I was in Mexico for just over two-and-a-half years and never had the chance to get back to Texas for a visit. But when my contract in Mexico ended, I was asked to return to Texas, and I was excited to be reunited with my trainer and animal friends. On my first day back, my supervisor was touring me around the area showing me things that were new and reintroducing me to all the animals. There had been lots of changes, but it felt so familiar and comfortable. As we approached the dolphin habitat, my supervisor began pointing out who was who. Most of the animals were very familiar to me, but they had grown, and it had been more than two years since I had seen them.
As I looked into the water, there were three young dolphins vying for our attention. I did not know them but was learning each of their names when suddenly two larger dolphins swam up from below, displacing the three youngsters. They were Lucky and Hastings! They stared at me, and I stared at them. I wondered if they would remember me after an absence of 31 months. I was so pleased to see them! I looked at my supervisor and asked permission to pet them. He smiled and said, “I think you should do more than that.” I glanced back and both Lucky and Hastings had rolled over and were presenting me with their tails.
I joyfully grabbed their tails and played the tail game, exactly as I had played it on my last day with them several years earlier. My supervisor shook his head and said, “We can continue the tour later, you should stay here. I haven’t seen them play that game since you left.” As he walked away, I welled up with tears. It meant so much to me to be reunited with Lucky and Hastings, my first real teachers. I was happy to be back, and I think Lucky and Hastings felt the same.
I share this story with people whenever they ask me if animals remember their trainers, because there was no question that Lucky and Hastings remembered me. Over the years, I have encountered many examples of the special relationships trainers form with animals, and I have seen it with many different species.