over a year since Tarra and Bella became celebrities, thanks to their "Odd Couple" story broadcast by CBS News, which is still making the rounds on YouTube. The Sanctuary continues to get inquiries and emails from people around the world, asking if Tarra and Bella are still together and how they are doing. The answer is right here in video, with new footage recorded just this past week. They are both doing great!



July 13, 2010

With some help from one of our local, long-time supporters, and a group of college student volunteers, the Girls have their very own garden. The gardeners took what we had on hand, and put it to good use; Old hay bales form the border and rows of our raised garden. The garden rows are filled with a rich mixture of dirt, sawdust from the bottom of the pile, and some of our unending supply of premium "big Girl" compost. Seeds were then planted and with almost no monetary cost; we have a sweet little organic garden that supplies the Girls with some tasty extras. Hopefully we will be able to build on this garden area for next year.
Having our own fresh assortment of produce allows us to supplement the girls diets, on occasion, with a little something different. Having grown it ourselves, we know there are no chemicals or pesticides, and we can just run down the Sanctuary road and pick the goodies when they are ready. In addition, even our compost pile grows its own wild watermelons and pumpkins!
Since the staff is generally a little tight on time, our volunteer gardener, Leila, comes to weed, water, and de-bug our mini produce section—so, many thanks for her advice and her diligence.
In addition to the garden, once a week we visit a local Amish produce auction in Ethridge, TN. The pairing of this wholesale produce auction and the big Girls seems a natural as the freshness of the produce and the large amounts definitely fit the Girls' appetites at a great price.
The huge covered auction platform is surrounded with the traditional horse-drawn Amish black buggies as well as large metal-wheeled wagons full of beautiful produce, and pulled by harnessed stocky horses. One can wander the rows and rows of wooden palettes stacked with perfectly sorted summer fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors: squash yellows, cucumber greens, translucent onion whites, deep blueberry blues, tomato reds, and eggplant purples.
The Amish families with their children are milling around and helping out, though their work began before daybreak in the fields. At 1:00 pm the bidding begins for each farmer's lot with a minimum number of boxes, bushels, bags or even a wagonload to be bought as the cadence of the auctioneer begins to excite the bidders. A raised hand here, a nod there, a shake of the head, and you may have just bought 4 bags of the season's first sweet corn for $8.00 a 60-count bag.
All of the above supplements our regular produce orders from McCartney Produce in Paris, TN. They have been in business since 1947 and offer organic produce as well as detailed information on the source of their produce. Our standard orders on Tuesdays and Saturdays include various amounts of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions, bananas, oranges, apples and grapes. Each of the barns orders for their own specific needs depending on the preferences of the elephants there.
To add something special to all of this, some of our supporters like to order "treats" for the Girls. On this website under "How You Can Help" there is information on choices of produce that one may specify for treats, in addition to the regular produce and fruit. Those choices include mangoes, sugar cane, pineapple, strawberries, cranberries, tomatoes, banana leaves and melons.
All totaled, each elephant consumes from 150 to 200 lbs. of vegetation, hay, grain and produce every day.

