Humans aren’t the only ones that can tell a lie.

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Do you think only humans can tell a lie? Think again.

Koko, like most gorillas, is very intelligent. She is world-renown for her ability to communicate through sign language with a vocabulary of over 1000 words. Once Koko learned to communicate, she asked her trainers for a kitten as a present.

One day at the Gorilla Foundation, when no humans were present, Koko ripped a sink out of the wall of her habitat. When her people returned, Koko explained what happened by signing the phrase “cat did it” and pointing at her tiny kitten.

The kitten who took the fall for that mess is no longer with Koko, but she has since made new feline friends. Check out this adorable video of Koko getting a new kitty friend.

Wall of Humans Help Endangered Sea Turtle Hatchlings Find Their Way Safely to Sea!

loggerhead Sea Turtle

Each weekend I am going to spotlight a species that may live in your home, or one that may live right outside your front door in the wild.  Why?  Well, I have found that if we care enough about the species we choose to live with, we can learn to teach children (and ourselves) to care more about the species that we share the planet with.

Today’s Species Spotlight is dedicated to an animal found just a few miles from my home here in North Carolina.  However, this particular story that made headlines this week takes place in the Caribbean.

Earlier this week 113 Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) were hatched on the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean.  You may be wondering why the news is  making such a big deal about this.  I think it’s for 2 reasons: the Loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, and because people played a vital role in helping these wee turtle hatchlings safely begin their new lives in a world that does not favor the small and defenseless.  Thanks to a group of volunteers, who formed a human wall around them, these sea turtles had a chance to live.

Watch the video of humans helping an endangered species!

Baby loggerhead turtles – Bonaire from Nathalia Castro on Vimeo.

This human wall was imperative to the newly hatched sea turtles’ survival.   When sea turtles hatch from the nest on the beach, they crawl towards the brightest light they see, which is usually the moon hanging over the ocean.  Sea turtles are born with the instinct to move toward the brightest direction. On a natural beach, this direction is the light of the open horizon.  These turtles hatched on a beach next to an airport.  Because of this conservationists were concerned that the turtles would crawl towards the lights from the buildings and planes.  Two years ago, an entire group of sea turtle hatchlings were lost because they did exactly that.

Dr. Sue Willis, the program director of Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire  told ABC, “We surround the baby turtles on both sides so that they cannot see the airport lights.  We give them ample space to crawl and form a line all the way down to the ocean, so they stay on path.”  All of their efforts succeeded in helping all 113 turtles into the ocean!  Loggerhead sea turtles have been listed as endangered for decades, mostly because of human activities that are detrimental to their health and their habitat.  But this week, people will be the reason these turtles survived.

Source: Yahoo News


LOGGERHEAD STATS

STATUS:   On September 22, 2011, the listing was revised from a single global threatened species to a listing of nine Distinct Population Segments (DPS); four listed as threatened (Northwest Atlantic Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Southwest Indian Ocean, Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean, and South Atlantic Ocean DPSs) and five listed as endangered (Northeast Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean, and North Indian Ocean DPSs).

HABITAT:  The loggerhead is widely distributed within its range.  It may be found hundreds of miles out to sea, as well as in inshore areas such as bays, lagoons, salt marshes, creeks, ship channels, and the mouths of large rivers.  Coral reefs, rocky places, and shipwrecks are often used as feeding areas.  Nesting occurs mainly on open beaches or along narrow bays having suitable sand, and it is often in association with other species of sea turtles.  Most loggerhead hatchlings originating from U.S. beaches are believed to lead a pelagic existence in the North Atlantic gyre for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as 7 to 12 years, and are best known from the eastern Atlantic near the Azores and Madeira.  Post-hatchlings have been found floating at sea in association with Sargassum rafts.  Once they reach a certain size, these juvenile loggerheads begin recruiting to coastal areas in the western Atlantic where they become benthic feeders in lagoons, estuaries, bays, river mouths, and shallow coastal waters.  These juveniles occupy coastal feeding grounds for about 13 to 20 years before maturing and making their first reproductive migration, the females returning to their natal beach to nest.

REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT:  The U.S. nesting season occurs from April through September, with a peak in June and July.  Nesting occurs primarily at night.  Loggerheads are known to nest from one to seven times within a nesting season (mean is about 4.1 nests per season) at intervals of approximately 14 days.  Mean clutch size varies from about 100 to 126 along the southeastern U.S. coast.  Incubation duration ranges from about 42 to 75 days, depending on incubation temperatures, but averages 55-60 days for most clutches in Florida.  Hatchlings generally emerge at night.  Remigration intervals of 2 to 3 years are most common in nesting loggerheads, but remigration can vary from 1 to 7 years.  Age at sexual maturity is believed to be about 32 to 35 years.

Adults grow to an average weight of about 200 pounds and an average length of 3 feet. The species feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other marine animals.

loggerhead sea turtle eggs

REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS:  Threats include loss or degradation of nesting habitat from coastal development and beach armoring; disorientation of hatchlings by beachfront lighting; nest predation by native and non-native predators; degradation of foraging habitat; marine pollution and debris; watercraft strikes; disease; and incidental take from channel dredging and commercial trawling, longline, and gillnet fisheries.  There is particular concern about the extensive incidental take of juvenile loggerheads in the eastern Atlantic by longline fishing vessels from several countries.

MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: In the southeastern U.S., major nest protection efforts and beach habitat protection are underway for most of the significant nesting areas, and significant progress has been made in reducing mortality from commercial fisheries in U.S. waters with the enforcement of turtle excluder device regulations.  Many coastal counties and communities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have developed lighting ordinances to reduce hatchling disorientations.  Important U.S. nesting beaches have been and continue to be acquired for long-term protection.  The migratory nature of loggerheads severely compromises these efforts once they move outside U.S. waters, however, since legal and illegal fisheries activities in some countries are causing high mortality of loggerheads from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS.  Due to the long range migratory movements of sea turtles between nesting beaches and foraging areas, long-term international cooperation is absolutely essential for recovery and stability of nesting populations.

Source:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

View the full Loggerhead sea turtle fact sheet here.

Loggerhead sea turtle beached and preparing to lay her eggs
Loggerhead sea turtle beached and preparing to lay her eggs

The NC Sea Turtle Project, run by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s Division of Wildlife Management, is committed to monitoring NC’s sea turtle population.  This project would not be possible without the help of hundreds of volunteers, as well as many organizations and agencies.   Each summer, the North Carolina Aquarium works with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and local sea turtle rescue organizations, accepting a limited number of hatchlings that did not make the initial trek to the ocean.  Generally, these turtles are discovered during routine nest excavations three days after hatching.  Since last year, and for the first time, the North Carolina Aquarium will track and gather data on newly released sea turtles thanks to evolving technology and a new pilot research program.  Watch Tagging and Release Video Here.

loggerhead

What can I do to help protect sea turtles?

  • Organize or join a beach clean up day. Check with organizations or schools in your area to become involved in clearing the beaches of trash that could be harmful to wildlife.
  • Do not leave fishing line behind.  This entangles many types of wildlife including sea turtles.
  • Do not feed sea turtles or other wildlife.  This encourages them to approach people in high traffic areas.
  • Never buy products made from sea turtles.
  • Reduce the amount of plastic garbage you produce.
  • Turn off the lights!  Keep beachfront lights off throughout the night from May to October as they can confuse sea turtles during the mating season.  Suggested alternatives to decrease artificial lighting include use of motion sensors for safety, dark window tinting and curtains to cover inside light, and yellow incandescent light bulbs (“bug lights”). Studies have also shown that light from low pressure sodium vapor sources don’t attract turtles as much as high pressure sodium lights.  Avoid fluorescent, mercury vapor, metal halide, and white incandescent lighting.
  • Oppose coastal armoring.  The fewer obstacles sea turtles have to overcome, the better their chances of successful nesting.
  • Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use.  Ordinary lawn and garden fertilizers wash into coastal waters killing plants and animals. Look for biodegradable alternatives, and correctly dispose of used toxic chemicals.
  • Use your local newspaper to inform people about the plight of sea turtles and what they can do to help.
  • Adopt a Turtle. Join and support the Sea Turtle Survival League by calling 1-800-678-7853
  • Buy a License Plate.  The next time you renew your automobile registration at your local tax collector’s office, request a specialty sea turtle plate. The extra dollars go toward protection, research, and recovery programs at the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Source for these tips:  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Click here to learn more about How You Can Help Sea Turtles!

Crepuscular Cats!

