I’ve always had a thing for animals. Not just the domestic types, but the big “I could eat you if I wanted” type. So when I had the chance to do the private training course at Hollywood Animals, I couldn’t resist!
Hollywood Animals, located in Santa Clarita, California provides big cats to the movie, television and advertising business.
If you saw the movie, Evan Almighty with Steve Carell, the 2 lions, 2 tigers, 2 spotted leopards and the hyena from that movie were all cast from Hollywood Animals.
These animals travel all over the world to work with actors and models so they need to be socialized – continually exposed to a variety of people and comfortable performing in different environments.
The animal training course is not just about petting tigers or hugging bears (though you do get the chance to do that – eventually).
Five days a week you work a typical 8-10 hour day that starts with prepping food for each of the dozens of animals on property. Imagine handling and weighing approximately 10 pounds of raw meat each day for each big cat. This is not a job for the squeemish! In addition to the food, you also have to cube some of the meat into 2″-3″ chunks to use as treats when training.
Then there are enclosures to clean. Cats are moved from one part of the spacious enclosures to another and locked off so you can rake, sweep, rinse and clean their living space. Yes, it’s a lot of work and physically demanding, but the reward – if you find a whisker during your cleaning, you get to keep it! I have one of Flynn’s affixed to the mat framing a photo of him that hangs on the wall in our home.
Safety is always stressed. NEVER turn your back on a big cat. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. Even though the animals at Hollywood Animals are specifically raised from cubs and are at least 5th generation born in captivity, they are still large, potentially dangerous animals. Even if not intending harm, if a big cat were to pouce on you like your domestic cat is known to do when playing – it could hurt! When a trainer is inside the enclosure with an animal, another person is at the entrance with a fire extinguisher to provide distraction if needed. These simple, but carefully followed guides along with the wonderful care the animals all receive is likely why they have not had an incident requiring even a band-aid in all their decades in business.
Animals are trained using a positive reinforcement method. Treats for good performance, not unlike what works best with humans. That little bamboo stick in my hand is just to point and direct the animal – it wouldn’t serve as much of a defense weapon!
The bears in particular have a sweet tooth and will do just about anything for a marshmellow – even take it from my mouth!
They call it a “bear kiss” because bears pick up their food with their tongues and bring it into their mouths to chew. Warning! Don’t try this at home or on your next camping trip, but hold a marshmellow in your teeth and stands still…then be ready to need to wash your face! He’s not “foaming at the mouth”, that’s melted marshmellows…we’ve been “kissing” awhile!
My weeks at Hollywood Animals were some of the most fun and educational I’ve ever spent. If I were to live in the LA area, I would sign on as a volunteer and spend at least a day or two a week working with my animal friends.
They also offer a weekend course at times so perhaps YOU might want to check it out for yourself!