Never Too Old for the Zoo

It had been years since my last trip to the Lake Superior Zoo — we used to visit regularly when our boys were younger, but the teen years bring a whole new round of interests and activities.  With news of a recent birth, and a pleasant summer afternoon, I decided it was time to return and spend a couple of hours wandering the grounds.  Perhaps you might like a peek at the star attraction? — a baby Angolan Colobus monkey!

Angolan Colobus monkeys ~ Lake Superior Zoo

During our visit, mama Kelly and daughter Kero carefully guarded the baby, almost a month old at the time we saw the family.  Little did we know at the time that Kero was expecting an addition of her own, born just a few days after our visit!

Angolan Colobus monkey ~ Lake Superior Zoo

I assume the melancholy fellow on the ledge is Kraemer, the father to both babies . . . he was a busy fellow five or six months earlier!

Kelly's baby, an Angolan Colobus monkey ~ Lake Superior Zoo

The Lake Superior Zoo is not large, but enjoys a picturesque setting, with Kingsbury Creek running through the grounds.  This lovely creek turned into an unfortunate raging torrent of water during Duluth’s devastating flood of 2012, resulting in 14 animals losing their lives, including many barnyard animals.

Kingsbury Creek, Lake Superior Zoo

A year later, it was wonderful to see that the Zoo has added many new animals, repaired and renovated much of the damaged grounds, and provided again a tranquil spot for families and visitors to spend a pleasant morning or afternoon.

Old favorites still reside at the Lake Superior Zoo, as well.

Lake Superior Zoo, Alaskan brown bear

Green Iguana, Lake Superior Zoo

African lion, Lake Superior Zoo

Peacock in the Prairie Dog exhibit, Lake Superior Zoo

Peacock in the Prairie Dog exhibit, Lake Superior Zoo

I always feel torn and conflicted when visiting zoos — observing wild animals who arguably should be enjoying their native and wild settings.  However, properly managed zoos can play a critical role in preserving endangered species, and in educating the public on the importance of wildlife and habitat conservation.  Many of the animals on display and residing in zoos would otherwise have met a premature end — such as Trouble, the Alaskan brown bear who had a penchant for breaking into the Alaska Zoo and no longer feared humans.

Amur tiger, Lake Superior Zoo

Would I rather see an Amur tiger in the wild?  Of course I would. And, perhaps, some day I will!  Is it more thrilling to see a wolf loping across an isolated highway in the Northwoods, as opposed to trotting around a large enclosure?  No comparison!  But, someone else may not have the opportunity to experience a wolf in its natural setting, and a zoo or preservation center might help provide a visitor with a new appreciation for that majestic creature, and inspire new efforts of conservation.

The next time you visit a zoo, I hope that you are reminded of another species or corner of this wonderful world that is worth preserving.

“In every remote corner of the world there are people like Carl Jones and Don Merton who have devoted their lives to saving threatened species. Very often, their determination is all that stands between an endangered species and extinction.
But why do they bother? Does it really matter if the Yangtze river dolphin, or the kakapo, or the northern white rhino, or any other species live on only in scientists’ notebooks?
Well, yes, it does. Every animal and plant is an integral part of its environment: even Komodo dragons have a major role to play in maintaining the ecological stability of their delicate island homes. If they disappear, so could many other species. And conservation is very much in tune with our survival. Animals and plants provide us with life-saving drugs and food, they pollinate crops and provide important ingredients or many industrial processes. Ironically, it is often not the big and beautiful creatures, but the ugly and less dramatic ones, that we need most.
Even so, the loss of a few species may seem irrelevant compared to major environmental problems such as global warming or the destruction of the ozone layer. But while nature has considerable resilience, there is a limit to how far that resilience can be stretched. No one knows how close to the limit we are getting. The darker it gets, the faster we’re driving.
There is one last reason for caring, and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos, and dolphins. And it is simply this: the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them.”
~ Mark Carwardine, Last Chance to See

Ciao! ~ Kat

The Lonesome Leash

Will you indulge me in just one more post about Kruger, the dear family member we lost this week?  A few months after we welcomed Kruger to our household last year, I began following the journey of another senior fellow by the name of Will.  Just a year ago, Will joined Tom Ryan and his remarkable friend Atticus, whose story was told in the book Following Atticus.  Their book was the subject of one of my early blog posts. The joyful process of Will rediscovering himself has been lovingly documented through the Following Atticus Facebook Page.

