Wednesday, June 5, 2019

PAWS – Performing Animal Welfare Society – Elephants, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

When I saw my Yelp friend Candice’s pictures and read her review for PAWS, a sanctuary for retired animals and those rescued from years of neglect and/or abuse in the name of entertainment and trade, I knew I needed to learn more about this organization for myself.  If I can go 4 hours each way for Hula Pie, I surely can go 2 ½ hours each way for elephants.  In fact, elephants, tigers, and bears, oh my! 

I was lucky enough to recently attend their special 35th anniversary open house.  

However, not all elephants were available to spend time with as after all this is a sanctuary and their needs always come first.  Even though after hearing the stories of some of the elephants on the shuttle ride up, aside from a quick glimpse from the shuttle, I did not get to spend time with the one elephant Maggie, whose story really intrigued me. Relocated from the Alaska Zoo to sunny California which is no small feat to get on a plane, she is supposedly the social butterfly of the bunch with her humans and fellow elephants especially her besties Toka and Lulu, fellow zoo retirees. 

But our first stop was with Nicholas and his story will just about bring you to tears.  

Separated from his mother at the young age of 2 and trained to ride the tricycle through negative reinforcement, it may have been his eventual stubbornness at age 5 making him hard to manage that eventually gave him this new lease on life 8 years later but not before enduring years of fear and continual neglect.  All those tricks you see them often do is not because they want to but because they have been trained to fear the consequences of bullhooks and electric shocks if they did not.  Thankfully bullhooks have already been outlawed in California but the trauma remains.  Now at 25 and even years of positive reinforcement and care thanks to PAWS, trust is still difficult to gain due to his traumatic younger years.  But we can rest assure that if he decides to raise his foot up onto the fence, it is now because he WANTS to and not because he is FORCED to. 

Along the way back down, we did get to stop and enjoy the antics of Mara and Thika who apparently knows that the appearance of shuttle buses means special treats are on the horizon, prompting them to come down the hill to join the festivities.  

Although both around the same age, Thika is more timid while Mara, being the long time resident of PAWS since 1990 is the boss of the two.  For the next half an hour, we got to see Mara walk off with her hay bale so she did not have to share, 

be the first to make her presence known for treats by shaking the fence 

and almost swallowing an iPhone in a successful attempt to take a picture of her teeth.  

She was rewarded with a choice of apples, oranges, or bananas donated by visitors like ourselves acquired through a $5 bean bag toss.  

Not to fear, Thika is here as he joined in for a share of his treats as well. 

On the way back to the shuttle, we passed the black bear 

(Hi Ben!) 

and tiger habitat 

and with patience was rewarded with a glimpse when they chose to come down.  Remember, animal sightings are bonuses, not guarantees as this is their sanctuary and we are the guests. 

Because this is a sanctuary, it is not open to the public except for a few times during the year for special events- like an Open House or Educational “Seeing the Elephant” Getaway and an occasional educational session for local schools.  With this year being their 35th anniversary, a special anniversary tea is scheduled for this Sunday, June 9th at a tea room in Dixon (not at the PAWS facility) to support this wonderful organization. 

If you are too far away to attend one of these events in person or would like to further support PAWS which receives no public funding, you can become a PAWS partner -, one time or recurring online “cash donor”, gift card or item donor, including an Amazon wish list - 

At the end of the day, I felt so honored to see the animals get a new lease in life surrounded by good people who truly care for their well being. 

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