Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Apprentice Trainer's Blog

I know this is supposed to be the trainers blog, but I figured since I am recovering from knee surgery I would give a little insight on my roles, and experiences working at Triple D. For those who don’t know me, I’m Justine Hayes and I have been with Triple D now for the last ~2 years now, and don’t plan on going anywhere.

My roles and experiences have greatly increased from the time I started to today, as I am sure that’s how it goes with any line of work. When I first started this journey, my primary job was feeding, making sure the animals are all healthy, happy and making sure that their houses are cleaned daily. You see, this isn’t a job where once you are done, you’re done and you don’t necessarily have to worry about what you just did. No, this is a job that never ends. You don’t clean once and go okay well that’s done for good, or for awhile, because I kid you not, 2 minutes after you put all your cleaning stuff away, one of them has made a mess of their house. It is worth it though. I would imagine it is a lot like having a toddler and your are trying to clean, do laundry etc. what you just accomplished is now being destroyed J You are never done and there are always things to do. All day, everyday! The job is messy, and smelly. You leave work everyday smelling like you haven’t bathed in a few days, but once again the messiness, the smells, the long days, early mornings, all of it, is completely worth it.
The longer I have been working here the more my roles and responsibilities have increased. Now mind you, I still do my primary jobs such as checking on the kids, feeding, and cleaning, but I am now also the main back up to our head trainer and I am currently a trainer in training. Both are daily tasks. Being the main back up comes with a lot of responsibility in itself. There are so many different factors that I need to take into account as a back up. Each session and animal is different, so I am constantly on my toes. I’m on high alert all the time, to make sure Heather, the clients and myself, and the animal are safe. I don’t and can’t get complacent. But I am also the attention getter, so I have to be safe but also get the animals attention to look at the cameras, which is not an easy task sometimes. Let me tell you, I have whipped out some serious dance moves and they still wouldn’t look my direction. Haha!

Being a trainer in training takes time and so much patience. I haven’t always been good at being patient but I am learning. Luckily I have a pretty patient and amazing mentor/teacher. If I am being honest, I really thought training would be easy and that I would pick it up super fast, but in reality it didn’t come that easy. I still to this day struggle with it. I’m not a fan of failing, but who is? In this field you are going to fail, you’ll fail often, but that is what is going to make you better for next time. You can’t give up after a few bad trials. You just have to pick yourself up, dust off a little and get back to it.

It isn’t easy finding the balance between doing all those, but luckily we are a team and help each other out when it is needed. We have each others backs at all times. All in all this isn’t a one man show, it can’t be. We all have our roles, strengths and weaknesses. Another thing I have learned is that this isn’t a job, it is definitely a lifestyle and I am truly grateful and beyond blessed that I finally found what I want to do for the rest of my life. Doing what I do has given me so much confidence, that up until now I lacked. It has taught me that hard work pays off, not in ways that some people might want, but for me to see these “kids” happy, playing, being able to bond with them and just watch them be them, has been one of the most eye opening experiences ever. I would never change what I get do everyday for the world. I see all of them totally differently than I did just two and a half years ago. They are my 4 legged babies!! I love them beyond words.

Justine and CK (wolf pup)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Drum roll, please!!!!!!

Ladies & Gentlemen.....I'd like to formally introduce you to our newest family member, Jaxon! Born here on just July 20th, Jaxon is the happiest baby we have ever known!  As of right now, all he does is eat, sleep & purr!  He purrs constantly, even when he's sleeping!!  He is eager to see all of his two-legged family members each day and looks forward to cuddling with each and every one of us.  Jaxon will remain in our forever family and maybe even one day be the "love interest" of one of our mtn lion sisters, Kali or Khia! We are looking so forward to raising this little sweetheart & training him to be an all-star just like the rest! Keep in mind, these wild babies don't stay babies for long, and a mtn lion cub is a rarity here...

