This course is offered by LIOC-ESCF. The purpose of this course is to familiarize one with the basic principles needed to work with wild or exotic felines species. This course is offered on an irregular basis, usually about 2 times a year. (Check the website above for the next scheduled class.) I have heard rave reviews from all my cat-friends that had previously attended this course. The cost of the course was also quite reasonable, typically $75. Since I will soon be volunteering at the zoo next door, and hope someday to own a couple of lions, I decided this course would be a worthwwhile thing to attend. It would also be a good opportunity to meet a lot of the cat-people I know only on the internet.I had waited up to this point for a class to be near where I am, so I can avoid the expense (And since September 11th., the hassle) of airline travel. The course had been in Seattle in August, but the timing was very poor for me to attend at that time. So, I was very elated to hear it would be offered in early December, 2001 at a place just north of San Fransisco. This is within easy driving distance for me. As an added incentive, this particular course included an extra day where you could get some hands-on with some of the smaller exotic felines!
I planned to combine this trip with a visit to San Mateo, CA. A professional colleauge was leaving his job at KCSM TV, and wanted some of us who collect old broadcst equipment to come and help clean out his warehouse. I would then (Hopefully with a fully loaded truck!) drive up to Geyserville, CA, which is 75 miles north of San Fransisco. This is where the exotic feline husbandry course was to be offered, at a place called 'Isis Oasis'.
Isis Oasis looked to be an interesting place. It is a retreat center on a 10 acre estate. It features bed/breakfast type rooms, as well as dormitory-style rooms in a lodge, a conference center, a dinig pavillion, a mini-zoo, an Egyptian temple, a vineyard and many other interesting things. The mini-zoo contians many exotic birds, and most importantly for the course, ocelots, servals and bobcats. The entire center was decorated in an ancient Egyptian theme.
Attending these sorts of things is never easy for me for some reason. A few days before the course, I injured my hand working on my new house. This injury threatened to prevent me from being able to do the long-distance driving needed to attend the course. Since I did not want to miss this course, I finally decided I would take a Greyhound bus to Geyserville. As it turns out, the bus schedule was perfect for attending both days of the conference, and the Geyserville bus stop was almost in front of Isis Oasis! The price I had to pay, though was missing the chance to do some equipment collecting in San Mateo.
My boss was kind enough to take me to the bus terminal early in the morning of Friday, November 30th. Although there were a surprising number of unusual delays, the bus trip went very smoothly. I soon found myself in Geyserville, California. After wandering around for about 10 minutes, I easily found Isis Oasis.
Isis Oasis turned out to be a beautiful place. Due to problems with my camera, I did not take as many senic pictures as I would have liked to. However, I did take a few, like these palm trees. Even this far north, the climate was still warm enough to grow palm trees. But, they grew amidst evergreens and decidious trees. I first registered for the course and the room. I was originally going to stay in the dorm, but ended up sharing a room. This ended up being cost effective. Meal costs ended up being far enough under budget that I could take the room upgrade and still save money.
I had arrived quite early compared to other students, so I plenty of time to explore. I spent a lot of time touring the mini-zoo. I saw all the cats there, especially the ocelots. There were may bird species as well, many of them very beautiful There was also the typical selection of peafowl, and a pair of very nice emu.
I also took a quick look at the various buildings on the grounds, including the conference hall, some Mongolian 'yurts' you could choose to stay in, the vineyard, and the little Egyptian temple. After that, I took a nice, long, badly needed nap!
My roommate soon showed up. His name was Dale. He was into a number of things, including doing stunt work for films. He lived in Utah, between several National parks, and wanted to open a cat sanctuary there. Dale seemed like a nice gentleman. We ended up spending much of our free time together.
At dinner that night, which was served very informally (And was also vegetarian, but some of the best vegetarian food I have ever had!), I ended up meeting our Instructors for the course. (L to R: George Stowers, Tracy Wilson and Leann Montgomery.) Since there were not many people there yet, we all sat together at one table and had a very good conversation. (George Stowers was the very first cat person I ever got to know. Up till now, I've only known him via the internet.) Soon, more people started to arrive, and there were cat people of all sorts of backgrounds to talk to. Unfortunately for me, there were no lion owners.
While some of us talked, many other participated in an Egyptian full moon ceremony. It had also started to rain heavily, and the noise of the rain on the dining center roof was beautiful to a desert-living Nevadan! By the time everything settled down, it was near midnight, and everyone was looking forward to a good night's rest. There was much excited anticipation about the next day!
After breakfast, we all filed up to the conference center, which was built like a small church with a stage. By now, a lot of people had arrived. We all were encouraged to go about the room, and identify the species of cats that were displayed on pictures around the room. the big cats were easy. The small cats were more challenging. I still managed to get 9 out of 10, which was considerably above average for the people around me.
