One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.



One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

 Plant a tree.  Hug a tree.  Kiss a frog.  Save a toad.

Get your Earth Day groove on!

animal footprints


Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s film, “HOME

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together … all things connect.” —Chief Seattle


Holy Moly Hormones!


“Why is patience so important?”
“Because it makes us pay attention.” 
― Paulo Coelho

These are a few behaviors that parrot guardians often see during The Season of Hormones!

It’s that time of year again! … Spring is here. The hormones have kicked in. Get Ready.

Many of you know the scenario: One day your affectionate parrot is a content, happy member of your family, and the next minute he or she is acting like a psychotic monster attacking everyone and everything! Hormones are on the rise, feathers are flying, and beaks are gnashing!

These Jekyll and Hyde personality changes are often due to “mating” season (AKA Spring to us humans).  Bird hormones tend to kick into high gear as their bodies prepare for ‘breeding season’. Don’t be mad at your feathered friend. They can’t help it, and their behavior only serves a greater purpose for them in the wild: Hormones dictate breeding success in birds.

Some animals produce more offspring than others. Hormones like prolactin and corticosterone can exercise a crucial influence on the behaviour of birds in the breeding season and therefore on their reproductive success. ~ Princeton University researchers

In the world of birds, the arrival of Spring means one very important thing: it’s time to get their bird breeding on!  Mating is how their species survives!  So strap on your patience pants, and maybe a harness for yourself, because this is most likely going to be a bumpy ride!

For many parrot guardians this is a very trying time of year. Here’s are two things that you can do to get through this without losing your mind – or a finger: be patient and compassionate.  This is a difficult time for your feathered friend as well.  Their hormones are changing to prepare for breeding. This affects their bodies, and their moods. Remember how awful your hormonal years were?? These changes can make them more irritable. You can expect more screaming, biting, more destruction, and more unpredictable mood swings. Again, you must be patient; this won’t last forever.  It will get better if you know how to help them.

Read on to discover some of the common signs of hormonal behavior in birds, and how to help your feathered friend cope with these hormone surges, so you can have a safer, healthier home environment.

It’s very important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a hormonal parrot, so we don’t merely label them as “crazy” or “mean”. Remember that every behavior serves a purpose to that animal.  It’s up to us as their guardians to be the detective and help them cope in our human world.

What To Look For:

• Eye pinning (pupils dilating and constricting)
• Wing flapping
• Tail fanning
• Trembling, with wings dropped low in a ‘begging’ posture (he/she is asking you to feed him as a mate)
• Panting when touched outside of the head and neck area
• Regurgitating for you or for his/her toys
• Increased appetite
• Lifting the vent while cuddling (if female)
• Mounting your hand by gripping your thumb (if male)
• Head-bobbing, hopping/bouncing, or making ‘heart wings’ for you
• Plucking or barbering feathers
• Territoriality over the cage, room, you, or a family member
• Excess aggression; including biting, screaming, and beak-bashing

Hormones (triggered by weather changes, increased daylight hours and a variety of other factors) start coursing through the blood stream bringing about chemical changes in the body and some pretty odd behaviors.

Other companion Bird Hormone Surge signs to be aware of:

Note: Depending on the species, age, and individual animal, nesting behavior can last from a couple of weeks to a month or more.


If you are seeing any of these behaviors, read on to learn a few tips to help a hormonally charged bird:

  • Gently avoid encouraging amorous advances from your feathered friend.
  • Be more aware of your bird’s body language; aggression can be avoided if you are paying attention to their signals.


Please note: “Serious physical and psychological problems can develop if pet birds remain in reproductive hormone behavior for prolonged periods. Such birds are considered to be in chronic reproductive status (CRS), and owners should seek the assistance of their avian veterinarian and/or a parrot behavior consultant to help resolve this situation.”



Sited Sources:


Cat Agility Is Here To Stay!


The only difference between your abilities and others is the ability to put yourself in their shoes and actually try. ― Leonardo Ruiz

The world is full of crazy people doing crazy cool things, so it takes a lot to impress me these days, but a young girl from the Czech Republic has trained her cat, Suki, to do agility.  So have many others.  Yes, you read that right: Cats are now doing agility.  The sport no longer belongs to just dogs.

If you haven’t heard about dog agility, then you are missing out on some pretty amazing dog and handler skills.  My dog Hocus Pocus and I absolutely love to do agility together!  Nothing has strengthened our bond more.  We are not experts by any means, but we do have a blast, and I discovered that she is incredibly skilled at this sport.  Dog agility competitions are so much fun! Dogs soar through the complex obstacle courses with determination and speed.  Now, just imagine a cat doing that.

Well, they can and they DO!  Most people (even the most loving cat guardians) don’t realize that cats are easily trainable.  If you have a cat that is willing to follow a dancing feather toy, or favorite food treat anywhere, then you have the tools to begin cat agility!

cat tricks cat agility training

The videos below show cat agility in action.  It’s amazing not only because cats are doing agility – quite well I must say – but it’s so inspiring to clearly see the bond that the cat and the person share together.  This makes my heart sing, because it’s what I strive to teach young people; that they are capable of doing this and more with their feline companion!

Watch the 16 month young Suki’s agility in action, and performing cat “tricks” with her person! What a team!

suki the agility cat


Suki the cat at 8 months young and her person run the homemade agility course together:

You can view more of their happiness here.

Young people are practicing and perfecting cat agility in their homes all around the world.  This young man has taught his cat, Cashmere, to rebound off of walls, all through the use of clicker training!  Check out Cashmere and Puff!

cat agility

Feline agility competitions have rapidly grown in popularity all around the world.  The Cat Fancy Association started agility competitions in 2004, and other clubs have “jumped” at agility courses! The International Cat Agility Tournament is another example.  The first agility competition was held in Portland, Oregon as part of the Oregon Cats show.  It was titled, “Let the Cats Entertain You”.  Forty-five cats entered. Some were pedigreed and some were moggies! They ranged from kittens to adults!

You can find upcoming cat agility shows (where you can enter your cat, or just watch the event) on the CFA cat show schedule and here.  You can see a video of a kitten in training for the CFA Feline Agility here.

cat agility

With the insight and right tools, you can train your feline friend to do all of this!  Once you begin training your cat, you will interact in ways you never thought possible.  It’s really quite easy, and it’s FUN for both you and your feline friend!  Clicker training is how you can do it!


 If you can dream it, you can do it. ― Helen Keller

That Guilty Look


 “Calvin : There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.” 
― Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

guilty dog_dog shaming


Common Myth: When our pups puts on that doleful, guilty look, they must be guilty of something, right? He/she clearly feels bad for doing something wrong.

TRUTH: Your dog knows you are angry or upset and is using that particular body posture in their attempt of using dog language to get you to calm down and avoid any punishment from you.


The Science-Based Truth Behind That Guilty Expression:

Nearly 75 percent of dog guardians believe that their dogs experience guilt. Just watch Denver Dog, as he is presumed to feel very guilty in this video. It’s a natural tendency for us to interpret animal behavior in our human terms, but when we anthropomorphize (compare animal behavior to human behavior) we can overlook what is really happening.  Guilt is a human emotion.  Humans often project this guilt onto their animal companions.

Dog guardians observe particular behaviors: “avoiding eye contact, lying down and rolling to the side or onto the back, dropping the tail, wagging low and quickly, holding one’s ears down or head down, moving away from the owner, raising a paw and licking” – and owners believe these behaviors correspond with a dog’s feeling of guilty.  However, these are normal and very common dog behaviors that dogs display with each other, depending on the circumstances. These displays are called “appeasement behaviors” – behavior that inhibits or neutralizes aggression in a behavioral partner.


When a dog owner reprimands their dog, especially with loud, deep tones, the dog will attempt to calm the aggressive behavior of the owner (note: aggressive does not necessarily mean violent) with appeasement gestures: lowered head, ears, tail and body and squinty eyes. To the owner, this looks “guilty.”

In reality, the dog is only reacting to the behavior of the owner in the present moment and not associating the owner’s behavior with the actions of the dog that occurred hours before. The owner, however, is gratified by the dog’s appeasement gestures, taking it as evidence that the dog has learned he’s “bad.” ~ 4Paws University


dog guilt _dog shaming _Guilty dog

Denver the dog is displaying appeasement behaviors to his human. This does not equate to proof that Denver feels “guilty”.

“In wolves, guilt-related behaviors are believed to reinforce social bonds, as in primates, by reducing conflict and eliciting tolerance from other members of the social group. The same could be true of dogs, though their social groups would primarily include humans. Submission serves to keep a social group together, to foster group cohesion.”


The “guilty look” — head cowered, ears back, eyes droopy — is a reaction to the minor (or major) tantrum you are now having over the damage fido did hours earlier. They are not making the connection that you must be upset because of that poop they dropped on the rug, or the shoe they chewed that you left out. They only know you are upset about something, so they are doing what dogs do best to appease each other through nonthreatening body language.

The dog’s guilty look is a response to the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily indicative of any appreciation of its own misdeeds.

A study discovered that the “guilty” look people claim to see in their companion animal is directly related to whether or not the person expected to see the look, regardless of whether or not the dog had actually done something to be “guilty” about.  When a dog looks guilty it is because they are reacting to a change in our body language that tells them something is wrong.   This leads to a dog’s body language that appears worried or nervous to us.  In reality the dog has learned to exhibit these behaviors in order to appease humans who display angry or upset body language.  Details of the research studies are here and here.

Unless your dog has been going to canine church behind your back, and has been taught to feel guilty for moral or religious reasons, it’s safe to assume that they are not actually feeling guilty; they are using their canine senses and behavior to carefully appease your anger.

paw print

 You can learn more about this subject from dog behaviorists, and read their take on it here and here.

Learn more common myths and truths about dog behavior in Decoding Your Dog, a new book from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi.

Myths About Dog Behavior

Myths About Dog Behavior


Scientific American


Of Wolves and Women



wolf and woman artwork

I came across a poem today. The words and images moved me to tears, each time I watched this video. May it touch your soul as well.

Video excerpt from Living with Wolves and Wolves at our Door

wolf and woman

“A healthy woman is much like a wolf – strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, intuitive and loyal. Yet separation from her wildish nature causes a woman to become meager, anxious, and fearful.

With the wild nature as ally and teacher, we see not through two eyes only, but through the many eyes of intuition. With intuition we are like the starry night, we gaze at the world through a thousand eyes. The wild nature carries the medicine for all things.

She carries stories, dreams, words and songs. She carries everything a woman needs to be and know. She is the essence of the female soul.

It does not mean to lose one’s primary socializations. It means quite the opposite. The wild nature has a vast integrity to it. It means to establish territory, to find one’s pack, to be in one’s body with certainty and pride, to speak and act in one’s behalf, to be alert, and to find what one belongs to. It means to rise with dignity, to proceed as a powerful being who is friendly but never tame.

The Wild Woman is the one who thunders in the face of injustice. She is the one who keeps a woman going when she thinks she’s done for.

She is intuition, far-seer, deep listener, and she is loyal heart. She thrives on fresh site, and self-integrity.

Where can you find her? She walks in the deserts, cities, woods, oceans, and in the mountain of solitude. She lives in women everywhere; in castles with queens, in the boardrooms, in the penthouse, and on the night bus to Brownsville.

Whether you are possessed of a simple heart or the ambitious, whether you are trying to make it to the top or just make it through tomorrow, the wild nature belongs to you.

She lives in a faraway place that breaks through to our world. She lives in the past and is summoned by us. She is in the present. She is in the future and walks backward in time to find us now.

Without us, Wild Woman dies. Without Wild Woman, we die. Para Vida, for true life, both must live.”

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D

wolves and women woman and wolf


Boredom Busters!


boredom busters

Rainy days and Mondays don’t have to get them down! There is always something that we can do as pet guardians to help our animals when they are bored, frightened, or frustrated.

There is a very popular homemade game that dog guardians have been playing with their dogs for years, and now you get to play along too!

Here is what you need to do: Get a 6 muffin tin and put their favorite treat or food in each cup. Place tennis balls in about half the cups. Once the animal sniffs out the uncovered treats, s/he usually figures out that removing the tennis balls reveals more tasty goodies. This game uses at least two of an animal’s senses – sight and smell – and it’s mentally challenging!

Watch these dogs learn how the game works in the videos below.


NOTE: This game was created for dogs of all ages (puppies, adult dogs, and even geriatric dogs!), but it can be modified for ferrets, horses, cats, pigs and parrots!

Once the animal gets the idea and is performing well at the game, you can start hiding treats under only some of the tennis balls, and use a 12 muffin or 24 muffin tin.  Increase the difficulty to keep their brains working!

