Self Hope For The Helpless !

A Rescue Story

This story is a good news story for the animal, who we have called Diego. He is a bearded dragon, with a story to tell - if only he could speak. Diego was found on the footpath, by the side of a derelict building site locally, eating ants. The person who found him, picked him up and took him to somebody who runs a local rescue centre. She is not the sort of person to turn an animal away and gladly took Diego in, putting him in with her own bearded dragon (who was another rescue animal).

As soon as we heard of Diego's plight through her Facebook page, we offered to rehome the poor lad, as we had two spare vivariums. There is no knowing how long he had been there, or why he was there, but as it was a derelict site and these animals love the warmth of the desert and are not prone to wander from their owners, we can only assume that somebody had dumped him there because they no longer wanted to keep him. Such a shame, because he is a very beautiful and loving critter - we estimate that he had been there for about 2-3 weeks judging by his poor condition (he was very thin, malnourished and dehydrated).

People do not seem to think about what happens after they buy an animal - what it requires to live, how long it will live for and what it will take to care for, they go into things blind and a lot of the time the sales people in the stores are poor (esp in the larger stores). It is not something that is particular to exotic pets either, its the same for rabbits and dogs and cats. So many animals are in rehoming centres like Paula's because their owners no longer want them and it is such a shame.

My advice is when you buy an animal, look up their care first either via the internet or by purchasing a book - find out how they live in the wild, what sort of conditions they need for a good healthy life, what they eat, how big they will grow, how long they live for etc. Then work out whether you really want the commitment that keeping this pet will bring - a bearded dragon can easily live for 15-20 years, they grow rather large, they eat a variety of insects and vegetation (which can cost between £2 and £8 per week depending on your animal), they need a large enclosure (at least 36" x 18" x 18") with thermostatically controlled heating and ultra violet light for 12 hours a day. They need attention too, as they like nothing more than sitting on your lap listening to your voice and watching what you are up to (just watch your dinner;). If you cannot give your animal everything it needs, or afford to keep it then you should not buy it in the first place - this should be the first rule of pet ownership and everybody should obey it, because the consequences of not doing so are awful - it means that more and more animals end up ownerless and powerless over their future in rescue centres all over the world.

As for Diego - he will be fine, and will love the fuss that he will get not only from us as our pet, but also from the adoring hands of children that he meets. We do wish he could talk though, so that he could tell us the story of the 12 months of his life that led up to him ending up as one of our Critterish Allsorts.

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

Spikes Of Beauty

We have recently added a new pet to our family - an African Pygmy Hedgehog. A beautiful animal, with a very cute face, and a lovely nature made even more endearing by their shyness.

They are an unusual pet, but are getting more and more common as time goes by. The African Pygmy Hedgehog comes from northern Africa, and was first domesticated in the late 1980's - that's almost 30 years! I only became aware of them being pets a few months ago. They aren't so much pygmy as a little smaller than the standard european hedgehog, and they come in many different colour variations at a price that is not too reasonable - shop around though and you can get som real bargains!!

"Don't they have fleas?" was the first thing my mother asked, when I broke the news that we had another pet. They don't! Wild ones do, but captive bred domesticated animals are free of these pests. Obviously if another animal in the house gets them, a cat or a dog maybe, then the parasites will latch on to your hedgehog.

As pets, they are fantastic. They make some very strange noises - they "humph" and "pumph" as you disturb them, curling themselves up and making their sharp spines rigid to the touch. Word of warning : handle your hedgehog with care, as the spines are extremely sharp and hurt, so use a towel or glove to handle your animal and avoid injury. This said within about a minute of protesting, your hedgehog will come round and curiosity will get the better of it (if it takes longer than this, then your hedgehog could be stressed or ill) and it will uncurl and begin sniffing. Put it down on the carpet, and let it explore. You need to keep your eye on where your animal is going - as hedgehogs are nocturnal, they will seek out the darkest spot they can find and curl up in!

The spines, like baby teeth will fall out at around 3 months old, and then again a few months later. This is nothing to worry about. They replace their spines like we replace teeth, but they are slightly thinner when they fall out and therefore sharper! Speaking of teeth, hedgehogs have a nice full set of teeth which are rather sharp and when they bite they will latch on! To make them let go, there are a couple of things you can try - blowing a sharp burst of air directly into their face can work, as can dowsing them in cold water.

