Category Archives: Creature Thoughts

Creature Thoughts, March 2015

Winter’s Tough On Them, Too

“Brutal”, this winter has been called — at least here in the northeastern United States. The Boston area has seen multiple snowstorms that measured in feet instead of inches. Apparently, New York has declared February 2015, officially, “the second-coldest February on record”. We have suffered extended periods of below zero temperatures and negative double-digit wind chills. Those of us with outdoor animals have had to keep them in barn-lockdown for days on end so the wind doesn’t freeze little ears.

Other areas of the country are also suffering more winter-related problems than ever before. Kentucky is still trying to dig out from a major snow storm that made roads impassable for a long stretch of time, collapsed roofs, fractured water mains, and caused entire sections of roads to disappear into sinkholes. I have one Kentucky friend who has not been able to get out of her driveway for nearly two weeks.

I know that many of you can relay stories of this winter’s hardships in your own areas.

You and I, and others who are sensitive to the needs of the animals, also feel deep concern for the wildlife. The deer and turkeys have been scrounging spilled seed around my bird feeders all winter. There has been continual deep snow cover for months — there is just nothing else for them to eat. Although we are not really supposed to “feed wildlife” (other than keeping bird feeders — as with many other areas in the US), my heart breaks for them, so I have not been discouraging them. They need to eat something while we hope and pray for those new spring shoots and leaves to start appearing through the melting snow.

If it ever melts, that is.

Little birds even have trouble flying when the air is so bitterly cold. We had one little Tufted Titmouse who lost her life in our driveway because she could not get off the ground after she landed. Sadly, I found her too late to help her, and could only pray that her little spirit has found warmth and sunshine on the other side.

The big birds are suffering, also. Wildlife rehabbers in New York received the following request from the Department of Environmental Conservation. If you live in NY, I include it here, in case you wish to pass it along to your own veterinarian:

Wildlife Health Team,

We are starting to get increasing numbers of calls about dead owls and hawks. We suspect that this is due to the deep snow cover and below normal temperatures. We are interested in documenting these mortalities and would like to examine as many as possible to confirm cause of death. If you cannot collect and submit the carcasses, please compile a list of calls and the species (which can be tough with phone calls) so we can get a rough idea of the number of raptors involved over the next few months Thanks -Kevin”

Kevin Hynes
Wildlife Health Unit
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
108 Game Farm Road
Delmar, NY 12054

What can you do to help your wild neighbors get through these last few weeks of winter? I’m sure many of you already have been doing much of this all winter long, but right now, after having suffered for so long, it’s important to continue to provide. I know that getting out to change water and fill bird feeders when the temps drop below zero can be a pain (in more ways than one), but the birds (and their occasional dinner guests) will truly appreciate it.

Be sure your bird-feeding stations include higher protein and higher fat foods, particularly for our bug-eating friends when there are no real buggies to be found. These may include:

  • seed mixes that contain peanuts, cracked corn and sunflower seed
  • suet and suet-mix products
  • peanut butter makes a great high-energy binder for cakes of bird seed and cracked corn
  • left-over cat and dog food, scattered on the ground beneath feeders for insectivores such as Blue Jays, Starlings and Crows, will be beneficial after a protein-scarce winter

Try to provide liquid water for the birds each day, as well. Although they will eat snow for water, they really do appreciate being able to get a real drink once in a while. Plus, the water actually helps them metabolize their food.

Are your feeders located close to shelter from the wind? If not, you might want to scatter some of the food in and under the branches of nearby bushes and trees.

Keep an eye out for spring, too. It’s coming soon. The little birds and other critters will shift their focus from the struggle for survival to bringing a new generation into the world. It’s time to think about cleaning out your nest boxes and providing nesting material for the prospective parents.

This morning, for the first time, I heard a Chickadee across the lane singing his spring song. That sweet handful of high-pitched notes did more to lift my spirits than anything else could have done. It said, “I’m here! I’m happy! I survived! Come on, spring!”

Helping The Animals

If would like to support a not-for-profit organization that does a great deal to help animals, please consider making a donation to New York Wildlife Rescue/Northeast Llama Rescue. Wes Laraway and his family and volunteers help hundreds of animals every year, with no funding except your donations and what comes out of their own pockets. You can support their efforts by visiting their website and clicking the “Donate” button. You can also look at their “Other Ways To Help” page (found under several of the top level drop-down menus) for more ideas. They can’t do it without the support of friends like you!

Creature Thoughts, February 2015

Human, Know Thy Pet



The main reason for adopting a pet, of course, is that we simply love animals. Whether they are dogs, cats, birds, horses, or a variety of little cage-critters, love is our primary motivation for sharing our lives with them.

I find it somewhat startling, though, how little many people know about the animals they have brought into their lives. Startling shifts swiftly toward alarming, when it dawns on me that not only do these people not know anything about their pets … a percentage have no intention to learn.

How many times have vets, behaviorists and trainers heard the line, “He just bit without warning!” about a dog or cat? The experts know (or they darned well should!) that the animal was probably sending out warnings aplenty, possibly for quite a long period of time. The problem was not that the pet wasn’t talking … it was that the human didn’t know how to speak the language.