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July 6, 2010

'Grandma' Shirley is our oldest elephant at the Sanctuary, but she's also one of the strongest. You only have to look at Shirley's body to learn some of her story: an old, improperly healed break in her back right leg from being attacked by another circus elephant, a large section missing from her right ear, attributed to a fire on her circus ship that also left her with scars on her back, side, and feet. And after surviving all of that, she then spent 23 years in a zoo alone with no elephant companionship. Although her keeper cared for her deeply, the zoo realized that was not enough, and decided to retire her to the kind of life she truly deserved.
It was 11 years ago today that we were blessed with Shirley's arrival—an event for which we are ever grateful. Her emotional reunion with Jenny showed us just how strong and everlasting their bonds can be. Her gentle strength and wisdom led her to become a caring matriarch of a herd that united elephants from all different backgrounds. But the fact they were not related did not prevent Shirley from helping to shape the “Founding Herd” into a loving, bonded family.
Shirley has changed much since her arrival at the Sanctuary. She has softened a great deal and we expect it is partially due to the losses she experienced. With truly heartfelt emotions, there inevitably comes heartbreak, but the former always outweighs the latter. Since she has been here, among losing others, she has said goodbye to Jenny, whom she treated as a daughter, and Bunny, who was much more of a sister.
All of this is nothing to be sad about; these are part of Shirley's journey, part of her growth, and part of what makes her who she is today. She is even more nurturing now—more accepting, and for the remaining herd, those qualities are very important. They are again making her the perfect matriarch. Rest assured she is not sad—she always has a warm smile on her face—that is, unless she is wearing her mischievous one! She still rumbles, trumpets, and plays, and now she is sharing her gifts more often with the other Girls. And this includes teaching Tarra what it truly means to be a contributing member of the herd; perhaps shaping our youngest member of the Asian herd to take over her role some day.
Watching Shirley contentedly grazing alongside the lake with Tarra and Bella beside her, surrounded by trees and open skies, knowing the effect she has had on all those she has touched both near and far all these years, one realizes there isn't an ounce of sadness. She is where she belongs; Shirley and her sisters deserve every blessing that comes from every moment that she is here. Happy Anniversary, Shirley.

June 21, 2010

Liz grazing in the pasture

Liz is doing quite well, and she's being incredibly patient with us, as we continue to search for the right combination of treatments that will work for her. Treating elephants for TB has been described by some as a 'year of hell'. Although we wouldn't go that far, it has definitely been challenging and sometimes disheartening.

For a while Lizzie was not absorbing the drugs well; other times there was conflict with one medication cancelling out the others' effectiveness. Other times her body rejected the treatment, rapidly expelling the rectal drugs.  The frustrating part is that these treatments have worked well in other cases, so why not with Liz? No one has the answers. A few weeks ago, Liz reached a point where she was only eating a couple of flakes of hay, a few branches of willow or elm and a few pieces of bamboo each day. She didn't want anything else, and trust us, Liz's caregivers tried just about everything under the moon. Occasionally Liz would eat one or two pieces of fruit or vegetables, then wouldn't touch them again for a week.

Recently, after discussing our options with the veterinary TB advisory group, we took Liz off her meds for a week; giving her a break before we started her on another drug, hoping for better results medically as well as helping Liz to feel better. During this break she bounced back rapidly—within a few days returning to her normal diet, with a special fondness for cucumbers and green peppers.

Now she is eating like our old Lizzie, and we are able to once again get her to consume her probiotics and other supplements that help reduce the side effect of the medications. When Liz was not eating grain, or produce, or jello, or smoothies, or homemade peanut butter oat cookies… we were also unable to get Liz to take any of her supplements, which only compounded the effects that she was feeling from the medications.

For a caregiver, the worst feeling in the world is the realization that the treatment we are providing is making our loved one feel worse. While we wished we could have given her this break sooner, the problem is that the more time Lizzie is off this treatment after it has already started, the greater the probability of developing a drug resistant strain of TB.
Lizzie is now on a new treatment regimen that her body appears to be handling quite well. Lizzie remains bright and has maintained a hearty appetite. She always conveys soft, warm rumbles when we are treating her, which is then followed by the chorus of singing, honking and squeaking when she goes back to be with her two best friends, Frieda and Billie.
While we would like to be providing more frequent updates on Lizzie, this roller coaster ride that we've shared with her has made it difficult, since her status has changed so often; one day showing signs of an improved appetite, the next, symptoms she was rejecting her treatment. Our fingers are crossed right now with anxious anticipation as we continue to move forward, finding the balance of keeping Liz comfortable while also meeting her medical needs.
Many people have asked us why treating TB seemed so easy with Misty, but so challenging with Liz. Just like people, no two elephants are alike. Some tolerate medications better than others, and if you just look at the two physically, Misty could be described as an impenetrable tank, while Liz is petite and leaner. Another factor is that one of the treatment drugs that Misty and most of the handful of elephants that have successfully undergone TB treatment in this country received is no longer available, and the alternatives tend to have more side effects. Without the human demand for this drug it is no longer manufactured, adding yet another obstacle towards achieving successful treatment for elephants.