A bonus to this homemade game is that it’s also great for helping shy animals to increase their confidence. It can also help distract an animal to focus on something exciting and fun when you leave the house, or if they are afraid of storms, or new guests in your home.  It is also a great tool for shelter animals in kennels. This is a great tool to help alleviate boredom. This game also helps them to practicing their hunting or foraging skills, while increasing the bond between you and your animal companion!

paw print

Game Tip: If your pet is shy, confused, or uninterested, be sure to encourage him/her as they approach the tin. Make it a huge success each time they discover the hidden treat! Be their biggest fan when they succeed!

Safety Tip: If your animal starts to toss the tin around, you can attached the muffin tin to a large piece of plywood to anchor it.

Toy Tip: If you have a very small dog, look for tiny tennis balls or golf balls. Cats will play with ping pong balls and golf balls.

paw print

Kitty Tip:  Most cats will play the game for their regular food, and even fresh catnip!

Parrot Tip: Use walnuts, pecans, or other assorted nuts that they rarely have access to. They will quickly learn to love this game!

Ferret Tip:  Use their regular diet, or for a special treat use cooked egg whites, cooked yolks, or dried muscle/organ meat.


What kind of boredom buster games do you play with your animals at home? Please share with us!

Snakelessness in Ireland


Snakelessness in Ireland

One side of my family’s heritage is Irish and Welsh, so Saint Patrick’s Day is always quite amusing to me. The image above pretty much sums up the silliness of many myths and legends that have been created around this famous day of celebration around the world. So I thought I would share some insight into where this one came from!

Monday’s Misperception:
Saint Patrick banished all of the snakes from Ireland.

Legend states that Saint Patrick, the Christian missionary, rid the scaly, slithering reptiles from Ireland’s icy shores by chasing the snakes into the sea after they began attacking him during a 40-day fast that he had on the top of a hill, just around the time that he had converted the Irish people from paganism to Christianity during the fifth century A.D.


Yes, it’s true that snakes do not inhabit the island of Ireland today, but they never did.  Ireland is surrounded by freezing ocean waters. These icy waters are way too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Great Britain or anywhere else around the Irish island. Turns out we can blame the Ice Age, not St. Patrick for the lack of snakes on the green isle.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig (Saint Patrick’s Day) is a religious holiday in Ireland, that happens each year on March 17th. They celebrate the patron saint of Ireland – Patrick, who lived in the beginning of the 5th century AD. Saint Patrick is the most recognized Irish saint, however, the real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish!   Lá Fhéile Pádraig began as a Catholic holiday and became an official feast day in the early 17th century. Today Lá Fhéile Pádraig represents a week-long (and sometimes longer) celebration of Irish language, music, culture and art.

Learn more about the truths of St. Patrick Day here and HERE!

Have a wonderful day, filled with ♣IRISH♣ luck!!!

Carnival Goes to the Dogs!


Barkus Buddies

It’s carnival time!   The parades have started rolling, the king cake is being consumed, people are celebrating, and the carnival krewes are in full swing! (A “krewe” is the term for a Mardi Gras organization.)  This is the time of year that I miss New Orleans most.  The elaborate floats, endless parades, Cajun cuisine, and festive folks gathering together in costume, and celebrating such a unique, rich culture is always feast for the senses.  This is one of the reasons that I loved living in Louisiana and New Orleans for nearly twenty years.

Every year, one Mardi Gras parade stands out above the rest.  It is one of my favorite parades, and one of the most famous parades during carnival season.  In this parade, the krewe’s royalty take slobbering and wet kisses to a whole new level, and sniffing a derrière is a completely acceptable form of greeting a stranger.  This parade is unlike no other because the king and queen are canines.

This all canine krewe – except for a few felines, and a miniature horse or two – makes up The Mystic Krewe of Barkus.  This year Barkus rolled through the French Quarter with the theme DOGZILLA – Barkus Licks the Crescent City.

The 2014 Barkus poster: Dogzilla | Barkus Licks the Crescent City

The 2014 Barkus poster: Dogzilla | Barkus Licks the Crescent City

Barkus is a play on words and a reference to the Krewe of Bacchus, an extravagant parade named after the Roman god of wine that rolls a week later.  The Annual parade has had 21 themes since its  birth in 1992, including The Wizard of Paws, Jurassic Bark, and Tails from the Crypt, to name just a few. Membership in the Barkus parade krewe is open to all canines – regardless of their past.

The Krewe of Barkus Route through the French Quarter

The Krewe of Barkus Route through the French Quarter

Each year during Mardi Gras season, on a Sunday afternoon two weeks before Fat Tuesday, canines in costume sniff their way through the streets of the French Quarter, dragging their humans -often dressed in matching costumes- behind them.  The human entourage tosses beads to the family friendly crowds that line the streets along the route and of course dog biscuits to canine bystanders.  Every year the parade begins at Armstrong Park where costumed the canines strut and sniff their way down the traditional 15-block route through the Vieux Carré.  The parade stops at the VIP Reviewing Stand at Good Friends Bar, where they toast the Royal Canine Court.

This famous parade incorporates music from many local bands including New Wave Brass Band – a supergroup with members from Rebirth Brass Band,  Bonerama, and the amazing Roots of Music!  If you would like to see a portion of the parade, you can view it here.

Just like every parade during Mardi Gras, there is a king and a queen, excepet this parade’s king and queen are canines!  You might be wondering how they decide who they luck pups are.  Well, usually the king ascends through the ranks, usually after being a grand marshall or a duke in Barkus parades years prior.  The Queen is selected by a secret ballot and announced only weeks before the parade.  This lucky canine queen is always a rescued or an adopted female dog.  This year, “Dirk” is the king and Queen Barbie is the queen!  Check out their rescue stories below.


Dirk’s rescue story:

Dirk he was left in a small cat carrier outside the Jeff Parish Animal Shelter on New Year’s Eve. He spent the night in that kennel in the rain and freezing temps, with the fireworks popping all around him. The staff found him when they arrived on New Year’s Day. He was emaciated, soaking wet and shivering in the back of his kennel. With lots of love and attention, he has blossomed in to the perfect pet. He loves dogs, cats, kids, humans and chickens. Dirk gets along with everyone and everything (not your typical chihuahua scared personality).



Barbie’s rescue story:

In September 2012, the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter received a routine call for a stray dog pick up in Westwego. When the officer Brad Naquin arrived on scene, he was greeted by a petite, blue, female pit bull terrier that was literally missing her face. Her muzzle had been shredded and her emaciated body was battered with scars from repeated dog fights. ….. When Barbie arrived to the shelter, her injuries horrified us but we were awestruck by her outgoing, sweet, and mighty mouse type personality. Barbie had no reservations about trusting anyone. She was, in fact, inviting and engaging. She was either not ashamed or unaware of how she looked and whatever pain she may have been feeling, she wasn’t going to let that be the deterrent in making new friends. She even struck poses for the photographer, reveling in this newfound positive attention. ….

Her miraculous recovery began when the heroic staff at Southern Animal Foundation offered to take Barbie under their wing and thus her long, journey of surgeries, heartworm treatment, and healing began. The results post each surgical procedure were remarkable. Barbie was a canine plastic surgery phenomenon. After several months, Barbie’s broken face was restored, piece by piece. Her transformation exceeded all expectations. And during her journey, the heart of this dog was renewed.

Barbie is a survivalist. What she has experienced in her short life and the dog she has become as a result of her trials and tribulations is a marvel to us in the animal sheltering and rescue world.  Barbie has been searching for her final wish to come true for quite some time: her own happy ending with a family. She is a charming, happy go lucky, bundle of child like curiosity. A wide eyed wonder intrigued by all things new and all things good. She is playful, can’t get enough of playing with tennis balls, and to date, has never met a stranger, despite her savage betrayal by mankind.  Barbie also holds no grudges towards her fellow canines and gets along effortlessly with dogs which impresses us immeasurably.    Read the rest of Barbie’s amazing and inspiring rescue story HERE. 

Barkus Bites!

  • The King ascends through the ranks,usually after being a duke or grand marshall.
  • The Queen is selected by secret ballot and announced only weeks before the parade, and is always a rescued or adopted female dog.
  • Every year the Krewe of Barkus donates the proceeds of the parade registration fees, merchandise sales, and ball profits to worthy animal welfare groups.
  • Barkus is the dog equivalent of the Bacchus parade.

Previous Year’s King and Queens

Last Year's Barkus Theme: Tails and Tiaras

Last Year’s Barkus Theme: Tails and Tiaras

  • Last year’s theme was  “Tails and Tiaras: Here Comes Honey Bow Wow!”.
  • Last year’s king was Jacques Miller Wallis.  King Jacques even has his own twitter account, where he describes himself as “King Barkus MMXIII, Lover of all things New Orleans, especially Mardi Gras, oysters, jazz ,dining al fresco, and Audubon Park.
  • Last year’s queen was the rescued Great Dane, Hattie, who reigned over New Orleans’ Barkus parade. Learn more about the beautiful Queen Hattie here!
  • King Jacques Miller Wallis and Queen Hattie Warner had a pre-parade feast in the French Quarter at Galatoire’s, the grand dame of New Orleans’ historic restaurants.   View their canine royal feast!


Reviewing Stand at Good Friends Bar, where they toast the Royal Canine Court

Reviewing Stand at Good Friends Bar, where they toast the Royal Canine Court

The Krewe of Barkus is a non-profit organization founded by Wood Enterprises and they love to give back to the animals.  All of the proceeds from parade registration fees, merchandise sales, and the Barkus ball profits are sent to worthy animal welfare groups and homeless animals.  The Barkus mission is to develop, foster, and promote programs to benefit abused, neglected, and homeless animals, as well as promote responsible pet ownership with public education.

If you do decide to make the trip down to the Crescent City for Mardi Gras, skip Bourbon Street and the other tourist traps.  Go to the parades, celebrate  the carnival season with the locals, and most importantly see the dogs on parade while supporting a wonderful cause for animals.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!!!


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The Krewe of Barkus & Meoux Pet Parade: “Stars, Guitars & Animals from Mars” is another popular pet parade in Shreveport, Louisiana.


You can view pics from last year’s parade here.

paw print

Photos courtesy Lake Charles & Southwest Louisiana C.V.B. and WDSU.

Thank Them for Showing Up


bonding with your dog

He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader.  He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.  You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion. ~ Unknown Author

Last night while most of the world watched the Olympics, I was wide-eyed, giddy, and on the edge of my seat watching the Westminster’s Masters Agility Championship live from New York.  Yeah, I know, it sounds riveting. Let me explain.

For the first time in its 138-year history, the famous Westminster Kennel Club allowed mixed-breed dogs to compete in a brand new competition called the Masters Agility Championship. For nearly 140 years, the Westminster Kennel Club has closed its doors to mixed breeds, known as “All American dogs”, focusing only on the conformation, physical abilities, and skill of only purebred dogs.  This inclusion allowed dog guardians from all over the world to show that everyday dogs can go nose-to-nose with their purebred peers.

I, along with many others felt that this was a huge step in the right direction of celebrating and recognizing all dogs, regardless of their pedigree.  Many of these high-spirited, high energy dogs are all too often dropped off at shelters by people who just don’t know how to deal with their energy and enthusiasm. So it really was such a joy and pleasure to see the All American Dogs go paw to paw with the purebreds.

Reese, a four year young Papillon from North Carolina, is a great example of what this new sort of competition means. Reese was surrendered to a rescue organization as a puppy because his original owner thought he had too much energy. His new owner is an X-ray technician who doubles as Reese’s handler.  They found a way to channel his energy by working with a qualified trainer, and Reese now competes in trials about twice a month.  He even became a bit of a celebrity last week when The Charlotte Observer published an article about his appearance at Westminster.  Another “All American Dog” named Emma is one more example of an incredible but true, underdog success story. Emma went from doggie death row to Westminster row!  Emma was abandoned, found and taken to a 48 hour high-kill shelter, rescued, and then three years later, Emma was chosen to compete at Westminster!

As cool as all of that is, something else really moved me. Even with all the pressures of being at the very first Westminster agility championship, and being live on international television, the handlers (trainers of the dogs) praised the heck out of their dog at the end of each agility run, no matter how well or how poorly their dog did.  Even if the dog stopped on the course, refused an obstacle, or performed less than desirable in any way, the handler treated the dog as if they had won best in show. It moved me to tears to see that kind of love, loyalty, and support from a dog trainer toward their beloved canine companion while under such pressure.