Loving one’s pets is great, but it’s never enough. Caring for our animal friends is a huge responsibility, and one we cannot carry out properly unless we are willing to educate ourselves as to the needs, the behavior, the health and the inner nature of those species with whom we share our lives.

Knowing what a dog who is fearful looks and acts like could easily prevent so many of the bites that occur in pet-owning homes. Knowing when a cat is saying “back out of my space” would save us a fortune in doctor visits and band-aids — not to mention save the lives of so many pets turned in to shelters for “aggression”. Being able to read the horse who is fearful and thinking about protecting itself with a kick, or knowing that a rabbit who feels threatened will growl, would come in real handy for the owner who doesn’t want to get himself injured.

When we bring pets into our lives, it’s our responsibility to learn not only about their behavior, but their care. You may have seen a viral video of a rabbit on its back in a sink while the owners fill the sink with warm water. It certainly looks like bunny is laid back and relaxed. Every time I see that video, I want to scream. Bunny is not relaxed … he has lapsed into a state of helpless terror, and gone limp. This is an instinctive posture that many prey animals adopt when they are in the jaws of a predator. Their survival instinct tells them to play dead on the off chance that the predator will drop them and they can make a mad dash for it. Bunny isn’t trusting his humans and allowing them to bathe him. Bunny is terrified and quite certain, on his deepest prey-animal level, that those people are about to kill him. (Not to mention that submerging a rabbit in water is never a good idea — sometimes spot-baths are necessary, but soaking a bunny like that can lead to all kinds of health problems.)

One of the great joys we receive when we adopt a pet is the incredible privilege of learning all about another species. By educating ourselves as to their needs and behavior, we learn to see the world, just a little bit, though eyes that are not restricted to a human point of view. It is both our job, and our blessing, to learn as much as we can about the animals who share our world.

Open hearts are made so much sweeter when we open our minds along with them.

To Help Your Learning Adventure: Feel free to browse through the book shop linked to for a selection of many of my favorite books on animal care, behavior and training.

Creature Thoughts, January 2015

Out With The Old


We’ve all done it many times (some of us more than others). We watch the clock tick down the hours, minutes, seconds on the night of December 31st. The ball drops, we count backward from ten to zero, and then the bells ring, the confetti flies, the horns blow, and Auld Lang Syne begins to play. We pull the old calendar off the wall, hang up a new one, and everything changes.

No, not really. Most of the time the only thing that visibly changes on New Year’s Day is the picture on the calendar. In our very human minds, however, with our very human concept of time, a New Year means new beginnings. It’s our annual do-over, our chance to start again. We make resolutions with the firm determination that this year we will do things differently. We’ll lose weight. Well stay in closer touch with family. We’ll stand firm in front of the boss for that promotion we surely deserve. We’ll get out there three days a week and jog. And we do it. We really, really do just what we say we’re going to do.

It usually lasts about a week, because, well, you know — we’re human.

Our pets, bless them, aren’t. What do our animals think of this whole “Happy New Year” thing? Not much, to be honest. It’s not one of those holidays where new toys and treats are distributed, after all. They sense the excitement and, sometimes, trepidation of their human family members, and might wonder briefly what all the fuss is about. New Year’s Day, however, is pretty much like any other day in the cold of winter (or heat of summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere) to them. They wake up, they have a nice pee, eat a lovely breakfast, play for a little while, and many of them finish that up just in time for their mid-morning nap.

Every day is a “Happy New Day” when you’re a dog, cat, bunny, bird or horse with a loving home and devoted human slave force, after all.

An animal’s concept of time is not based on calendars and clocks, nor on days of the week or whether February has 28 or 29. To an animal, time is about energy, rhythms and cycles. They’re aware of the strength of the moon and how high the sun is in the sky. They know when their tummies say it’s time to eat, or when their inner sense of connection tells them Mommy’s on her way home from work.

Helping my animal pals to understand our concept of time can be an interesting challenge. With a little work, for example, they can relate to “how many day/night cycles” before their family arrives home from vacation, though it’s best to start counting when there aren’t that many days left to count. I know one family of kitties whose mom often goes away at Christmas time. One of the three, in particular, is quite talented at keeping track of numbers from four down. He became even more adept at this after he himself had to have a leg amputated a number of years ago. Suddenly, the difference between “four days” and “three days” was very clear to him, and he will always compare days to whether or not they have reached his own number of feet.

Many animals also seem to fairly-well grasp how long a car trip will take, if they have something familiar to compare it to. “It takes a little longer than going to Grandma’s house” is something many dogs and cats can understand, while telling them “about three hours” will not mean anything to them at all.

But New Year’s Day? Changing the calendar from one whole year to the next is a big deal to the human animal. To our pets, however, it’s just another day to wake up, to wag, purr, whuff and nicker hello to their humans. It’s another day to love and be loved.

To animals who are loved by caring humans, every day is a Happy New Day.

And In With the New: A great New Year’s Resolution would be to bring more “Happy New Days” to animals who don’t yet have their own special human. Support your local shelter, rescue group, or animal sanctuary. I know many of you already do this in some way, of course, and for that, my heartfelt thanks.

Happy New Year!