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A firefly (Photuris lucicrescens) or “lightning bug” is a crepuscular beetle


June 2013

Cat lovers love their cats, but let’s be honest: Not all cat lovers know cat facts. Here’s one common misconception about house cats:

Myth:  Cats are nocturnal.

Fact:  The domestic house cat (Felis silvestris catus) is actually crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn.  Most indoor cats follow a very specific trend of dawn and dusk activity, rather than strictly at night.  

Crepuscular behavior is also one of the reasons why cats wake us up every morning at the Same. Darn. Time.

cat night vision
Cats and fireflies are both crepuscular!

Crepuscular Critters!

Crepuscular animals are species that are active primarily during twilight (at dawn and dusk). They tend to sleep at night and lay low during midday, when the sun is at its peak, reserving their energy when it’s hottest.  The word crepuscular is derived from the Latin crepusculum, meaning “twilight”.   Crepuscular behavior differs from diurnal and nocturnal behavior, which respectively peak during hours of daylight and darkness.  However, crepuscular critters can also be active on a bright moonlit night, or on an overcast day.  Some animals that are casually described as nocturnal are actually crepuscular.  There are subdivisions of crepuscular animals.  Matutinal animals are most active in the morning, while vespertine animals are most active at dusk.

Cats_crepuscular_not nocturnal_dusk dawn animal activity_why does my cat_cat behavior_cat wakes up

I hesitate to state that every house cat is crepuscular, but most indoor cats do fall under the crepuscular category.   However, it’s important to note that companion cats have adapted to our schedules so that each individual cat, whether a stray alley cat or pampered house cat, can change their activity level at will, choosing to become less nocturnal or more diurnal in response to their environment or the routine of their humans.

The time of day when cats are most active may not be all hard-wired genetically, but may vary according to their lifestyle, which is greatly influenced by the human in their house.  This was revealed in a scientific study.  The results showed that there was a “high influence of human presence, and human care on the amount of activity in cats”.  This means that many companion cats will adapt their activity levels according to how they are cared for by their person, and the routines that the person has in their home.  It seems that many house cats are more “in sync” with their people than previously believed!

Feral cats’ daily activity patterns—sleeping during the day and being active at night, which likely reflects the behavior of their prey, lets them better avoid humans—was very different from kitties with homes.  Those animals were most active in the morning and evening, when their owners were likely home and awake. ~ The Secret Lives of Feral Cats

Knox, our youngest cat is a perfect example of a crepuscular kitty - most active at dawn and dusk, and sleeping mostly during the day and night.
Knox, our youngest cat is a perfect example of a crepuscular kitty – most active at dawn and dusk, and sleeping mostly during the day and night.

Fast Feline Fact:  Most cats will sleep up to 16 hours a day, and older cats will sleep as much as 20 hours a day!  These sleeping times vary in individual cats and in each home, but most sleep is during the daytime.  When cats are most active is dependent on the home environment and how in sync they are with the sun, or their human’s schedule.


Secretive Kitties or Careful Cats?

Some people live with felines that hide away all day in their secretive, quiet spots in the house while the humans or other animals are awake and moving about.  If this is the case, then chances are your Secretive Kitties will creep out at night when the coast is clear.  One of my feline companions, Samantha, loved to explore the house when the people and the annoying Kitty Boys were asleep.  She would wait until the house was “sleeping”, then romp around, playing with toys and jumping about when she thought no one was watching.  She loved to explore every nook and cranny of the house when she knew it was safe.  The prime real-estate window that was claimed during the day became her throne at night.

black_cat_near_window-t2

Samantha and the kitty boys are much like the average cat that sleeps between 12 and 20 hours every day, but they had very different schedules that fit their feline needs.  While this varies from cat to cat, most of a cat’s sleep takes place during the daytime.  This daytime hiding and sleeping behavior tends to make humans believe that cats are nocturnal.  If we rarely see them during the day and then see them come out at night when they are most comfortable, we assume they are nocturnal.   However, true nocturnal animals hunt, forage, eat, bathe, etc. at night.


Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by activity during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is “nocturnal”.  Nocturnal animals are more active at night than during the day.  These animals sleep during the day, often in a burrow or den. Many animals, like desert animals, are nocturnal in order to escape extreme daytime heat.