Yet throughout all of the highs and lows, Lizzie's spirit has never wavered. At times she has needed more rest and has not had quite as much energy, but her wakeful time has still been filled with rumbles and playful time with her sisters. She continues to be herself in all ways;in outlook, demeanor, and cooperativeness. The light that Lizzie has always emanated continues to strongly shine through. 

We will keep you posted!

June 12, 2010

Several of our Ladies, including Sissy and Lizzie, have different degrees of trunk paralysis. This condition can be found in both Asian and African elephants, and the effect it has can range from mild weakness to complete paralysis and muscle wasting. The cause is generally unknown, but possibilities include trauma, infection, and lack of proper nutrition. You would be able to observe a "tell-tale" appearance in the trunk of most elephants with trunk paralysis. Their trunk appears much narrower than the typical thick and muscular trunk. The paralysis commonly originates at the base of the trunk and extends to different lengths toward the tip with the last ¼ being the least affected. This still allows the girls to use their trunk tip “fingers” to pick up and manipulate objects normally. Elephants with partial trunk paralysis usually learn to adapt by swinging their trunk to reach their mouth, using their feet or other objects to lift items, and leaning over to drink. Monitoring our girls to ensure that adequate nutrition and hydration needs are met is essential. Our experience has shown that our circus elephants (Ned, Lizzie and Delhi) had learned to adapt more effectively, possibly out of necessity.

Sissy, who is from a zoo, is still working on perfecting the art of drinking. (see Ele-Notes March 8, 2010) Sissy may have sustained injury to her trunk from trauma in a flood in northern Texas. In addition, her trunk became completely paralyzed after complications. However, since her arrival at The Elephant Sanctuary, she has adapted quite well and the use of her trunk has improved a good 25%. Sissy uses the swinging technique that all of our elephants seem to have preferred. When there is an "itch" at the base of her trunk, (which might seem almost impossible to reach) Sissy will swing her trunk up and pin it between the base of her trunk and either a tree or a barn stall bar. This keeps her trunk in place allowing her to walk the tip of her trunk to whatever area has an itch, and then she happily scratches. Oh, that we had a trunk to reach the unreachable.

Lizzie can easily swing her trunk up to get it inside the auto-waterers to take a drink. She is fairly accurate. In gathering hay, she scoots and scoops with the end of her trunk, then when she has the perfect amount of hay, she thumps it several times on the floor to get it just right, then swings it up to her mouth. She is pretty adept at scooping up her grain and produce along with her hay as well. She has adapted very well with her limitations and has been observed, when outside, seemingly entertaining herself by just swinging her trunk round and round like a large pendulum.

Having partial trunk paralysis has not seemed to limit any of our elephants. They still bathe themselves, hold their trunks out of the water while swimming, touch and smell their sisters, and in the case of Sissy, carry around a full sized tire.

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May 26, 2010

At the New Asian Barn, we have a water trailer to make sure our girls remain hydrated. There are several natural water sources in the habitat (ponds, creeks, and the lake), plus watering stations that have been set up (with more to be installed), but sometimes the Girls still need a little extra. Since they don't migrate in search of food and water as much as wild elephants, we sometimes bring the water to them. These deliveries also let the Ladies know that wherever they choose to wander, we will come and find them, not only with their food, but also with a cool drink. This knowledge allows them to securely wander away from the barn knowing there is no need for them to return if they would rather enjoy what the habitat has to offer. 

All of our Ladies get visits from the water trailer, but none as much as Sis and Winks. Although Sissy has gotten much better in perfecting the art of getting water from her trunk into her mouth—with the temperatures being what they are during Tennessee summers—we want to ensure that she is getting enough. And since Sissy and Winkie are always together, Winkie also enjoys a nice drink. That is, when she's not just picking hay off of the back of the four wheeler instead.
There are times when we bring out the trailer and the girls don't drink, but that's fine, as it means a brief visit and being at ease knowing they are caring for themselves. Even though Shirley and Tarra spend most of their summertime around the lake or the creek, the trailer is also brought out to them on occasion, and although Tarra usually does not drink, we want to make sure that our grandma Shirley has more than enough water to make sure her aging kidneys remain healthy. And Dulary and Misty? Well they usually just stop the water trailer on its return trip back to the barn. Sometimes it's just to say 'hello,' and other times it's so they can give themselves a quick rinse—because for them, there is no such thing as too much bathing!


