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Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World's Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  662 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
An invitation into the magical, grueling, and virtually unknown world of exotic animal training

Behind the imposing gate of the Exotic Animal Training Program at California’s Moorpark College lies a kingdom full of small mysteries, deep passions, and a camel that shoots hoops. Each year a select group of students descends on this teaching zoo to learn an improbable talent
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Viking Adult (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Amy Sutherland tackles an interested subject in this book and succeeds in describing "life" with believable detail but falls somewhat short of the promised "lessons." She refrains from passing judgement of any kind, or really even exploring the issues, of a fairly controversial subject. I would have appreciated some discussion of the ethics of keeping zoo animals as student projects or even some sort of summary of the "lessons" applicable to life in general. Sutherland barely brushes the surface ...more
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
I was drawn to this book by the Op-Ed that Sutherland wrote promoting it when it came out. The piece, titled What Shamu Taught Me About My Marriage, was about applying animal training techniques to humans, specifically her husband.

In the first 100 pages that I was able to read before I completely lost interest, there was very little discussion of animal behavior. The book details life at the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark Community College, but never gets close to any
Sep 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: mark-read
Interesting look at Moorpark College's Exotic Animal Training and Management program. Focuses equally on the people, the program and the animals. I went to a summer camp here in middle school and I only wish I remembered more about it beyond having fun seeing the animals.
G.K. Hansen
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Weirdly sexist, but otherwise good I guess? I wanted more photographs. Narrative pretty hard to follow because there were so many people being written about and it wasn't clearly arced so that they could be followed.
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting look into animal training in general. At times it was difficult to follow because there are so many students, staff and animals but the author did a good job at trying to remind the reader who was who. Overall, it was a good over view of how animal trainers start out. I did wish the delved more into the ethics portion looking at the various opinions among students and staff on reward based training, cages in general, protected contact, etc. This definitely wasn't meant to be tha ...more
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and I learned a lot, but some errors and outdatedness
Jan 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
I can see the point of the people here who have complained that the book lacked focus. Sutherland was faced with a rather difficult situation: She wanted to talk about a place, and to chronicle the inhabitants of that place, both animal and human (or animals, both human and non-, if you prefer). However, there were two many of both ilks to follow in any comprehensible way. So instead she chose the non-traditional route of profiling the place rather than the people. This did mean that characters ...more
Lauren Paprocki
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read the book Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World's Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers by Amy Sutherland. In this novel it describes every aspect of life working at the famous Moorpark Teaching Zoo. In every chapter the book touches on different areas at the zoo and tells numerous memories and stories that different students their have come across. I give this book a 5 star rating because of my passion for animals and how it hides no secrets in sharing hot ruthl ...more
Sep 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Pretty tasty mind candy, especially for me since I consider a fish tank the ideal pet. It seemed like a very good perspective on those, to me, odd folk who are willing to put up with a great deal of crap (in every sense of that word) to be around animals.

The title sums up things pretty nicely. This is NOT a book about animal training, it is a book about the people (and animals) involved in the two-year EATM program at Moorpark college.

I am kinda sensitive to overly dramatic prose, and at times S
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
I am really disappointed by this book. I assumed it would be a memoir written by someone in the exotic animal training field; obviously, I realized immediately this was an incorrect assumption and instead was written by a journalist. No big deal. The big deal occurred when the author repeatedly misused scientific terms and misidentified animal species. I am neither a scientist nor am I in the veterinary or zoological fields; however, I have a knowledge of basic animal species differentiation, an ...more
Dec 19, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: animal lovers
A NYT article about how learning about animal behavior was better than marriage counseling prompted journalist Amy Sutherland to write a whole book about it. A self described animal lover, she spends a year at the exotic animal training college, Moorpark, in CA, following a year of students through the main travails and trials of the year. It is definitely a very interesting book, and you learn all sorts of factoids about animals and get a glimpse into the world of animal training--which one rar ...more
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people obsessed with animals
This book was neither fish nor fowl. The location was very interesting and the stories were crazy and unbelievable. But the decision to follow dozens of students, teachers, and animals made it hard to get connected. I had a lot of trouble remembering who was who, despite the descriptions of "shoulder-length chestnut hair" or "big brown eyes" or whatever. And I still don't know what the hell a cavy is.

I think a strong-handed editor could have helped. Or really, a total reorganization of how the b
Joy H.
ADDED 3/25/16 (first published 2006)

Also see NY TIMES article by the author at:
TITLE OF ARTICLE: "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage"
"The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband."

MY OPINION: This may work
Helen Dunn
Apr 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is my favorite type of nonfiction - getting a good look inside the inner workings of a tiny subculture - in this case, a college program for animal trainers at a California teaching zoo. Unfortunately, I didn't like this particular book very much.