Let’s back up here for a bit so you can really understand why this is So Huge, and such an act of love and devotion.  These expert handlers and dogs practice for hours on end, for weeks and months at a time to perfect these obstacles on the agility course.  Many have been practicing agility training for decades, and some for only a few years.  Regardless of how long they have been working together to master the obstacle course, they train day in and day out to get it right.  The handlers and dogs go through rigorous (but fun) training to get to where they are so they can compete with the best of the best at the Westminster Agility Trials.  About 225 dogs, including 15 mixed breeds, were entered in Saturday’s agility drills.  They are given a map of the course to review (the people, not the dogs) and then they are expected to perform at their very best, having never run on this course before.  Yesterday each dog and their handler took the ring twice for qualifying rounds, with the best performers moving to the championship round. The dogs, representing 63 breeds from 23 states, were randomly selected from a pool of 653 entrants. Eventually they are narrowed down to 50, and then as more are eliminated, the best of the best get their Game On.

Our dog, Hocus Pocus, and I are very new to the agility world. We started agility training in September of last year.  I had no idea the bond that it would create between us, how much we would both love doing it, how amazing of a team we were together, and how additive it is!  Once a week for an hour and a half we were both pushed to the max both physically and mentally. I always knew that training can be stressful for all animals, but during our agility training together is when I really started to understand and appreciate the phrase “learning can be very stressful” for you and the animal that you are training.

So when I watched the agility trails last night I was so amazed when I saw the love, pride, and joy in the faces of the handlers after the dogs finished the course, no matter how poorly or well they or their dogs did.  They weren’t frustrated or angry. They were genuinely proud of the dog and they celebrated their dog’s success of just showing up and trying their best!  They didn’t get mad or frustrated with themselves or the dog for making mistakes! They went with whatever happened, and not only accepted it, but also celebrated at the end, no matter what it meant! I was amazed at how genuinely happy they were and how much they lavished their dog with love and praise, even when the dog or the handler totally screwed up! It was a tough course and one that really challenged some of the best agility dogs in the world, but the dogs and trainers showed up and gave it 110 percent.

I could see this happening and I appreciated it because I knew the feeling. I knew what it was like to try so hard and want yourself and your dog to succeed. Every night that Hocus and I went to agility I was nervous. I wanted to have my timing right for her, because she is a wicked fast learner, so I knew that if I was tired or distracted, her results would suffer because of me.  Before we went into class I would affirm that I wasn’t going to forget the cues, and I was going to do it right this time, for her. But the most important thing that I would remember was to say to her, “No matter what happens tonight I am so proud of you. You make me so proud every day. I love you. Now let’s go have some fun.”

Last night while watching the Westminster Agility Championship I was so moved to see every one of the remaining competitors give their dog the same love and respect that I gave to Hocus before every practice session.  I really hadn’t expected to see a world famous competetion.   I figured that if I could be stressed and nervous before agility practice with no one there, they had to be out of their minds stressed beyond belief!  I know that the handlers were stressed, anxious, and nervous. I know those dogs felt their anxiety, nervousness, and tension, but they ran the difficult and complicated course, accepted the mishaps and mistakes, and still celebrated their dog at the end. It was truly amazing.

This is what competition is all about. Showing up, having fun, accepting the results, and praising your partner!  It’s not about the outcome, the finish line, the well behaved moments, the perfect timing, the correct cues and behaviors. It’s about the connection you have together. It’s about them trying. It’s about you trying. It’s about knowing you can lose, but giving 100 percent anyway. It’s about the bond you are strengthening. It’s about just showing up.  That’s all that either of you have to do; just show up. Smile. Breathe. Just get out there. Have fun with your dog.  Because that’s all your dog wants from you. And thank them for just showing up.

westminster dog agility  (16)

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Purebred and mixed-breed dogs show off their grace and skills in the Westminster Kennel Club’s first agility competition.  Handlers raced against the clock while directing their dogs through a complicated obstacle course with tunnels, jumps, weave poles, teeter-totters, A-frames and dog walks.  Instead of being judged on appearance and temperament, they earn points for their speed, jumps, and turns through the obstacles.  

You can view some footage of the day trials in the video below. 


Note: This video was not footage of the final agility contestants. Video of the finals was on FOX Sports 1 last night. It was an incredible LIVE premiere of the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster in New York.  If you missed it, check your local listings as it’s scheduled to replay again a few times this week! It was amazing!

Agility, particularly is exciting for spectators and for the dogs themselves, as that it’s a race over a number of obstacles and it gets great fan support and, in fact, is the fastest growing area of the dog world in terms of events. ~ Sean McCarthy, President, Westminster Kennel Club

“You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a dog for it to surpass your wildest dreams.”

If you want to learn more about the Westminster Dog Agility Championship trials, you can:

  • Follow them on Facebook here
  • Visit their website here:
  • See pics on their Instagram page here.
Hocus Pocus and me at Agility Training here in NC

Hocus Pocus and me at agility training here in NC

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. ~Roger Caras



In every community, there is work to be done.
In every nation, there are wounds to heal.
In every heart, there is the power to do it.
― Marianne Williamson

The Taliban have resisted infidel dogs that have been in Afghanistan for years.  Now they have caught one.  His name is “Colonel”.

A Taliban militants group in Afghanistan used their Taliban Twitter account to share video footage of a dog, who they claim belongs to the U.S. military.  Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban group spokesman made a statement claiming that the dog was captured with weapons during an attack by the Taliban fighters in eastern Laghman province of Afghanistan.  Their statement added that six U.S. troops were killed during the attack.  This all happened in Alingar district of Laghman province around Christmas of 2013.  Their statement also said that the military dog was equipped with different types of electronic equipment, and they believe that the dog is very important to U.S. forces because they (supposedly) launched an operation to recover the dog.  A spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance force in Kabul said, “We are aware of the video. However, we have no operational reporting to confirm it.”

You can click on the image below to see a video released by the Taliban’s cultural arm, al-Emara, showing off the spoils of war.


Click on image to see FULL video.

“This dog was named after a colonel. It had a torch on it and its neck wore a GPS.” ~ Taliban fighter

Although this is not the first canine P.O.W., this is the first U.S. canine P.O.W.  Four years ago, an Australian bomb-sniffing dog was lost in Afghanistan, and then adopted by a Taliban leader who tried to sell her back.  Sabi, a black Labrador, was also lost, but eventually recovered by an American Special Forces soldier who retrieved her from an unnamed man in northeastern Oruzgan.  Dogs have been widely used in Afghanistan by western forces to sniff out buried bombs and hidden narcotics, as well as help search residents’ homes.  The dogs usually stay close to the men and women soldiers who manage them, but they can occasionally be separated by a heavy gun battle, or a large bomb.

An experienced dog handler who has worked in Afghanistan said it appeared to be a Belgian shepherd, a breed popular with soldiers because of its ability to work for hours without a break. He explains to the BBC, “You see the ears? They are down, that tells you that the dog is not aggressive and just wants to feel safe. Right now the dog is terrified. I can see in his eyes he just wants to get his handler.” said the dog handler, who asked not to be named.

So many of us have become desensitized to war, and to the fact that young men and women have died, and continue to put their lives at risk to keep all of us safe all over the world.  This video hits you right in the face with the truth, and brings us back to the reality of what is occurring out there.   What has happened to K-9 Colonel clearly (and emotionally) highlights the risks to not only to men and women serving their nations, but literally hundreds of canines that are working in Afghanistan, and other countries in the name of war and “keeping the world safe”.  

I share this story with you today, not to anger you, or to create more fear, but to show you one of the many risks and sad side effects of war, hatred, and fear.  Rather than allowing fear to permeate your heart as you watch the video, I ask you to see Colonel’s captors soften their hearts and allow him to live.  See Colonel coming home and reunited with his handler and his troops.  See miracles happening.

Please share this with everyone you know, so we can help Colonel come home safely. And may we remember the sacrifices that people and military dogs make for us every day.


Click on image to see a short narrated video via the BBC.

“I am realistic. – I expect miracles.” ― Wayne W. Dyer


Stimulate Them!


Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, they are better adjusted, more relaxed, they can develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn!

We can provide environmental enrichment in our animal companion’s life each day! The key is to do some research to find out what your cat/dog/parrot/lizard/pig/turtle’s natural history is; what their life would be like if they were outdoors , living life on their own.

Ask yourself: What would my _____ be doing if they were living in the wild??

  • Are they nocturnal, crepuscular, or diurnal?
  • Do they like to climb, hide, or fly?
  • Do they enjoy chewing, foraging, digging, soaking, or basking?
  • Do they hunt, stalk, ambush, or chase?

When you do your research and discover the answers for each of the animals in your home, that’s what you want to provide for each of them!

The video below is a fun example of what hedgehogs do naturally in the wild.  If a hedgehog owner knows this, they can then provide this kind of stimulating environment for their hedgehog in the home!

When we learn about how our animal companions would behave naturally in the wild, we then have the tools to help them thrive and live long, healthy, happy lives with us!

pet enrichment puzzle feeders

Below are a few examples of simple, easy enrichment that we use in our home on a daily basis. Each of these are examples of natural behaviors that each animal would do in the wild. Click the links to see the video:

Remember that daily enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated and time consuming, but the more creative you get, the more fun your animals will have!! Make it a FUN challenge for you and them!

What kind of enrichment do you provide for your animal companions? Please share in the comments below!

Let The Games Begin!


invitation PPG

Today is the “opening day” of a brand new, fun competition and you are invited!

Event Details

Who:  You! Your friends! Your family! Your colleagues! Your coworkers! And of course, your animal companions (pets)!

What:  The International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training & Pet Care

When:  Friday, January 17, 2014 - Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where:  In your own home, in the backyard, at the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, in the wetlands, in your neighborhood, at the pool, or at the park! Anywhere you can think of! This is an International Virtual Educational Event, so they possibilities are endless!

Why:  The community of force-free pet professionals and animal guardians recognize, value, and celebrate the positive effects and power of force-free animal training and pet care! We want to share that knowledge with the world and teach others that Force-Free is the way to be!

HostThe Pet Professional Guild

All profits from this event go to the Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Fund for PPG’s advocacy goals in 2014:

The Pet Professional Guild, the Association for Force-Free Pet Professionals (The PPG or The Guild), is a nonprofit member organization headquartered in Bonifay FL, USA. The PPG represents over 1600 members around the world.  The mission of PPG World Services is “Global News & Views on Force-Free Pet Care” and will serve as an advocacy forum for force-free dog training and pet care issues. The key advocacy goal of the PPG is to facilitate an ongoing conversation with pet owners, pet care professionals and industry stakeholders aimed at moving the pet industry forward toward better informed practices, training methods, equipment use and pet care philosophies. The Guild’s message will strive to build widespread collaboration and acceptance of force-free methods and philosophies consistent with its guiding principles.

If you are wondering what all of this means, here it is very simply; Force-Free is defined as:

No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

Animals can be trained without fear, force, or intimidation. That includes ALL pets, ALL animals, ALL species, ALL the time!  Training can and should be FUN for everyone!

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Participation in this global event is simple.  All you have to do is participate in any 30 minute Force-Free Fun Activity with your pet!  Take a walk or a jog, swim or hike, bike or skate, train and teach, but the idea is to spend 30 minutes of Force-Free Fun with your animal companion!  This can be anything and anywhere that you decide. Where do they love to go? What do they enjoy doing? What’s your favorite place to be with them?  Do it when and where it’s convenient for you!

Note: If you don’t have time to complete your chosen event all at once, you can split it up over several days.

force free fun training pet tricks

Photo Fun!

Participants are encouraged to submit photos showing what they did for their fun, chosen event. The photos will be judged on these three criteria:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • How much force-free fun the human and pet are having together (this one is strongly encouraged!) Fun is the key!

What’s In It For You!

Each participant will receive:

  • A special competitor medal for your companion animal!
  • A certificate to show off that you rocked the contest!
  • Entry to the fun photograph competition!

Get a sneak peak of the awesome prize list here! And remember to check back as more goodies are added to the list!

Register today to help celebrate and educate others about this important event. Through education and celebration, we can help others learn the value and importance of force-free training and animal companion care methods.  Education and inspiration starts with you!  Won’t you join the fun, Force-Free revolution with us?

Note: The registration deadline is March 3rd. So be sure to add your name to the fun, force-free list today!

paw print
  • We welcome and encourage you to check out the pet owner resource section of The Pet Professional Guild website! You will find tons of helpful resources! You can also listen to a few of the PPG’s free podcasts on iTunes here.
  • If you are still wondering why our Pet Professional Guild has proclaimed An International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training and Pet Care, check out this video and our news release here!  
PPG Web Header
Please spread the word to everyone you know!  Download the event poster here and feel free to share it with your networks and community!

If you are interested in sponsoring the event or becoming involved on any level then please contact Niki Tudge at

Will you become Force-Free All the time?

Will you become Force-Free All the time?

Day of the Dragon

Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Today is International Appreciate A Dragon Day!  Yeah, I know. It sounds crazy, but if there is an international peanut butter day, then dragons can certainly have their turn in the international spotlight.  As soon as I heard that today was appreciate a dragon day, I was really psyched because one very special dragon came to my mind.  He was amazing in every sense of the word.  I learned more, and felt more than I ever thought I could from a 140 pound lizard.  I helped to care for him, breed him, train him, enrich him, and during his last days on earth, I held him between my legs as he breathed some of his last breaths. His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.

