Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just go Aviary, Part 1.

The Zebra finch community here at Bad Dog Ranch currently consists of four birds. Roman and Mary and two of their children, Harlequin and Dwight. Mom and dad live in the big cage. Their children live in another smaller cage. Why separate cages, you ask? Because Roman and Mary kicked the babies out once they were able to eat on their own. So Harlequin and Dwight moved into a nice flight cage on the other side of the room.

Because I didn't want to rig up a third cage, I asked Sue of Royal Tropical Fish and Bird Haven to take the remaining three members of Roman and Mary's brood. Sue very kindly took pity on this long time customer and gave me a few bucks for these lovely birds. By the way, one of the siblings looked like Dwight- tan with typical Zebra Finch markings.  The other two were grey with typical Zebra Finch markings.  Harlequin is sort of white and dark grey blotched, resembling the coat of a Harlequin Great Dane. 

The other day Dwight looked bad. When a bird looks bad, that is- all puffed up, eyes half closed, not moving much, having trouble balancing on a perch- it is often curtains. Happily, it was not curtains for Dwight. After she laid an egg, she perked right up. This got me to thinking about baby birds. Though, I'm pretty sure Harlequin is a female too, even if he/she isn't -the whole incest thing forbids a mating between Harlequin and Dwight.

Now back to the beginning of the finch saga, as far as I know, Roman and Mary are not siblings. It was a few years ago in October when Roman and Mary joined our gang. They were already paired up at the pet shop. In fact, they came with a nest. This nest was a small wicker basket resembling a Tiki torch with an awning over it. Inside was one egg nestled in a paper towel.

The temperature outside that day was in the forties, I remember because I felt the need to hurry the birds from the vehicle into the house. And there was that egg to keep warm too, though Roman and Mary were on top of it, in every sense of the word.

Once we got them settled in the big cage, I went ahead and started worrying about the temperature inside our house. You see, THO (The Handsome One) and I possess Polar Bear constitutions. Therefore, we set the thermostat at 61 in the winter because we find it comfortable, not because we are crazed Greenies out to save the world from mythical Global Warming. In fact, I'm still waiting for the immanent Ice Age the "experts" promised back in the 1970's. (No, we don't set the thermostat at 61 in the summer, as glorious as that would feel. We rough it.)

Should we crank up the furnace?  My bird reference book says 65 is the lowest of the optimal temperature range for Zebra Finches. Naturally, I asked the expert about proper bird keeping temperatures.  Sue summed it up this way: if a toddler can handle the weather, so can a bird.

Roman and Mary handled the egg warming. Eventually, six eggs were accumulated and a few short weeks later, one by one, five little birds emerged. (That sixth egg is believed to have been crushed under everything and everybody else in the nest.)

To be continued...

Recommended reading: 
The Finch Handbook by Christa Koepff and April Romagnano, Ph.D., DVM

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Look! A Cute Critter!

This is a Macaroni Penguin. Notice the fabulous pink feet. See more penguins at the Detroit Zoo Penguinarium. Now that I have your attention- special thanks to Christina of the Blog Entourage for featuring Pets and Other Critters on March 25th's Feature Friday !

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Resident Rabbit

If you are sharing your yard with a wild rabbit, odds are, it's a Cottontail. There are several different versions of the Cottontail Rabbit, the most common among them is the Eastern Cottontail. This rabbit can be found from Canada to South America. This is almost certainly the creature that inhabits my own yard.

As any animal lover has noticed, rabbits are cute. It's delightful to look out your window and spot a bunny with a white fluffy tail just sort of hanging out. Part of you begins to grow fond of him. On days you don't see him, you worry. Has he been picked off by an Owl? You understand that this adorable dweller is a wild animal that is not your responsibility. Yet a certain sense of obligation and concern intrudes. This is the power of a cute critter. All it takes to be vulnerable is to be a fairly nice person.