You can keep a hedgehog indoors in a relatively small cage (36" x 24" x 18"), although some people prefer to go to town. They are very inquisitive and intelligent creatures who need to keep their minds occupied - a tube (old carpet roll), a ball, a toy with a bell in it are all welcomed. At around 3 months of age you can also introduce a large wheel (for rat or chinchilla/degu) to allow your hoglet to exercise - they will walk around 7 miles each night!!! Easy to feed too - they will eat fruit, vegetables, dry cat food (bet quality), wet cat food, minced unseasoned chicken, beef, turkey, mealworms, morioworms, crickets etc - so pretty much anything! Just make sure that you add essentials to their diet like vitamins and essential oils which can be purchased at your local pet store.

With regular handling, your hedgehog will become used to you, used to the sounds and smells of the house, and venture out when you least expect it! They become less "huffy" and more social, and will happily take mealworms from your hand (watch the teeth) and allow you to stroke them without spiking you! This is great and you will very quickly fall in love with your new pet, as they are so adorable. They will be bathed, although they are not too keen on the process, with baby shampoo and warm water, followed by a quick dip in olive oil and warm water to condition the skin - otherwise they suffer with dandruff.

One final thing to tell is that they are easily litter trained - it took 2 days to litter train ours. The secret ? Line the litter tray with soft paper towel, the first time that they poop (which they do a lot), move it and put it in their litter tray. They will associate this then with the toilet, and within 24 hours you will find your hedgehog uses its toilet and nowhere else.

They really are great fun to own, and once you have one you wont look back. Ours is called Pink - because like the singer she has blonde spikey hair and is full of attitude and boy does it suit her!!!!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly August 2010

Let Dreaming Dogs Lie

We all see our dogs, sleeping - snoring, legs twitching, tail wagging, making strange noises. Are they in distress ? Can dogs dream ? If so what are they dreaming about ?

A sleeping dog snores, and appears to dream. They yelp, bark, make strange noises and move around. Sometimes the noises sound quite distressing and can make you feel quite sorry for the animal. When my dog dreams, I want to wake her up and reassure her, give her a cuddle and make her feel better. She sounds so sad and pitiful, and I want her to know that I am here and she is safe. This sounds quite sad really, but we don't know what is going on in their minds.

Research has shown that dogs have similar sleep patterns to humans. It has also found that physically and emotionally, dogs are more similar to humans than they are different. We know that dogs have thoughts, reflexes and memory, but because we don't know what is going on in a dog's mind we can only speculate about what they are dreaming about. All of the listed factors will contribute to a dog's dreams and therefore dog dreams are probably made up of images of everyday life - chasing cats, playing ball, running free off the leash, barking at the postman, eating, water play, interaction with their human friends etc.

A dogs sleep patterns are similar to that of a human - beginning with slow wave sleep, when the body rests and then moving on to REM sleep. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs in humans, and studies have shown that during this stage, a dog's brain wave patterns are much faster, which proves that they are capable of dreaming.

Do dogs have nightmares ? As dogs have memories, then abused dogs may have awful nightmares about the neglect they have suffered in their life - if your dog is from a shelter then the chances are, that it will have nightmares about its past and you may find its sounds when dreaming are slightly more pitiful. If your dog has not been neglected, it may still have nightmares but on a slightly lesser scale, dreaming that it has not had its daily treat, or that another pet is being favored over it - that sort of thing. Regardless, all dogs will dream of fighting with enemies, which could easily be classed as a nightmare.

So should you wake your dreaming dog ? Or is it better to let dreaming dogs lie ? Well the commonest answer to this question is to let them carry on sleeping. By waking them up, you may disturb them more, they may get the idea that you are waking them to play, or they may become aggressive when you wake them (especially if they are having a bad dream - there are reported cases of this). The thing to do is to let them go on sleeping and if they appear stressed or upset, then say their name in a gentle reassuring tone, and then approach them giving them a reassuring stroke. This will not wake them, but merely bring them out of their REM sleep stage gently, allowing them to fall back into it and dream again, but peacefully this time.

