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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Goodbye to Megan

Today, Bow and Sword and I said goodbye to Megan. She decided last night to leave early, and this morning she came and brought all the keys back and her unused Wal*Mart card, and we said goodbye. She lasted two weeks and two days. She's done better than some, but certainly not as well as we had hoped.

Bow is sitting here making raspberry sounds as I write this. I think he doesn't want me relating this story, as it does not reflect well on him. Also, there are cookies in the oven, (Sword has a friend over), and he doesn't want me to forget to take them out before they get too brown.

I just went over and asked Bow what he wants. He spelled: "Don't tell that I bit. Try to say that she was bad." Well, I can't say that. Megan was not bad. And Bow didn't exactly bite. He did kind of scratch up her face though, nothing serious. It will heal fine. But it was scary for her, because she didn't see it coming.

I took the cookies out of the oven. While they are cooling, I'll give a short sketch of what happened.

Bow was a perfect gentleman with Megan for the first two weeks, up until the last hour or so of last Saturday. He used the potty. He spelled for her. He didn't do anything aggressive -- or at least,  nothing that she reported. Last Saturday, toward the end, he got a little rowdy, and she gave him some time out.

When Megan returned on Tuesday, after her two days off, again everything seemed fine between the two of them. Bow used the potty. He asked for food at dinner. He specified exactly which apple he wanted, the yellow or the green. She put him to bed, and, according to her, he was very sweet.

Then, on Wednesday morning, just as she came in to the pen, Bow jumped on her back, and he grazed her with his teeth, not biting, but scratching. I was there on the other side of the glass, and I had her come out at once, and I put Bow in a smaller space, sprayed him with water. I went out with Megan, abandoning Bow in his punishment cell,  and I gave Megan some Betadine to put on the scratches. We went for a walk with Brownie, and talked about what had happened and why.

It turns out, in retrospect, that there were some warnings, moments when Bow overstepped his bounds, but was not disciplined. For instance, at bedtime, Megan was reading Bow Where the Wild Things Are, and he grabbed the book, and she told him "No." And he then held on to her finger and squeezed for a moment. She let that pass.

When Bow does something to make someone uncomfortable, overstepping personal boundaries, he has to be confronted in a low pitched, aggressive voice, and he must be disciplined at once. If not, the next incident will be worse. Things escalate.  But in this society, many of us have been socialized to forgive and turn the other cheek, and these are not good strategies to use with chimpanzees. Or with human beings, for that matter. People take advantage. They react to kindness as if it were weakness. They misread each others' signals.

Lawrence arrived at 9:30, when Megan and I were just finishing our walk. I asked him to walk with Brownie some more, so that Megan would have a chance to punish Bow herself. I showed her how to spray Bow with water, and I watched as she hosed him down. Bow screamed.

There is a place for forgiveness. That place is after the perpetrator has been punished and shown remorse. I hoped that Megan and Bow would make peace by the end of the day. She sat on the other side of the glass, and every time he used the potty, she went in and emptied it. Bow did not once break his potty training in all this. He dutifully used the potty every thirty minutes, then every fifteen, then every ten minutes, in the hopes that Megan might stay in with him. But she kept her distance.

Lawrence was scheduled to do lunch with Bow, and Megan came in at two to relieve him, but she and Bow did not play. She sat on the other side of the glass and emptied the potty every time he used it.

By three-thirty, she had decided not to stay and finish up the internship. I asked Lawrence to take over for her, because I  had to take Sword in for her music lesson.

When someone falls off a horse, they say, he should get right back on again. I myself have never fallen off a horse, so I can't say. It could have gone either way. Other interns have been scratched and went on to be very successful with Bow. It really depends on their emotional reaction though; the successful ones were angry enough with what he did to exact some vengeance and win his respect. Those whose reaction is sadness and fear never stay, and I never ask them to go in with Bow again, because it would not be safe.

I do appreciate the one intern in the past who, without  ever having been scratched, admitted that she was not up to the task of going in with Bow, but stayed to complete her internship, working behind the camera and editing and writing reports. I gave her a very good recommendation, because she knew her limits, but honored her commitment.

While Megan has not chosen to stay, I still appreciate her honesty and her effort and the degree of success that she did initially have with Bow.  We parted in a friendly way, and I am grateful for the time that she gave us.

From here on in, it's twelve hours in the pens for me once more. But that two week partial vacation was really nice!


  1. Too bad! :( Sorry it didn't work out!

  2. Thanks, Suzanne. We all tried our best, including Megan.