When raising a baby animal (or any baby for that matter), time put in is of the utmost importance.  Especially in the beginning, feedings are around the clock, and just like all moms, sleep is often sacrificed to ensure a strict routine feeding schedule.  The bond between animal & trainer is so important for the overall safety of each one's future.  The time put in goes well beyond an eight-hour work day.  Most days last much longer than 10 hours AT the Triple D property (7 days a week).  But then most days, one or more animals will go home with staff members in order to continue to put in that time to our "work" and to the important bond.  
These treks home with us though, while fun and super cool, aren't always just a barrel full of monkeys.  (Thank goodness we have no monkeys here!)  It can also be A LOT of work.  Once the "kiddos" really start to develop (walk, run, jump, climb, etc...), it can become a constant flow of "no's" and "ah ah!"...along with many thoughts questioning our own sanity and "why on earth didn't I decide to relax tonight instead???"  The answer is always revealed many times over throughout the animal's life.  It could be a good morning head bump during our routine walk-thru.  It could be that moment when "on your mark" finally clicks in a training session, and they're just as excited as me that they understand what I'm asking from them.  It could be that intense moment when something spooks them and I (or anyone that raised them) am the only thing that can comfort and reassure them.  It could be that even more intense moment when a wild animal shows that they are indeed forever wild, and in that moment of "wild" they remember just how important you are to them and they control their displaced aggression as to not inflict real harm.  Or it could be one of the most intimate moments we get to have with these animals, and that is when they are actually so comfortable and at so much ease with our presence that they actually fall asleep...sometimes even in our laps!  No matter the cause for this unveiled answer, it is undoubtedly the most fulfilling answer I personally could have.  I sacrifice little bits of my time, sanity, rest, and sleep for the absolute love and adoration for what I am lucky enough to get to do on a daily basis.  
There is no other life I would want to live than the one I get to now.  This is not my job.  This is not my career.  This is my lifestyle.  Without these animals, I would not be who I am.  They define me and they are my makeup.  Each animal that comes into my everyday life is another brick in the foundation of my heart and soul.  

And!..................Jaxon will be another perfect addition in our lives!               

Monday, June 30, 2014

Road Trips! 2014 & 2015

Although, we don't want to skip over these beautiful summer months, we are nonetheless inching our way towards the fall.  And this year, a month of our autumn season will be spent in Page, AZ; home to the Slot Canyons, and more specifically Canyon X.  We have partnered up with Overland Canyon Tours, who has exclusive access to this particular canyon.  That means that WE are the ONLY ones who get to be in the canyon!  And we get to bring our awesome wildlife with us!!!  How cool is that?!?!?! Our roster for this trip is as follows: 
*mountain lion
*tundra wolf
*red fox
*silver fox
*cross fox
*raccoon (tentative)
*possible mountain lion cub (stay tuned!!!)
Prep has already commenced as these road trips are quite extensive.  We are all looking forward to extending our time in the sunshine in the lovely state of Arizona.  We hope to see many familiar and fresh faces there with us!


We are excited to announce that our annual Spring road trip in April, 2015 will be returning to the amazing red rocks of Hurricane, Utah.  Located just outside of Zion National Park, Hurricane boasts of beautiful red rocks and an amazing southwest landscape.  We are still locking down the details of the trip, so stay tuned for more information!  


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Babies are here!

Well, we've kicked off our baby season with some special additions.  For the first time in Triple D history, we had badger babies born!  Brother and sister, Bridger and Bridgette, our badger babies have been such an amazing experience for us all!  Despite their notorious reputation, these little babies have been the sweetest!  We are so excited to add them to our vast furry, four-legged family!

Bridger & Bridgette; 2 months old
North American badger babies
Image provided by Jeff Wendorff
In addition to our badger babies, we are introducing a very cute & sweet raccoon baby girl, named Prudence.  Also, a cute little grey fox baby is going to be sticking to our permanent roster.  Her name is Ana and she has quite the personality!  (Other babies available for our baby sessions this summer include two coyote pups, four red fox kits, a bobcat kitten, and three Canada lynx kittens.)
Prudence; 2 months old
Raccoon baby
Image provided by Jeff Wendorff 

Ana; 2 months old
Grey Fox baby
Image provided by Jeff Wendorff

As summer officially approaches, we are looking forward to sunshine and wild flowers, lush green and full ponds.  Our Spring has been pretty mild, however.  Mostly sunny skies & high temperatures.  BUT.....This past week has been nothing but rain!  June apparently had some catching up to do and is getting it all in at once!  Thankfully, we were able to complete our last event and ALL of the optional sessions that were requested.  Fingers crossed for great weather this weekend for the official first day of summer!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cortez Bound!

