Category Archives: Care and Wellness

Creature Thoughts: October 2020

Recovery and Return

Ryder Aug 20 2020

I apologize that issues of Creature Thoughts have fallen by the wayside. Since Ryder’s cancer diagnosis, life revolves around him, and I haven’t really been able to get things back on track. This month, therefore, I’ll just send an update, and hope that by next month, things will be more calm, and I’ll have a useful article to share with you all.

As many of you know, on September 15th, Ryder had a “bleed.” This means that the tumor on his spleen began very suddenly to bleed into his abdomen and, in brief, I came very close to losing him. He was saved by using Yunnan Baiyao, a Chinese herbal formula, in emergency mode.

It’s been a slow recovery, and Ryder is not back to 100% yet (in fact, it’s possible that he won’t fully return to his pre-bleed level of health). Our main struggle right now is getting him to eat (*). To think that I would ever say that about this dog, whose appetite in healthy times is phenomenal…. However, he had a follow up visit with his vet on Monday, and she feels that, under the circumstances, he is doing very well. Though he still has to be watched carefully, and treated gently, we are able to exhale a bit again.

After the bleed happened, my thoughts and emotions were totally focused on Ryder, and I was unable to do any consultations. Now, however, I am trying to return gradually to work. I’m limiting sessions strictly to email-only, as there is no way of knowing when circumstances will give me a stretch of time when I can stay grounded enough to work. Although this has been a policy for a while, I do tend to make exceptions if people object, or if email is inconvenient for them. I can no longer do that, though…not as long as Ryder may need me at any given moment.

I also want to thank you all. So many of you have written to ask how my boy is doing. Your kindness and concern truly touches my heart.

For now, Ryder is doing okay. He’s comfortable, spoiled, enjoying slow, gentle walks in the autumn air, and knows that he is treasured beyond measure.

PS: I am not looking for advice for encouraging Ryder’s appetite. With 40 years of Salukis behind me, and even longer in professional animal care, I do already know all of the tricks. Thank you, though, as I know the temptation to advise is because of the love in your hearts.

News and Information

It’s October, and do you know what that means? The Holiday Season is snapping at our heels. How does that happen so fast? Watch This Space in November for Holiday Special information.

Creature Thoughts: May 2020, Wildlife Season

Photo by Jim Long on

This year’s wildlife season brings many challenges to wildlife rescue centers and rehabilitators. The COVID-19 situation, with social distancing and limited gatherings, has meant that many wildlife centers have lost a key source of their donation income. At New York Wildlife Rescue, the organization I work with, the educational programs have had to be put on hold, and that means that a large percentage of their donations have dried up. There are many other wild animal rescue organizations, and individual rehabbers, in the same situation.

In addition to the inability to hold public events, there are more than the usual number of rescue animals coming in to the centers. This is very likely because people are home. Rather than going in to the office each day, homeowners are doing yard work, gardening, taking care of home projects and construction jobs that they now have time to do. This means that they’re outside more, and encountering wildlife in larger numbers than usual.

Many of the wild animals, babies in particular, that people are bringing to the rehabbers and rescue centers were never really in need at all. Wild mothers don’t stay close to their babies all day long. Many species leave them for long stretches at a time. This is to protect them from predators. Baby animals have little scent, while adult animals are easy for wild hunters to locate. By staying away from their babies unless it’s time to feed, the mothers keep them safe.

Wild deer only return to their fawns to nurse them, and will stay apart from them for long stretches. When you find a baby fawn laying in the bushes, or naughtily wandering about your garden, its mother is never far off … just far enough to fool the coyotes. It’s perfectly normal for a fawn to be left alone. If you interfere and “rescue” this baby, you are causing harm to both the mother and the fawn. The mother will return to find her offspring gone. The baby, in the hands of even the most skilled rehabilitator, will never be able to learn the survival skills that her biological parent could teach her.

Rabbits are another species that is often abducted. A wild rabbit only returns to the nest twice a day to nurse. A key prey species, wild rabbits know that their youngsters are much safer hiding in the nest. If you find a nest of wild rabbits, leave them alone! Keep the dog or cat indoors or behind a safe barrier, and just be patient. It only takes a few weeks before those tiny babies will be old enough to leave the nest and be out on their own … and out of your hair.

