The towering animal stepped silently into the stall-like cage and stood there calmly, munching her treats as the gate closed behind her. Her keepers pushed the padded sidewalls inward to hold her snugly, then slipped two yellow support straps under her belly.
Bronson stepped into a space alongside the giraffe. After a warning - "Touch, Gretchen!" - she jabbed a hypodermic needle through the thick skin on the animal's thigh, delivering a biweekly dose of a joint supplement. Gretchen barely flinched.
A few minutes later, from the opposite side of the restraint, keepers lifted the giraffe's left front leg with ropes and Bronson began to file and clean up her hoof. But they quit minutes later when Gretchen began to struggle. That was unusual, they said.
"We call her `The Lady of the House,'" said trainer Jennifer Rosado, 34. "She'll basically do anything if you love her. That's why it's important to us to make her as happy as possible, for as long as possible."
Some days she's quiet, she said. But on others she's made a beeline for the yard, where construction work (for the soon-to-open public giraffe feeding area) has her "mesmerized."
"They're very inquisitive," Rosado said. "`What's that? Can I eat it? Can I play with it?' ... I compare them to a toddler."
And, they're charming. Once, soon after Rosado began working in the giraffe barn, filling the feed basket on the wall, Gretchen "leaned her head beside me and watched me do it," she recalled.
"We had a `moment,' " she recalled, "and after that, I was totally sucked in."