Now then, that's very heartwarming and sentimental. Meanwhile, here, the snow has melted. All winter long the bunny has been loitering by the stump near the driveway. He appeared to be eating the stuff that grows in abundance on and around the stump. This greenery, and it stayed quite green all winter, covers the stump with a unruly mass of curved branches lined with green leaves roughly the size of a quarter. Indeed, even after a winter of rabbit feeding upon it, the shrubbery is still thick. What this greenery is exactly, is unclear.

My weed reference book contains no convincing entry for it. However, it does vaguely (very vaguely) resemble Prostrate Pigweed. I mention this only because it is fun to say Prostrate Pigweed.

Actually, the green thing growing on the stump is most likely of the family Eunoymus. Not insignificant support for this theory is the fact that the Burning Bush is kin to Eunoymus. Ah, the Burning Bush. One once graced my front yard- beautiful riot of magenta leaves in autumn. Two winters ago, rabbit or rabbits unknown ate it to the ground. The Burning Bush did not reemerge. The magenta treat forever decimated.

A looming question remains. If it is a Eunoymus, how the heck did it grow on the stump? I did not plant it. There are a couple of Eunoymous growing under my front window. (Intriguingly, neither is the same color as stumpy). This plant cultivates by sending out shoots along the ground. Little roots protrude from these sprigs eager to establish new Eunoymus. The stump with the maybe Eunoymus growing on it is on the other side of the driveway. How did those branchlet runners make it across that vast expanse of concrete?

Another possible cultivation explanation is this: suppose the bunny who so brutally ingested the Burning Bush defecated on the stump whereby planting a seed. From this seed nestled in fresh manure, sprouted a little plant. In time, it grew to a vigorous spread of juicy green and great great grandrabbit reaped the harvest. A somewhat pleasing hypothesis and a better deal for the beauty of my front yard than the rabbit eating the Eunoymus under the front window.

Speaking of the front window, a very large, frighteningly large, cat frequently keeps vigil under that window. (Much to the consternation of my dogs.) This may or may not be a factor in the bunny's choice of dining location. (One hopes the ground squirrels get savvy to this dire threat.)

And now with spring here, my thoughts turn to planting a nice row of lettuce. Dare I? With more food to choose from, the resident rabbit is sure seek something other than pseudo Eunoymous. Yes, I'm soft hearted and willing to share. But dang it, just as the lettuce reaches the very pinnacle of perfection, you set out to cut some for yourself only to discover that the rabbit beat you to it.

No, we mustn't hold a grudge. Though I still miss that Burning Bush. Where's that sense of duty I was all sappy about? And rabbits are terribly cute. Can't forget that enchanting business of Peter Cottontail hopping down the Bunny Trail, can we? Even the most dedicated curmudgeon likes the Easter Bunny.

Let's have some sympathy for the wild bunny. It's a tough life. All those cars and cats and people and fences to contend with. What's the life span of the suburban rabbit? A year or two? That's not even accounting for the high death rate of the baby rabbit. They are born naked and helpless in an open nest on the ground. Perfect set up for Feral Cat Buffet. Baby Bunny: Appetiser most recommended by Hawks.

OK. I'll plant an extra row and hope there is honor among rabbits. Happy Easter every bunny.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Picking on the Big Dogs

In another chilling example of ignorant presumption, Saginaw, MI is considering a proposal to declare ten dog breeds "dangerous". Here's the list of "dangerous dog breeds" the brilliant minds of Saginaw's city council have come up with :

Alaskan Malamute
Chow Chow
Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd
Great Dane
"Pit Bulls"
Presa Canario
St. Bernard

OK. We read the list. How sentient beings decreed these particular ten dog breeds as dangerous is a head scratcher. The only thing these dogs seem have in common is that they are large breeds (large is commonly defined as weighing over fifty pounds). Of course, we know that size hardly matters in matters of assertiveness or irritability, let alone "dangerousness". It is far more likely that a Yorkshire Terrier will bite you than will an Irish Wolfhound.

