Book Review: Ask Your Animal

Marta Williams

Marta Williams has a BS in Resource Conservation from the University of California at Berkeley, and a MS in Biology and Systematic Ecology from San Francisco State University. She spent many years studying wildlife in the field, rehabilitating ill and injured animals, and working as an environmental scientist.

Vanessa Williams

This book, by animal communicator Marta Williams, contains a forward by actress Vanessa Williams.  Vanessa describes a harrowing experience in which her dog was stolen by a ring of dog thieves, and she was only able to find him with help from Marta.  Marta was in contact with Vanessa’s dog for several days, during which she was able to relay that her pet was well, had been taken by a man and a woman…and eventually his exact location.

Marta Williams now teaches animal communication, and her students have also had amazing experiences: one of which involved someone who was able to communicate with their newly adopted dog, and convince him that continued biting would only mean his eventual death.  Another communicated with a lost and injured dog on the way to the vet, and was able to correctly identify his owner when she arrived by his description.

White Stork bill-clattering

Among other advice on animal communication, Marta also shares insight on talking with wildlife, managing garden pests and working with herbs.

The first step, she says, in learning animal communication is to tune in to your own intuition (those feelings we sometimes ignore about others, and label them unreasonable).  And she tells stories: a friend whose Malamute refused to let her walk down a certain section of beach where, in the morning it was discovered a murder had taken place; another who sold her horse to someone she thought she could trust–only to find it had been sold seven times.  During the time she was trying to track the horse down, she had dreams of her, which she now believes corresponded to times the horse was being mistreated.  Eventually, she was able to buy her horse back.

dog and girl

Animal Communication and Quantum Linguistics

Marta’s science background gives the tone of this book a very practical, down to earth (not spooky or woo woo) kind of feel.  And she talks science for a good portion of it, citing terms like “quantum linguistics” and “zero point field”.  But that in no way makes the book hard to follow.  If anything, quantum linguistics lends credibility to a subject some might fight challenging to accept has any validity.

Marta’s theory is that if we had not been conditioned since childhood to suppress our intuition, that everyone could easily understand animal communication.  And she provides exercises in the book that teach you things like how to really talk to your animals as if they understand you–because they do!

As many others have said, not only does Marta say animals have the same emotions we do, but also with the same intensity.  So there are also exercises to do with sending feelings and images to animals.  In much the same way people-oriented psychics have explained, Marta gives a quick course in clairaudience, clairsentience and clairvoyance in order to communicate with animals.  But she also encourages you to reward and even use your logical inner critic to help in the process.

The stories of people communicating with animals in random places are really quite enchanting, and even if you don’t believe in animal communication at all, this book places the very gentlest wedge in the mind about being kinder and more thoughtful of animals.  Marta even encourages you to ask your own animals to question YOU.

“The Pack Of Two” was a new concept to me, but basically what it comes down to is that a bond is formed between each individual pet and you–and that this is all our pets really want, is this connection.

friendly horse

Incidentally, horse lovers will appreciate this book, because there are tons of great stories of horse owners having successful communication and solving problems.

She Uses Techniques That Dog Experts Like Cesar Milan Recommend

If you have problems with your pack getting along with each other–or even other human  members of your household!–this book is also for you.  Marta incorporates many of the techniques that dog experts like Cesar Milan recommend, such as keeping calm and using assertive energy, and even offers advice on using complementary treatments such as herbs and flower essences to calm stressed pets.

dog meets cat

Learn How To Introduce Animals To Each Other

There’s a section on how to communicate with animals you’ve just met–such as when you’re adopting a new pet, to see if you’re a good fit for one another.  And here you can also learn how to introduce animals to each other.

Instead of advocating the methods some other experts do, such as dominance theory or establishing yourself as pack leader, Marta believes that establishing yourself as an encouraging guide–or coach–to your pet works better after learning to communicate with them intuitively.

Marta gives super advice in this book about how to tell if what your pet is doing or saying to you is better served by a vet or trainer than an animal communicator–what is a training issue and what is a medical one.  There’s even a section on interviewing your animal!

Dealing with aggressive animals, animals in distress–even some Hurricane Katrina stories!  They’re all here.  Dealing with feral animals is discussed as well.

cat handshake

Sometimes, Marta works with animal spirit guides. This can be useful in cases involving physical or emotional trauma to an animal, severe illness, or even assisting with passing into death.

Animal communicators have long been sought to help lost pets get home.  So there is an awesome research section in this book, made for the purpose of leaving no stone un-turned.

pet memorial

Helping Your Animal Say Goodbye

Of course no such book would be complete without a section on helping your animal say goodbye at the end of its life with you…but Marta also spends a respectable amount of time discussing the grief that comes afterward, and how to honor the feelings and take care of yourself during this time.  She also has come to believe over the years that animals can and do re-incarnate, just as some believe humans do–and it’s possible for them to return to you.  She even suggests that you communicate with your animal before death and ask them to return!