Hedgehogs, red-eyed treefrogs and barn owls are true nocturnal species
Hedgehogs, red-eyed treefrogs and barn owls are true nocturnal species

 Older Cats and Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats tend to display more nocturnal behaviors, due to their natural hunting instinct and their ability to follow through on this powerful innate need to hunt, capture, and kill prey.  Scientists believe that nighttime is when cats’ prey is most active outdoors.  Therefore hunting is best at this time. This behavior stems from their lineage as desert cats, where nighttime temperatures were cooler, and prey was more available.

Panthers are also crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)!  They tend to rest during the daytime, then travel long miles to hunt during the cooler hours of the evening and early morning.
Panthers are also crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)! They tend to rest during the daytime, then travel long miles to hunt during the cooler hours of the evening and early morning.

Younger cats tend to stay up at night, because they instinctively know that this is “prime hunting time”.  But as cats grow older, they will adapt to the sleeping patterns of their home environment.  Eventually these cats will become more crepuscular.

I have seen this happen with our two older male cats. They sleep most of the day, are very active early in the morning (dawn), very active at dusk, but sleep again when the rest of the humans (and dog) are asleep at night.  Our youngest cat stays up later than the older boys, but he does eventually come to bed after he is done exploring the quiet house.

Scottish wildcat
Scottish wildcats are active at dawn and dusk when hunting or marking territory

Fun Feline Sight Facts:

Cats’ night time vision is far superior to that of humans, however they can’t see in total darkness.  The structure of a cat ’s eye allows them to see well in low light.  Cats only need 1/6 of the light humans do in order to decipher shapes.  The muscles of the cat’s iris surrounding the pupils are constructed to allow the eye to narrow to a vertical slit in bright light and to open fully in very dim light, to allow maximum illumination.  These special feline features developed for survival purposes, as wild cats are nocturnal and do much of their hunting at night.

cats eye
Cat night vision is far superior to humans, but they cannot see in total darkness

A reflective layer behind the cat’s retina called the tapetum lucidum reflects incoming light and bounces it back off the cones, making more use of the existing light.  The tapetum is what we see in action when light hits a cat’s eyes at night, you see shiny green orbs.


Felis silvestris catus Sundials

Cats are such great examples of sundials.  They naturally define their life by the sun.  Most cats who are in sync with the sun’s movement will be active at dawn and dusk.  This is because it’s part of their natural feline biology.  It’s instinctive!  I encourage you to be a Conscious Companion and start to observe how your cat moves with the sun around the house throughout the day. See if your cat is more in sync with your human schedule, or with the sun’s movement.

Cat Sundial


Does your feline fit in the crepuscular category, or do they hideaway during the day and release their inner wildcat at night? Share in the comment section below!


Interested in learning more about your feline family member? Check out our Feline Educational Resources!

Looking for support to assist you with your feline companion? Conscious Companion is here to help! Learn more here.


ConsciousCompanion.com


The Clever Cavy

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Guinea pigs are rodents from South America, originally domesticated by the Incas of Peru roughly 7,000 years ago.  Their relatives are Cavy Porcellus, found in Brazil and Cavy Boliviensis, located in the high Andes, and Cavy Cutleri which lives in Peru.  Scientists now believe these cavy companion were possibly domesticated from an extinct wild species that lived in northern and western South America.   Domestication efforts have come a long way since the Incas.  You can find guinea pigs everywhere from the family couch to training camps!

Did you know these cool facts about guinea pigs?

  • Guinea pigs are neither pigs, nor from Guinea.   They’re not even from New Guinea!
  • Wild cavies live in social groups called “herds.”
  • Guinea pigs are very social animals and they love to play
  • They are excellent swimmers
  • Guinea pigs are cousins of the chinchilla
  • The name for the guinea pig is “cavy”, which comes from its scientific name, Cavia Porcellus.  porcellus is Latin for “little pig”.
  • In the U.S. in 2007, approximately 847,000 households had guinea pigs, and there was an estimated population of 1,362,000 guinea pigs in these homes combined
  • In the U.K. in 2012, it was estimated that there were 1,000,000 companion guinea pigs
  • Average life span is 5 – 6 years. They have been known to live as long as 10 years. The oldest guinea pig is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having lived fifteen years!
  • Guinea pigs have thirteen distinct sounds to communicate with each other
  • Guinea pigs have distinct personalities
  • Happy, healthy guinea pigs sometimes jump up vertically and kick in the air. This is known as “popcorning” because it looks similar to popping corn.
  • Guinea pigs are precocial; they are born with eyes open and fully covered in fur.
  • They do not have a tail, but they do have tail vertebrae
  • Guinea pigs can be litter box trained
  • Guinea pigs can learn complex paths to food, and can remember a learned path for months.
  • Guinea pig training camps are the latest training innovation!  Guinea pigs are learning to safely detect gun powder and tobacco

Want to sharpen your dog/cat training skills? Learn more about this Cavy Training Camp here!