The primary characters (human and animal) all kind of blurred together and it felt like little more than a blow by blow account of daily chores. When dramatic things happen during the course of the school year, it was hard to care because I had no
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was ok

This book was an interesting look at the Moorpark College's animal training program. It follows the students through their joys and failures during the rigorous program. The book was especially interesting to me because of my profession. Working with animals can be one of the toughest yet rewarding fields to be involved in and this book illustrated that well. The writing did get sloppy at time and sometimes the writer used so many names you forgot what animal or person they were referring to. A
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-animal
This was a fabulous book a very different from the usual books on animals that I find myself reading. A great look at the ups and downs of students going through the two year program there. This is not an explanation at how perfect a job with animals is, but a realistic look at the profession, from the low salaries and job shortages to the PETA controversy and the evolution of animal training. A great book for anyone looking to get into the animal field and have yet to be bitten. Because whether ...more
Apr 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Of course this was a book in my mom's library that I read while I was taking care of her exotic animal farm while she was out of town. I'd never heard of this school before my mom told me about this book. Really fascinating. Unlike my mom, I am not at all interested in attending such a school (--my grandma's words: "You couldn't *pay* me to go to such a school."), but I enjoyed reading about it. It was probably more interesting to me because my mom is such an animal person than it would have bee ...more
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals, nonfiction, zoo
A journalist's account of students' first year in the exotic animal training program at Moorpark College in CA. A well done book, it certainly convinced me I should have no regrets in having not tried for this program. It was a great read, but I was disappointed to see how little really happens in the program (though the somewhat sketchy origins, so common in the exotic animal field, are quite interesting). I recommend this to anyone considering an exotic animal career, it totally nails both the ...more
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
For an animal lover, this was a great read! It was really fascinating to learn the ins and outs of training and caring for exotic animals. It's truly quite amazing the things they can do with all sorts of animals that you'd never think could be trained. Not only is it about animals, it's about the students and their experience at this rare zoo school. Did you know that about 95% of movie animal trainers, dog trainers, and other exotic animal trainers have gone to this school? If you've ever wond ...more
Mary Christine Delea
Sep 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals
Well-written and engaging, this book focuses on one year at a school for those who wish to work with animals. The students from this year are a diverse group, which makes the account even more enjoyable, and the reader gets a good sense of each student. The animals, of course, are just as important and just as diverse, and although they are "used" to humans, they are still wild animals. This is a great book for anyone interested in animals and anyone curious about the people who choose to work w ...more
May 05, 2009 rated it liked it
a dollar store find

I picked this book up because when I was a kid working with animals would have been a dream job of mine.

In 'Kicked Bitten and Scratched' journalist Amy Sutherland chronicles the year she spent with students at the grueling exotic animal training program at Moorpark College in CA.

If you are looking for a 'how-to' you won't find it here, but I wasn't expecting it to be one. This is more about the lives of the trainers than the animals. I found it an interesting and entertaining
Apr 20, 2008 rated it liked it
First of all, this book had so many spelling errors 1/2 way through to the end of the adventure that it took away from the reading experience totally. When little errors like missing the 't' in 'student' show up, I get a bit cranky.
Additional spaces with words also bothered me.
The adventure itself was interesting, but I found that for the last 4 chapters of the book that I didn't CARE anymore as to what happened to the students. Poor writing or too long of a book??? Not sure, but I kept going ti
Apr 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this book because of Amy Sutherland's piece in the New York Times about using animal training techniques on her husband ( If you want more like that, don't read this book. If, however, you would like a close-up of the EATM animal training school, a no-romance look at animal training and the hazards (physical, emotional, psychological), this is the book for you. Sutherland give a frank look into what must surely be one of the most stressful educati ...more
Mar 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
I really, really enjoyed this book. Books about the day to day lives of people with weird jobs fascinate me, as does training large and dangerous animals. However, this book is also an example of what happens when publishers cut corners on editing. While the overall story was well done, there were acronyms used randomly with no explanation, names used confusingly, and a few other touches that probably would have been easily remedied by a good editor.

But despite that, I would still highly recomme
May 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
While the subject matter is really interesting, the writing is not so much. I suppose I've been spoiled by some really well-written non-fiction, but this just fell a little flat, like a really long trip report rather than an integrated story. I guess the lesson is, just because it's not fiction, doesn't mean it doesn't need a story. I enjoyed it, but someone less interested in behaviorism, or the logistics of running a zoo, probably wouldn't.
Jun 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
An absorbing account of what it takes to learn how to work with exotic animals. Not the greatest writing style, but the subject matter more than makes up for it.

Being a zookeeper was always my secret dream, but after reading this, I cannot imagine having the dedication to work so many long hours for very little (tangible) reward. It was so interesting to learn what it really takes- I will probably read this book again.
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: true-tales
Sutherland follows one class all the way through their first year at the school. At times it seemed a bit scattered, as she kept tabs on so many different people, plus the animals that all had names and personalities.

Interesting. Gave me some food for thought.Sometimes books like this make me wish I could try it out for myself; this one, not so much. I enjoy having a dog, who probably should be officially trained at some point, but that's about enough for me.
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Supremely entertaining, especially if you know anyone who has worked in the zoo industry... Well-written, moving, and educational. I did wish that she re-stated which animal was which rather than so often using just names, especially in the beginning, or that there was a cast of characters or something... and male readers might wish that she focused slightly less on peoples' outfits and builds, but overall excellent.
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a very enjoyable read - a year in the life of a (the) school for animal trainers, and the students, faculty, and critters that make it up. It read more like a novel than most non-fiction texts.

Of course, with such a large cast, I found myself getting confused ... hmmmm ... "Legend", what breed was he? (She?) Or was it a nickname for one of the teachers? The author did often intersperse a description with the name - too often for some readers, but not quite enough for me!
Mar 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Normally I have a hard time reading books written you journalists. As a journalist myself, we're taught to keep things sweet, short and simple. So when reporters write books, sometimes they just fall so hard on their faces because they ran out of things to write about after chapter 3.
This novel, however, was a masterpiece of description, stories, human emotion and non-stop action! I can't wait to read it again.
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