According to Marta, you can also talk with household pests such as insects or rodents, and ask them to refrain from coming into your space.  You may laugh, but the old peoples of this planet routinely did such things, she explains: and regularly spoke with plants, trees and animals as well.

So–basically, no matter what your question or skepticism is about animal communication, this book has a thoughtful, scientific approach to it.  I’d love to hear from anyone else who has read this or any other books by Marta Williams.  And if you want to get a copy yourself, the link is here:

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at as well as follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

What Is Bad Behavior?

bad dogIf you’re new to the world of canines, this first section is for you!  If you are an experienced dog owner, you can skip to the next heading.

If You’re New: How To Not Assess A Dog For Bad Behavior

The other day I read a story on the web and was really shocked.  A Doberman rescue worker had been called out to assess a dog for bad behavior and determine what needed to be done to re-home it.  From what the worker had been told, the dog was so out of control that drugs might be needed to calm the animal down.

When she arrived, she was told the dog was making it impossible for the owner to work at home, things were so bad.  But when she asked to see the bad behavior, she was in for a surprise.

The dog’s “bad behavior” consisted of putting her head on the owner’s knee when she was sitting at the desk, and sniffing inquisitively when she opened a cabinet!  The rescue worker was overjoyed that in fact this was NOT a dog with bad behavior, and would be relatively easy to re-home.

But I was appalled: how could this owner not know that in fact the dog was crazy about her and not a problem at all?  Then I thought about the fact that everyone out there isn’t like me (I have ODD, Obsessive Dog Disorder!).  You might really not know, if you’ve never had anything to do with dogs before.  And you might not know if you’re watching someone else’s dog and you have no experience of the animals.  Thus this blog post was born!

dog barking

So let’s start with the basics and keep it simple.  What IS the right way to assess a dog for bad behavior?  If your dog shows any of these signs, it’s bad:

  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Destructive Behavior e.g. digging, chewing, jumping
  • Hyperactivity
  • Problems With Basic Obedience

But the real question is: how bad?  And what’s the best way to handle it?

intermediate logo

Dog Behavior For The Intermediate Dog Owner

Of course, you can think you know everything there is to know about dogs and how they think and feel, just because you grew up with them–and then end up adopting a breed new to you or an abused rescue or puppy mill dog…even a senior dog when you’ve never had one before!  And then it’s back to square one.

So, dog behavior for the intermediate dog owner first consists of: Know Your Breed.

dog reading book

It’s not enough to just read about the breed you’ve chosen.  Talk to some other people who love the breed–and preferably own more than one!  They’ll tell you some things you’d never read in a book–both good and bad.  Know what to expect going in, and you won’t make any stupid mistakes later.

I know whereof I speak–after all, how do you think I contracted ODD?  🙂  Seriously–you get it when you find yourself cruising the internet late at night until your eyeballs bleed in an attempt to learn everything you can about your furry best friend that, as cute as she is, cannot tell you why she’s acting out.  (And you’re tired of guessing.)


Seba, my fawn greyhound.

Here are some things, for instance, that I didn’t read about my greyhound in a book:

 This breed likes to snap their teeth together when they’re excited–in your face!  It’s not an aggressive gesture with them.  They are just overjoyed about something.  (With Seba, she’s usually greeting me at the door, or getting ready for a walk or to eat.)  By now, I’ve gotten so used to seeing this that I just pull my face back out of the way and go about my day.  But it would be pretty scary if you didn’t know she was going to do it.  We have no small children at my house–but if one were to come visit I would make sure it was not in the same room with an excited Seba–little fingers can’t get out of the way in time.  And even though *I* know my hound would never hurt anyone, a baby’s parent wouldn’t appreciate the snapping.  (Incidentally, does this mean greyhounds can’t live in houses with small children?  No way!  But you do have to teach the kids what’s special about this breed and to protect their fingers and faces from excited snaps.)

Also, greyhounds take particular exception to being awakened suddenly.  They can sleep with their eyes open!  So we learned to be cautious if there was any possibility we were waking her, or risk a snarling leap off the couch.  Again, no way would my dog hurt me–this is just the way they all are.

If Seba were exhibiting true aggression, I would have consulted a professional, though.  What is true aggression?

growling dog

Aggression can stem from fear, frustration or poor socialization.  I’ve seen dog owners who are ignorant or simply in denial think it’s okay for their dog to bite them, or another dog!  This is never okay.  Some situations with anxiety or pain can cause dogs to bite from fear.  You’ll know if this has escalated into aggression if the dog barks furiously, then nips people entering the house or coming into your proximity.  Dogs that intend to bite will usually growl first.  If you have a dog that is a “silent biter”, this is highly dangerous.  If you are not sure if your dog is exhibiting true aggression, see a professional.  The good news here is that most dog aggression problems can be solved.  Only in the most extreme cases are they truly insurmountable.

screaming woman

One of the next things I wasn’t prepared for was Seba’s first “Greyhound Scream Of Death”.  One afternoon, she was lying quietly on her bed taking a nap–and the next moment was uttering a high, loud squeal of pain and limping around the room!  I thought at first she had injured herself playing in the yard–but then realized she had been indoors for some time and sleeping awhile.  What the–?  I Googled, and found that leg cramps are pretty common in greyhounds if they’re not drinking enough water or have a vitamin deficiency.  Just like I sometimes awakened in the middle of the night with a charlie horse, she had, too!  I did some more research, and began adding a little calcium-magnesium supplement to her food.  Problem solved–at least, mostly.  She still has cramps sometimes–but it’s rare.