But then when a group of bureaucratic buffoons gather to consider passing outrageously intrusive laws on the citizenry only because they once heard that somebody somewhere once got bit by a dog, stupidity prevails. In a word: stunning. More words come to mind: audacity, arrogance and over reach.

Let's look at this list. What exactly is a "Husky"? Any dog with prick ears and a fluffy curled tail perhaps? Such as the well known, wildly dangerous Samoyed, Finnish Spitz or Keeshond? Or do they mean that infamous savage, the Siberian Husky? Danger! Beware! High cuteness factor!

"Pit Bull" is what? American Staffordshire Terrier? Staffordshire Bull Terrier? American Pit Bull Terrier? Bull Terrier? If we're going to point fingers at it, shouldn't we be specific as to what we're talking about?

St. Bernard. Sure, I read Cujo. As I recall he went crazy because a rabid raccoon bit him, not because of an inherent violent nature found in St. Bernards. And laws requiring rabies vaccinations are already on the books.

Another Gentle Giant, the Great Dane made this bizarre list. True, the cops give Marmaduke a ride home fairly often but you'll notice they never cuff him. And there is the little matter of him being a fictional character. You may not find the comic funny, but dangerous? Nope.

Here's a fun entry to the ten baddest dogs of Saginaw: Presa Canario. Wow. Could they pick a breed you are less likely to bump into? How about the Leonberger or the Alaskan Klee Kai? The Presa Canario may be a so-called bully breed but it's rarity makes it pretty obvious how silly the members of Saginaw city council are.

The other dog breeds on this ludicrous list have been vilified before. They've been banned in other places before too. Funny thing is, dog bites don't magically stop. It's kind of like how automobile accidents don't magically stop when restrictions are placed on which car you are allowed to drive.

This proposed bill would charge an extra $50 registration fee for owning one of the breeds on this absurd list. What will they randomly charge extra for next? How about $100 if your dog's collar is not made from recyclable material? Or $50 more if your dog is tri-colored? Or maybe they could charge by the pound.

Even if you don't live in Saginaw, any dog owner ought to worry. How many more limits will we allow Government to set on us? Government intrusion on our Freedom takes many forms. This is another. The next arbitrary list may have your dog's name on it. Or your name.

Someone alert Martha Stewart! Saginaw considers one of her favorite breeds dangerous!
The American Kennel Club Government Relations Department follows legislation regarding dogs.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lots of Dogs, A Little Tutorial

It is true and well worth repeating. Living with lots of dogs is a fun way to live.

Of course, like most things that are worthwhile, some effort is required. Here are some handy tips for keeping the pack in order and under your orders.

1. Use a Call Name for the group.

Each individual dog has a name and he knows his name. But when the gang is all together does it make sense to call out, "Biff, Rex, Suzy, Roland, Buttercup!"? Not really.

In fact, without realizing it, you may be using a group name for them already- perhaps "come on doggies" or "you hoodlums". If you are, it's likely your dogs already know when you are addressing them as a group. Now you just have to put it to use for bossing them around en masse.

By the way, no, it does not confuse a dog to be called by more than one name. Are you confused when someone calls you "Dear"? Haven't we all talked about a dog when we don't want him to know we're talking about him? That's how dogs learn to spell walk! And that's sometimes how they learn alternative names. For example, my dog Lester is the only male dog in our house. When Lester was a puppy, my husband and I sometimes discussed Lester while not wanting him to know we were discussing him. We'd refer to "the boy". Not surprisingly, Lester eavesdropped and figured out we were gossiping about him. Years later, he still responds to both Lester and The Boy.

Back to the matter of a group name. You train the group to do something the same way you train one dog to do something. To begin, make this easy on yourself. Offer them something they like. Try, "wanna go for a ride?" But add the group name. "Doggies, wanna go for a ride?" They'll learn their group name in no time. A quick drive around the block and Lesson One is complete.