We all love and cherish our beautiful companions, and as we would with a partner a gentle reassuring pat or word or two will calm them and bring them into a better plain. So treat your dog as you would your child, husband or wife. I just think it's a shame that they can't wake up and tell us all about it, because it sure would be good to know!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

The Cruelty of The Animal Kingdom

WARNING : Some readers may find this article distressing.

I wrote a poem of the same name, some years ago, after watching a cat stalk and kill a bird in my communal back garden. A normally placid animal, an animal I'd petted and come to know had actually gone and killed a bird, then taking it to a quiet area and doing what animals do. I know that this is the way with animals. Recently, however, I have witnessed another domestic pet do a similar thing. I want to share the story and ask a few questions.

We have been domesticating wild animals for thousands of years. There are now hundreds if not thousands of breeds of cats and dogs all over the world. All with their own traits, but have any of them really lost their wild streak?

Cats kill birds and mice all of the time, my cat recently bought a vole in from . . .somewhere!!! The worst thing is when they are still alive and when released run for their life. We have found dead fledglings in the garden, got at by cats. Our dog has killed a pigeon - how she got it I dont know, but she did, and she killed it. Does this mean that she will do it again? Give her half a chance and I am sure she will.

My wife has recently introduced guinea pigs to our home. Beautiful little creatures, who are quite vocal, very furry and very cute. The dog - if you've read my other articles and poems - you will know was also introduced to the home by my wife. The guinea pigs came afterwards. Just yesterday, my wife came into the house totally distraught, throwing the dog at me by the collar and then running out of the room in tears. The dog had managed to open the guinea pig hutch and take one of the creatures from its cage - whether it had died from fright, or from being mauled, I dont know but unfortunately it was dead.

My wife, and our children were beside themselves with grief, and understandably so. We had become attached and very much in love with our new furry little friends. Understandable then that my wife was so furious at the dog - couldn't even look at her. I do see her point - we had ensured the hutch was safe for the animal, we have shown the dog that it is wrong to stand in front of the cage and taunt the guinea pigs - she is a BIG dog. We felt we had done everything we could to avoid this happening. If this is so then why did we blame ourselves for this incident?

We had had an incident earlier in the day, where the door of the hutch was open, and the dog had her head in. My wife was out and I thought my wife had not done it up properly after feeding, and that the little things had escaped. We found them though safe and well under a piece of newspaper, cowering from the dog. Relieved everything was alright, we sighed and carried on with our day. It now seems that the door did not quite lock properly and had therefore been easy for the dog to open, although not that easy. The dog had realised that there was a way into the cage and persevered until she had gotten in.

It WAS therefore our fault that this horrible sad incident had happened. We had not ensured enough that the cage was safe for our animals. Can we therefore blame our dog, for using her natural instinct to "hunt" and kill other animals? I don't think we can, I think that despite our domestication of animals (all animals) they all retain their natural wild instincts to hunt and kill.

If we just look at cats and dogs. When cats play, they use their claws, as they would in the wild. This can result in tears from children who have been scratched or scared by a cat playing. This happens when dogs play too, but when dogs play they use their mouths - therefore a child who is injured by a dog is injured very badly and the dog is destroyed. Again not the fault of the dog, more the fault of the parents for not ensuring the child is aware of their dog's naturally wild mind. Dogs chase cats - its natural - cats are fascinated by smaller creatures, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice etc and given the chance will use their "hunt" and kill instinct to "play" with the smaller animals.

So what do we do with our dog ? She has now killed a bird and a family pet. Do we have her destroyed ? Is she likely to do it again? If so, should we get her rehomed? Immediately after the incident my wife and children wanted to rehome our dog, but personally I think that was a knee jerk reaction. Is Bella likely to kill again, given the chance, I'd say she would - not because she is a killer dog, or because she is viscious (you have never met a more amiable and friendly animal) but because she is a dog, a natural hunter an ex wild beast retaining her wild traits. I think rehoming is an option, just to save on the stress to our smaller animals and us all should this happen again, but rehoming would mean that we had failed our dog. We took her on as a family pet, to care for no matter what for he rest of her life - by rehoming her we have failed to do this and therefore failed our dog, so can we then call our selves true animal lovers ? Bella looks to us for leadership, guidance, she trusts us to be kind to her and tolook after her - to rehome her would give her feelings of resentment and abandonment, and I would not want to do that to anything or anybody, it would be a crying shame.