So–bottom line: know your breed.  And, if you have a mixed breed, do everything you can to know all the breeds involved.  You’ll be happy you did later.

expert is in

Dog Behavior For The Seasoned Owner

Okay, so you’ve had dogs for awhile–and you know your breeds.  You’re out of the woods, right?  Not so fast!  Do you know your dog’s personality?  And do you know that, just like a human, it changes with age?

Dog behavior for the seasoned owner is mostly about not thinking you already know it all!

As for anxiety, Seba had some of that, too.  Namely, she is afraid of the dark!  This took some trial and error to nail down that it was not an issue with her eyesight, but instead simple fear.  And some of this goes back to breed.  When another dog is fearful, it might bark or whine–but greyhounds RUN.  (Or freeze, like a deer.)  None of my greyhound owning friends had experienced this problem.  I was on my own to figure it out.  And Seba herself was actually pretty helpful.  Unless she “forgot” (like a young child might) when she was running outside with the other dogs, she stayed inside when it even looked like it was near sunset.  And to this day, if we are out walking and it’s getting late, she will insist on turning back toward the house.  I may never know what caused her to be this way–but I respect it.  I know her.

Castle as El Diablo

Castle, our own personal El Diablo.

Just like I know that my Brittany, Castle, likes to chew things.  She never outgrew this after puppyhood.  It’s just…her.  Lucky for me, I know the things she prefers: like paper napkins and the occasional pair of earbuds.  So I keep those things put away and we’re good.  I also know that my Basset boy does not know the difference between inside and outside.  It’s all the same to him!  So, as soon as he is finished eating or drinking water, he is invited to step outside to do his business–lest he simply walk to the nearest vertical surface.  Because, like Honey Badger, he just don’t care!

So–do I have dogs with “bad behavior”?  Just like kids–sometimes. After some experience, what it really comes down to is knowing your dog, and knowing yourself.  If you can, start by choosing a breed that fits your lifestyle.  A great source is the Dog Breed Selector at Animal Planet.  Then talk to other people that own a few of the breed you’re thinking of.  After that, get to know your pooch.

Because no dog should have to be given up simply because it’s loving and curious.

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at as well as follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Exotic Emergencies

Vet questions: Caduceus

How Prepared Are You?

Everyone plans for the care of their pets when they are away. Almost all pet owners have their list of things to do, posted somewhere for the temporary caregiver to follow. Everyone knows to leave the vet’s contact information and important instructions in case of emergency. The question, now that you are home, is a simple one. How prepared are you to drop everything and run?

No one wants to think about the tragic events that can happen in everyday life. The list of them would probably be infinite even if you sat down and tried to come to the end of it. The truth of the situation of pet ownership is that, just like with children, you never know what is going to happen. You can go from a perfectly normal day to “What did you just eat?!” in the blink of an eye and the best way to save someone in the second situation is to have given it some thought while everything is still in perfectly normal mode.

How prepared are you?

When You Are Dealing With Small Exotic Pets

This is even more necessary when you are dealing with small exotic pets like lizards, birds, rats… even your fish can have an emergency. None of these guys can go to just any vet. So how do you prepare for everything to happen to your small pet while, at the same time, you are hoping for nothing at all to happen to them? Speaking from experience alone, I have a few tips that I can share.

Before I break anything down, I want to start with the most important information you could possibly have at your disposal: the veterinarian. You know your own vet and probably have the number memorized, saved in your phone, or posted somewhere with other important numbers. That’s awesome news. Now, do you know where the closest 24 hour vet is located? Do you know if they take small pets? Do you know about how long it is going to take you to get to this vet? When you have an exotic pet these are the kinds of things you need to be aware of because even if your regular vet keeps emergency hours something might keep them from being available to you, like being at the hospital because they’re having a baby! (Yes, that just happened to us recently.)

It all seems rather drastic, doesn’t it? Spending time and thought thinking about when tragedy might strike? Let me share some of the personal stories that help show why having a back up plan is a good idea at any time.

north on his way to the vet

North on his way to the vet. Doesn’t look like it but he is barely surviving at this point. Still more interested in how the car works than actually being sick.

Situation 1 – Why Time Counts In Exotic Emergencies

This summer my wife and I went to England to visit her family. We got regular updates on the animals and all was okay while we were out of town, so we had no reason to worry. We got home and I went right to the rats, as I usually do, to let them know we were home again. One of our boys, North, was lying in the floor of the cage (not a place he would ever sleep before), fluffed up, barely breathing, and cold to the touch. Our bags barely made it in the house, we were in such a rush to get to our vet.