You can help wild animals much more naturally, and successfully, by avoiding them. Pay attention when you garden or mow so that you don’t disturb nests or hidden young. If you’re doing construction or cleaning and find an active bird’s nest, leave it alone and wait to do your chores. It only takes an average of three or so weeks for baby birds to leave the nest. A little patience on your part will mean that you can soon get your job done, and those babies will have the very best chance of survival. Not only is it unethical to disturb a bird’s nest, it’s against the law.(1)

It is also illegal for the general public to abduct and try to raise wildlife on their own. In a situation where an animal is truly an orphan or in significant danger (mother seen to be hit by car, animal found with obvious injuries, etc), only a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is legally allowed to care for them. You can find your local wildlife rehabbers on the web, by calling your local vets or sheriff’s office, or by contacting your state’s equivalent of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

In addition to paying attention, and respecting your wild neighbors, you can also be a significant help to those wild beings who are truly in need by donating to your local wildlife center or rehabilitator. Some centers welcome volunteers to help with physical chores. Some have critical needs lists of items you can donate. All accept cash donations, as well.

If you would like to help out New York Wildlife Rescue Center, please click the link to visit their website. There is a PayPal donation button to click, or you can send a check to the address on the Support Us page.

[1] The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal US law

Creature Thoughts April 2020: COVID-19 and Animals

Lion sunning himself, Jungle Habitat, NJ, some time in the mid ’70s.
©Gayle Nastasi

COVID-19 and Our Animals

Under normal circumstances, when we humans have a virus, we can safely say that our pets won’t be affected. Human colds and flu don’t infect dogs, cats, or horses. Even the old suspicion that guinea pigs can catch a human cold turned out to be nothing but a superstition.

Now, it appears, we have met a foe that can be transmitted to animals. A news report has come to light that a number of tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have fallen ill with respiratory symptoms. One of the tigers was tested, and found to be positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Although, as of the time I’m writing this, the route of infection has not been confirmed, experts believe that one of the cats’ handlers was positive for the virus, even though they were not showing symptoms, and transmitted it to the cats.

COVID-19 is what is referred to as a zoonotic disease. It originated in animals, and a series of mutations allowed it to be passed across species barriers. Although the exact details are uncertain, it is believed that people were first exposed through a market in Wuhan, China, where exotic species of animal were sold as food. The original animal source of SARS-CoV-2 may have been bats, though that is not definite. A similar coronavirus, the cause of the original SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, was also found in bats, as well as civet cats. Since civets are felines, this may be a clue as to why lions and tigers would be susceptible to a related virus.

Zoonotic viruses are not terribly common, but they are often nasty when they show up. SARS, MERS, and Ebola are all zoonotic diseases. And, of course, everyone is familiar with the horror of disease horrors, Rabies. However, most of these viruses have not been shown to be easily transmitted from humans to other animals through casual contact. Or, at least, there do not seem to be many studies which have looked into that direction of transfer.

MERS-CoV, another coronavirus, was also found to originate in bats, and infected humans in Saudi Arabia, initially through contact with an intermediate host—dromedary camels. While it was known that camel to camel transmission was common, as was camel to human, and the secondary transfer of human to human became a serious problem, little seems to be known as to whether humans contributed to the spread of the virus in camels.

Fortunately, the big cats in the Bronx are doing well so far. They have upper respiratory symptoms, but are responding to treatment.

There have also been a handful of reports, from other countries, of dogs and cats testing positive, but so far studies are inconclusive as to the extent at which other species can contract or spread COVID-19. None of these animals was seriously ill, and there is no definite indication to date that our pets can transmit the virus to humans.

This is, however, a new virus. There are many unknowns. In the wake of the news story about the zoo cats, medical experts recommend that, if you are positive for COVID-19, you should limit contact with your pets, just as you would with humans. Let others do your pet care if possible, and minimize contact if not. Wash your hands before and after, and wear a mask while caring for your animals.

For me, and for many of you, I’m sure, this may be a hard burden to bear if quarantined for this coronavirus. When I was so very ill, all those years ago, the ability to hug and be close to my precious Kai was one of the things that pulled me through. I can’t imagine being closed in a room, isolated from my family, and not even being able to have Ryder or Missie by my side.

But, just as we are now wearing masks in public, and practicing social distancing according to the guidelines from the CDC, we will do what we must to protect our families—furry members, included.

Stay well, my friends. We are all in this together, even though we are facing unusual levels of separation.

For More Information:

Photo Credit: ©Gayle Nastasi, 1976, Jungle Habitat, New Jersey