Soon, the class got underway. The extensive material was presented in a manner designed to maximize retention. Each of the seven units was first overviewed. The main material was then presented. The material was then reviewed, using the outline from the overview. There was plenty of opprotunities for class participation. There were also some good discussions of some topics among knowledgable people in the class. This discussion added considerably to the value of the subject being discussed. In all the material presented, the empahsis was on the safety of you and others, as well as the well-being of the cats.
The main topics covered were:
The first three units were taught before lunch. The rest were taught after lunch. The behavior training unit was especially interesting, as we had cats available to demonstrate the techniques with. However, the cats weren't very cooperative in front of such a large group. So, a human volunteer was chosen to be trained in an unknown behavior using 'clicker training'. The idea of clicker training goes like this: Since cats have such a short attention span, you try to get them to do something you want. The moment they do what you want, you click a mechanical clicker. You then give them a food treat. Pretty soon, the cat will know that the desired behavior is accompanied by a 'click', and a treat immediately afterwards.
The human clicker training was hilarious. The food treat was M&M's in a cup. The human 'cat' acted stubborn, stole the treats, etc., etc. In short, he acted the 'cat' perfectly! Everyone laughed. But, eventually, we did finally train the 'cat' to do what we wanted it to do.
After all of this, there was a comprehensive review, followed by an exam. Because the material was so thoroughly presented (And everyone present was there to learn), only 1 or 2 people did not pass the exam. After 9 hours of instruction, and an exam, everyone was eager to go to dinner!
Dinner was very festive that night, and it was the only time that meat was served (Chicken quarters). During dinner, a small exotic cat, a 'Ser-gle' was brought in the room. Everyone enjoyed the cat, and the 'ser-gle' (More on the name later) had fun trying to snag a chicken leg! There were also two huge domestic cats who hung around the people constantly, looking for attention. They were both Maine Coon Cats. After many hours of after-dinner conversation, Dale and I went back to the lodge. There, we each talked for several more hours with other cat people in a common-room. I finally ended up finding a lion person, a woman who trained lions and tigers for movie work.
Dale and I talked for a couple more hours in our room, and we both finally got to sleep about 2 AM!
On Sunday morning, there was a break in the rain (It had rained almost continuously since Friday night.). After a delicious breakfast of buckwheat panacakes, we all went down to the mini-zoo to handle cats! The first ever exotic cat I ever got to handle was the beutiful, and mild-mannered 'ser-gle'. This cat was the result of an accidental cross beteen a serval and a jungle cat. It is a female, and appears to be breedable. It is such a beautiful and docile cat that an attempt is going to be made to expand the lineage.
Of course, the main reason to be here, though is Ocelots. (Notice the pretty pink nose. This is 'Hotep', a young ocelot. This was a sweet, very handlable cat that looked for any part of your hand to suckle!) After watching Dale learn what to do and what not to do, I finally got my turn to handle an ocelot. My turn was very short-lived, though. It discovered a new toy in my coat pocket, a leather glove. It was not intent on giving it back, and the glove now has permanent teeth marks on it! (I did enjoy the experience!)
While everyone was taking time to observe or handle the cats, it was discovered that one of the servals had two newborn kittens! This particular serval wasn't supposed to be pregnant, so it was a pleasant surprise for everyone present. Here is a picture of one of the other servals.
Finally, it was time for everyone to go their various ways. because of the bus schedule, I was one of the later people to leave. So, I had another chance to sit around and talk cats for several hours. During that time, it rained extremely hard several times, and hailed twice. The sound of the hail on the roof was so deafening that everyone had to cover their ears.
With the Egyptian theme of Isis Oasis, there were plenty of examples of lion art to be found there. There were two beautiful lion statues in the dining hall. A pair of Egyptian lioness heads were on the stage of the conference center. There was also two murals of the Aker Lions. The Aker lions, in Egyptian mythology, guard the past and the future!
When it was finally time to say 'goodbye', I took this picture of the last people who were still there. (L to R: Loreon Vigne, owner of Isis Oasis, Tracy Wilson, Leann Montgomery, and Deborah Ash.) As I walked away to catch the bus, I realized that I had made some new friends, learned some new things, and was TOTALLY relaxed and refreshed!
Too bad the bus ride back wasn't as uneventful as the bus ride there. When I got to Sacrmento, I learned that all the passes through the Sierra Nevada mountains were closed, and nothing at all was getting through. So, I ended up spendig the night in the Greyhound bus terminal in Sacermento! But, even with this problem, this was the best vacation I have taken since my several days in New York City in November 1999. Was this course worth all the effort? Yes! Would I do it again? Yes! Would I recooend it to others? Absolutely!!