May 24, 2010

After the flood rearranged a few things, one of the caregivers found a new toy for Billie. Of course this bright orange, pill-shaped piece of plastic required intense inspection from Billie first. It appears to have passed her test!


May 15, 2010

Ned left us exactly one year ago today. We buried our young prince near Lota's final resting place, overlooking the valley where the Divas roam today.

Namaste, Sweet Ned

In the short time we had with Ned, he touched many of us differently. One of his caregivers recalls that Ned always seemed to exude this air of being pleasantly surprised. Her favorite memories of Ned were the times when he was feeling very good and would get a little playful. She would be making notes in his log, and out of the corner of her eye she could see his shadow on the wall, watching her. The shadow's trunk would curl and then start to swing. This was usually about the time a flake of hay would hit his caregiver in the back. She would turn with a smile or a teasing word, and Ned would look back very innocently as if to say, "What? No, I didn't throw that. Wasn't me." One time, she turned just soon enough to knock the flake out of the air with her hand before it reached her. Ned's expression remained innocent, and as his caregiver pushed the flake back to him with a broom, that feeling of pleasant surprise grew again.
Ned was a beautiful boy, and while we know there really wasn't anything more we could have done for him, our hearts still ache at the short time we had to care for him. Watching him learn about grass, dogs and other things in and around his domain, was truly heartwarming. His caregivers, as well as his many devoted followers, wished we could have seen him learn so much more. Namaste, sweet Ned.


As caregivers, we remember Nedley with a bit of sadness for a split second, then we just have to break into an automatic smile. One caregiver remembers the day Ned arrived...cold and windy. She could only imagine his thoughts as he was about to exit the trailer after the long trip with Scott from Florida- listening to unfamiliar voices, smelling unfamiliar smells, hearing unfamiliar sounds, etc. Our first look at him brought smiles from everyone present, and looks of concern for obvious signs of what he had endured during his circus life.

As he cautiously, but easily, stepped out onto the porch of his new home, he wasn't greeted with any music, banners, crowds wanting to see him, etc.; but rather, just a few people who had gone the extra mile to rescue him; and a few others of us who had waited for him to come home so we could care for him.

Caring for Ned was a privilege, and getting to know him was a lot of fun. He really came out of his shell once he realized there would be no punishment if he was feeling a bit off, grumpy, or just wanted to keep to himself. He was quite a comedian, and took advantage of any little chance to toss some of his food at a caregiver.

Ned was a champion hay tosser, and had good range and aim. A caregiver recalls one morning in particular....she had given him his morning meal, and turned to write the details in the log book. He was very quiet, and came to stand in the stall behind her. With no sound or warning, a BIG glob of sticky oatmeal sailed past her head and landed on the wall a couple of feet above. Part of it stayed, the rest lobbed down to the floor. She turned to see Ned standing very tall, looking absolutely pleased at his accomplishment. We all learned to stand a bit to the side to keep an eye on this boy, as he loved to catch you unaware. Everyone got things tossed at them at one time or another. For some, it became a silent game of shuffling....We would see him get into position and start to gather hay in his trunk. The caregiver would slowly move to the other end of the barn and do something over there. Once Ned relaxed or moved down closer, she would casually move back and finish her notes, thanking him for his cooperation before she left.

Another favorite memory of a caregiver is of Ned eating some fresh pineapple. The caregiver took a big chunk and slid it to him at the front of his stall. He scooped it up right away and popped the whole thing in his mouth without hesitation. He bit down, and suddenly his eye squinched tightly closed, and his cheeks clinched up...just like when you bite into something sweet/tart and get that sensation that makes you pucker. His eyes opened back up after a moment and he began to chew, then swallowed his treat happily. He also used to fill his cheeks when drinking from the hose, chipmunk style. One could not help laughing out loud at his actions. He was a funny boy.