I was introduced to Kadar during one of the most challenging and amazing careers.  I had the pleasure of working at the Audubon Zoo in the Reptile Section for nearly five years.  I was a reptile and amphibian keeper (caretaker) and an enrichment specialist. Kadar was one of the many species of reptiles that opened my mind to the depth of intelligence and perfection that many animals have. He dispelled many myths and showed us how to be better and more conscious of caring for reptiles in captivity.  He was gorgeous and quite a sight to behold! He was a favorite among many zoo visitors and staff.

Force-free training was just barely beginning to be embraced by the zoo community when I was working there. Thankfully we soon learned that “even lizards” can be taught to do almost anything because they are incredibly intelligent! Each day there was a scheduled public feeding. The zoo visitors loved to come and watch us as we climbed to the top of Kadar’s exhibit and then throw the dead rabbit, mackerel fish, or beef heart into his enclosure. Kadar would come running over and gobble the goodies down within seconds! The gross (but fascinating) scene was quite a sight to behold. Eventually we taught Kadar to station where we wanted him to using a laser pointer. This was a safer way than having to climb up there.

One day we needed to perform a medical procedure on Kadar (to remove a few rocks in his belly) and in the process, a vertebrae and nerves in his neck were severely damaged. Kadar soon lost his strong, regal gait and was not responding to his training cues. He was becoming severely challenged while eating and moving around his enclosure. We did everything we could to help him. Our hospital staff worked around the clock during those last days to monitor his vital signs and keep him alive. We took shifts at night breathing for him. I will never forget the honor and respect I felt, holding him between my legs as I gently pushed air into his lungs, hoping that it would keep his organs and brain functioning.  We even took him to the Children’s Hospital next door to the zoo to perform a CAT Scan and MRI to see how extensive the damage was, but it was too late. Kadar’s heart was still beating but he was no longer there. He soon passed. We mourned his passing but never forgot what he taught us about reptile intelligence, and what he brought to the zoo community that learned from him and adored him.

Trained Komodo Dragons!

komodo dragon training reptile force free training and enrichement

Images from The Zoological Society of London

When we trained Kadar, there were not a lot of force-free reptile training programs in existence at the time. Thankfully, now zoos all around the world are utilizing more force-free training with the species that they breed and care for in captivity. They use everything from laser pointers to target sticks and clicker training!  Below are just a few of the safe and enriching management tools that zoo staff around the world are using with Komodo Dragons to maintain their health and well-being:

One of the enrichment devices that has been developed at ZSL London Zoo’s Herpetology Department, in conjunction with Aussiedog© is a ‘Tug-Toy’.  This ‘Komodo Tug-Toy’ is the first of its kind and it comes complete with a strong elasticised bungee, two removable tug grips and several different bites.  The device was developed after lengthy email correspondence with specialists at Aussiedog©. We discussed every possible component and variable from anatomy, force and bite radius to enclosure size to what colour to use/not use (as Raja, our male dragon, is trained to a white target for example) and we carefully considered what texture and material would be preferable for the detachable bites.  The device can also be hung from a tree or retaining wall, and meat joints can replace the bites to encourage the natural pulling and tearing motions the dragon uses to consume carcasses.

Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers. This was a specially made "Tug Toy" safe for the handler and Komodo

Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers at the London Zoo’s Reptile House.  This “Tug Toy”  was designed to be safe for the handler and Komodo

Raja even has his own facebook page!

These training and enrichment techniques allow zoo keepers and medical staff to work safely with, and in close proximity to, Komodo dragons in captivity. These force-free techniques facilitate the animals’ well-being through mental and physical stimulation.

Lethal Lizards?

Many people are terrified of Komodos and see them as monsters. This is not true. Most komodos in captivity have strong bonds with their keepers. However, safety is always the utmost priority because they do have quite a bite when they are in prey drive!  Any number of their prey would attest to this (if they could). They are not slobbery monsters that will attack you at a moment’s notice. They are usually calm, clean, and calculating.

New research from the University of Queensland published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine has found that the mouths of Komodo dragons are surprisingly ordinary for a venomous species.  In 2009, scientists concluded that komodo dragons (and all monitor lizards and iguanas) produce venom.  Venom is a toxin that’s secreted by glands and injected into an animal by a bite or sting (versus how poison is delivered).  There is a common myth that highly toxic bacteria in a Komodo’s mouth is what’s responsible for ultimately killing the dragons’ prey.  Zoo and reptile management and researchers have long thought that the Komodo dragon kills its prey via blood poisoning from the 50 strains of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva.  Well, it turns out that the bacteria tale has been a “scientific fairy tale”.  They found that the levels and types of bacteria do not differ from any other carnivore; it’s the venom at work:

The dragon’s venom rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends a victim into shock, rendering it too weak to fight.  In the venom, some compounds that reduce blood pressure are as potent as those found in the world’s most venomous snake, western Australia’s inland Taipan.

Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyse the preserved head of a dead Komodo dragon and found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile. Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.

Professor Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyze the preserved head of a Komodo dragon. He found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile!  Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.

Other venomous lizards, like the Gila monster, channel venom down grooves that run the length of their teeth but the Komodo dragon doesn’t have these – it just drips venom straight into the wounds that it inflicts. The venom itself consists of over 600 toxins, a chemical arsenal that rivals those of many snakes. Many of these poisons are familiar and they greatly exacerbate the blood loss caused by the dragon’s bite. They cause internal haemorrhaging from leaky blood vessels, prevent blood from clotting and cause muscle contractions and paralysis. Fry calculated that a typical adult dragon would need only 4mg of venom proteins to send a 40kg deer into toxic shock from collapsing blood pressure. A full venom gland packs at least eight times this amount.

After the CHOMP,  a Komodo waits patiently, following its bitten prey for miles in a leisurely fashion. He or she then locates the dead animal by its smell.  Like most lizards, Komodo dragons have an exquisite sense of smell. But it’s not the kind of smell most of us are familiar with.  Like a snake, a Komodo “tastes” by collecting air with its forked tongue, then deposits the collected scent particles on receptors on the roof of its mouth.  Using this method, it can detect a dead animal up to five miles (eight kilometers) away!

The Komodo's sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.

The Komodo’s sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson’s organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.

The chemical analyzers “smell” prey by recognizing airborne molecules.  If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the prey is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (4 km), when the wind is right.

Varanus komodoensis Komodo

Open Wide! A captive Komodo showing off his clean mouth during an afternoon yawn in the sun

Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals. After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth. The inside of their mouth is also kept extremely clean by the tongue. ~Professor Bryan Fry,Associate professor from The University of Queensland

The Komodo dragon isn't a filthy, bacteria laden creature, as people believe. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.

The Komodo dragon isn’t a filthy, bacteria laden creature, as people believe. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.

Komodo Dragon

Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

Fast Facts:  

  • The komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.

    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.

    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.

  • They are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), But with only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild the latest data suggests they are endangered.
  • Komodos are native to a few volcanic Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group including Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores. The largest island is only 22 miles (35 km) long.
  • Komodos are called the ora, or “land crocodile” by locals
  • For centuries, a local tradition required feeding the dragons. Hunters would leave deer parts behind after a hunt, or sacrifice goats. In the past, the practice maintained a friendly relationship with the animals. Ancient customs strictly forbid harming the komodos, which is why they survived on their native islands and became extinct elsewhere.

    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo

    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo

  • Female Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without ever mating with a male dragon. Some call these “virgin births” but it’s actually parthenogenesis.
  • They are one of the most intelligent reptiles! They can distinguish between their different keepers in a zoo, by voices and different clothing worn by their keepers. Locals on the islands also say that the dragons know who’s who!
  • Their vision and sense of smell are highly sophisticated.
  • The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 m) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg)
  • Komodos have about 60 teeth. Teeth grow back quickly if when they lose any.
  • They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing.

    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards

    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards

  • They rarely drink water. They prefer to get their fluids from the food they eat.
  • They can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
  • They will a variety of prey including snakes, other lizards, young komodos, fish, eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and water buffalo.
  • They prefer to hunt as an ambush predator; they lay in wait, then surprise their prey. Chomp!
  • When hunting large prey, he/she attacks the feet first, knocking the animal off balance. When hunting smaller prey, h/she usually lunges straight for the neck.
  • They are extremely fast for a lizard of their size. In short bursts, they can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour.
  • Juvenile Komodos are very agile climbers. They live a more terrestrial life (in trees) until they are fully-grown and able to protect themselves from other adult Komodos on the ground.

     Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos  are giving a small boost to their endangered population.

    Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos are giving a small boost to their endangered population.

  • Komodos can throw up the contents of their stomachs when threatened to reduce their weight in order to flee.
  • Large mammal carnivores (lions, tigers, etc.) tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, (leaving the intestines, hide, skeleton, and hooves). Komodos eat much more efficiently; they only leave 12 percent of their prey. They eat bones, hooves, and the hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter the feces from the meal.
  • Because large Komodos cannibalize young ones, the young komodos will roll in fecal matter which seems to be a scent that the larger dragons avoid.
  • Young dragons also have rituals of appeasement; the smaller lizards pacing around a komodo feeding circle in a ritualized walk. Their tail is stuck straight out and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions. This helps them to stay near the feeding circle without being attacked.

    Photo by National Geographic An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia's Komodo village.

    Photo by National Geographic
    An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia’s Komodo village.

  • Dragons may live up to 30 – 50 years in the wild, but scientists are still studying this.
  • Female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ (building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months).
  • Scientists have been searching for antibodies in Komodo blood in order to help save human lives.
  • Poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters are its greatest threats.
The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited!

The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited! These hatchlings represent a joint conservation effort between zoos: the hatchlings will all go to different zoos for education and breeding purposes.

Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!

This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior.  It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons.  This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.

This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior. It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons. This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.

This blog is dedicated to you, Kadar.  Thank you for teaching me what reptiles are capable of, what exquisite and perfect creatures you are, and for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined. You were loved and adored by so many.



“Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation” by James B. Murphy, Claudio ciofi, Colomba de La Panouse, Trooper Walsh

Healthy, Shiny Shells!


cleaning turtle shell belly with toothbrush

This image has been making its way around the internet this week, so I thought I would take a minute to clarify what you are seeing.

Many turtle and tortoise guardians think that because turtles are “wild” animals, they don’t need to be cleaned, but they sometimes do! Crusted mud, dirt, algae, or other debris on the plastron and carapace (the bottom and top shell) can hide a lot of shell health problems.

Using a washcloth with warm water can clear away a lot of mud, debris, or algae so you can clearly see their shell to make sure it’s healthy. A soft toothbrush can work for the areas that don’t get clean with a washcloth.


  • Never put anything on a turtle or tortoise shell except water (unless it has been prescribed by an experienced reptile veterinarian).
  • Only use tepid water; hot water (and even water that is too warm) can harm reptiles!
  • Remember to be gentle and make sure they are not stressed! 

Another misconception is that turtles and tortoises need commercial products to make their shell shiny. However, most of these products are potentially harmful to them. Water is the best way to clean their shell!  Learn how to keep their shells naturally healthy and shiny here.

Promises Fulfilled


new years resolutions

I feel keeping a promise to yourself is a direct reflection of the love you have for yourself. I used to make promises to myself and find them easy to break. Today, I love myself enough to not only make a promise to myself, but I love myself enough to keep that promise ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

So often around the New Year we make promises and resolutions for ourselves that we never seem to keep. Did you know that less than 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept?  I’ll admit that I usually set pretty high stakes for myself and then I fall into that 8 percent. This year I thought that maybe I could keep my new year’s intentions if I made them about something greater than myself. I started to ask myself these questions:

What if I set the intention to be a little kinder and more patient with myself? Would this carry over to my family members and our animal companions?

What if I focused more on what I saw was possible in myself, instead of only what I see now? Would this help me to do the same with my animal companions and the people in my life?

What if I listened more, and observed more, and reacted less? What would happen?

The answers were clear to me; What I give to (or withhold from) myself will parallel how I treat others. What I practice in life will parallel life with others, including my animal companions.  As I reflected on this before and after New Year’s, I was inspired to share some of the things that I have learned over the years, and what I have set the intention to focus on, and improve upon in 2014:


Daily Does It.

“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.”
― John Mayer

Setting your mind up to start a new habit, a new way of thinking, or anything that you want to do with your animal companion takes daily determination. You have to choose to do it over and over.  However, it doesn’t have to take an hour. Set aside 5 or 10 minutes each day.  Make a point to repeat your new behavior, or the behavior you are working on with your companion animal for 40-days straight.  Science has shown us that doing a quick but daily repetition changes the neural pathways in our brains and helps to create long-lasting change. I have tried this and it really works!  Be dedicated to it.  Daily repetition creates permanent change.