I guess we just need to learn the lessons of ths incident. We have a dead family pet, because of our own poor judgement, our under estimation of animal intincts and our dogs natural primitive urges. In future we shall be more cautious when buying cages for animals, ensuring that they are totally dog proof. We shall be more vigilant when the dog is left alone in our garden, ensuring we check on her regularly to be sure that she is not reverting to her primitive behaviours. We shall make it a point to bring her interaction with smaller pets into her training, in order to accustomise her to living with other animals. Although you can never take the primitive urges out of her, we can maybe keep them in the back of her mind so that she does not use them so readily.

If you are going to keep small animals in a household with cats and dogs, then make sure they are kept in a manner that keeps them safe from the natural predators in your home. That way you can enjoy them all without the distress of losing one to the other, because given the chance the predators will always happily display the cruelty of the animal kingdom.

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

Kids And Snakes

We have many pets in our home - some are furry, some are scaly and some are wet. They amount to 35 animals of 7 different species. That's a lot! We decided to make a business out of it, and here is how my first job went.

It was our son's new primary school teacher who suggested it to us, we had not thought of it. As we were having his nursery school interview, he mentioned the animals, and we told her about them all. "You should take them around schools," she said, "We pay £350 for a visit from the animal man!"

Well we love animals, and we love sharing our animals, especially with children. Kids just love critters! So being the enterprising person I am, and having a love for the subject, and needing to make money to support my family - as I am still signed off sick with health problems - I set to work straight away. I enquired about the viability, I looked at other websites selling the service and realised we had the capability between us to do this successfully.

The first thing that I did was to set up a website for the business and get us on line. I used a pricing structure that would undercut all of our competitors and therefore make us more desirable to potential customers. The idea was to bring animals to children - including schools, fairs and fetes, children's birthday parties, special needs, old peoples homes (not children, but something a little different for them) plus my own twist on it - helping those with a fear of animals overcome that fear! That will, I'm sure, in time become our competitive edge. We also need to be insured and checked as safe by the government department responsible for children. All done!

The website launched had a very high visitor rate in the first few hours, and we are now sure that this business will be a hit for us. Many visitors were checking availability and pricing which shows the potential interest in this particular service in our area. Plus we have 3 young children of our own so have experience of children handling animals, and our 3 absolutely adore the animals we have and our youngest wants a tarantula for his 4thbirthday!!!! So they love exotic animals.

Today we went to our local reptile stockist, who help, advise, support and supply us with our more exotic species. We went to pay the final deposit on a new lizard, and an initial deposit on a new snake - the latter as a result of this new venture of ours. We have to pay in installments, as our funds are low and in short supply! Whilst we were there, the proprietor of the business - who knows about our venture - explained that she was about to visit a local school fair with some reptiles for the children there to handle. She was dreading it, and asked given the nature of our new venture, if I would care to come along and help. There was no charge, and therefore no payment - it was completely voluntary. Well, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived at the primary school, to be greeted by an athletic field full of parents, children and teachers, all wondering around various stalls. I spotted my friend at her table, because she had the biggest swarm around her. Smiling I walked over and joined her. The children were all very excited at the arrival of a snake (the corn snake I had put a deposit on about 30 minutes previous) and a lizard - a bearded dragon. Lots of them were asking to hold the snake, so I got him out and began to help the children find a place in their hearts for reptiles.

There was a gaggle of children, asking excitedly if they could hold him, what his name is, how old he was, "Will he eat me" (made me smile) etc. They all had a hold, some had him draped around their neck like a living scarf, then others - shyer children - came along just asking about the snake but clearly nervous. With a little coaxing and gentle words of reassurance they relaxed and petted him. Some would just look, shake their heads when asked if they wanted to touch and run away embarrassed. The amazing thing is though, 5 minutes later they came back and petted him, 5 minutes later they were back again for a hold. They conquered their fear so quickly - amazed that the critters were not slimy, and at how they moved and their beautiful colours.