A favorite image which always makes us smile is a picture of Scott holding a grain bin and a pumpkin while encouraging Ned to explore his yard. Ned had a face for the camera, that's for sure. We used to love calling to him and walking down the fence line so he would follow to the grass, which at first was foreign to him and he didn't quite know what to do with all that soft, sweet smelling stuff under his feet. Eventually he learned to enjoy his luxuries and freedom and spent a lot of time in his tall grassy habitat.

Pictures of Ned flip through our memories quite often, and they always make us happy. We are very glad to have loved, known and cared for him. We so appreciate those who cared for Ned from afar, in the same way they have cared for our Girls. Ned was a very loved boy, and we are sure he felt that love after coming here to live out his much-too-short life.

Thank you, Nedly.....we all miss you very much.

May 14, 2010

Friday, May 14 is the anniversary of Bunny's passing.

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 A couple of weeks ago, driving out to Marcella's to feed Shirley and Tarra, there came a deep sense of peace, and instantly thoughts went to Bunny. It had rained the night before, and temperatures were cooler. The sometimes- harsh sun of Tennessee was muted and lit up the valleys with a soft glow. Tarra was quietly grazing towards the entrance of the branch where Bunny's body was laid to rest. Shirley was lying down just twenty yards from the space that will forever be marked by a single lone pine, somehow missed when everything around it was cut down. Upon approaching Shirley, she remained in repose, embracing the quiet of the moment, and consumed her hay where she was - she loved Bunny so. That moment, the space, the feelings that are palpable and sweet, their pure love, respectful and eternal; to all of this, the Girls continue to pay tribute.
Bunny was a love. She arrived here in 1999 from Evansville, Indiana when the deep caring of her family there allowed them to let her go. Even though she had not been with another elephant, (she did have weekly visits with a hippo), she quickly became part of the herd and re-learned what it was to be an elephant. During her first month here, she had slept outside lying down, left behind her brown ball "security blanket," gone swimming, ventured into the woods, decided mud wallows were wonderful, and had completely attached herself to Shirley and Jenny.
Bunny was the catalyst for the rest of the Ladies sleeping outside. It seems after all those nights in a barn, she thought gazing up at the stars on a bed of lush grasses was something not to be missed. The outside proved to be very much to her liking, making her always the last one to return to the barn. Caregivers have spent many a cold night slowly escorting Bunny, and any of her companions, back to the warmth of the barn. These treks would have to be started in the afternoon at times, knowing the hours it would take to finally arrive back at the barn.
To say Bunny did not move very fast, is a gross understatement. You could literally park a fourwheeler full of food about fifteen feet from Bunny, feed everyone else, and she would still be slowly making her way over to try to steal what had been there five minutes before. So the trip home was always slow, but when she arrived, there was quite the trumpeting, rumbling, squeaking, and belching celebration. Of course there did not have to be a long walk home to evoke this response. This greeting was something those Girls did every night they returned to the barn. They brought happiness home with them.
Bunny was silly, playful, and always greeted even humans with a warm loving welcome. She was very "trunky," whether it be grabbing Shirley's trunk and not letting go (while Shirley squinted and belched, adoring every minute), trying to wrap herself around a caregiver, or wanting to take your hand and sometimes keep it for a bit. She loved having you cup the end of her trunk-nose, while she heartily exhaled, and you quickly covered and uncovered it. When she got really playful, she would tilt her head back and forth, like an off-axis bobble head, which was generally followed by the above-mentioned Shirley trunk hold. There was no way you could be in her presence and not smile, which usually turned into a giggle.
Just because Bunny was silly doesn't mean that was all there was to her. She was also very deep, loving and supportive. We had all feared what Shirley would go through when Jenny passed, but Bunny stepped right in to be there for her sister. While Jenny was lying down, Shirley and Bunny would walk up to the top of the hill to spend quiet time together alone; thus began the bonding process that took their relationship to an even deeper level. With Bunny's caring ways, Shirley made it through a terribly difficult time in a better way than we had ever hoped. Bunny stepped in as a friend, not like the mother/daughter caregiving relationship which Shirley had with Jenny, but rather more on equal grounds like a sister.
Each elephant that walks on these grounds brings something to the Sanctuary. It may be something that helps them grow, something they offer to their sisters, or the many lessons they teach us. Every spirit here changes the Sanctuary forever, and we are grateful. It can be hard if you think of the Girls in terms of what we have lost by their not being here anymore. Instead, we remember them in terms of what we have gained. These Girls (and our one strong Man) are a blessing and we have much to be thankful for.

