Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Prairie Dogs

Now, before I say anything about the prairie dogs, I want to emphasize that prairie dogs are wild animals and really do belong in the wild, in a prairie dog town, doing happy prairie dog things.

This is a realization that I had after having my own "pet" prairie dogs. But when I got my first prairie dog, I was just starting college, working at an exotic pet store at the time, and had yet to really grasp the differences between domesticated animals and wild animals (and working at the pet store didn't help at all).

So, for many years, I had prairie dogs: Penny, Humphrey, and Prince. I even spent the money to get them all neutered (Humphrey showing off his shaved belly and his stitches, below).

We were remodeling the house at the time, so I turned one of the hallways into a prairie dog park of sorts.

Prairie dogs mostly eat, sleep, make a lot of noise, and CHEW. Penny really did destroy my homework one time. It was a Japanese class worksheet. My professor (who was Japanese) was very confused when I apologized for the half-eaten assignment by saying "The prairie dog ate it."
Even though the prairie dogs were basically oversized rodents, they loved attention from the dogs, and vice versa. My dog Fel (on the left) and our roommate's dog Taz (on the right) liked to clean them up as if they were little puppies.

All clean...

Little clawed foot in the eye -- ouchie.

Please don't chew on my tail!

I don't recommend prairie dogs as pets, even though I have fond memories of them. They are wild animals, and therefore about as messy, disobedient, and obnoxious as any wild rodent might be when stuck in a house. People who buy prairie dogs as pets usually end up getting rid of them fairly quickly when they find out how much work these little guys require (and how much mess they make!).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

B.J. the baby blue jay

I saved B.J. the baby blue jay from a prowling cat in a neighbor's yard.

After chasing the cat off and collecting the baby bird, I scanned for the nest to see if I could put him back. But the trees in that area were way too tall, and there weren't any bushes nearby.

I decided to take him home because it looked like he only needed a couple more days of flight practice before he'd be able to fend for himself. He already had all his flight feathers; he was just really awkward.

He started out cute enough. But baby birds need to be fed pretty frequently... and baby blue jays SCREAM for food!
Scream scream scream!!

Scream some more!!!!

Your finger looks like a big worm! Scream!!!

When we dropped him in an aquarium full of crickets, his mouth became too full to scream. This was a twice-daily ritual while he was still ground-bound. (He also got mealworms.)

In three days, B.J. had learned to fly and was cruising all over our yard. I stopped feeding him; it was time for him to grow up.

But B.J. was accustomed to being waited on, so he still hung around our house SCREAMING for crickets and mealworms.

When you walked out the back door, there was B.J., sitting on the grill. He'd start screaming as soon as you appeared, and wouldn't let up until you went back inside.

He screamed in your ear while riding on your shoulder.

He screamed at you from the lawn mower handle WHILE you were mowing the lawn.

He even screamed at the dogs while clinging to their backs.

Finally, about a week later, I guess he got the hint: no more handouts! We saw him less and less, and one day he just disappeared altogether.

I hope he found a nice mate and had some lovely children.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My new project: photos

I have a month off between now and my next job, so I've decided to spend some time scanning in old photos. Then I'll share the stories and photos here. You're in for a treat.

No, no, don't run away! It won't be boring. Assuming the following topics intrigue you:

Rescued annoying blue jay
Rescued humping duck
Prairie dogs
Heartwarming tale of my dog rescuing a cat
Mentally impaired lizard
Me attacking Byrd with a rake
Monkeys in Japan

Sounds like good times, huh?

Everyone's sick/injured except me

Dozer has torn his ACL and will need surgery.

Peepers has come down with fowl pox.

My sis is mysteriously ill (probably not swine flu).

Byrd's back is killing him.

His bro has Bell's palsy.

And yet I'm the one with the reputation for falling ill at a moment's notice?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Because I'm small and rather wimpy and I have no sense of space or rhythm, I'm also a klutz. My appendages surrender right-of-way to larger, heavier objects, usually netting me a bruise in the process. My husband bought me a baby-sized hammer and screwdrivers so I could help him remodel; the regular-sized tools are just too hard for me to handle. And I am a walking disaster when holding a leaf rake.

Speaking of leaf rakes, one time I smashed one into Star's face by accident. How was I supposed to know she was going to investigate what I was doing in the shed (trying to extricate the rake from a pile of tools)? The rake popped out suddenly and I was unable to direct its momentum.

But Star took the blow without complaint. No yelp, no bark--she just skipped aside, head tilted as if apologizing for being in the way.

One time I hit Dozer in the nose with a shovel. Again, an accident caused by his ball and my hole being in the same place at the same time.

Dozer took two steps back, shook his head, licked his nose. Then he picked up the ball and dropped it in my hole again, his eyes wide and expectant. Ah ha! You hit me; now you owe me a toss.

I jabbed Star in the eye with my finger.
I tripped over Dozer in the black of the night, waking him from a dead sleep and crushing him.
I rolled my desk chair over Star's ears.
I swatted Dozer on the butt while trying to kill a fly.
I trod over Star's dainty paws as she napped.
I dropped a rake on Dozer's shoulders.
I dropped a huge tree branch on Star's head.

Not to mention the countless nail trimmings that ended badly (hand-eye coordination? not me), the miserable baths, the annoying ear cleanings, the embarrassing vet visits...

I would imagine the dogs to be terrified of my every move by now. I think I would be.

Yet even now Dozer sleeps two inches behind my desk chair. A careless roll backwards--say, if I stood up without looking--would get his tail and possibly a good part of his foot caught up in the wheels. History repeats itself; does he remember the past? Does he care?