The diagnosis? Pneumonia, and it was severe. We weren’t certain if he would make it. The vet guessed that it had been slowly developing over a week’s time and that North, who is curious about everything and doesn’t let anything get him down, was so caught up in being with new people and having new routines that he didn’t display symptoms right away, as he normally would have. (The vet wasn’t far off on his thinking. While struggling to keep warm in the car, even knocking on death’s door as he was, North was intensely curious about how the heater worked and why it was on in the middle of summer!)

North the rat

North getting his steam treatments for his lung condition.

The story has a happy ending. North is alive and well, except for having very weak lungs as a result of his ordeal. The humans caring for him confirm that he showed no signs of illness until the last evening of their time with him, at which point we were already on a plane home anyway, so there honestly are no hard feelings there. The story also has a moral: know your travel time. Why is that so important? Going to our regular vet, we knew exactly how long it should take to get from our house to his office, where he could get emergency care. I knew a blanket and some of my own body heat would probably be enough to keep North warm all the way. What if I hadn’t known it would take longer? What if he’d needed a hot water bottle, rice sock, or a pile of blankets?

Keller the rat

Keller after we got back from her emergency surgery. The red stain is not blood, but the purple stitches and the antibiotic solution they apply to the surgical area.

Another important thought comes up when considering the time it takes to get to your vet and that thought deals with bodily fluids. We once had a different situation, dealing with another of our rats, Keller, who got her tail caught in a piece of furniture one night. She got scared and before we could get to her, she yanked her tail free, degloving it in the process. (Trust me, you don’t want me to describe that here.) Needless to say the number of absorbent materials was important in that mad dash to the Rattie ER. We definitely needed to know how long it was going to take in order to properly estimate the number of blankies to bring with us. Because we were prepared, Keller was as comfortable as she could be in the journey to the ER. She soldiered through the situation and kept on dangerously adventuring for the rest of her life, much to the frustration of her human parents.

Phobos (in front of ball) and Deimos (inside ball) after the scuffle. Snuggling together is proof that they're still close, even after their disagreements.

Phobos (in front of ball) and Deimos (inside ball) after the scuffle. Snuggling together is proof that they’re still close, even after their disagreements.

Situation 2 – The Backup Plan When You Are Dealing With Small Exotic Pets

This Thanksgiving, while we were having dinner at my mother’s house, two of our rats were having an argument at our house. This was something we were completely unaware of until we got home and noticed that Phobos was in need of some stitches. Luckily, because his brother Deimos had recently had a minor skin issue dealt with, we already had antibiotic and knew the proper dose to give him, since they weigh about the same. We also keep pain medicine on hand for the rats and know the proper dose to give each if something comes up. Phobos wasn’t bleeding and wasn’t in severe pain, so we eventually determined that because there were only a few more hours until the vet opened, we would simply wait it out for the rest of the night. We monitored him, gave him an initial dose of pain medicine and antibiotic, then called first thing in the morning.

Everything went smoothly until that phone call, when we were told that while the practice was open, our vet was busy at the human hospital… becoming a dad! Great news for him. Bad news for us. The emergency vet we had used in the past was no longer operational and I had no idea where to turn. I was very lucky that we were able to wait for regular operating hours and talk to a human being, who was able to direct me to another small animal vet in the next town. If it had been the kind of emergency where we needed a vet right away, a lot of time would have been lost calling all of the veterinary emergency numbers, trying to find someone who was open and able to see our boy. In this situation, while Phobos did well, I did miserably, letting too much time go between checks for substitute rat vets.

angel fish

Situation 3 – Planning Ahead

Earlier, I had included the fish in my list of pets that could get into trouble. I did this because yes, they can. The most obvious problem anyone can think of has to do with various tank issues. The tank can start to leak, the water can go out of balance, the new water might not be the right temperature or be tainted with chemicals. Those kinds of things are easy to prepare for. Keep a spare tank somewhere for leaking emergencies. Keep spare water around for water emergencies. Don’t let the tank get dirty, don’t let the water stagnate, and you’ll be just fine when you need to quickly dump your little swimmers into some fresh water and make necessary purchases or repairs.

aquarium fish

Now, what if you are transferring your fish for tank cleaning and a five year old comes up behind you, spooking the fish into jumping out of the net, at which point the fish starts flailing around on the bookshelf beside you, putting a gash in his head? Yes, that happened. It actually happened to one of my fish named Pluto. Thankfully Pluto was trained to come to my hand in case of emergency, so he made his way to me and I made my way to the fresh water, where I kept an eye on him and fretted over him for days. (He turned out just fine, though he wore the scar for the rest of his many years.)