So today, we celebrate the life of Bunny—our cute, little, square, tree-wearing, sweet love of an elephant that has touched so many. A piece of her will be in our hearts always.

May 5, 2010

The devastating storms, torrential rainfall and floods that came through Tennessee May 1 and 2 will be remembered for generations. We're thankful that we, the Sanctuary staff and elephants alike, came through this okay. Our hearts and prayers are with those who were not so fortunate.


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April 30, 2010

Currently Liz is doing exceptionally well, and reminding us, once again, how different each elephant can be. Little Lizzie is proving to be more sensitive than Misty, so we are supporting her in that respect. 

Finding the right Anti-TB medications for elephants can be very tricky: some cannot be absorbed rectally, others are difficult to acquire, some that have been used successfully to treat elephants in the past are no longer manufactured, and each drug affects each individual elephant differently. Unfortunately there is an element of trial and error which can be frustrating for the caregivers, but we continue to be reassured by the TB advisory team that this is totally normal and we should be thrilled with how things are going. To be quite honest, part of this frustration comes from so little data; some previous treatments have not been well documented, while other institutions are not sharing their information and experiences. Caregivers’ emotions are sometimes compounded when Liz goes through difficult periods like she did at the end of March and beginning of April. She was not eating well, was lethargic and understandably reluctant for treatment.

After three weeks of ups and downs, constantly working with our homeopathic vet to find a remedy that would help strengthen her system and increase her tolerance of her medications and food, allowing us to provide additional supplementation, Lizzie now looks as radiant as ever. She continues to thrive with her sisters, Frieda and Billie by her side. Lizzie is eating and drinking well, and remains exceptionally cooperative for daily medications. Presently Liz is on two drugs; a third drug will be arriving soon which she will have to be on for two months in order to comply with the treatment guidelines. We remain hopeful that the right combination of supplements, homeopathy, and a whole lot of TLC from her ele-friends and caregivers will carry her through this challenging drug therapy, leading to a healthy future.

Today on the Lizzie scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best), she appears to be a 9.

Special note from Scott:
I need to add my sincere and humble appreciation to the caregivers. Treating elephants with TB can be a very difficult and trying process. It is hard enough to tend to an animal when they are sick from factors outside of our control, like tending to Ned who was in poor condition when he arrived. But, when you add in the element that the treatment we give her has actually caused Lizzie’s acute symptoms, the struggle is enough to rip our hearts in two. Times like we are experiencing now, when Liz feels great, rumbling, honking and squeaking, eating well, grazing on the spring grasses and napping with sisters, help to remind us of the long term goal; to help provide Liz with a long and healthy future.

Thank you, Richard, Barbara and Ashleigh, the three primary caregivers for Liz, Frieda and Billie and an extended thanks to Sam and Angela, primary caregivers for Lottie, Ronnie, Debbie and Minnie. This team is what makes the life at the Sanctuary for these lucky seven possible. These caregivers are in the foreground of their care; they are the ones that hold open hearts for healing, providing extra support and security when the elephants need it most. Anyone in the caregiver/healthcare provider role knows that this life can be overwhelming and exhausting, but it can also be infinitely rewarding. For those in our Quarantine barns, where extra precautions are needed, hot and sweaty tyvek suits, bulky respirators, extra disinfection, and intense medical treatments, dedication, commitment and tolerance hold a special value.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the caregivers and providers on the ground floor, they are the first response in the good and the bad, and their dedication is what makes Sanctuary for Liz and the fourteen other residents possible. All hats off as we praise their work! Please remember to join in the elephants song and joyous celebration when life is good; their light and undeniable appreciation carries us through.