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Have Fun or Let It Go.

When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED. ― Dr. Seuss

I love to laugh, and I live to have fun.  Ever since I was a kid I felt that if it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t worth it doing.  Don’t you think our animals want this too?  Ask yourself: Are you having fun with them?  Are they having fun when you are training or working with them?   The best way to make any resolution stick is to have fun with it.  Do you dread doing something?  Find a way to make it exciting and something you look forward to doing! Get creative!  Be playful! Add music into it! Make it a game or a challenge with an awesome reward!  Use some of that positive reinforcement on yourself! Animals and people learn so much faster when they are having FUN!

happy pets, happy animals

Question Everything.

Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system. ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

I cannot even begin to tell you all of the myths and nonsense that I have been taught since childhood, even up to today!  Teachers, friends, family, doctors, nutritionists, veterinarians, and even other animal trainers and educators have shared some real whoppers with me.  None of them were trying to deceive me.  They had been taught a particular belief so they were just passing it onto me.  It was up to me to either digest the fact or barf it up, so to speak.

Everyone has an opinion on something they are passionate about, but it doesn’t make it a fact.  I used to teach my interns and volunteers at the zoo to question everything they heard, even if it came from me, or another highly respected staff member.  You may be wondering why. Well, think about the “facts” that you were once taught, only to find out later on that a fact turned out to be a myth or a popular misconception that merely spread like wildfire from passionate, well meaning friends or colleagues.  When you hear a fact, a suggestion, opinion, or something about an animal, especially yours at home, question what you’re told.  Do your own research about it.  Read as much as you can on that subject. Become an expert on it, or find an expert with credentials.  And remember that just because it’s on the internet or T.V., that doesn’t make it true. You get to decide what’s true for you and your animal family members. Go with what resonates with you.

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Easy Now. Be Like The Duck.

The best way is not to fight it, just go. Don’t be trying all the time to fix things. What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

Be easy with yourself, your partner, your kids, and your animal companions.  Let mistakes happen and forgive them.  Don’t hold onto the mistakes and mishaps of anyone, including yourself.  Let yourself, your partner, family member, coworker, boss, and your animal off the hook!  Release the judgments, guilt and blame – especially the ones about yourself!  We are all doing the best we can with where we are.  Animals don’t waste a single ounce of energy on any of those and that’s a powerful life lesson that we can all learn from them. Let it roll off your back like water on a duck!

duck water be the duck

Embrace the “Inner Ding”. 

Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of my biggest deterrents is doubt.  I used to always look outside myself for answers.  I never believed that I had the knowledge or experience to do something out of my comfort zone, or share something personal with others without the fear of criticism.  But over the years I have learned how to better rely on my (as Louise Hay says) “inner ding” to validate my thoughts and feelings instead of doubting them.  Spoiler Alert: The Answers Are Inside YOU. They are not “out there”!   If we can learn to slow down, step away from the situation, remove the emotion, and tune into our own built-in, inner guidance system, we will live life as mother nature and animals know how to do naturally; they flourish without doubt or worry, and they don’t look for answers outside of themselves.  Sure we can read books to learn more, we can go to educational conferences, and we can ask others we respect for their opinions and get their advice, but remember to ask yourself those same questions first and last.  When we strengthen our inner awareness, our outer experience becomes miraculous.

Oh, and about the criticism issue: the only one really criticizing and judging you is yourself.  One way that I started to overcome this fear was by asking myself this question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.  You’ll find that when you ask yourself this question, the answer you receive is pretty cool every time. Try it the next time you are afraid or intimidated to do something. Your “Inner Ding” won’t fail you. And you never know how much of a difference you might be making in other’s lives!

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Trust the Process

Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see.
― Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

Patience has never been my strongest quality but working with animals has certainly helped that. Giant tortoises were the first to teach me how to just chill out, slow down, keep it simple, and celebrate the heck out of every little success, no matter how small it seems. Change within ourselves, and our animals doesn’t happen overnight.  So be patient with yourself and with them.  We are all trying to better ourselves, but let’s face it; it’s a lifelong process for us stubborn, thick-headed humans.  Animals don’t measure things as successes or failures, so why should we?  It’s ok when things don’t happen right away.  Remember that every little success adds up!  “Each subtle shift creates a new experience of positive change.”   Then, before we realize it, new behaviors are created!  You’ll look back and those small successes will turn out to be huge leaps.  Keep it simple.  Miracles are in the subtle details of life.  All good things will grow with time.

Magma The Aldabra Tortoise

Observe More. React Less

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. ― Marilyn Vos Savant

I admit it; I can be sassy as heck when I am tired or stressed, and in general I tend to talk more than I listen.  Just ask my family; I have been mouthy ever since my mother can remember, and my husband must have the patience of an oak tree to deal with me some days.  Sometimes I find myself reacting to comments or behavior instead of observing quietly, without judging or taking things personally.  Interestingly, our dog is reactive sometimes when she is stressed or tired.  I now know that her canine peace of mind can only come when she learns how to observe things (from a safe distance) instead of overreacting to them.  We work on this daily with her.  I am even taking reactive dog classes to learn how to better help her.  When she is calm and feeling safe and secure, the world and all of its normals chaos does not affect her negatively.  She watches instead of reacts.  I see this in myself as well.  We are both a work in progress in many ways, but with a lot of patience and a lot of daily practice, I know that I can become a conscious observer every minute of the day, and she can too. “Be Passersby.” You don’t have to react to everything you see and hear. Communicate clearly, but listen and watch more.

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Flaws and All

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her. ― Laozi

Here are the Cliff notes: You’re good enough, for whatever it is.  In fact, you are perfect, and so is every one of your animal companions -just the way they are.  Sure, they may have a few (or a lot of) behavioral issues that can be modified so they can function better in our human world, but so do we.  It’s a constant challenge for me to embrace all of my many flaws.  Loving and accepting ourselves exactly as we are is the first step in accepting others – including our animals – for exactly as they are.  If we are hard on ourselves, or judge and criticize the flaws, we are bound to view others this way too, including our animal companions.  I don’t believe that animals have “flaws”.  They are products of their genetics and their environment. So are we.  But we are not our past, and neither are they. We are what we decide we are going to become.  When we are able to look past the “flaws” and “imperfections”, and instead, consciously choose to focus on what’s possible, and what he or she can become, miracles occur. Fear, judgement, and criticism are limitations. They only hold you and your animal companions back. Instead of constantly reliving or talking about your animal companion’s hard or tough past, focus on where they are headed and what they are capable of becoming.  Believe in the impossible.  Embrace the flaws and all.

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Your Presence Is Needed. 

The greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else is just being present. ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

My mind is always racing, and I am easily distracted. (Anyone that knows me well is probably laughing out loud at that statement.)  Thankfully I’ve found many ways to quiet my mind over the years, but I still find myself not being fully present when I’m with a friend, a family member, or my animal companions.  I catch myself thinking of what I need to do next, or a conversation that happened earlier.  A while ago I decided to remove all of my social media apps off of my phone because I found myself mindlessly checking them instead of just being aware of what was going on around me!  It has made a huge difference in helping me to be fully present.  One of the things that I admire about animals is that they are always fully present in the moment; they aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday, or what is going to happen tomorrow. They are always here, now.  I’d like to suggest that you try this: when you come home from your busy or stressful day, make a conscious effort to spend a few minutes of your “decompressing” time with your animal family members. Pet them. Throw the ball. Play tug.  Brush them.  Look at them in the eye.  Be fully present with them.  I promise that doing this will turn your day around and uplift you. Their presence is a gift to us. Your presence is also a gift to them.

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Before New Year’s Eve I asked a few friends, colleagues, and close acquaintances what their resolutions and intentions were for their animal companions and themselves.  This is what they graciously shared with me.

(If you don’t have Adobe PDF reader, click here to read Promises for 2014 from around the world.)

Did you make any promises to yourself or your animal companions for 2014?  Please share them with us in the comment section below!

2014 wishes

Go for it, while you can. I know you have it in you. And I can’t promise you’ll get everything you want, but I can promise nothing will change if you don’t try.  ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre

The Far Reaching Effects of Pain and Discomfort


Pain is a very common medical issue that can create (or exacerbate) behavior problems in our animal companions.  Anxiety, aggression, fear, and depression can stem from pain.  Growling, hissing, swatting, biting, hiding, and urinating or defecating in unusual places are just a few of the behaviors that you might see when your animal family member is in pain or discomfort.

However, pain can be very difficult to recognize in many species.  Animals have evolved to disguise pain to help them survive. Cats are a great example of this. They are one of the few companion animal species that is both prey and predator.  Prey animals hide their pain so they don’t appear weak, and become an easy target.  Domestic house cats may not have any “natural predators” indoors, but they have retained that instinct.  If you live in a multi-species household, you can bet that if one animal is in pain or discomfort, they will do their best to hide it from the others. Don’t assume that an animal will rest and stay comfortably still if they are in pain.  Many of them will push through the pain and discomfort.  Some will even play when they are in pain.

That’s where your job as their guardian comes in!  When you learn to become aware of their daily routines and their subtle behaviors, you will know when something is wrong with them, even when they don’t “show” you.  Many animal behaviors go unnoticed until they become annoying, inconvenient, or even dangerous to us.

Watch them.  Learn their routines.  Know their behaviors as well as you know yours, your kid’s, or your partner’s behavior and routines.  You will be able to better prevent behavioral issues before they arise. This is how we can become a Conscious Companion!

Here are some helpful ways to learn if an animal is in pain or discomfort:

If you see any of these symptoms or behaviors, you should call your veterinarian right away.

Have you ever noticed a subtle change in an animal’s behavior and then later discovered that it was caused by pain or discomfort?

Things That Go BOOM In The Night



Tonight people all around the world are bringing in the New Year!  Many people are getting ready for the visual and sound smorgasbord paired with good food, great friends, and family.  However, most animals would probably order the food, but hold the fireworks.

If you have worked or lived with an animal, you know that most of them are frightened of loud or startling noises.  The fear of loud sounds is called noise phobias.  Even if your animal companion has not displayed this fear before, the sights and sounds on New Year’s Eve could easily bring out their most intense fears.

Put yourself in their position.  Imagine the scene: what is normally a peaceful evening at home suddenly turns into scared-parrotchaos.  All of a sudden there are bright lights, loud banging, people yelling, and things exploding over and over.  These stimuli, paired with the unusual smell of burning sulfur and smoke, can bring on a full blown animal panic attack.  Even children can be frightened by all of this, but since parents and kids both communicate in the same language, we are able to explain to them what is happening.  When our rabbit, cat, dog, or parrot is freaking out during moments like this, we cannot just sit down with them and have a calm little chat to explain, “There is really nothing to fear, so just settle down.”  Anything unexpected, out of their ordinary routine, or that involves sensory overload, is a recipe for a full-on Animal Freak Out.

Whether you will be enjoying the festivities at home or away this year, you will need to prepare your home well before the festivities begin.


  • Sound Therapy:  Playing calming, classical music is beneficial for many species.  Therapeutic music such as Through A Dog’s Ear and Through a Cat’s Ear has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and have calming effects on cats and dogs!  It is psychoacoustically designed and clinically demonstrated to calm the canine and feline nervous system.  However, it’s most effective when you play the music well before the fireworks begin, at a time when the cat or dog is already relaxed.  Animals will start to  associate the music with being calm and content.  Then you play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime.  Listen to free sound samples.

    Sound Therapy combined with Desensitization: The Canine Noise Phobia series (CNP) consists of four CD’s that can be used individually or as a set: Fireworks, Thunderstorms, City Sounds, and Calming. CNP is an innovative desensitization training tool that combines three distinctive elements for the treatment and prevention of sound-sensitivities and noise-phobias.

    This article by Mary Strauss was published in the Whole Dog Journal.  It gives a comprehensive overview of possible treatments for sound phobias.  There are a variety of treatments available.