My tears began to flow again today with the sight of a touching photo of Will gazing out over a lake, and with the reading of the latest blog post from The Adventures of Tom & Atticus. It seems that Will may be joining Kruger soon enough.

Lonesome leash and collar . . . missing a friend

I have Kruger’s identification tag from his collar tucked away for safekeeping until Christmas time.  When we decorate the tree, we will think of sweet old Kruger when we attach his tag to his photo ornament.  His smiling face peering out from the tree will bring back the happy memories of his time with us, not the sorrow of his passing.  Reading Tom Ryan’s blog post and seeing that touching photo of Will on the lakeshore, my tears were intertwined with the  joyful reminder of how Will and Kruger, two old souls, found new hope during their last years of life.

Kruger, when you see Will crossing that Rainbow Bridge, welcome him with a wag and one of your best happy grins.  Just like you did, Will has shown us that advanced age is no barrier to learning to love and to being loved.

While I have quoted the words of Anatole France before, they are worth repeating again:

Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

And for those of us who have opened our hearts to an “older” animal, we have learned that a special part of our soul is reserved for them.

~ Kat

Preparing for the Rainbow Bridge

I heard the tell-tale “thump, thump, thump” and went downstairs to find our oldest black lab sprawled out at the bottom of the carpeted steps.  I helped him up, and with assistance he made it upstairs to his favorite daytime napping spot.  Kruger was diagnosed with lymphoma a couple of weeks ago.  He is on prednisone to help control the swelling, but the cancer continues to work its evil, and his body wastes away a little more with each day.  He still has a smile and tail wag for us, so we know it is not quite his time to cross the Rainbow Bridge, although we know that time is coming soon.

Happy black lab in snow

Kruger has only been part of our family for 15 months.  He was estimated to be 11 years old when we adopted him from our local humane society.  We swore with two large black labs already occupying the household, that bringing the number of dogs to three, particularly when the third was another large lab, was too many.  But, sometimes our four-legged friends have a way of worming themselves into our hearts and we find a way to make room for them in our homes.

Black lab tug-of-war

He was so sad after two different potential adopters returned him to the humane society  less than 24 hours after bringing him home.  Reportedly, he was not housebroken.  Despite suggestions by the adoption counselor that they give it a little time, letting him learn the ins and outs of his new home and routine, he was returned, and his time at the shelter approached four months.  After the second return, poor Kruger slipped into a funk, showing no interest in people who stopped by his kennel to say hello, and he lost interest in eating, as well.  The former happy-go-lucky lab who never met a tennis ball he didn’t like was in danger of letting depression overcome his will for living.

Kruger ready for a swim in his doggy lifejacket

We took him in, and in less than two weeks, after only a handful of housebreaking accidents later as he figured out the new routine, this gentle, old lab settled into the last home he would have.  He could be a stubborn old cuss, and we learned that arthritic body could really move when he wanted it to — like when I thought he was going to trot up to greet my son but instead bolted past the car, across busy streets, and through residential yards to reach the shores of Lake Superior, where a thin layer of ice had just formed,  reaching out 50 feet or so toward that icy, open water.

I should have kicked off my shoes that had a slight heel instead of trying to jog after him, but honestly, how could that old guy run so quickly and be so nimble?  He weaved in and out of spots where I had to slow to follow, and then managed to negotiate the icy rocks on the shore that caused me to slip and slide, screaming out in panic and watching a scene seem to unfold in slow motion as he walked out onto that icy film covering the unforgiving winter lake waters.

Common sense thankfully got the better of me, and I remained on the shore rather than going out after him.  I have read too many tragic stories of pet owners going after their pets in dangerous situations, with the pet often emerging unscathed while the family member or multiple members lose their lives attempting to save it.  I cautioned my son to take the same course of action and he ran back to the house to get my husband.  When my husband reached the lake shore, I yelled at him to call the fire department.  Kruger was causing the ice to creak and groan as he walked further out.  I helplessly watched our newest family member begin to break through the ice as he approached Lake Superior’s open water.

Thankfully, he must have had some fear enter his thought process, as he slowly made his way back to shore, just as the fire department arrived with their safety gear for ice and water saves.  Apologies and profuse thanks relayed, we leashed old Kruger and remained fanatical about doing so for months.  He learned over time that our home was his home, and there was no need to run in fear of not having a home again.