Star still runs up to investigate when I'm digging around in the shed. She's never gotten anything good (treats, toys, a new friend) from that shed--only rakes in the face and shovels falling chaotically on top of her. This doesn't seem to deter her in the least. There's eternal, innocent hope in her face as she dashes over to me.

The wild, uncontrollable lashing of the unwinding garden hose sends her into paroxysms of joyous zoomies.

No matter what awful things I do, the dogs never reject me.

Behold the power of forgiveness.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Too much food ahead

My first year of gardening has been a total blast, with an unexpected side effect.

The vegetable garden threatens to overproduce.

The few herbs I've had time to plant are already going bonkers. I have way too much rosemary, thyme, and dill. The basil, which I accidentally beheaded when moving a soaker hose, has rebounded and is making up for lost time with a fury.

And our squash plants, though not ready to harvest, give me a glimpse into a very squashy future. Which is all fine and good if you like squash--and I do--but Byrd despises it. There's no way I'm going to be able to eat all that squash myself.

Further, we've got a cantaloupe vine getting started, and I just planted corn. The following seeds are going into the ground in the next few days: green beans, watermelon, pumpkin, and carrots.

If any of this stuff does as well as the squash, I'm looking at an awful lot of food about two months from now.

And this is on top of the four eggs a day that the chickens provide.

I wonder, can man (or woman) live off of eggs and vegetables alone? It would make for a cheap grocery bill.

But more to the point, what should I do with the extra food?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Collars for the dogs

Star has been living in foster dog hand-me-downs since we got her.

Her classes require a flat buckle collar. The only flat buckle collar I own is so big that I had to use a razor blade to cut a slit in it three inches back from the smallest hole so that I could fasten it through the slit. The entire contraption clearly doesn't fit, and what's worse, it's blood red.

Anyway, I think every dog deserves his or her own collar once they are adopted into a family. So I went looking for a fancy collar for Star.

One thing I am very aware of is how a collar can totally change how people perceive a dog. When we were trying to rehome a big black-and-white pit bull foster named Elvis, people were more willing to pet him when he was wearing a tuxedo collar and bowtie. Felanie became a much cuter dog when I got her a pink leather collar with big silver heart studs. Dozer looks like a "good guy" in his black collar with silver sheriff stars.

And poor Star looks like a neglected stray dog in her oversized, mangled bright red collar.

A quality collar conveys all kinds of meanings, in particular, "This dog means enough to someone that they spent a good bit of a paycheck just to make the dog look nice." That doesn't mean that dogs wearing hand-me-downs aren't just as beloved (we love Star a lot), but I'm talking about first impressions. If I encountered a stray dog wearing a personalized leather collar with rhinestone-encrusted studs, I would assume someone was missing that dog pretty badly.

Some collars, like spiked collars, have varying effects based on what type of dog is wearing it. I discourage people from putting spiked collars on pit bulls and other stereotyped "scary" breeds because in this case the collar is only adding to the fearsomeness. Putting a spiked collar on a Chihuahua or some small dog is likely to garner amusement because of the perceived irony (again, based on stereotype; most people assume the Chihuahua isn't a very fearsome dog--thus, putting a fearsome collar on it is an ironic statement and therefore funny).

At any rate, I went online searching for a quality leather collar with a pretty design. I am drawn strongly to shiny things and badly wanted a rhinestone-coated collar for Star so she would look like a princess... but unfortunately, at the size I need (for a 17" neck) most such collars are thin fabric, designed for the fragile necks of sighthounds. That won't do. Something like that won't stand up to the rough business of dog play and training.

One alternative is a leather collar with embossed designs, or with metal conchos/studs. I chose the latter because metal is still shiny, and there are a wide variety of pretty conchos to choose from.

Having run a website for many years now, I have gotten quite a few suggestions from site visitors as to where to buy a pit bull-appropriate collar. My favorite by far is Paco Collars. There are several reasons for this.

1. The founder owned a pit bull and the company does some nonprofit work for pit bulls.
2. Everything is handmade.
3. The leather comes from a single source and is from beef cows, not leather cows, so unlike many leather products, cows aren't being killed just because my dog needs a collar. They're getting eaten too.
4. The designs are really pretty. Or handsome.
5. The lifetime warranty is a big plus. Dozer's cheap sheriff collar (bought at a mall store) is coming apart after only four years. And Dozer is not a rough-and-tumble dog.
6. When my dog dies, they will remake his/her Paco collar into a bracelet. (Quiet sob.)

Are the collars expensive? Yes. Are they worth it? TOTALLY.

I bought the Alabama because it has wings. Wings, I tell you!! Originally, I planned to give it to Star (because it has stars, too).

But once it came in and I tried it on her, I realized it wasn't going to work. It was too wide (1.5"). You know those "thug" dogs that wear super-wide collars and you wonder how they can even turn their head from side to side because the collar covers their entire neck? Well, this is how the Alabama was on Star. She looked way too thuggish. Not scary, because who's scared of stars with wings? But the width sort of said, "Look at my badass dog that requires a super-wide collar because its neck muscles could snap a regular collar in half." Not the message I wanted to send.

So I gave it to Dozer. He's 85 lbs and has a longer neck, so the collar fit much better proportionally. It doesn't look too wide at all. He looks quite classy, really.

Having figured out where I went wrong, I subsequently ordered the Milan Heart collar for Star. It is a smaller collar (1" wide) and should work better on her short neck and 50 lb body.

Yes, that extra 0.5" of width really does make a big difference!