March 30, 2010

Liz remains in good spirits, thoroughly enjoying the companionship of her two close friends, taking turns napping in the sun and grazing. Over the past week, Liz's treatments have caused her to be a little off, which her vet team says can be a quite common as her body begins to adjust to the meds. She is eating hay and bamboo exceptionally well, even devouring willow branches from a tree that Minnie selected for her by the pond. However, Liz hasn't been eating grain or produce as readily as we would like. We continue to give Liz homeopathic remedies to help her tolerate her treatments better, which should provide a positive change in her appetite as well.

Last week, Liz was a little more reluctant to step into the restraint chute where she receives her treatments, likely because of the same minor side effects that caused her to stop eating her grain and produce. But once she is in there, she is wonderful during the treatment. Of course, consistency in meds is the key to success for treating TB, so her primary caregivers, Barbara and Richard, continue to work with Liz, looking for whatever she needs or wants that will help provide a little more comfort. Several fruits and vegetables were offered to Liz; some were marginally appealing, but yesterday, a loaf of bread was the food of the day. Liz came into the chute readily, ate all of her produce and then stood calmly for her treatment. We will continue to follow Lizzie's path, listening to her needs and accommodating her wants.

Liz has not been the only one we have been keeping our eyes on lately. A delightful change in Billie's temperament has begun to unfold! It appears Billie really likes her Phase I barn and yard accommodations with Liz and Frieda, more intimate and a little further away from the other Divas, and it has caused her to settle into a more comfortable state of mind. With a smaller crew of doting caregivers and more freedom, Billie has begun to blossom—vocalizing and even becoming more receptive to physical touch from her caregivers. Billie can now often be heard playing outside late at night. This ray of positive energy from her is so wonderful to watch, and no doubt helps to keep Liz's spirits up, too. During this time, we have also noticed Billie become even more protective of her little sister Liz, often letting us know even before we see the overt signs from Liz, that she is feeling a little under the weather.

Billie loves her big blue ball!

And then there is sweet Frieda, soft and gentle, always ready for a sing-a-long and always looking for extra goodies! Frieda's spirits are always high—we can't remember the last time she had a "bad day." As many of you know, Frieda has Osteomyelitis in her front feet. She continues to receive foot soaks to help the symptoms, along with doses of homeopathic remedies and herbal sprays for increased comfort. Frieda, much like Delhi, does not let her physical struggles interrupt her life song. In her mind, there is no such thing as a bad day, just little bumps along the journey. Often we will see Frieda resting her feet by lying on the sand pile with Liz or Billie, and sometimes they both stand over her—this sisterhood is the complete circle. Last week while Billie was headed to the barn for her dinner, Frieda stayed and stood over little Liz for more than an hour, shading her from the sun. They remind us every day of one of the primary missions of the sanctuary—to provide the space and time for the elephants to be, truly be with the other elephants. Their family is key to their growth and their health.

Today, overall on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Lizzie at her usual moxie, vocal, playful, animated, healthy self, we would rate her at a strong 7, with appetite signs of an even more positive number tomorrow. We adore the way she brightens her sanctuary every day, not letting any of this get the best of her. Happily, she is still full of that little Lizzie spunk!

If you would like to make a donation towards the costs of Liz's treatments and other supplies, please visit her special Wish List page.


March 20, 2010

The change of seasons has already begun here at the Sanctuary--the meadows are springing shoots of new green grasses and daffodils are in full bloom. On this, the first official day of spring, we thought we would pay tribute to the end of the Winter of 2010 in video. While the entire east coast saw a succession of record snowfalls throughout the winter, the Girls came out and greeted the phenomenon with their usual wonder and appreciation of all that nature has to offer.