2. Wait your turn.

Let's say everybody is at the back door wanting to go outside. Make them wait. Wait is similar to stay. But wait requires the dog to stay till you say he can move. Usually the command to release him from wait is "OK" which means now he can move. (Stay means stay till you call the dog to come to you.) Wait is used when the reward is out there- in this instance it is the backyard. The dog must wait till you say he can have the reward- to go outside.

When there are more than two dogs involved, you may not want them to charge out all together stampede style when you release them from wait. So teach them to wait their turn. Tell the group to wait. "Doggies wait". Then release just one of them at a time. "Just Rex. OK." Now Rex and only Rex is released from wait. Rex goes outside. Everybody else is still in wait.

No, it isn't true that commands must be only one word or the dog gets confused. (Where the heck did this rumor come from that dogs are so very easily confused?!) Sometimes it is just expedient to use one word. "Come" comes to mind. When you need your dog to come right away perhaps out of danger- there ought not be dilly dallying with long windy chatter. In other less emergency cases there is no earthy reason to insist on one word commands.

Human beings speak in phrases and sentences. Dogs are perfectly capable of comprehending a string of words. Example. In most rooms, I don't mind company around the house but insist on privacy while in the bathroom. When a dog enters the bathroom while I'm in there, I say, "I don't need you in here." The dog turns around and leaves.

Sure, I could have taught my dogs "depart" or "leave". Instead they learned this more natural comment/command. My point is, you don't have to get all worked up about official sounding commands. Trainers love to sell us on the fallacy that special words must be applied to communicate with a dog when an ordinary word or words work just fine. If you keep to your natural language style you won't have to fumble to remember the official command. This will help you avoid the, let's see now, what do I say when I want the dog to move out of my way so I don't trip over him and tumble down the staircase? Hmmm, "porch?" no. "Rock?" no. Meanwhile, you've fallen down the stairs and have lost consciousness. All the while the dog would have moved if you'd simply said, "excuse me".

3. Thuggery will not be tolerated.

Pack hierarchy is doggy pop psychology poppycock. Here's the way it is. You are the Top Dog. The human beings in the house outrank all the dogs. Dogs are not wolves. You don't have to slavishly follow some mysterious wild line of power. Feed the alpha dog first? Nonsense. Feed the dogs in the order that is convenient for you. Domesticated dogs live with people and are ruled by people. That means you are the almighty ruler.

Now, in the matter of day to day living, you don't want one dog pushing around another. Say, Suzy has a toy and Biff takes it away from her. The perception that we've been sold is that Biff outranks Suzy. That's the way it goes Suzy, deal with it. This is only sort of true. Here's the main thing. Biff is being pointlessly rude. He's being a thug. De-thug him. You take the toy. You want rank? You outrank Biff and Suzy and every other dog. Teach your dogs that being pushy and rude is not acceptable.

IMPORTANT NOTE. Thuggery is rude ruffian behavior. This differs greatly from potentially dangerous aggression. This is a difference you most likely cannot handle without professional help. If one of your dogs is aggressive- that is, growls and bears his teeth and threatens to bite- take heed. You may have to use a muzzle on the aggressor and/or keep him apart from other dogs until the problem can be properly addressed. Consult an expert. Not just Uncle Carl who is good with dogs. Consult an expert, preferably an Animal Behaviorist specializing in aggressive behavior. Your Veterinarian should be able to refer you.

These are just a few strategies to help keep the pack from running amok. Remember, the domesticated dog is not a wolf. Dogs live with people. The dog is pampered and fed and bossed around by people. It's people rules. Not wolf rules. Enjoy your bevy of dogs. But never forget that you are in charge. You might say, People Rule!

Recommended reading:

Feeling Outnumbered? How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-Dog Household
by Karen London, Ph.D and Patricia McConnell, Ph.D

The Dog's Mind by Bruce Fogle, D.V.M.

How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cute Critter Alert!

This is a birth announcement!  Aardvark Roxanne. Born January 8, 2011 at the Detroit Zoo.
To  view a delightful video of Roxanne, visit