Black labs galloping through the snow

During his short time with us, Kruger has galloped (using the term loosely given the arthritic hips involved) through the snow with our other older lab, gone swimming at the cabin (his elderly, muscle-wasted hind end required a life jacket to keep him safely afloat and minimize the risk of inhaling water while paddling around), played tug-of-war and chased after tennis balls (even in recent days), and enjoyed snuggling on the floor with us while watching a movie.  In return, Kruger gave us the unconditional, trusting love that reminds us why we repeatedly make room in our hearts and homes for our four-legged companions . . . even when saying good-bye is so painful.

Happy boy! ~ Kruger at the cabin last spring
Happy boy! ~ Kruger at the cabin last spring

The Legend of Rainbow Bridge

From the book, “The Legend of Rainbow Bridge” by William N. Britton

Reprinted with Permission

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When a pet dies who has been especially close to a person here on earth, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are beautiful meadows and grassy hills there for all our special friends so they can run and play together.

There is always plenty of their favorite food to eat, plenty of fresh spring water for them to drink, and every day is filled with sunshine so our little friends are warm and comfortable.

All the pets that had been ill or old are now restored to health and youth.

Those that had been hurt or maimed are now whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days gone by.

The pets we loved are happy and content except for one small thing.

Each one misses someone very special who was left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one of them suddenly stops and looks off into the distant hills.

It is as if they heard a whistle or were given a signal of some kind.

Their eyes are bright and intent. Their body begins to quiver.

All at once they break away from the group, flying like a deer over the grass, their little legs carrying them faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you hug and cling to them in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.

Happy kisses rain upon your face.

Your hands once again caress the beloved head.

You look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet so long gone from your life, but never gone from your heart.

Then with your beloved pet by your side, you will cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

Your Sacred Circle is now complete again.

(Reprinted with permission of the author. Published 1994. Copyright © William N. Britton.

Rainbows -- perhaps a bridge to better places?
Rainbows — perhaps a bridge to better places?

Kruger, we will be here for you until you are ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge.  Then, when it is time, we will do our best to help you cross without pain and with as much love as you can carry until we meet again.

~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy and Travel Theme: Animals

As I started to pull together photos for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, finding those images that reflect what makes me “Happy,” I noticed a recurrent theme — the pets who have been part of our family throughout the years.  So often, they were part of the happy memory, frozen in time through a snapshot.  We believe in adopting our companions from the local humane society or rescue league, and sometimes the animals may join us in the later part of their lives, resulting in a shorter tenure with our family.   They frustrate us at times and can be naughty beyond belief.  They romp and play, they snuggle and dry our tears.  And, whether their time with us is short or long, their unconditional love is timeless — what more do we need to be happy?  I cannot imagine our family without these furry companions!


Coincidentally, the submission for the Weekly Photo Challenge also satisfied Ailsa’s Travel Theme challenge this week, which was Animals (click here for more information on the weekly Travel Theme).  Wind Against Current also combined the Weekly Photo Challenge with the Travel Theme Challenge, which helped to inspire my combined challenge response.  Details on WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge and how to join can be found here.

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

One in 164,694 (People): A Day at the Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is called “The Great Minnesota Get-Together” for good reason. All walks of life come together in St. Paul during the two weeks leading up to Labor Day — Minnesota’s last summer hurrah. It seems that Minnesotans either hate or love the Minnesota State Fair. My husband falls in the former camp and I in the latter. Thankfully, my boys have adopted my point of view, and we gladly deal with the crowds in order to enjoy our annual pilgrimage to this great tradition.

Entrance to the Minnesota State Fair

Planning our annual trek to the Fair requires careful research into the newest foods, attractions and exhibits. We have our Fair food favorites, many of which we share to maximize the diversity of our unhealthy diet throughout the day, but we also enjoy trying at least one new food every year, too. Personally, I cannot leave the Fair without at least one order of cheese curds. Mind you, not just any cheese curd will do — for me, it has to be the cheese curds from the “Original Deep Fried Cheese Curds” stand, located on Dan Patch Avenue.

