Lovely weather for camels

But tigers, pigs, horses and other animals suffer in stifling heat

August 04, 2006|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

RISING SUN -- Sis, the Siberian tiger, paced back and forth, stalking the stretch of chain link fence between her and the sunken pool where a zookeeper was dropping bucket-size chunks of ice into the water.

Released back into her main pen, the majestic feline circled the pool, dipped one huge paw as if to test the temperature and then took a long, lapping drink of newly cooled water.

"She's very perky and excited when it's going to snow," Nancy Sepulvado, director of the Plumpton Park Zoo in Cecil County, explained yesterday. "That's when she's most comfortable. This is not her favorite weather."

Humans, it turns out, aren't the only creatures who have been suffering in this week's heat wave.

Zookeepers, veterinarians, farmers, horse trainers and dog walkers have been struggling to keep their animals cool and well-hydrated as the temperature has nudged against the triple-digit mark several days in a row this week.

"Basically, it's like it is for people," said Jim Steele, manager of Shamrock Farm, a 640-acre horse-breeding operation near Woodbine. "We try not to stress them. We give them lots of water, make sure they have a salt block, hunker down and get through it."

Animal trainers, including Beth Stambaugh, who gives riding lessons on her 17-acre farm between Westminster and New Windsor, said they shift their schedules in this kind of stifling heat and humidity, trying to get as much as possible done in the cooler hours of early morning and late evening.

Horses are turned out late in the day and brought in just after sunrise to keep them out of the sun at the height of the heat.

"Even though it's hot and miserable with the flies, they do OK," Stambaugh said of her 13 horses. "We just take it easy on them in the day, hose them off to cool them down and work them and train them in the early morning."

Stambaugh's potbelly pig - leftover from the Hodge Podge Portable Petting Farm she ran for 12 years - needs a little more hands-on, hot-weather assistance.

Because pigs don't sweat, they typically seek solace in mud to cool down. But even Buck's mud puddles have been drying up or becoming overheated sludge.

"He's very old, too, and arthritic, so the heat's even harder for him," said Stambaugh, who has been offering manmade mud to the 100-pound Buck. "He goes to the mud puddle to his food to his water and back to his little house. That's about it."

Household pets also have been struggling.

"Mine are the black bulldogs. You can see them panting," said Beth Christman, surveying the nearly empty Canton Dog Park on Wednesday evening at a time when the leash-free, fenced area is typically hopping with more than a dozen canines. "They don't come out too often when it's hot like this."

Sure enough, Oliver parked his bulldog rump on a shady section of asphalt painted with white paw prints. With his pink tongue hanging out, his whole squat little body shook with the force of his panting. A ball and rope toy lay unused in the nearby dirt.

Christman, who pilots merchant ships up and down the Chesapeake Bay, made her first trip Wednesday to the dog park on Toone Street.

"It was brutal," she said. "I literally walked them over and walked them right back."

When she returned with Oliver and Gigi that evening, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., it was at least a bit cooler and breezier.

Sue Loefller, owner of Doghouse Girls dog-walking service, brought on extra workers this week to minimize the time each person or animal had to spend in the heat and humidity.

On her Wednesday evening round of walks, Loefller found two of her clients' owners at home when she went to pick up their pooches. Neither declined her scheduled services.

"No one wants to dog walk in this heat," she said. "They say they stayed home because they didn't feel well. But I know."

To deal with the heat, Loefller said she cuts her visits a bit short, "especially with the wrestlers."

The wrestlers?

"Those are the real active dogs, the ones who don't know how to regulate themselves," she explained. "We take them home, fill their bowls with ice and it takes them a couple hours to cool themselves off. ... This is really unhealthy weather for dogs."

It's no easier on more exotic creatures.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has been closed most of the week "due to," as its Web site indicates, "extreme heat."

And at the Plumpton Park Zoo, a menagerie amid farmland just east of Rising Sun in Cecil County, workers have been freezing fruit cocktails, bananas, water, fruit juice and, for Sis, their grumpy Siberian tiger, water mixed with meat drippings.

While water buffalo burrowed up to their necks in mud, the zoo's llamas and ostrich were only too happy to be hosed down by their human caretakers. Two timberwolves splashed all the water out of a kiddie pool placed in their pen before proceeding to rip the rubber to shreds. And Tootsie and her brother Louie, a pair of black bears, ambled lethargically around their cage panting until zoo keepers offered frozen blocks of water and fruit.

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