March 18, 2010

Shirley and Tarra's relationship is ever-evolving. Tarra has matured much over the past year, moving out of her "little sister" role, and Shirley has opened up more emotionally, not always needing to be the "strong one" anymore. This growth has made Shirley much softer, but it has not taken anything away from her silly, playful side. Along with sharing stalls inside, spending time in the habitat together, and eating together, this bonded pair still also play together. This one morning, Shirley and Tarra were extra silly and started playing as soon as they got out of the barn--Shirley showing Tarra that even though she has almost 30 years on her, she can keep up, no problem.



February 20, 2010

The cold weather of late was broken up by a stunningly beautiful sunny day in the mid 60s. The girls soaked up the sun and napped on their favorite hillsides, taking advantage of the warmer temperatures. As two caregivers watched, Minnie took the first foray into the pond in a long time. It seems the water was just right. She moved along the edge of the bank for a while before deciding to take the plunge. Once she did, it was all water works from there.

Minnie rolled, bobbed, and did “head” stands for a while. She then spotted a big white ball toy floating at the far end of the pond. She stepped on it, chewed it, and knocked it around the surface, losing herself in the sheer joy of unadulterated play and splashing. She also found a LARGE submerged tree. She decided it would look better on top of the water somewhere, and set about redecorating. She rolled it up against another tree on the bank, and pushed, tugged and shifted it until it was where she wanted it. She even appeared to try to wrap it around an upright tree, creating lots of splashes and loud cracking noises as the trunk began to split under her efforts.

Again, as so often happens, Minnie finished playing as quickly as she had started. Then, she just stood still for a few minutes, perhaps admiring her handy-work, and soon joined Lottie who was eating hay near the bank. Everyone enjoyed the sunny day in their own special way.

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February 1, 2010

A winter snow storm covered most of Middle Tennessee, and The Elephant Sanctuary had several inches of snow - a very rare occurrence indeed! When the snow was falling the 3-Sum didn’t seem to think much of it one way or the other. When they came back into the barn, Billie began rubbing up against everything, the walls, other elephants; this activity went on for a while until she was dried off.

The next day when they went out, the snow was icier. Liz was the first out of the barn, and with each step she took, there was a loud crunch. After she had made it a good distance from the barn, she was so pleased with herself that she started kicking up snow, chirping, and bouncing around. This got Billie and Frieda interested enough to follow her (Billie practically sprinted over). Once they were together, all 3 went exploring in the snow, and actually ended up covering more ground then they do on nice days.

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January 26, 2010

In her 10 years at the Sanctuary, Sissy has left her past reputation behind and has become known as one of the softest elephants there is. She generally stays along paths, avoiding pushing down small trees and tall grasses. When branches do brush past her face, she daintily closes her eyes as she goes and she relishes her time just standing side by side with her sisters, exchanging occasional gentle touches, her peaceful smile visible from the distance.

Possibly the most apparent display of her sweet and kind nature is her pure friendship with Winkie. In spite of being rejected by other elephants in her past, Sissy was able to open herself completely to Winkie when she arrived and Sissy became an utterly selfless and supportive friend and sister. This is what Winkie truly needed. Their relationship has not only supported Winkie; it has also allowed Sissy to find herself and grow right alongside Winkie.

Sissy arrived as a shell, and has flowered into this deeply beautiful being who has the ability to pull Winkie out of a dark place, give Shirley comfort, get silly with her sisters, and bring a smile to your face—a smile that swells from the inside out.  

Sissy epitomizes unconditional love and radiates a warmth that envelopes those around her. It has been an utter blessing for elephants and caregivers alike that Sissy joined us ten years ago. Happy anniversary, Sissy.

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January 25, 2010

Billie and Frieda spend lots of time together. While Freda naps, Liz protectively stands over Frieda. Sometimes Liz will gently move forward and back, and sometimes she goes from standing next to Frieda to standing directly over her - or even sitting on her!

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January 17, 2010

A snowy January day in Asia. It snowed a bit here last week, but the temperatures were decent, so the ladies got a chance to go out for a bit and play around in the white stuff. It will hopefully be their only snow day this year. The novelty wore out quickly for both eles and caregivers alike.



Dulary & Misty

Dulary & Misty