As many of you know, the Triple D and many of our animals travel down south for a change in scenery.  We do this for many reasons, but mainly because the transition from Winter to Spring is less than photogenic.  This year for the first time, we are venturing down to Cortez, CO.  There, we will be staying at the Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch. There is still some lodging available during our event, so book your reservation now!  The lodges are truly amazing!!  Check out their website.

We have also just finalized our species list that will be joining us and a tentative!
Your starting lineup is as follows:

*Mountain Lion
*Tundra Wolf
*Red Fox (+interaction)
*Cross Fox

While my heart always breaks to leave some of the animals at home, I am equally excited to go on another adventure with the animals coming with!  It is always an extremely enriching experience for them to experience a new place, new sights, new sounds, & new smells.  Plus, we'll be in much warmer weather!!!!  (Its currently zero degrees here today! Ick!)  Jay & I took a trip this past fall and scouted potential sites for this event, and we really hope you like them as much as we did!!!  We will be setting up around historical Anasazi ruins and in those ruins, we will be working a mountain lion, a coyote, and a bobcat.  We also have our trademark "jumping mountain lion" site picked out....and those rocks are BIIIIIIIIIIIIG!!!  (Trust me! I had to climb up on top of them just to see if I could do it!.....and I'm afraid of heights!  Nothing like having to face my fears with a mountain lion attached to my wrist by her leash! Go big or go home, right?)  We also have a couple of different pond sites for our grizzly bear and our tiger.  Its going to be eventful & fun-filled!!!

By the end of the month though, we are all excited to go back home to the beauty of the mountains and kick up our feet and relax for a few days.

And then.............our busiest season begins!! Busy baby season!

Anticipated baby species this year are as follows (but not guaranteed):

*Tundra wolf pups
*Coyote pups
*Bobcat kittens
*Siberian lynx kittens
*Red fox kits (including a cross or silver coat)
*Raccoon babies
*Canada lynx kittens
*Otter Pup

We are looking forward to the change in seasons just around the corner.  We love the beauty of our backyard, the beauty of our wildlife, and the beauty that you all capture with these two perfect elements as your subjects.

Don't forget to like us on Facebook!!  Our new official fan page is up!!!!

If anyone would like their images posted on our page, in your own album, please don't hesitate!  We will get that set up for you!  Just send us a message on Facebook or email me at

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Propaganda vs Documentary

If you haven't seen or at least heard of the film "Blackfish" you might be living under a rock.  Or you're just extremely lucky and haven't been burdened by the major controversy surrounding this film.  As a professional animal trainer, I feel very strongly about this film and any like it.  Any time there is negative attention on any animal facility or program, we all feel it.  The negative attention that Sea World has gotten over this film is immense.  I personally have been questioned by friends, family, clients, acquaintances, etc... Before I express my viewpoint concerning the film, I would like to first say that what I write here is strictly MY opinion.  My opinion has been formed based off of my personal 8+ years of working with captive wildlife and from my complete adoration, respect, and absolute love for all animals; big & small, young & old, captive & free, wild & domestic....

"Blackfish" has stirred quite the controversial pot across the globe.  It has created an unattractive to the otherwise adored Sea World.  Many argue that whales do not belong in captivity.  Well, guess what? No animal does!  In a perfect world, all animals would remain in the wild.  But this world is far from perfect.  Animals in captivity will always be.  So our job as the ones responsible for putting them in captivity is to give them the best life imaginable.  In fact, some facilities are so good that they nearly triple the life span of many of these animals.  In captivity there is no threat of poaching, habitat loss, or scarcity of food.  They get the veterinary care they may need.  They get constant mental, emotional, and physical stimulation.  (In some cases, they get more enriching lives in captivity than they would in the wild!) I personally know marine mammal trainers, including killer whales, who believe this same basic principle that I do.  I know some trainers who currently work for Sea World & some who used to work for Sea World, and the consensus is the same; these animals get the utmost care that money can buy.  They are the royalty of the captive animal world.  Sea World is a multi-billion dollar company that has contributed greatly to many different efforts of conservation and preservation to the entire animal kingdom.  They even have a rescue program for dogs and cats & incorporate a show into their theme-park offerings.  Sea World is many times the starting block for people who become inspired to become active in conservation efforts.  So without getting too "involved" with Sea World statistics, I want to make the main point of this blog known:
"Blackfish" not only negatively impacts Sea World, but the entire captive animal industry.