  • Scent:  Homeopathic relaxation supplements such as Canine CalmAviCalmFeliway, and D.A.P (dog and cat appeasing pheromones), Melatonin, Spirit Essences and Pet Rescue Remedy are extremely helpful with calming an animal’s nerves on the big day.  Pet Rescue Remedy works on everything from horses to reptiles.  You can find Pet Rescue Remedy at most health food stores or animal supply stores.  Applying a few drops to their food, water, or directly into their mouth BEFORE the booms begin can do wonders for stress levels!  Essential Oils such as lavender and valerian can also help with various anxieties. Learn how here.  Note: Feliway is a liquid synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.  You can spray it on their favorite napping spots to make then feel more secure.
  • Tactile:  There are two wraps on the market that reportedly help sound phobic pets.  The original Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress.  Thunder Shirts have been successful with calming many dogs and cats.  Over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms.  The Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the dog’s fur and shields them from static charge build-up before and during storms.  Rubbing an animal down with scent-free dryer sheets can help with reducing the static charge as well!
  • Visual:  Close the blinds or anything around the house that will help to eliminate the visual assault on their senses.  Turning on lights around the house will also help to block out the flashes from the fireworks.  Turn on the radio or television, but be sure to keep it at a normal volume.
  • Fort Hideout:  Set up a “fort” or safe place of refuge for them in the home.  If you don’t have a “safe room” for your pets, I strongly recommend that you create one.  It can be as simple as a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy “hidey” spot in the back of the closet, or a covered dog or cat crate that feels like a real den.  Even space underneath a bed can be very soothing.  IMG_4242If you are not sure where to set up this safe zone, observe where each of your animal companions chooses to retreat when they are over stimulated.   Ask yourself: Where do they go when company comes over, the big game is on TV, or when a storm hits?  Where do they hide?  That’s where you’ll want to start building Fort Hideout.

Be sure to set up this safe zone away from windows where the sights and sounds are loudest and brightest.  Acclimate them to this safe zone before the firework festivities begin.  Offer treats and attention when they are in this area.  By doing this, you are creating positive feelings with this safe zone.  If you have a nervous kitty like we do, prepare ahead for their comfort and safety.  Make sure they have their favorite cozy hideaway ready.  If they love boxes, bring one or two for them to explore. Add a dash of catnip to really get them relaxed and increase their confidence!

The most important thing an owner can do for their fireworks-phobic dog is to provide them with a bolt hole – a place where the dog can escape to when the festivities begin.  Providing the dog access to this safe place is essential at all times, particularly during an owner’s absence.  This might be a closet, bathroom or a basement, the best places usually being the ones that have no windows, but with plenty of artificial light (to mask flashes of fireworks).  Music can be played close to the safe haven so that sounds can be masked.  It is also essential that if an owner is present, time be spent with the dog in the safe haven or attention given to the dog if it comes to seek comfort from its owner.  Far from reinforcing fearful behavior, an owner’s comforting arm and presence can help a phobic dog to cope as long as the owner remains calm at all times. ~ Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog trainer


  • Ideally, you should desensitize them to loud noises ahead of time.  When you have the opportunity, gently pair loud or startling sounds with their most favorite treats, new toys, and playtime.  You don’t have to walk around the house banging pots and pans, but you can  help them to associate startling, loud sounds with positive treats days and weeks before the fireworks begin.
  • I keep the items listed above (Feliway, Canine CalmAviCalmD.A.P , Spirit Essences and Pet Rescue Remedy)  in hand whether we need it or not.  Think of  these as an ounce of stress prevention.  I will even give everyone a few drops of the Rescue Remedy before the bangs start, just to help them stay relaxed and have a positive experience.
  • If you know when the party and fireworks will begin, get potty time, walks, and dinner done ahead of time.  If these noises are frightening to them, they will often refuse to eat, go outside to do their business, or even use the litter box.  Getting these evening routines done ahead of time will make everyone more comfortable.
  • Get them tired!  Exercise is one of the biggest stress relievers and stress preventions with not only humans, but with companion animals.  If you can give them a full day of play, or even a couple hours of romp and play time before the Big Bad Bang Festivities begin, their stress levels can be greatly reduced if they are already exhausted from a fun day of play and exercise.
  •  If they are displaying fear and anxiety when the fireworks begin, stay calm and stay near them.  Many people believe that comforting an animal that is afraid will ‘reinforce’ their fear, but trainers now understand that while comforting may not necessarily help them, it will not cause them to be more afraid when the next boom rumbles and shakes the house.
  •  You can try to distract them from their fear by starting a game and break out the treats, or offer novelty items such as cat nip, frozen soup bones, and enrichment toys, such as KONG for cats and dogs, or these from The Leather Elves for parrots.   The idea here is to turn the frightening time into play time!   Note: Withholding these items for a few days or week ahead of time will make these treats even more special on the Night of Assault on the Senses.
  •  Medication alone is generally not going to fix much of anything.  It’s can sometimes be a helpful intervention, but not a specific treatment. It needs to be paired with counterconditioning techniques. – Read how and why here.

scaredy cat

  • Avoid scolding or reprimanding them when they are frightened or nervous.  Their anxiety doesn’t have to be understood, but merely respected.  Many animals have fears that to us are not “rational,” but they are still very real for them.
  • If you absolutely must take them with you during the fireworks show, always keep them on leash or in a carrier.  When an animal becomes startled or frightened they will run, and often run far.  Keep them attached to you at all times.  Make sure their identification tags and your contact number are in place on their collars.  If they do break free from home, or from you, they can be reunited faster and more easily.  Having your animal companion microchipped is also another important safety measure.  It’s inexpensive and can be done within minutes at your vet.

Conditioning a dog to feel differently about the sound of fireworks can be achieved by gradually exposing the dog to audio recordings of fireworks at low volume levels and, if the dog appears relaxed, playing his favorite game or feeding him his favorite food.  Allowing the dog to play and relax in the presence of the soft noise for a period of ten minutes, taking a break of five minutes and repeating the exercise ensures that the dog doesn’t become bored with the training.  Introducing the audio at a low level again and slowly turning up the volume if the dog continues to be relaxed and able to concentrate on playing the game or eating the food allows the dog to habituate to the noise without a fear response.  If the dog shows signs of stress, going back to the previous level and building up the noise level again will take pressure off the dog.  The object of noise desensitization is to gradually expose the dog to louder and louder sounds over a period of time, progress being determined by the dog’s reactions.  Going too fast might make the dog even more frightened, so taking things slowly will ensure maximum benefit from the process.  Some dogs will respond well to all of the above therapies, but will become panicked when the real fireworks start.  It is therefore important to tackle this phobia in other ways by using effective management strategies and by masking any audio and visual stimuli that elicit a fear response during an episode. ~Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog trainer

Animals are family, so it is natural to enjoy having them around you when you are celebrating.  However, tonight is not be the best time to have your animal companions along if you’re headed out, even if you’re going to what is supposed to be a “pet-friendly” party.  If you have set up safe zones, prepared the house and your companions appropriately, they are going to feel safe at home when the noise chaos begins.  Home is familiar, and home is safe – so please keep them inside until the celebration is well over.

Cat and fireworks

Boxing Day is Everyday for Cats After Christmas!


Many people around the world are celebrating Boxing Day today! Different countries celebrate this annual event with their personal heritage and traditions.

This is how one of our family members celebrates Boxing Day…

cat in a box boxing day

All Creatures Great and Small


“Guard the life of another creature as you would your own because it is your own.  On life’s scale of values, the smallest is no less precious to the creature who owns it than the largest.” ~ Lloyd Biggle Jr.

Yesterday, December 14, marked one year ago that the tragedy Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut occurred.  I’m not bringing this up to focus on the sadness or pain that it brought so many, but I wanted to share something beautiful that came from it. One of the students at that school believed in a very simple but powerful message.  This student’s name is Catherine Violet Hubbard.  Her message was one of love and kindness.

Rather than trying to explain Catherine’s entire message in my words, I’ll let the video below share her message:

Click here to learn more about Catherine’s dream.

animal quotes, catherine butterfly

True benevolence or compassion, extends itself through the whole of existence and sympathizes with the distress of every creature capable of sensation. - Joseph Addison

A Day Dedicated To Horses Everywhere


ImageA dog may be man’s best friend, but the horse wrote history. 

~Author Unknown

There seems to be a national day for everything, and today is one day of recognition that I wanted to bring light to and celebrate with you!  Today is the National Day of the Horse. Horses have been thundering across the Earth’s landscape for more than 55 million years — much longer than our own species has existed.  Once man and horse met, our two species became powerfully linked. Throughout history man has depended on the horse.  The horse profoundly changed the ways we travel, work, fight wars and play.

Humans domesticated horses some 6,000 years ago, and over time, we have created more than 200 breeds, from the powerful Clydesdale to the graceful Arabian. As we have shaped horses to suit our needs on battlefields, farms, and elsewhere, these animals have shaped human history. They have also captured our imagination and hearts. Millions of people rely on horses as their spirited, dedicated, much adored companions. ~ American Museum of Natural History

Not only have we utilized horses for what they have to offer, but humanity has learned to appreciate horses for what they embody: freedom, spirit, adventure, perseverance, independence and drive.  Horses are gentle and loyal, but fierce and strong.  They are friends and companions to many humans and animals. They can be the ultimate travel companion for guardians who are willing to go the distance with them.

For all of these reasons and more, Congress designated December 13 as National Day of the Horse.  The text of the resolution states:

Encouraging citizens to be mindful of the contribution of horses to the economy, history, and character of the United States and expressing the sense of Congress that a National Day of the Horse should be established.

Whereas the horse is a living link to the history of the United States;

Whereas, without horses, the economy, history, and character of the United States would be profoundly different;

Whereas horses continue to permeate the society of the United States, as witnessed on movie screens, on open land, and in our own backyards;

Whereas horses are a vital part of the collective experience of the United States and deserve protection and compassion;

Whereas, because of increasing pressure from modern society, wild and domestic horses rely on humans for adequate food, water, and shelter; and

Whereas the Congressional Horse Caucus estimates that the horse industry contributes well over $100,000,000,000 each year to the economy of the United States: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress–

(1) encourages all citizens to be mindful of the contribution of horses to the economy, history, and character of the United States;

(2) expresses its sense that a National Day of the Horse should be established in recognition of the importance of horses to the Nation’s security, economy, recreation, and heritage; and

(3) urges the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States and interested organizations to observe National Day of the Horse with appropriate programs and activities.


The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.  ~Sharon Ralls Lemon

According to the American Horse Council:

  • There are 9.2 million horses in the United States.
  • 4.6 million Americans are involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees and volunteers.
  • 2 million people are horse guardians.
  • The horse industry has an economic effect on the U.S.of $39 billion annually.
  • The industry has a $102 billion impact on the U.S.economy when spending by industry suppliers and employees is factored in.
  • The horse industry provides 460,000 full-time jobs.

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. 

~Winston Churchill

national horse day day of the horse

Fun Horse Facts

  • The horse evolved 55 million years ago.
  • A close, early relative of the horse is Hyracotherium, also known as an eohippus. It was the size of a large fox. Hyracotherium stood 10 inches high at its shoulders and had four toes on its front feet and three on its back.
  • The only surviving branch of the horse family is the genus Equus, which includes zebras, asses, and donkeys along with the horse.
  • Rhinoceroses and tapirs are the horse’s closest living relatives.
  • Science shows us that the first domesticated horses were probably kept primarily as a source of food, rather than for work or for riding.
  • A horse can rest and even doze while standing. A horse will lock one of its hind legs at the stifle joint (it’s basically the knee). A group of ligaments and tendons called the stay apparatus holds the leg in place with minimal muscle involvement. Horses will switch from leg to leg to prevent fatigue in the leg that is locked.
  • A female horse is called a mare. A male horse is called a stallion. In the wild, the mare decides when the herd moves on and usually only one stallion will stay with a herd.
  • Horses live in well-structured groups with clear followers and leaders. Without any human training, horses will line up behind a lead mare according to their rank in the herd, usually with a stallion guarding the rear.
  • The famous mustangs of the American West, like many other “wild” populations, are actually considered feral, descended from escaped domesticated horses. The only truly wild horses live in Mongolia. They are called the Przewalski.


A dog looks up to a man, 
A cat looks down on a man, 
But a patient horse looks a man in the eye and sees him as an equal. 
- Unknown


American Museum of Natural History

Graphics created by Conscious Companion.


Pets are not iPads: Thinking Outside the Animal Gift Box


puppy-wearing-red-bowIf you are a last minute holiday shopper, you may be tempted to buy Christmas or New Year gifts for loved ones without doing your homework.  This time of year, parents and partners can be easily persuaded to get the most heart-warming gift of them all: a cute and cuddly new animal.  It may seem like the sweetest gift idea, but often it is not most responsible decision.

Animals are unlike any other present.  They require a level of commitment and responsibility that few other holiday gifts do.  Often because people fail to recognize this, countless dogs, cats, birds, and other animals given as gifts during the holidays end up at animal shelters shortly after the New Year, facing a very uncertain future.

An animal gifted as a present isn’t a Christmas Day gift, it is a life-long commitment.  Let’s be clear here.  It’s not a gift for your life, but their life.  Thinking of getting that teeny, tiny, adorable tortoise?  Are you ready to ensure its care for well over a hundred years?  Do you want a dazzling parrot?  You can plan on 60 to even 100 years of care.  Even aquatic turtles live over 30 years of age.  The average lifespan of a cat is 13 – 17 years.  A dog’s average lifespan is 10 to 13 years.  Are you ready to dedicate yourself to this animal for that long? Animals are not just pets.  They are family members for life.

