Hello, furry friends

By Dionne Christian

Horses, birds, calves, even crocs - there are many ways kids can get hands-on experience with animals, says Dionne Christian.

Lukas Atkins is a member of the Miniature Horses association and has great fun showing his miniature pony.
Lukas Atkins is a member of the Miniature Horses association and has great fun showing his miniature pony.

We train animals for many reasons: their own stimulation and enjoyment, as part of good animal husbandry, for companionship, and for service .

So where can you go to find out more about working with your dog so it doesn't bark every time you leave the house? How can you stop a sociable miniature horse from getting bored? What if you've got a parrot who's longing for a bit more interaction? And where can an animal-mad child find out about getting his or her pet lamb, calf or kid ready for the school's annual calf club day?

Calf club days

These are huge events on the calendars of many of Auckland's rural schools. Many pupils raise lambs, calves or kid goats to show at school and, depending on how they do, graduate on to local Agricultural & Pastoral events, the biggest being the city's Coca-Cola Easter Show (April 17-21). About 2000 head of livestock - horses, alpacas, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens and other assorted birds - are shown and judged over the five days, all taking part in a range of competitions.

Auckland A&P vice-president, Helensville farmer Duncan McNab, says watching the competitions is a great way for youngsters to see what's required; getting in touch with their local A&P association and asking for advice is even better. Duncan and fellow A&P stalwart David Scott say members can assist youngsters who want extra support and guidance.

The Clevedon A&P Association has produced a booklet with a whole range of tips and hints for kids - the human ones- who want to show their animals. No1 tip? Remember the animal that you are about to take care of for the next 12 weeks is a baby and this is a huge commitment.

To find your closest A&P association see ras.org.nz. Entry to the Easter Show is free this year.

Gone to the dogs?

The SPCA Auckland's chief executive officer, Christine Kalin, says the first step to adopting a dog is finding one to suit your family and lifestyle; the second is ensuring adequate training.

"Owners need to understand the world from a canine point of view," she says.

The SPCA has an entire canine team which works to match owners and dogs. Then, if needed, people adopting dogs can be trained by an experienced dog behavioural specialist, with post-adoption support, advice and further training available.

See spca.org.nz or ph (09) 256 7300.

There are many other places offering puppy and dog training. Your local vet is a good place to start, along with dog obedience clubs. Classes affiliated to the NZ Kennel Club have one of the best programmes around for kids who want to be actively involved in training and showing their dogs. Young Kennel Club is open to those aged up to 20 who either own or just enjoy being around dogs (divided into four age groups from 5 upwards). The older members take on leadership roles and have a say in the direction of the club. See nzkc.org.nz/clobedience.html or for Young Kennel Club ykc.org.nz

There are 90 sheepdog trial clubs in the North Island and 71 in the South Island, all members of the NZ Sheep Dog Trial Association.

The association has a huge range of resources available to those interested in training dogs for sheepdog trials which usually include four different events involving silent working dogs and barking breeds.

See sheepdogtrials.co.nz.

Courses for horses

Miniature horses look adorable. They are also sociable and affectionate, but they also like to be active and are prone to putting on weight if left to graze in a paddock. This means they need stimulation and exercise, so showing horses is a great way to keep them (and their humans) fit and active.

Miniature horse clubs offer training programmes and entry into shows run across New Zealand.

The youngest competitors in the junior classes are aged under 12; the oldest in senior events are in their 80s, making it something the whole family can become involved with. Classes at shows include jumping, harness (horses pulling carts) and obstacle events where horses are led around courses.

See nzmha.co.nz.

Away with the birds"We don't train birds, we train owners," says Christine Matthews of the Parrot Society of New Zealand. Because they're among the world's most intelligent, sociable and long-living bird breeds, parrots need lots of stimulation and attention. The society formed to encourage parrot breeding in the wild and in captivity in New Zealand, but also helps pet parrot owners with how-to workshops for its members. Some member breeders hand-raise baby parrots, so their training starts early. Christine says its regular bird sales, held in various venues, are a great place to meet other owners and swap advice.

The next one in Auckland is Sunday, June 1 (Queen's Birthday Weekend) at the Mangere War Memorial Hall from 10am-1pm. See parrot.co.nz.

Although the ground-dwelling kakapo is one of our most critically endangered birds, our native falcon (karearea), swamp harrier hawks (kahu) and morepork (ruru) aren't faring too well either. Rotorua's Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre is the first and only centre of its type in New Zealand and operates a unique breeding, training and release conservation programme centred on these raptor birds.

Part of its public awareness mission includes a daily demonstration which highlights what, with a little training, these birds are capable of. The show and an on-site museum also emphasise the formative role falcons have played in human societies around the world.

Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, open daily 9am-3pm (flying displays 2pm). Call (07) 357 4469 or see wingspan.co.nz.

Keen to learn more?

If you want to work with animals or maybe be able to take better care of the ones you've got, then Auckland's Unitec could be the place to go. Alongside the Bachelor of Applied Science, there are certificate and diploma programmes for working with animals that lead to careers as qualified veterinary nurses, animal welfare investigators, canine behaviour and training specialists and zookeepers. Curriculum leader for the Certificate in Animal Management and avian health specialist Dr Jodi Salinsky says the Certificate in Animal Care can be studied part-time and is an ideal starter, especially for those unsure of whether they'll handle the more "science" aspects of the training, "whether they have feathers, fins, feet, hooves or horns, you'll learn what makes animal tick".

See naturalsciences.unitec.ac.nz or study@unitec.ac.nz or freephone 0800 109 510.

Getting up close at Butterfly Creek's junior keeper programme.
Getting up close at Butterfly Creek's junior keeper programme.

Big beasts

Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo have junior keeper-for-a-day programmes.

Working alongside professional keepers, children can get up close and personal with the animals, help with cleaning and feeding and get a behind-the-scenes look. Butterfly Creek juniors even get to experience the Croc show closer than anyone else. People over 18 can join 250 others at Auckland Zoo's volunteer programme - primarily helping other visitors, but also assisting keepers.

To contact Butterfly Creek (school holidays or by special arrangement, ages 7-12), email juniorkeeper@butterflycreek.co.nz or phone (09) 275 8880 ext 204.

Auckland Zoo keeper for the day, $550 a person, junior keepers $8-$135. More information at aucklandzoo.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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