Let us all hope that none of you who are reading this are unlucky enough to have such a thing become an experience you are ever dealing with, but in case an illness does befall your fish, know that there ARE vets out there who care for certain fish in certain situations. There have been several instances in the news where goldfish have even gone into surgery to remove tumors so that they can continue to have happy, healthy lives. (There was even a special on NOVA about it.) More and more fish owners are finding that there are vets out there willing to give quality treatment for your fish, and before you start asking, yes, I do know where to take my current fish (Nix and Hydra) in case they should need some specialized attention.

In the end, being prepared works out to be a nice little circle:
Plan Ahead – Know your vet, know an emergency vet, and have some idea of how long it is going to take you to get where you’re going. Have an emergency travel cage or tank that is just big enough to be useful.
Keep an Eye on the Time – Be prepared to journey with your pet for the entire distance in a way that is comfortable for both you and your animal. You are already going to be stressed about the pain your pet is in, don’t make yourself wonder if you have enough towels or temperature control for the journey ahead. Most importantly, don’t further distract yourself by desperately trying to follow directions to an unknown destination or have make up for getting lost on the way into unfamiliar territory.
Have a Backup Plan – You never know what is going to happen in the life of your vet. They are people too, after all. Be ready to get to an alternate location and be aware that that location might be farther from you than your first choice.
All of that cycles right back to planning ahead and I can’t stress enough how much of a help it is to be prepared for the things you don’t want to happen. Running your dog or cat to any old vet is usually something very simple to do and dog and cat owners don’t typically have to think about what to do if their personal vet isn’t available, but when your small animal or exotic pet is in trouble, it isn’t always that simple.

It sounds like I’m calling for exotic pet owners to prepare for the end of the world, but in all honesty, a little thought now saves a lot of stress later. Here’s hoping that you never have to use the emergency plan that you create for your little ones, but take it from one who knows; you’ll be glad you have that plan if you ever need it.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

 Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has purchased, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at

Things Are Different in Yorkshire–Part 1

Samson the border collie

In The UK, All Animal Rescues Are No Kill

Things are different over here in the UK. It’s not just how we pronounce tomato as per the old song.  There are many things that are different: we drive on the left, we have a Queen…the list goes on and on. One notable difference between the US and UK is that almost all of our animal shelters and charities are no kill organisations. That means that if an animal is healthy, they will not be euthanized.

Think about that for a moment: no healthy animal killed. Now healthy also means mentally healthy as well, most of the time, which is reasonable. A dog who is of such unsound temperament as to be unadoptable is not often happy in kennels for the rest of his/her life, either. It’s not always easy and it’s not perfect, but it helps that the UK has a good and longstanding culture of spaying and neutering. Yes, we still get back yard breeders. Yes, we still have irresponsible people dumping puppies. But ‘most’ people consider it the norm to make sure that their domestic pets do not breed indiscriminately.

Another difference is that it is a lot harder to adopt a pet from a rescue over here. Generally, you’ll fill in a form, then talk to a member of staff, then have a home check and then and only then will the organisation think about letting you have one of the animals in their care. Once you’ve been matched with or chosen an animal, you’ll get a chance to meet the animal. Then, if all goes well, you’ll hand over a fairly hefty fee and take your new family member home. There will usually be follow up from the shelter or breed rescue and in many cases the animal never actually passes into the adopter’s ownership. It stays the property of the organisation but they agree to let you keep it so long as certain criteria are met.  One of these criteria is usually that if you cannot keep the animal, you will return it to them.

Harper the Border collie

Some UK Criteria Can Make It Harder To Adopt A Pet

Of course, no system is perfect. In my case, when I realized that working from home meant I could have a dog again, that home check was going to be a problem, as I do not have a fully fenced garden. The open driveway would have required an expensive gate, given the slope we live on and I did not have that kind of money free when setting up my own business. When I did go to see the local RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – arguably the UK’s biggest animal charity) I found out that the adoption fee for a dog was in the region of £150 (that’s about $230 at today’s exchange rate.)

So, several hundred pounds for a gate, plus the adoption fee. I’ll admit, around about then, I gave some serious thought to going and buying a puppy. But I’ve always taken on adult dogs before, and didn’t want to give that up. I actually enjoy the challenge of training a dog that may not have had the best of starts in life or that has reached adulthood without the necessary manners to appeal to most adopters.

border collie in gentle leader

The Problem Border Collie

I knew I wanted a Border collie. I’d done my research, I’d had working dogs before so I understood working drive, and hubby had owned the breed in the past…so the search was on. That’s how I found myself looking on the internet at the ‘Dogs for Sale’ section of a well known website. It was a rather sobering experience to find quite so many of that breed advertised between six and eighteen months. The descriptions usually being along the lines of:

‘lovely dog but I don’t have the time to walk her and she is so energetic’


‘I adore my dog but he nipped my children and I can’t control him’ or ‘we got Scout as company for when I was home with the kids but I’m going back to work’.

All the timeworn excuses offered up to shelters…but these people wanted to sell the dog instead.  They were people hoping to either get some of the cost of the puppy back at worst or at best, hoping they would get some say in who their dog went to.