Ask yourself another tough question.  Have you considered the extent of responsibility, time, care, expenses, education, commitment, and love that this one animal will require?  These responsibilities last far past Christmas day.  Take the time and do your homework on what exactly is involved by adding an animal companion to your lifestyle.

Let’s take dogs for example.  When you decide to bring home a new canine companion, please understand that you are making a commitment for the entirety of that dog’s life.  So many people that have the best intentions rush this very important and life-long decision.

The honest and informative graphic below from The Uncommon Dog should help you and your family decide if you are truly ready to welcome a dog into your home at Christmas Time.


Graphic provided by The Uncommon Dog

When the kids, wife, husband, or partner pleads for a new adorable pet, answer their request with a realistic question:  “Are you fully committed to this soul for its life?”  If either of you cannot answer with an unequivocal yes, then you might want to reconsider.

Parents, no matter how well intentioned your child may seem about caring for a new animal family member, the reality is that you will inevitably end up being the true caretaker of that animal.  Deciding to give your son or daughter that puppy or kitten that he or she has been asking for is really a decision made by the adult, to add another living, breathing, needing member of your family – for which you, the parent will be ultimately responsible.  It’s not quite the same, or as easy as investing in an iPad.

kitty gift

After the holidays are over, animal shelters are literally overwhelmed with discarded “Christmas pets”

If you decide that “gifting” an animal isn’t the best decision, consider these options as an alternative:

  • Joining Petfinder’s Foster a Lonely Pet for the holidays program. You can give a shelter dog or cat a much-needed break from the stress of shelter life.
  • Donating in-kind goods; many shelters need used blankets, sheets, and towels to make the animals more comfortable. They often need food, toys, and medical supplies. Call or check online to see your shelter’s “wish list” items.
  • Give a goat and two chickens. Through Animal World Vision, goats nourish hungry children and families with healthy milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Make a donation to your local shelter or local humane society.
  • Start an animal food drive. This can be for an animal food bank in your community, or in conjunction with other charity drives that may be taking place through your work, house of worship, or other organization.
  • Volunteer at your local shelter. You can help by walking dogs, offer love, affection, and attention to cats, assist with adoption events, and many other ways that are much needed

Think outside the animal gift box. Find another creative, thoughtful way to show your love this season.

The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its
value. ― Charles Dudley Warner

Chicken Soup for The Animal’s Soul and Body!


When we are not feeling well, or when the winter weather has chilled us to the bone, many people crave a steaming bowl of homemade soup to warm us up and make us feel cozy.  Did you know that we can do this for our animal companions, too?

You’ve probably heard that chicken noodle soup is kind of a “soul food.” When we’re sick, we want to eat foods that comfort us. And there’s research now that proves the science behind why certain types of foods are nourishing to people and comforting to pets. ~ Dr. Becker

A homemade bone broth is a nutritious option to offer your animal companion as a healthy comfort (and healing!) food at any time of year!  Bone broth is an excellent source of nourishment for animals recovering from illness.  It’s also helpful for those finicky eaters in our homes, and for senior pets with reduced appetites.  Bone broth is a source of nourishment that has been used for humans and animals for hundreds of years.

Bone Broth is Excellent Nourishment for Sick, Finicky and Older Pets ~  Dr. Becker

In the video below, Dr. Karen Becker, an integrative wellness veterinarian, shows you how to make a homemade bone broth.

Click here to download the transcript of Dr. Becker’s Interview from this video.


To Leash, or Not To Leash?


…. This is the question for many dog guardians.

This handy (and comical) flowchart should help you to make the best decision for you and your canine companion!

To Leash, or Not To Leash?

Many thanks to Jenny Williams for allowing us to help educate others with her graphic!

You can download a PDF of the graphic in various languages here.

Ever wonder where you’d end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash?  ~Robert Brault

The Season of Giving Back



We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. ― Winston Churchill

We call this the Season of Giving, but it doesn’t always feel like that. One of the things that I dislike about this holiday season is that the “consumer” tends to comes out in all of us.  We find ourselves rushing around, frantically buying random stuff or obligatory gifts for each other, instead of slowing down and giving back to people, animals, or organizations that need it most.

This season our family has decided to donate to each other’s favorite nonprofit organization instead of buying each other gifts. I have been asking for my family to do this for over a decade, but this will be the first year that we finally do it!  I am so grateful to be giving to others in need, instead of receiving.  

Recently I was excited to learn that the idea of giving to ones truly in need has gone global! Last year a new movement was started to create a national day of giving to kick off the season of giving!  It’s called Giving Tuesday And it’s today!! Each year it falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday to encourage the shopping community to start the season by giving back.  Since there are two days dedicated to shopping in connection with the holidays – Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shouldn’t there be at least one day focused on giving back?

Over 8,000 organizations in all 50 states have signed up as partners with Giving Tuesday! As I mentioned, this has gone global: significant Giving Tuesday campaigns are under way in countries all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Argentina and Singapore.

Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations. It was created to foster giving during a time of the year when there is a lot of focus on shopping.

Do Good Works and Help the Ones that are Doing Good

Giving Tuesday is a wonderful opportunity for us to give our money and resources to non-profit organizations who are doing great things behind the scenes and trying to make this world a better place for all living beings.

Countless non-profit organizations have signed up to be a part of Giving Tuesday to encourage people to help them out this holiday season!  Even animal shelter organizations are participating in a nationwide online donation drive.  Here are just a few cool ways to help people and shelter animals in need:

  • The National Animal Shelter Campaign is designed to raise pet food and other supplies for many of the shelters and rescues doing Good Work 24 hours a day. You Give Goods allows people to contribute to the campaign by simply visiting their website at You Give Goods Loves Animals.  From their website you select an organization to support, and then you choose the items you want to purchase, such as pet food or cleaning supplies. You Give Goods then handles the delivery of the donations to the shelters. Your donation will be delivered for you, directly to the shelter or rescue!  It’s that simple!  Learn more here.
  • In addition to the animal shelter campaign, You Give Goods also is conducting a Fresh Produce Drive to provide donations of nutritious food for people in need.
  • The Morris Animal Foundation has an incredible opportunity to make your donations go further!  A donor has agreed to give $100,000 to Morris Animal Foundation if they are able to raise the same amount by December 31, 2013.  This means that if you donated $25, $50, or $100, their benefactor will double that donation! Check out how you can make your donation go twice as far and do twice as much good for animals through the Season of Hope Gift Match!
  • Feral Fixers has also been blessed with two donors who have offered to match up to $2,000 worth of donations Giving Tuesday.  The funds will help support spay and neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and other costs associated with their Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs and rehoming the strays they take in.  Feral Fixers has spayed and neutered 6,000 cats in six years! Click here to donate, and reference “Black Cat Fundraiser”!

Tis the season to be unselfie

If you are on any kind of social media or networking site, chances are you have seen the famous “selfie” pic.  If you have not seen this, you can learn about what it is here. Fortunately, there is now a new trend to turn the selfie into an “un-selfie”.unselfie

This year was the year that “selfie” was named word of the year. ~Seriously.  But fortunately now there is a less selfish twist to it.  We are encouraged to post an “UNselfie” to our social media channels to spread the message of the season of giving.  This is how you do it:

1) Take a piece of paper and write the name of a charity you support.

2) Take your picture holding up the piece of paper in front of your face.

3) Upload the photo to your favorite social media page (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or your blog) and remember to include the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UNselfie.

Note: Sharing your charitable efforts during this time of year isn’t intended to glorify your efforts, or your virtue, but rather to inspire others to give, and to educate your friends and family about the organization you choose to support.


Be “UNSELFIE”   Source: petapixel

You can see more creative Unselfies here!

Gifts for the Givers

Are you a volunteer?  Do you work for a nonprofit?  Do you rally for a cause?  The Case Foundation is kicking off this Season of Giving with the 5 Giving Tuesdays campaign.  When you visit their site and share how you’ll give back, you have a chance chance to win $100,000 in grants and prizes!  Visit here to learn more!

You can also download a helpful tool from Nonprofit Toolkit and add your logo, message and direct giving URL to kick off your giving season!

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.― Charles Dickens

Conscious Companion Recommended Organizations

How You Can Support People, Nature and Endangered Species Through Online Donations:

Those are just a few of the organizations that I have worked with or supported over the years. Each one of them makes huge advances in their respective fields, but I know there are millions more that do good work as well.  What are some nonprofits that you support? Please share them in the comments below!

For it is in giving that we receive. ― St. Francis of Assisi

Giving Tuesday


In Gratitude



Thanksgiving has come and gone.  This American holiday is the one day of the year that people consciously choose to reflect on what they are grateful for in their lives.  It is a time for reflection.  Our hearts are open to giving thanks for the many blessings we have, the family and friends that we share our lives with, and the variety of gifts that life has provided for us.  But this doesn’t have to be a once-a-year occurrence; we can live in gratitude every day.

As the world shows its more chaotic side these days, I have become infinitely grateful for gifts that I took for granted for most of my life. These gifts are my animal companions.  Some are no longer with me, but thankfully, some are still by my side.  Every day I make a point to thank them for being in my life.  I have come to realize that many of my life lessons have come from them.  Each animal – past and present – reptile, bird, mammal, and amphibian, each taught me valuable lessons over the years; I could not have learned some of my greatest lessons without them.

They show me how to be fully present.  How to not fear or worry about the future, and how to not dwell on the past.  The here-and-now is their only time zone.  If I had the courage to live every moment as they do, I would enjoy and appreciate every second of this life.

From observing them, I have learned how to enjoy a sunset, a sunrise, a cool breeze, or a warm ray of sun on my face without having to discuss it, or capture it on film.

They taught me to take risks and be bold.  They have shown me how to look ahead and see life as an adventure.  They taught me to travel far and reach for what your heart desires.

They remind me that material things are meaningless.  So what if a glass or dish breaks?  So what if my favorite shoes are destroyed?  It’s only stuff.  It can be replaced.  The ones we love cannot be replaced.

They have made me a better human.  They have made me more understanding, and more compassionate.  I may even be a better mother to a human one day because of them.  They teach me patience.  They teach me true forgiveness.  They teach me to take time to grieve, then to move forward and not look back.  They teach me how to celebrate the passing of a loved one, and to not mourn the loss.  They teach me how to love unconditionally, and how to accept love.

They have taught me that being unapologetically myself is the only way to be.  They taught me to never shrink or hide who I really am to make others feel comfortable. They teach me to love and accept everything about myself.  They have shown me that guilt and suffering are wasted emotions.

They are never in a bad mood, even when they have every right to be.  They are always ready to move on and seize the next adventure.  When my life seems to be in a rough patch, I can shift my attention to my animal companions and see the joy, cheer and Light within them.  They are continuous examples of how to forgive, how to move on, and how to shake it off.  Their very nature is love.  Their presence alone is reassuring and comforting.  I am never truly alone with my animal companion by my side.

How can we repay someone who gives us these invaluable gifts every day?  With gratitude. Every day.

I encourage you to take a few minutes each day and give your animal companion something meaningful.  You can give your time, your undivided attention, or your affection.  After everything they bring into our lives, shouldn’t we find a way to show our gratitude to them?  They chose you.  You may have “found” them but they were always meant to be with you.  Just you.

They will always be there for you.  Thank them for that.


The animal shall not be measured by man.  In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.  They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth. ~ Henry Beston

Take a moment to watch this touching short film to see how one man created a marvelous way to show gratitude for his feline buddy.  

Animal Ages, Birthdays and Hatchdays!

Zola the pygmy hippo calf  turned 1 and enjoyed her birthday "cake" at the Lowry park Zoo this past  weekend.

Zola the pygmy hippo calf turned  1 and enjoyed her birthday “cake” at the Lowry Park Zoo this past weekend.  (Photo Credit: Lowry Park Zoo)

Recently we celebrated two of our animals’ birthdays.  One turned two years of age and the other turned somewhere between 14 and 16 years of age.  I wish I knew his exact age, but he was a rescue from the streets. All we can do is guess. It’s pretty common to not know the exact birthday of an animal, unless someone that you are in contact with saw the birth (or hatch) of that particular animal. As with most animal guardians who adopt their furry, feathered or scaly family member, it’s usually an educated guess to estimate their exact age.

Veterinarians however, have been trained to recognize the physical signs of age in various species. They do a physical examination and look at the condition of the animal’s teeth, bones, joints, muscles, and internal organs.  Depending on the experience and knowledge of the vet, the accuracy of their results can vary.  I have taken every single one of my many pets to various veterinarians over the years, and each one has had a different opinion on the age of every one of the rats, cats, guinea pigs, dogs, turtles, rabbits, birds, etc. that I have loved and cared for, so I eventually lost faith in their ability to determine what I decided I could learn on my own.  All I needed was a bit of research.  Soon enough I was able to determine the age of each animal in a way that made sense to me, and in a fun format where I could relate to the results.