My request is this; if you watch this film, please do so realizing that it IS propaganda.  That there are two sides to this issue.  I will attach a few links to this post for further reading from others directly involved with "Blackfish".

I also welcome any questions, (constructive) comments, inquiries, discussions, etc.... Feel free to contact me through our Triple D facebook page or email me directly at

"Sea World's Response to Blackfish"

"The Other Side of Blackfish"

"A Former SW Employee's Response to Blackfish"

Dawn Brancheau's Family Statement About Blackfish

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Odd Couple

Many of you may have seen books with unique animal bonds.  The most popular book that I have seen is titled, "Unlikely Friendships" by Jennifer S. Holland.  There are even calendars!!  Well, that book sure is cute, but in my personal opinion none of those animals hold a candle to Hershey & Hank! (Of course I'm a little bit biased...)

Hershey came to Triple D at only 2 weeks old.  She met us at our annual road trip in April in Mariposa, CA.  For an entire month, she only knew the care of people.  She loved the attention and knew we loved giving it to her!!
Hershey & Ringo meeting
for the first time
Upon our return back to Montana, I decided to take her home at night in order to further the bond necessary to maintain a safe relationship with a tiger.  I wanted her to see me as "mommy".  Well, I have my own pup at home.  His name is Ringo.  He is a Springer Spaniel.  For Hershey, it was love at first sniff!  For Ringo, well lets just say he is very tolerant....but before you knew it, he looked forward to her cuddles just as much as she looked forward to his.

Cuddle Bugs!
As she grew in size & personality, it started to become more and more difficult to take her home.  Plus I like my carpet & furniture.  So the time came, when I just couldn't take her home anymore.  But she still needed that canine companion.  So I enlisted the help our beloved Hank. (You all know Hank!)  Hank stepped right in.  He was a little rough for her at first.  She was used to a very mellow cuddling dog.  And while Hank loves to cuddle, he REALLY loves to play. Before too long though, Hershey realized that she had found her new best friend!

Hank & Hershey relaxing after
an intense play session
Hank dwarfed Hershey when they first met, but Hershey is now 8 months old and tipping the scales at 110 lbs!  She's growing so fast!  That doesn't deter Hank, however.  He may be afraid of the resident domestic cats, but he's all in when it comes to playing with Hershey. The two of them will romp and romp and romp and romp!!!  Hershey tuckers out first. (Tigers aren't known for their endurance.)  And when she does, Hank cannot wait to take advantage of her vulnerability!!  Being the valiant herding dog that he is, he will nip at her neck and heels to get her going again!  Its quite the scene! They do both eventually tire out and will lay down and rest.

Hank is an amazing training tool here at the Triple D.  When she (or other animals he's helped "raise") get too rough or start getting too "bitey" with me....Hank to the rescue!  He'll come in and nip at her barking!  He's my personal body guard!  Its amazing!

Hank & Hershey romping
around when she was
just 5 months old
People often ask me when I will separate them.  That is a great question actually.  But only Hank knows the answer to that.  There may come a time when he no longer enjoys his Hershey play time because she is too big or too rough.  On the flip side, he may remain the dominant one in their play time and they may be full-contact friends forever.  Regardless of Hank's decision to maintain that full contact or not, he will remain in her life as a protected-contact companion. (Protected contact means that there will be a fence separating Hershey from Hank.) But for now, they get frequent play dates and they absolutely love every moment of it!  We are so lucky to be a part of their beautiful world.

The most amazing friendship to ever form at the Triple D