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So I think we can agree that guinea pigs are pretty darn cute and have fascinating abilities, but there are some important needs that must be addressed. Cavy Care is not something to take lightly. Guinea pigs are more complex and require more care than most people realize. Here are a few things that you need to consider:

CAVY CARE:

  • Guinea pigs should be spayed or neutered, and they reach sexual maturity very fast.  A male reaches sexual maturity at 3-5 weeks and females in 4 weeks!
  • Guinea pigs are very social animals. They require daily quality time and interaction with their human family.
  • Because of they are highly social, they do better when housed with another guinea pig buddy.  They should be kept in pairs or, preferably groups, unless there is a specific medical condition that requires isolation. Lone guinea pigs are more likely to suffer from stress and depression.
  • They have 20 teeth that continue to grow throughout their lifetime
  • Their nails require regular trimming
  • They have 340˚ field of vision, but have poor depth perception, and see only a few colors
  • They eat 6% of their body weight daily!
  • Guinea pigs have what are known as “open rooted” teeth, which means the teeth grow constantly throughout their lives. They need unlimited access to foods, especially grass hays, to help grind down their teeth in order to keep them at the proper length and alignment.
  • Guinea pigs are unable to manufacture Vitamin C within their bodies; therefore, this vitamin must be supplemented.  My previous post discusses how  you can do it.
  • They share an unusual behavior with rabbits: coprophagy – eating their poop.  However, this is normal behavior and is needed to remain healthy.  Learn more here.
  • They need regular exercise outside of their enclosure! Learn more here.
  • Learn the 5 Most Common Guinea Pig Mistakes: Diets, housing and where to get a cavy companion HERE.
  • If you are curious to learn your guinea pig’s age in human years, you can learn how here.

GP diet

Before you fall in love with the idea of getting a guinea pig, before you give in to your child’s plea for one, do your homework first to make sure you are fully prepared!

This blog is dedicated to Gus, our family guinea pig of many years.  We loved you, buddy.  Thank you for being in our lives, and for the companionship that you gave all of us, including your furry friend, Penny the beagle.

Spare a Rabbit. Say NO to Bunnies this Easter

Spare a Rabbit by Saying NO to Bunnies this Easter

Many cherished Easter traditions, from the Easter bunny to decorating and hunting for eggs, have been around for centuries.   Let’s begin with the infamous Easter Bunny.   The exact origin of this mythical mammal is unclear.   There’s no story in the Bible about a long-eared, cotton-tailed creature.   Nor is there a passage about young children painting eggs or hunting for baskets overflowing with delicious Easter goodies.   And real rabbits certainly don’t lay eggs.   However rabbits, because they are prolific procreators, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life.   Easter eggs are linked back to centuries of traditions.  The egg, also an ancient symbol of new life, has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring.  From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection.

Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots
Bunnies, eggs, and Easter gifts stem from pagan roots. They are ancient symbols for fertility and new life
The origin of the Easter Bunny can be traced back to 13th-century pre-Christian Germany
The origin of the Easter Bunny can be traced back to 13th-century pre-Christian Germany

Fast forward to this century. So many parents buy rabbits for their children for Easter, many of whom do not even know the history behind these long eared lagomorphs.  Our culture is filled with images of children and rabbits, so most parents see rabbits as low-maintenance starter pets for kids.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Before you fill your Easter basket with a live bunny, find out what is involved with caring for this complicated animal companion. 

easter_eggs
Consider getting a special painted egg as a gift for Easter this year.

Did you know?

