Rhino. Cheetah. Panda. Bigfoot. Grey wolf. Sasquatch. Snow leopard. The Easter Bunny.
The Santa Barbara Zoo had the community abuzz by teasing its Facebook followers that it had a new animal reveal — with hundreds of guesses flowing in, some more outrageous than others.
On Tuesday morning, the mystery was put to rest.
His name is Bradley, and he’s a 10-month-old English cream golden retriever, destined to become the face of the zoo as its first-ever Ambassador Dog.
The comments came rolling in on that same Facebook page:
“What a cute ambassador Bradley will be!”
“Awwwwww cutie!!! Can’t wait to meet him! Now get a Red Panda!!!”
The panda will have to wait, and so will your opportunity to interact with Bradley, as he is in training for at least the next six months — a process that will be dictated by the puppy, not his trainers.
While not an exotic animal, the decision to utilize a puppy as an ambassador was a calculated one by the zoo, and followed in the footsteps of the Oklahoma and Denver zoos, among others.
“One of our biggest missions here at the zoo is to connect people with animals, and a dog is a really great way to bridge that gap,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s vice president of Animal Care & Health. “The more people care about animals, the more they will stay connected with them into the future, especially in the wild.”
Bradley joined the Santa Barbara Zoo last month, being adopted from a family in Northridge after medical issues created a situation in which they could not care for the puppy.
It ended an exhaustive six-month process of visiting dog rescue facilities, looking for a puppy with the right temperament to handle the distractions that come with being a public figure, including the array of noises around the zoo that could spook other dogs.
Bradley’s training is based on positive reinforcement, providing him treats — he loves peanut butter — for the tasks that he does well and not dwelling on situations where he acts up — or, simply, like a puppy.
“It’s a long process,” said Kristen Wieners, a senior mammal expert with the zoo and one of Bradley’s trainers. “We have to break it up with a lot of play. We have to find that balance between play and work, because he is a puppy.”
And it’s the fact that he is a puppy that Ms. Wieners believes that this process will pay major dividends.
“People can connect more with a domestic animal than, say, an alligator,” Ms. Wieners said. “And if you’re afraid of animals, he’s cute and cuddly and that calms the nerves.”
Nerves are a big obstacle for Bradley himself, particularly getting acclimated with the other animals at the facility — something that has gone quite well to date. Bradley’s demeanor has proven to be calm, not getting overexcited being around numerous different smells and sounds.
Once Bradly is ready, the zoo envisions him not only aiding in zoo operations, but also making his way into the community at local events, building more awareness around pet and animal care all over Santa Barbara County.
He’ll also visit local schools, retirement homes and hospitals, spreading canine love wherever welcome.
“We hope that Bradley will act, in some ways, like an emotional support dog for children coming to the zoo from the community,” Ms. Barnes said. “Not everyone gets to have a cat or a dog at home, so that opportunity to meet Bradley at the zoo gives them a chance to get to know him and care about him.
“It allows them to build that empathy and care about animals into the future.”