After doing the research a few years ago I learned that much of what I had been told over the years was incorrect.  For example, we have all heard the formula that a year in “dog age” is equal to seven human years of age, but that’s not entirely correct. This formula is actually an oversimplification of the reality of how dogs age.

Dog Aging Facts:

  • Dogs mature more quickly than children in the first couple of years.
  • The first year of a dog’s life is equal to about 15 human years, not seven.
  • Size and breed directly influence the rate at which a dog ages.
  • Female dogs tend to live a little longer.
  • Large breed dogs mature more slowly at first, but are considered elderly at age five.
  • Small and “toy” breeds become seniors around age 10.

Most dog experts seem to follow this age formula:

  • A 1 year old dog is equal to a 12 year old human.
  • A 2 year old dog is equal to a 24 year old human.
  • Add four years for every calendar year after that.
The director of veterinary services at Boston’s Animal Rescue League believes this calculation of age is more accurate.

The director of veterinary services at Boston’s Animal Rescue League believes this calculation of age is more accurate.

Check out the Dog Age Calculator to find out how your canine companion is aging!

The maximum life span for humans is considered to be around the age of 110.  Dogs are thought to be able to live no longer than 29 years and cats can reach a maximum age in their mid 30s.  So taking the differences in maximum life span for humans compared to cats or dogs, the dog’s age after age 14 is calculated at two and a half human years compared to two years for cats.  So that’s why a 20 year old cat is chronologically younger than a 20 year old dog.  The cat has a longer maximum life span.

Converting Cat Age 

In the feline world, it’s widely accepted that one can convert a cat’s age to an equivalent human age by adding 15 years for the first year of a cat’s life, then you add ten years for the second year of life.  After that, add four years for every year.  So by year two, a cat has matured to about the same as a 25 year old human.

If you are anything like me, just reading that made my brain hurt, so if you despise math check out the Cat Years Calculator graphic (from The Cat Owner’s Manual) below.


A popular misconception is that cats age seven years (in human years) for each calendar year.  In fact, feline aging is much more rapid during the first two years of life.

Feline Age Facts:

  • A cat reaches a human’s age of 15 during his/her first year.
  • A cat is about 24 years old at age 2.
  • Each year after year 2, a cat ages approximately four “cat years” for every calendar year.
  • A 5 year young feline is about 36 in “cat years”.
  • A cat who lives outdoors ages far more quickly than indoor cats; some believe even twice as fast.

This handy dandy Cat Year Calculator converts your cat’s age to human age, so you can better understand how he/she is aging.

Not all cat enthusiasts agree on the conversion formula in that link above, so if you want to check out a slightly different calculation the Cat Bible by Tracie Hotchner, provides the following list:

  • 1 month old kitten = 6 month young human
  • 3 month old kitten = 4 year old child
  • 6 month old kitten = 10 year old kid
  • 8 month old kitten = 15 year old teen
  • At 1 calendar year a cat has reached his/her adulthood. (This is equivalent to 18 human years)

Here it is in reverse:

  • 2 human years = 24 cat years
  • 6 human years = 42 cat years
  • 10 human years = 60 cat years
  • 14 human years = 80 cat years

Bird Bodies

Most of the larger species of companion parrots don’t age any faster or slower than human do. In fact, the rate at which their bodies age is remarkably similar to that of the average person. Many of these larger species of parrots will live for over 80 years!  Some smaller species of birds (Cockatiels or Lovebirds) don’t have a lifespan as long as the larger parrot species.  Most of these smaller bird species have an average life expectancy of 20 years, but that’s only if they are provided with optimal living conditions in captivity.

Working at the Audubon Zoo, enjoying some down time with the Moluccan cockatoos Chopin and Zazous after our parrot educational program

At the Audubon Zoo, enjoying some down time with the very feisty and loving Moluccan cockatoos, Chopin and Zazous, after our educational program.    Zazous (left) is age six.  Chopin (right) is eight.  They are both fed the highest quality foods, given the best medical care, and are provided with an endless supply of mental and physical enrichment daily.  I have no doubt that these factors will directly contribute to both of them living well past their maximum life expectancy of  70 years.

FYI: There is another age calculator that compares ages of many different species like horses, ducks, chickens and rabbits. Click here to convert ages between species.

Awesome Animal Ages:

Tish, the oldest living captive pet goldfish lived for 43 years!

  • The world’s oldest captive goldfish lived for 43 years!
  • The longest living cat was 34 years old.
  • On average, the Siamese and Manx breeds are the longest living cats.
  • Keeping your cat indoors can double his/her lifespan!
  • Methuselah, a caged dove, was born in 1975 and lived with his person in Germany for over 32 years.

    Charlie, a blue and yellow macaw, is spending his twilight years (at 104 years old!) in a garden centre in Surreye. He used to live with Sir Winston Churchill in his birdie heyday.

    Charlie, a blue and yellow macaw, is spending his twilight years (at 104 years old!) in a garden centre in Surreye. He used to live with Sir Winston Churchill in his birdie heyday.  (Photo Credit: AP)

  • The oldest non venomous snake on record was a boa constrictor named “Popeye”. He was over 40 years old when he passed at the Philadelphia Zoo in 1977.  In the wild, the oldest natural longevity record is held by a black ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta). She was 30 years old.
  • The oldest venomous snake on record was a coral snake that I had the honor of caring for at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.  She was over 28 years old when I last saw her.
  • The oldest living chicken is Muffy, a Red Quill Muffed American Game. She was was born on Jan 1, 1989. That would make her over 24 yeras old today!
  • Snowball was the oldest guinea pig on record. He lived 14 years and 10.5 months. (Most guinea pigs’ lifespan is only 7 years.)

    Gregoire, the oldest living chimpanzee spent

    Gregoire, the oldest living chimpanzee spent his last 11 years in peace at Jane Goodall’s sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees before he passed in 2008.  (Photo Credit: The Goodall Foundation)

  • After surviving more than 40 years in a barren cage, Africa’s Oldest Chimpanzee,Gregoire, lived to be 66 years of age.
  • A horse’s typical lifespan is 20-25 years, but “Old Billy” lived to be 62! Billy was born in 1760 in the English village of Woolston in Lancashire Country.
  • The longest known living animal was a clam that was over 400 years old! It was found in Icelandic water.
  • Charles Darwin “tortoise-napped” a tortoise from the Galapagos Islands during his famous voyage. He brought her back to England and named her Harriet.  She was estimated to have been hatched in 1830 and passed on in 2005. Harriet was 179 years old when her body gave out. The Guinness Book of Records sites Harriet as the oldest tortoise on record.

    "RAWR!!"  This is an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) hatching.  It's hard to believe that a hatchling the size of a golf ball will grow to be  over 150 pounds and 150 years of age!

    “RAWR!!” This is an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) hatching.  They are very popular companion animals.  It’s hard to believe that a hatchling the size of a golf ball will grow to be over 150 pounds and 150 years of age if provided with the right environment!

Willie P!  The zoo's beloved Monk (Quaker) Parakeet out on educational programming. Willie is still thriving at nearly 40 years of age!  I believe that Willie's longevity is related to the mental and physical stimulation and love he has received from people of all ages and backgrounds over the years.

Meet Willie P!  He is the Audubon Zoo’s beloved Monk (Quaker) Parakeet out on educational programming.  Willie was rescued many years ago and he is still thriving at nearly 40 years of age!  I believe that Willie’s longevity is related to the mental and physical stimulation, love and attention he has received from people of all ages and backgrounds over the years.

So what’s the take-home message here?  Simply put: An animal’s age is directly related to its overall health, happiness, enrichment, and its genetics.  Much like us, companion animals need a variety of factors to live a long, healthy life.  Proper nutrition, adequate exercise, a specie’s genetics, and social, mental, and physical stimulation all play a vital role in an animal’s health and life expectancy.
Knowing your animal companion’s age in human years gives you an idea of where they are chronologically, but this is just a starting point.  Sure the age calculator is fun and it helps us to know how to better provide for them as they age, but that’s not enough.  We must be devoted, well-educated and responsible animal guardians to enable them to thrive in our homes.  This is what being a conscious companion is all about .
We can be a devoted, responsible animal guardian by making sure that our animal companion has:
  • access to high quality food and proper nutritional supplements  
  • adequate exercise daily
  • regular grooming
  • tons of mental and physical stimulation
  • vet care throughout their life – this includes holistic options as well!
  • fun and games with you!
  • an endless supply of unconditional love

These seven factors will help you to provide a lifetime of health and happiness for your companion animal.  By providing these things, we can often allow them to meet, or even exceed their “average life expectancy”.  Their quality of life is in our hands. 

This is Obsidian and Feldspar, our former breeding pair of threatened Aldabra tortoises at the Audubon Zoo.   During breeding season you could hear Feldspar's mating sounds from the other side of the zoo.  Obsidian unfortunately died at a very early age of 30 due to over calcification, but Feldspar remains happy and healthy at the ripe age of 80 years young.  If he could talk, he would give thanks to the endless supply of nutritious foods and supplements, appropriate medical care and husbandry, human affection, and an obsession of female Aldabra tortoises.

Mental and physical stimulation rank pretty high on the “giant tortoise needs” scale.  This is Obsidian and Feldspar, our former breeding pair of threatened Aldabra tortoises at the Audubon Zoo.  During the long breeding season you could hear Feldspar’s mating sounds from the other side of the zoo.  It was quite amusing to visitors of all ages.  Obsidian unfortunately died at a very early age of 30 years young due to over calcification, but Feldspar remains happy and healthy at the ripe age of 85.  If Feldspar and Magma, his 100 year old tortoise buddy, could talk, they would give credit their health to the endless supply of nutritious foods and supplements, appropriate husbandry, the very best medical care, human affection, and a very healthy obsession with female tortoises.  With a life like this, Feldspar and Magma are expected to live well past their life expectancy of 100 to even 200 hundred years old!!


Simple Acts of Kindness



Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. ― Henry James

So they say that today is World Kindness Day.  There’s a day for everything these days, so why not kindness?  It seems to be in short supply but in high demand around the world, so I am glad to see this day being celebrated.

Kindness is defined as “the quality or state of being kind” and “a kind act”.  Sounds pretty simple, right? Well if it’s so simple, why aren’t we doing this every day of the year?Kindness

I have a secret that I have kept to myself, but since it’s World Kindness Day, I feel like I can share it with you.  Who knows, maybe it will spread like wildfire.  Every so often (when I remember to do it) I will pay for the person’s order in line behind me when I go through the drive though our local coffee place.  I never know what they’re going to get, and I don’t worry about if it’s going to be expensive. And cool enough – it never is.  It’s always within my means.

(I have thought about how cool it would be to pay it forward at the grocery store as well, but then I laugh about the chance of offering to pay for the person in line behind me, and rather than picking up the tab for a dude and his 6 pack of beer, chips and dip, I get the lady with $300 worth of groceries.)

Ok, so back to the secret paying it forward game that I do … I have to say that the best part of paying it forward with any random act of kindness is that I usually do it when I am in a super craptastic mood.  You would think that would be the last moment when you would want to do something for someone else, but you would be surprised. It’s pretty remarkable how helping another person and sending a little love their way when you are feeling down will brighten your mood, knowing that you might have put a smile on someone’s face, or created a warm place in their heart.

A few weeks ago one of my best friends made a fun, colorful shirt that read “FREE HUGS” then went out to her local mall and approached strangers. She challenged herself and made herself vulnerable, but it totally paid off. People loved her hugs and she made so many people smile!

One of my best buddies out at her local shopping area spreading love and kindness!

One of my best buddies out at her local shopping area spreading love and kindness!

There are so many ways that we can spread kindness and cheer.  And we can do this 356 days out of the year.  Do it when your heart is sad. Do it when you are frustrated or annoyed.  Do it when you are in the best mood.  Just do it.  Spread love and kindness in any way that you can think of.  And if you can’t think of ideas, here are a few to choose from. And here are a few ideas for the kids out there.

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. ― Mark Twain


In the video below, they track one act of kindness as it’s passed from one person to another. Eventually this one act of kindness boomerangs back to the person who set it in motion:

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. ― Lao Tzu

No matter where you are in the world today, it’s your day to change the world with one simple act of kindness. Heck, shoot for a dozen ways to spread kindness. The ripple effects will reach far beyond your wildest dreams!

What random acts of kindness do you enjoy sharing?  Please share in the comments below!  Then pass on the love!

acts of doing good and kindness


If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction. – Martin Kornfeld