The Original Deep-Fried Cheese Curds at the MN State FairThe Original Deep-Fried Cheese Curds at the MN State Fair    The Original Deep-Fried Cheese Curds at the MN State Fair

The crepes from the French Creperie have become one of our return-to favorites, as well – freshly-made crepes, still warm and wrapped around your choice of fillings. The strawberries with whipped cream were refreshing after deep-fried veggie fries and cheese curds.  Note the posted instructions regarding how to properly eat a crepe, the last one most important of all: “Ask yourself if you can have another one!”

Strawberry-whipped creme crepe from the French Creperie at the MN State Fair

While the Midway is not the primary focus of our visit, we always pick a few rides to round out our Fair experience. Since I have one son who inherited his father’s “I hate spinny ride” genes, that leaves me as the ride companion of last resort for my other son. Amazingly, my stomach stayed strong after our first few rounds of Fair food, as we spun round and round, stuck to the wall of the “Area 51” ride, followed by Crazy Mouse and another roller coaster. We bypassed the swings this year, which in the past years have been at a humane height to enjoy the overhead views of the Fair as you spin somewhat reasonably high above it all. This year, the Stratosphere was the featured swing ride and I could not even make out features on riders’ faces with my naked eye as the ride lifted the double swings to a height that made my stomach churn from far below. Reading the week before how the swings had multiple occasions of stalling and leaving riders 100 feet in the air, I vetoed swings as an option this year.

MN State Fair Midway  MN State Fair Midway

In addition to the food and the rides, we always look forward to walking the animal barns and gazing at the variety of cattle, horses and more. This year, we discovered llamas but missed getting to the poultry barn.

Outside the Horse Barn at the MN State Fair  Cattle Barn at the MN State FairLlama at the MN State Fair  Llamas at the MN State Fair

In the Swine Barn, no petting the piglets this year due to the threat of swine flu. But, fair goers could still gaze at this year’s biggest boar, Cornhog — all 1200 pounds of him!

MN State Fair  The Largest Boar at the MN State Fair

We also stopped by the Miracle of Birth Center, where calves, piglets, lambs and other farm animals enter the world during the Fair. It is touching to see a calf just minutes old struggle to get to its feet as its mother continues cleaning it and encouraging it to stand. Maybe it is the mother in me that left me lingering on the scene . . . because when I turned to find my teens, they had long since disappeared to wait on a bench outside the building, ready for our next food stops.

Miracle of Birth Center at the MN State FairMiracle of Birth Center at the MN State Fair

We continued to graze on our favorite Fair foods, along with a few new nibbles, throughout the day. An original Pronto Pup and the Corn Roast — classics that never grow old! Falafel-on-a-stick was something we tried last year that required a return visit this year, along with Mediterranean lemonade (we decided it edged out the fresh-squeezed variety this year in terms of flavor).  Among the new tastes for us this year, a camel slider (which we all agreed was relatively non-descript and not worth a return visit), Hawaiian-style Mexican torta from Manny’s Tortas (my son gave that a thumbs up and the enthusiastic torta crew encouraged a return trip next year!), and my favorite new food, a wine slushy (incredibly refreshing toward the end of a hot day at the Fair)!

Pronto Pup at the MN State Fair  Manny's Tortas at the MN State FairThe Corn Roast at the MN State Fair  Wine Slushy at the MN State Fair

After the animal barns, time to visit the Agriculture and Horticulture Buildings, walking past an eye-catching pond garden by the Minnesota Water Garden Society. In the Ag-Hort Building, Crop Art is one of our favorite creative exhibits. Categories include wearable crop art, although comfort did not appear to be a relevant factor in the design!

The scarecrows were equally imaginative in their design and use of materials.

Scarecrows at the MN State Fair

Scarecrows at the MN State Fair

Despite groans from the boys, I insisted on the annual visit to the Dairy Building to visit the butter heads. How often do you get to view 90-pound blocks of butter carved into the likenesses of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and the other dairy princesses!

Butter Heads of the Dairy Princesses at the MN State Fair  Butter Head of Princess Kay of the Milky Way at the MN State Fair

Crowds?! Yes. Hot, sticky weather?! Sometimes. And, since it is Minnesota, cold, miserable weather?! Perhaps. (The last year we went during that weather we ended up viewing more of the horse show than we ever had before inside the arena to stay warm!) But, is there any better event that combines the interests of travel, garden, eat?! I think not. Until next year . . . perhaps we will see you there?

Crowds at the MN State Fair

Ciao! ~ Kat B.