I had a fantastic time, and the children, parents and teachers loved it to. I felt elated, and satisfied that I had done something really good for the children and for the critters. I know I am going to love this job and get an incredible feeling of satisfaction from it. As we packed up and left, my friend said to me "I can see you are going to be really good at this!" I smiled to myself at the compliment, and I can't wait to get started.

Whoever said "never work with kids and animals" hadn't got a clue, because I can see it is going to be an incredible experience. I can't wait to take animals to people and show them that the animals they fear the most are not threatening, but as with all animals cute, furry, wet or scaly they are to be loved, cherished and admired for what they are - Critterish Allsorts!!

(C) Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010

The Best Pets For Kids

Children love animals, they think that they are cute. Most children like furry animals - such as dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, tarantulas. . . . Tarantulas ? Thats what our 3 year old wants for his birthday! His revelation got me to thinking. What makes the BEST pet for a child ?

Our son loves spiders - small, large, garden, bedroom, bath . . . .he wants to pet them and stroke them. A friend of ours has a son fascinated by snails and slugs - he comes home from school with pocket fulls of them ! Children are great aren't they ?

Personally, I'm a big fan of spiders too - I kept a tarantula for 10 years, and she was fascinating. I saw her eat, I saw her shed her skin (those things in your shed or garage that look like dead spiders are actually spider skins), I saw her spinning webs. As they are so large, you can see everything they do clearly - they are extremely easy to keep, relatively cheap to purchase, fascinating to watch and can live for up to 20 years! Amazing. I obviously, therefore, encouraged our childs enthusiasm to have a spider for his birthday! I think I'm more excited than him, although every day he asks if it's his birthday yet!

This came in a week where we have received 6 new additions to our extended pet family - 4 guinea pigs and two rough green snakes. The reptiles are mine and the mammals my wife's. We already had 17 fish (all in one tank), 2 cats, a dog, a hamster, 2 rabbits, a western hognose snake and a bearded dragon ! With the new additions, that makes 31 pets . . .good job none of them are too much trouble!

I love reptiles and spiders - they absolutely fascinate me. I have wanted a rough green snake ever since I first saw them in a book about 22 years ago! So when I went into my favourite reptile stockists and saw two for sale, I couldn't resist asking to handle them. I fell in love - I didn't mean to come away with them, but I did! After 22 years, it was impossible not to - when the proprietor first handed me one, I was overcome with emotion, holding back the tears I let this beautiful and fascinating creature slide across my hands. Wow!

My wife has always kept guinea pigs. Ever since she was a child - personally I could not see the attraction, and 4 ? Okay so it started as one, as a companion for our male rabbit, which then needed one of its own with it, thus one became two. Then our second rabbit needed a companion (!) - along came number three - but the rabbit did not see eye to eye with the guinea pig (she's grumpy!), and therefore they were seperated. "Can't leave him on his own," said my wife, "they MUST have company!" and so number four arrived. Two males and two females.

I have always had rabbits and think they are lovely, but never had guinea pigs. I now see the attraction! How cute are they ? None aggressive, small, easily handled, and very tame, not to mention easy and cheap to purchase and care for! Perfect. They are my wife's but one by one as they came to our home, our children claimed them. The oldest had a hamster and therefore was not bothered. The middle child named the first guinea pig "Sparkles", but then said she wanted one of her own - number two was called "Wriggles" and our younger daughter has taken ownership. Number three came along and our youngest and I took ownership - I named him "G for the P-I-G" (or G Dude for short). So when number four came along my wife took ownership before she got it home! "Jazz" is "G Dude's" brother and they are living happily together.

Now I am converted, I see exactly what is good about guinea pigs. On top of everything already mentioned, they live a decent amount of time - 6-8 years - compared to say a hamster or mouse (around 2 years). They are beautiful pets, and because they are so easy to handle and have great longevity, they make the perfect pet for your young child. Your child will find them easy to love, to feed, to fuss, to handle, to melt over! For a first pet, you could not choose anything better than a guinea pig - and when your child talks to them, they will chatter back, and that's guaranteed!!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010