  • Rabbits can live ten or more years.  That cute bunny you’re thinking of buying for your child on Easter could still be around long after your child has grown into a teen.  Should the novelty wear off, you’ll have an adult rabbit in the house who needs your care and attention every day for the next decade or longer.
  • They require as much involved, long-term care, and management as a dog or cat; and often more.
  • Rabbits are physically delicate and fragile animals.  They must be handled with care.  This makes them inappropriate for families with very young children.  Adults should be the primary caregiver in families with young children.
  • We all know that children are energetic and loving, but “loving” to a small child means holding, cuddling, or carrying an animal around.  These are precisely the things that frighten and can injure rabbits.
  • Rabbits have been known to scratch and bite to protect themselves from well-meaning children, and to defend territory.
  • Rabbits are accidentally dropped by children, resulting in broken legs and broken backs.  (This is not as uncommon as you would think). I know from personal childhood experience.
  • Rabbits are not low-maintenance pets.  -They have very specific dietary and housing needs.
  • The days of leaving a rabbit in a hutch outside are long gone; that’s now considered borderline neglect.
  • Thousands of ex-Easter bunniesare abandoned to shelters and zoos, or thrown into the wild each year when their novelty wears off.

    Our rabbit Ezra
    Our rabbit Ezra
  • Rabbits require specialized veterinary care, which means you will need to find a veterinarian who speciliazes in rabbits.
  • Rabbits must be spayed or neutered – something else you’ll have to consider (the cost, the stress of the procedure, and your close involvement in the rabbit’s recovery)..
  • Rabbits can be messy, so you’ll need to clean their enclosure at least three times weekly.
  • Rabbits require regular brushings to remove excess hair and keep their coat in good condition.
  • Companion rabbits should live indoors with their human family.  Although an outdoor hutch has been the traditional housing for a rabbit, today that is not the case.  A backyard hutch forces these social animals to live in unnatural isolation.  Rabbits can die of heart attacks from the very approach of a predator.  They are prone to overheating as well.
  • They may be small, but rabbits require a lot of room for housing and exercise.
  • Rabbits need exercise for several hours EVERY day.  They are designed for running & jumping!
  • Annual cost of one rabbit per year is $730

Is your family ready to commit to all of this??

The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility. Feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox.  Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.
The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility. Feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.

Our family has always had rabbits.  Ever since I can remember my mother and father raised rabbits, and I loved them dearly, but they were the caregivers.  When I was old enough to have my first rabbit my parents made sure we had the space, finances, and the dedication to a rabbit.  They made sure I was mature enough to take on 100% responsibility. And let me tell you, rabbits are amazing companion animals, but they are a LOT of work.  They are wicked smart, very clever, very sensitive to heat and humidity, and sometimes very awnry!  They get into everything; plants, wires, shoes, etc. They are prey animals, so sometimes it’s very dangerous to have them in a home with cats and/or dogs.

You really need to consider the risks before you go out and buy that cute bunny.

Our rabbit getting into my mom's newly planted plants on the patio
Our rabbit getting into my mom’s newly planted plants on the patio

If your family member has their mind set on getting a rabbit, and you have discussed all of the facts listed above, get a book on rabbit care.   Do your research and homework first.  Then you can make an informed and well educated decision.  If children know what is involved and how high maintenance rabbits or bunnies really are, but are still begging you for a rabbit after the holiday has passed, hop over to the House Rabbit Society  for information on bunny rescue groups to find out how to adopt the rabbit (or even better, a bonded pair) of their furry dreams.

Starch, our family rabbit lived for over a decade! She was loved dearly, but  she was a handful to say the least!
Starch, our family rabbit lived for over a decade! She was loved dearly, but she was a handful to say the least! (in her youth on the left, and in her senior years on the right).

Learn more about what is involved with companion rabbit care HERE.  

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If bunnies were advertised like this, I have a  hunch that it would cut down on the numbers of pet rabbits bought on a whim during this time of year

The smallest things can take up the most room in your heart

Companion Rats

“Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” ~A.A. Milne

Bubonic plague, disease, vermin – These are just a few words that most people associate with rats (all of which have recently been debunked!).  But there is another side to this animal that many do not know.
Companion rats are:
  • extremely clean animals
  • extremely clean
  • deeply bonded to their guardian and other animals in the home
  • much better pets for kids (compared to other small rodents)
  • highly intelligent
  • easily trained
  • very social
  • very curious
  • very sensitive
  • love human interaction
  • not aggressive
  • known to laugh 
  • ticklish 
  • swimmers
  • deeply bonded to their guardian