I spoke to one lovely lady in North Wales whose collie bitch had such appalling separation anxiety she couldn’t even go out of the house without it destroying things. Idiot that I am, I’d have seriously considered that one, as I can fix that with time. But after a couple of calls where the owner and I chatted at length and I explained how I’d approach the training and desensitisation, she decided to keep her collie and thanked me for the advice. Another one who’d nipped their five year old who was running round the garden got the poor thing put down before I could call them. By that point, I was, once again, considering going and getting a puppy…or maybe a goldfish.

Then, after a few weeks I saw a pair of blue merle collies advertised. No price on the advert, simply that the bitch was eight months old and the dog fourteen months. There was a brief line or two about changing work circumstances and not wanting to have to leave them alone so much. They were local, they were beautiful, and they had to come as a pair.

merle border collies

They Sounded Like The Hounds Of Hell

Two days later, I turned up at a suburban house to meet them and it sounded like the hounds of hell were inside. The owners came to the door, and I was greeted by a massively built male collie who had no intention of letting ANYONE in the house. He was backing it up by getting his teeth up to face height while explosively barking. This was interspersed with backing away with a low body carriage and tail between his legs. The bitch, bless her, was just bouncing up and down to get attention.

The owners got them on leash….eventually… and we took them for a walk. It was like the Iditarod. I’m not a slightly built woman; I’m five foot ten and used to work outdoors as a ranger. Those two nearly pulled my arm out of its socket, and all this time the owner was saying how good they were on the lead. How good the male was off lead and…wait for it…how yes, they’d not really had time to train the little bitch, but that didn’t really matter… as she was never more than six inches from the male. Well, that last bit was true enough as I could see. She spent every second chasing him, grabbing his scruff and neck and was utterly fixated on him to the exclusion of everything. Meanwhile, the male was fixated on toys.  Now, by toys I mean anything he could find to bring and throw at his owner to play fetch with. I’ll give him this: he could throw well, and remarkably accurately. The stick that hit me on the knee confirmed that!

harper and samson the border collies

Who Would End Up With The Problem Border Collie?

We were towed back home by the two dogs and a little later my husband arrived to meet them after he’d finished work. The attempt by the male to see off the intruder was repeated – I was controlling him this time until hubby was in the room. When released, the performance carried on. For a good fifteen minutes. An hour later, having played fetch for most of it, we finally left telling the young couple we’d have to discuss it and we’d call them back the next day.

Out in the car, we looked at each other and I can’t even remember who said it first but the words were almost identical:

“Well, if we don’t take them, someone who can’t deal with that pair will–and he’ll end up getting put down when he bites someone.”

Stay tuned for part 2 of this story in an upcoming post!

Flag of the United Kingdom

Wendy Hyde lives on the edge of a ‘Grim Northern Town’  in the UK- -which is green, clean, welcoming and cosmopolitan. She’s worked in countryside management, engineering and banking and today makes custom leather work–everything from masks and medieval reproductions to handbags and custom dog collars. She’s also been known to occasionally teach any of the assorted historic and ‘primitive’ crafts she’s learnt over the years. She’s had animals most of her adult life and never met a dog or cat she couldn’t get along with.

Product Review–Top Fin Aquarium Gravel Vacuum

We are required to let readers know that we are compensated for our product reviews. We personally test the products to be able to provide the honest reviews you will read of products offered through our website.

fish tank

In this product review you’ll learn (among other useful tips) that goldfish take quite a lot of water to get clean–and how to handle cleaning if your fish have longer tails and fins.

The Secret To Sucking Up Goldfish Gunk

Having goldfish, who are massive waste producers, I am constantly in search of a way to keep the gravel of their tank as clean as possible. Being a teacher, I need to keep price and storage in mind when finding a product. For these reasons, I recently purchased Top Fin’s gravel vacuum, which is basically a simple tube with a bulb that you hand pump and let gravity do the rest. With all of the more expensive options out there, I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but I eventually decided that if it didn’t work, I was only out about $10, so what did I have to lose?

I am actually very glad that I bought it. When properly assembled, the pump works just as it should and does a fairly good job at sucking up the gunk, and when you are finished you simply store the tube. What could be easier? Still, for the sake of review writing, I will try and break down the various aspects of this product for curious consumers.

gravel vacuum for fish tank

How To Assemble The Vacuum

Let’s start at the beginning, with the assembly. Yes, some assembly is required, but it isn’t a complicated thing to do at all. There are only a few parts to your kit, the tubes, the bulb, the strainer, and a clip to hold the tube in place once you put it in your bucket. The strainer connects to a short tube, which connects to the bulb. From the bulb extends a long tube, which can be easily slipped into the black tube holder that clips onto whatever bucket you choose to catch the dirty water in. Tada! It’s done. Some people have complained that the tubes don’t fit properly on the devices and that they slip off or leak easily. The only way I can see that happening is if you aren’t pushing the parts together well enough, because mine were a proper fit, which was a tight squeeze, as it should have been.

gravel vacuum fully assembled

Goldfish Take Quite A Lot Of Water To Get Clean

Once you have your tube assembled and the long end down in the bucket, you’re ready to let gravity work for you. Keep in mind that this is only a vacuum, it doesn’t recycle the water, only drains it from the tank, so you will need to have new, fresh water ready to replace the water that you take out. Some tanks will require removal of more water than others. My goldfish take quite a lot of water to get the gravel clean again.

aquarium with vaccuum

Temporary small tank for Nix and Hydra. They now live in a 60 gallon tank, appropriate for their size.

