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Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World's Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers Reprint Edition

48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0143111948
ISBN-10: 0143111949
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Graduates of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at California's Moorpark College land jobs in prestigious zoos, animal sanctuaries and research facilities, and they can be found in high-profile positions in Hollywood studios, the U.S. Navy and the organization Guide Dogs for the Blind. Sutherland (Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America) chronicles the intriguing year she spent with students at this "Harvard for exotic animal trainers," accompanying the "first years" as they interact with the exotic and not-so-exotic animals in the teaching zoo—including baboons, cougars, servals, wolves, tortoises, snakes and rats. She attends classes in the rigorous academic program, goes to training sessions where the students learn to communicate with, rather than dominate, the animals, and discovers that the school is no place for anyone who thinks animals are cute: students may be attacked by emus, kicked by mule deer or backed into corners by camels. There is, however, much friction among the students, especially with the "second years." Sutherland observes that people who relate well to animals don't always relate well to other people, and this theme makes the book a fascinating study in human as well as animal behavior. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It is a rare pleasure to see behind the scenes of EATM, the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program of Moorpark College, California, a world nothing like the Disney version of human-animal interaction. Here the students discover that anything with a mouth can bite and that excrement does not smell like daisies. The school veterinarian lectures on pus, death, and infected scrotums. While handling the animals, students "could be chomped, mauled, or even killed by an animal. Even the smallest nick could produce a surly infection." Animals are respected for what they are, and their behavior is shaped by operant conditioning. The graduates of this unique program find work in Hollywood, zoos, and the military. Sutherland does not gloss over past mistakes as she explains in detail the demanding EATM course work and charts the program's evolution into an outstanding source for top exotic animal trainers. Readers will acquire new and enhanced respect for a little-studied profession. Pamela Crossland
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143111949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143111948
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I left my career as a newspaper features writer behind in 2001 to write the first of my three books, "Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America". For a year I crisscrossed the country interviewing chili heads, cowboys, state fair cooking champs, and a few cheats. Next I headed to Moorpark Community College in southern California, where the top school for exotic animal trainers can be found, for "Kicked Bitten and Scratched".

My book chronicles the year I shadowed students through this improbable, magical, grueling program. I met my first binturong. I went on walks with the baboons, the cougars and the wolf. All of this understandably went to my head, which became apparent for all when I wrote a column for the New York Times on how I improved my marriage by using animal training techniques I had learned at the school. That insane outburst earned me a movie deal (Lionsgate-Summit) and the contract for my third book, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage".

Along the way, I've written for magazines and newspapers as well as taught journalism at Boston University. Currently I write the Bibliophiles column for the Boston Globe's Sunday Books section and am at work on another book project. This one will be about shelter dogs, two of which, Penny Jane and Walter Joe, share my home office in Boston. If you don't find me at my desk it's probably because my two assistants below, Walter Joe and Penny Jane have convinced me it's time for a walk.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Hibben Clark on June 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've often puzzled over those prodigy animals who pirouette on cue, or leap out of the water with a human on their nose. How'd they learn that?

This book was a guided tour through the fascinating world of animal training, at the school you attend if you want to train animals to perform in movies, at Sea World, and so on. The school has a "staff" of exotic creatures who do their best to keep the students on their toes. The risk of learning the hard way -- by tooth and claw -- is real and severe. But as the school year progresses, the students gain mastery of a reward-based method that's as applicable to the family dog as it is to the school's resident baboon, cougar, and camel.

The training approach might be summed up by the phrase, "Put that on a cue." When an animal naturally performs a motion -- especially if that motion is part of a larger trick you want to teach -- you reward that motion and give it a command name. So when my dog looks up, I could give him a cue -- "up" -- and a reward; before long, when I say "up," he'll point his nose skyward. Step by step, trainers build complex behaviors, like dolphins leaping in synchrony or a sea lion holding her mouth open for a dental exam.

It's harder than it sounds. The author reports that a number of students can't stomach the rigors of early rising for poop-scooping, book-learning, and pigeon-killing (to feed the carnivores), and wash out of the program. Others lack the patience necessary to teach a rat to perform in the mandatory rat-tricks class. But some human prodigies do rise to the occasion, and absorb the subtle language of wild animals. These are the lucky souls who will spend their lives in that privileged realm that separates most of us from the wild creatures we love.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Daryl L. Hosler II on July 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thouroughly enjoyed reading this book. As a 1997 graduate of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program the book brought back a lot of memories both good and bad. The author did a very good job at impartially portraying daily life at the school and the types of people that attend the program.

The daily grind of waking up early to clean the zoo, long days of very challenging course work and dealing with your 2nd years lording it over you while having to endure all the of the petty squables in your own class. She also did a good job at showing how the school affects all aspects of your life, in essence you have to give yourself over completely for 2 years and everything else (family, spouses, income,...etc) are all subordinate to EATM.
But on the other hand she captured the wonder and joy of working with the animals and being able to have close personal contact with them. Being able to walk Rosie the baboon or sitting next to her cage and grooming with her made all the other cares and worries go away.
If you are thinking about going into the animal field or just interested in it I highly recommend this book. If you are thinking about applying to EATM then this book is a must read, nothing else will allow you to make an informed decision about attending the program like this book.
Overall for me this book brought back the roller coster of emotions that I felt while attending EATM and a lot of good memories, thanks for the book.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Patrick E. Clarke on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have been an animal lover since I was a child, and have read numerous books about animals. I can say with certainty that this is one of the best books I've ever read, even when the animals reported on were human beings. Amy Sutherland is a gifted observer and an entertaining writer. She wisely stays focused on life (and death) at the school rather than going off on tangents with additional information about the many animals she writes about. She captured the intensity, dedication and courage needed to complete this remarkable school. And the book has some very interesting surprises, such as the animal who proved to be the most dangerous one.

It was just fascinating to read about how certain animal behaviors in films and on TV that we may take for granted require countless hours of patient positive reinforcement training.

I also admired how the author freely described the fear she experienced in the few animal interactions she was privileged to take part in.

I just regret that Sutherland didn't include an index. She wrote about such a wide variety of animals and people it was sometimes hard to keep track.

Some photos would also have been helpful. But using Google was an easy enough solution for that.

Overall, this book was a joy to read!
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Yellow on July 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a wonderful, captivating book! Amy Sutherland is a top notch writer. Her journalistic view of EATM, the teaching zoo at Moorpark College in California is fun, funny, poignant and sometimes heartbreaking. The pages turned and turned and turned long after I planned to be in bed fast asleep!

I want to point out that there is a minor error in the later part of the text. As the book indicates, Karen Pryor is, indeed, a revolutionary teacher. She has been awarded by the International Association of Behavior Analysis for her dissemination of behavior analysis to the public. I credit her book, Don't Shoot The Dog, and thank her as the author for my decision to become a behavior analyst.

However, the book implies that Karen Pryor's TagTeach system (referred to but not directly named in the book) is the entree of operant conditioning into the teaching of yet another species-humans.

In fact, behavior analysts and psychologists have been using operant conditioning with humans for many decades. This is one case in which work with humans has actually informed work with animals, as well as the other way around. There are published articles on this work as early as the 1950s. Marian Breland Bailey used a clicker (then called a cricket) in training children with mental retardation in the 1950s. The autism treatment field today is dominated by behavior analysts who rely on the knowledge of operant conditioning to develop teaching and treatment programs for beneficial behavior change.

What Karen Pryor and the TagTeach instructors have done is popularize this technology, making the public more aware of it, and that's valuable and honorable.
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