Companion Rat Facts:

  • Many people compare the companionship of a rat to that of a dog (myself included).
  • Domesticated rats are physiologically and psychologically different from their wild relatives.
  • They have been bred to be gentle and affectionate.
  • Rats Will Refuse Treats to Rescue a Distressed Cage Mate!
  • Domestic rats are as different from wild rats as dogs are from wolves.
  • I have never known a rat to bite (although anything with a mouth can bite.)
  • They are fastidious groomers; they groom themselves like a cat several times a day.
  • Companion rats (“fancy rats”) were first domesticated by rat-catchers of the 19th Century.  These people were paid by town governments to trap rats.  They soon started breeding the wild rats to stay in business.  This was how they discovered how intelligent and loyal these “pet” rats could be.
  • Rats have demonstrated compassion and empathy toward other rodents in studies.
  • Rats are 1 of only 2 small mammals that I recommend to families with children.

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Those “rat facts” listed above are all true.  I know this because I lived with a companion rat for many years.  Her name was Sandy.

I met Sandy when she was just a wee rat pup while I was working at a the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center in Baton Rouge.   She and her family members had a very specific purpose.   They were snake food.  One day I was in the feeder rat room and I saw this sandy blonde rat pup with the softest fur and the kindest brown eyes.  Well, I just couldn’t resist her, so I decided to let her hang around with me for a few days.  Sandy would ride around on my shoulder while I worked.  She enjoyed hiding in my hair and would peek out when she was curious as to what was happening around us.  I fell in love with her and could not let her fate be decided by a snake, so Sandy came home with me.

Sandy became a very special member of my family.   I introduced her to my dog  Maggie, and to my cat, Mr. Beaux.   Maggie was a timid dog, so she showed Sandy nothing but love (or avoidance, depending on her mood).   Mr. Beaux however, had other plans.  Once I was clear that Sandy was not food, the cat and rat got along splendidly.   Sandy would even take car rides with Mr. Beaux and Maggie (Yes, this cat loves car rides).  Sandy and I took long road trips across the country together.  She was such a kind, gentle soul.   I later realized that because I had taken her away from her mother just after she was weened, this enabled Sandy to bond so strongly with me.  That was such a blessing.  She trusted me unconditionally.

A few years later, ovarian cancer formed in her body.  At the time I was not aware of how important it was to spay female rats to prevent this, so Sandy suffered for a short while until we could do surgery to remove the cancerous mass.  Sandy recovered splendidly with the help of medicine and a lot of love and care.

Eventually the time came to say goodbye to Sandy as the symptoms of  old age were setting in.   My veterinarian was a close friend, so he helped me to say goodbye to Sandy peacefully and humanely.  I knew I loved Sandy, but I had no idea how badly I would mourn her passing.  I cried for weeks. I was almost shocked at how much of an impact she had made on my life in just a few years.  Although it is over a decade later, I still miss her.  She was such an incredible soul and animal companion.  I am grateful for all of the lessons she taught me, and for the beauty and gentleness she brought into our lives.

Sandy, you are forever in my heart.

sandy rat

sandy rat

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 If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Anthony Pilny from The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine discusses common misperceptions about companion rats.  
Rat in hand
Our animal friends leave paw prints on our lives and souls, which are as unique as fingerprints in every way. ~Amy Martin, Conscious Companion

The compassionate and complicated chicken!

Each Monday I will spotlight a companion animal that, for a variety of reasons, is commonly misperceived. 

Today’s animal is a species that I used to think was unintelligent and boring, until I worked closely with them for many years.  

Meet the amazing, incredible, compassionate, and intelligent CHICKEN!

The Complicated Chicken

Did you know these amazing facts about chickens?? 

• Chickens have more than 30 types of vocalizations to distinguish between threats.
• Chickens can distinguish between more than 100 faces of their own species.
• Chickens communicate with their offspring in the womb. A mother hen begins to teach calls to her chicks before they even hatch.
• Chickens can easily be clicker trained because of their level of intelligence. They learn behaviors even faster than dogs!
• Chicks are whizzes at math! According to a new study, they are able to perform basic addition and subtraction.

Which animals have changed your perception about them after you lived or worked with them? Please share!