How To Use The Vacuum

To use the vacuum, simply put the larger strainer end into the water and squeeze the bulb a few times. After a couple of squeezes you should have water flowing down into your bucket. Several other product reviewers have said that they have had trouble with this process and that reassembling the bulb to the tubes worked for them. Some have said that they put the bulb on backwards, though I’m not certain there is a “backwards” for this simple bulb. Personally, I have had no issues what so ever, until the water level gets to a certain point where the angle of the strainer prevents proper suction. At that point, just add more water and continue cleaning if needed.

Sucking Up Goldfish Gunk Can Take Time

The amount of waste in the bottom of each tank will be different depending on the type of fish you have, the number of days you go between cleanings, and so on, so the amount of time it takes to clean your tank will also vary. Me, I’m just fussy about my fish, so I usually do a thorough water change every time rather than just a quick sweep, making the process a lot longer than it typically needs to be.


Pluto And Charon


If Your Fish Have Longer Tails and Fins

Oh, and don’t worry about taking your fish out of your tank when you clean it. Simply unplug your filter, leave the fish as they are and let the water drain. The business end actually does have a strainer in it that prevents anything like fish or their gravel or toys from being sucked up and away. Some fish take better to this process than others. Our Charon doesn’t ever seem to mind having the tube follow him around the tank, Nix tends to race around the tank trying to get away from it, and Hydra, our moody little thing, usually tries to slap at it with her tail and smack at it with her mouth. We have never had an accident or mishap while using this, but I would suggest that if your fish have longer tails and fins that you be careful where you place the tube, so that the tail or fin doesn’t get trapped between the tube and the gravel.

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Tips and Tricks

Charon, Nix and Hydra use large rocks in their tank, so I have found that the best way to clean to the bottom is to put the tube all the way down into the bottom of the gravel and shift it around, which stirs up the gravel a little bit, releasing more of the debris that will get sucked up with the other dirty water. They have a pagoda type hiding place in their tank, which tends to collect junk inside the base in a nice little clump. For that area I push the tube straight down and squeeze the pump while the water is still flowing because it helps to quickly pull most of the debris out of the rocks that fill the base of the tube.

And that’s all she wrote! This is a simple pump that is easy to use and worth the money that you put in. You aren’t getting your hands wet and you aren’t sucking on anything to get the water flowing. The bucket clip is a nice bonus that I wasn’t expecting, but is wonderful to have, since it seriously reduces hose movement in the bucket, preventing massive spills. I would put up a list of pros and cons, but I don’t know that I can think of one thing that would go into the “con” category. If you are looking for a simple manual vacuum, look no further.

goldfish in tank

Writer’s Update: As of the posting of this review, we lost our beautiful Charon. Nix and Hydra are about to embark on a journey to a strange new world called Preschool, where a new (and very large) tank awaits them. The product I describe in this article is the smaller of the two vacuums. If I end up purchasing the larger one for the larger tank, I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Where To Buy

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has purchased, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at

Who Is Cafe Britt?

We are required to let readers know that we are compensated for our product reviews. We personally test the products to be able to provide the honest reviews you will read of products offered through our website.   

How Coffee Helps The Environment

We spend a good amount of time talking about animals and animal causes.  But once in awhile, we like to highlight one of our affiliates with whom we’re particularly proud to be associated.  Today, we’d like to introduce you to Cafe Britt (Grupo Britt NV) and show you how coffee helps the environment!

cafe britt logo

When we decided that we wanted to add a bookstore section to the YPS website, we wanted it to feel as close to a brick and mortar store as possible–including all the things you’d find in such an establishment.  We wanted not only books but vendors for greeting cards and audio books…and even tea and coffee.  But it was a bit more of a challenge to find a green coffee affiliate we liked.  Luckily, Cafe Britt agreed to join us!

golf cart

From the Cafe Britt website:

The Britt Shop Story

Since the mid 1990’s Britt thought of the International Airport in Costa Rica as a place where the traveler must find our products.

Back at that time there were no bids for shops, and the only souvenir shop was government owned and operated. The Company was able to adapt a golf cart and use it as a coffee cart, where customers could buy bags of Britt, and taste our Cappuccino, espresso and drip coffee by the cup.

Then in 2001 Britt won the bid to operate gift shops in the Costa Rican Airport. The Britt Shop concept grew beyond the airport and beyond Costa Rica.

Britt decided to expand internationally not so much by exporting its products, but primarily by exporting its business model. The Company decided to actively pursue international markets and invested in Perú (2005), Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles (2006), Chile (2007), Miami, St. Thomas (2008), Antigua and Barbuda (2009) and Mexico (2010).

Today, the Company employs over 1000 people with over 94 stores in 10 countries–everywhere from Miami, Florida to the island of Caledonia.


Costa Rica’s official standards authority has certified that all of Grupo Britt’s operations comply with international standards for environmental protection. This certification confirms our commitment to developing earth-friendly practices for all our products and services.

coffee beans

How Coffee Helps The Environment Part II

This is just one of the many reasons we’re excited to offer products from this affiliate on our site–they’re green!  (And likely to stay that way.)  They’re committed to providing gourmet coffees with the least environmental impact.  This type of thinking means a better life for animals everywhere!  Think about that, while you’re enjoying the coffee you purchase through YPS and reading a pet related book.  We do!

Even their store furnishings and display cases are selected to have the least toxic materials to the environment.  They use bags made from recycled plastics that are 100% biodegradable.  Some are even their own brand. Their employees take part in an internal program where they bring their recyclables to work.  And many of the suppliers and contractors they work with make use of re-usable materials.

fair trade logo

Cafe Britt also practices Fair Trade, by paying the Columbian coffee farmers above market prices and ensuring their working conditions meet or exceed the standards of the International Fair Trade Organization.  And since 2003, the company has won many awards, which you can see here.

Grupo Britt NV Assists The Planet Financially, Too

In addition. Britt provides financial support, and its top executives give their time and energy to environmental organizations that include:

proparques logo

Britt is an active member of ProParques, an organization created by a group of academics, conservationists and business people with the shared goal of improving Costa Rica’s National Parks. The organization seeks practical and immediate solutions to the problems of understaffing and funding within the country’s protected, wildlife areas.

amigos logo

Britt is a “Guaria” and “Bosque” Member of Amigos de los Parques Nacionales, a membership program created by ProParques, Fundecor and SINAC to provide individuals, organizations, tour companies and other businesses a chance to prove their commitment to the sustainability of Costa Rica’s national parks.

aqua logica logo

Grupo Britt NV is a pioneer in implementing at its company headquarters innovative urinals that greatly reduce water consumption.  These Acualogica-brand urinals have a visionary, water-saving design to reduce flushing. The company is commited to conserving the planet’s valuable hydro resource.

And If That Isn’t Enough, Check Out A Sampe Of Some Of The Grupo Britt NV Products!

Peru Pachamama Organic Coffee

Harvested to ensure biodiversity and harmony with nature, this superb dark roast is deserving of its namesake – the Quechua word for “Mother Earth.” It’s grown in the Quillabamba region in Peru, near the famous “lost city of the Incas,” Machu Picchu. It grows beneath the soft shade of native-species trees and is nourished by the region’s own natural nutrients. This growing method preserves native flora and fauna, ensuring pure supplies of water and fertile soils for future generations of small-scale farmers. Café Britt Pachamama is certified organic by international organizations.

Octagonal Chocolate Sampler

8 of Café Britt’s very best chocolate candy creations, all packed in a beautiful gift box. It includes an assortment of Café Britt’s most popular flavors. You can find chocolate covered pineapple, guava or passion fruit; chocolate covered macadamia or cashews. Of course, you can’t miss our famous fresh roasted coffee beans, all covered in creamy white or dark gourmet chocolate. So many flavors, so little time!

White Chocolate Covered Lime

Inspired by Florida’s favorite Key Lime Pie and world-famous citrus groves, these small, white orbs are big on refreshing, tropical flavor. We’ve covered tangy lime-jelly chews in creamy white chocolate for a sweet treat that refreshes like a cool, ocean breeze. Packed in a colorful Miami-inspired bag, they’re as great for giving as they are for snacking.


Gourmet Hot Cocoa

 Hot Cocoa that’s silk for the palate and satin for the soul. Our delicious Britt Gourmet Hot Cocoa is made from the finest cocoa beans and pure cane sugar. Ideal for a moment of ultimate indulgence or fine giving to your favorite chocolate lovers. To make a perfect cup of hot chocolate, mix 2 tablespoons of Britt Gourmet Hot Cocoa into 6 ounces of hot milk and stir well. Now comes the best part! Sit back and savor how rich and delicious hot chocolate can be. Each 14.1oz container makes 18 servings.

Guava Cookies

Get ready for a fruitful, chewy crunch! These all natural artisan cookies burst with bits of pure, guava jelly. Tangy and tropical, our cookies are made from the finest, all-natural ingredients, packed warm & fresh from the oven. Don’t look for any artificial additives or flavorings here. You won’t find any! Just bits of chewy guava fruit enveloped in a delightful, subtle crunch.

coffee cups

Doesn’t all that sound just awesome?!  If you are drooling just reading this, then head on over to the YPS Bookstore, pickup a new book on pets and get some fab coffee as well!  And know that you’re doing something great for animals and the environment as you shop with us.

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at as well as follow her on Facebook.