Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

Myriad factors make India exotic, one of them being that it houses the tiger, a fierce and majestic animal. The tiger has for centuries kindled the interest of people. Tiger tales are replete in the country’s mythology and Indian folklore.


Pictured are tiger paw prints left in the mud. Shot taken from the Indian film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans.

Mythology In India

The Atharva Veda (the Hindi religious text of magical formulas), the Hindu epics–the Ramayan and the Mahabharat–and Buddhist tales bestow occult powers on tigers. Tigers were believed to have the power to bring rain, battle dragons, safeguard kids from nightmares and have healing prowess. Winged tigers have been shown as flying into the Milky Way, carrying princesses on their backs, on a mission to save the world. In Islam it’s believed that tigers protect the faith’s followers and mete out punishment to traitors.

The Warli tribe of India worships the Vaghdeva, the tiger god. They think of the tiger as a symbol of life and regeneration. They offer a fraction of their harvest annually to the tiger. They also consider the animal as a harbinger of fertility. When Warli couples visit the temple of the goddess of marriage, Palaghata, they adorn themselves in colorful red and yellow shawls. The tribal Indian folklore states, if the goddess is not pleased, the shawl will turn into a tiger and devour the couple. If the goddess is pleased the couple will be blessed with a bonny baby. Warli paintings depict a tiger as a part and parcel of daily life, both relaxing in and prowling through the villages. The Baigas of Central India, consider themselves as descendants of the tiger.

In the state of Nagaland, tigers and man are said to be born of the same mother spirit, hence brothers. Both have been believed to emerge from a common passage which happened to be the pangolin’s den. Tiger dances, in which young kids participate, are an intrinsic part of the tradition of the Udipi town in Karnataka. In North Bengal, both Muslims and Hindus worship the Bengal tiger. Paintings depict a Muslim priest atop a tiger fighting evil. The Hindu goddesses Bonbibi (The bride of the forest) and Dakshin Rai safeguard the forest dwellers from crocodiles, demons and last but not the least the tiger’s wrath. Rice, sweets, and fruits are offered to Bonbibi and Dakshin Rai is pacified with music so that they keep the fury of the striped feline at bay.

Shiva, the consort of goddess Durga, wears the skin of the tiger, which is symbolically indicative of the fact that he’s beyond the peripheries of the natural world. As per the myth, Lord Shiva was wandering through the forest naked. The wives of the forest dwelling sages were awed by his stark naked beauty. The sages felt insecure that they’d lose their wives. They captured a fierce tiger in a pit and thought that it would slay Shiva. He slew the animal and wrapped its skin around his body instead. The revered and fearsome animal is at times also shown in benign light. For instance, Indian folklore speaks of sages praying in sanctuaries surrounded by placid tigers.


Tiger fossils have been discovered in India aged 12,000 years, indicating when the tiger made its entry into the region. The Ice Age made north Asia inhabitable for tigers. That compelled them to seek greener pastures in southern territories. The tiger has been etched on the seals of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (2900 BC-1900 BC). The tiger of the Bengal state of India has been the country’s national symbol since 2500 BC. The animal was also the royal symbol of the Chola dynasty from 300 A.D to 1279 A.D. Tipu Sultan, who ruled India in the late 18th century, nurtured great admiration for the Bengal tiger.

The tiger population depleted with indiscriminate hunting. In fact, tiger hunting was a popular royal pastime. In the early 16th century, Emperor Akbar initiated this kingly sport in India. His descendants continued with this practice till 1857 which marked the fall of the Mughal dynasty. Rajput, Mongol, Afghan and Turk nobles of India also went on a tiger hunting spree. They rode on troops of elephants and entered the dense jungle to drug, bait and kill the tiger. They triumphantly exhibited the severed head and hide of the animal in their royal palace. They backed the hunting of the animal with the excuse that the tiger was perennially lusting for human blood (which is factually wrong).

Bengal tigers continued to be mercilessly slaughtered in India during the latter phase of the British rule. Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale fired bullets into and thereby killed 300 Indian tigers. In the 1920’s, the second Umed Singh, the king of Kotah, hunted the animal at night with machine guns and cannons. The Rewa kings of Central India thought it was spiritually fortunate to kill 108 tigers for their crowning.

Historian Mahesh Rangarajan calculated the number of tigers slaughtered from 1875 to 1925 as exceeding 80,000. Not all of these thousands of tigers were hunted by royalty. Some were killed as they were thought to be a threat to man. The massacre of tigers continued in the early years of independent India. Royalty and non-royalty alike went on tiger hunting escapades. Maharaja of Surguja proudly proclaimed that by 1965, he had killed 1,150 tigers. The most powerful tigers were hunted to flaunt the hunter’s bravery. Consequently, the strongest felines were eliminated from the gene pool.


The white tiger is a pigmentation variant of the Bengal tiger, which is reported in the wild from time to time in the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal and Bihar in the Sunderbans region.


Rising stars in Hollywood draped themselves in tiger hides, flaunting them as the latest fashion. Tiger rugs and coats from India were sold worldwide at exorbitant prices. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, upon coming into power, came down strongly on tiger poachers. At the end of the 19th century, when Rudyard Kipling had written Jungle Book, there were 50,000 to 100,000 tigers. In 1971, just 1,800 of them remained. The Delhi High Court in India banned tiger hunting in 1971.

There were 4000 tigers at the time of Indira Gandhi’s death in 1984. After her demise, once again the tiger population started dwindling. Tigers were illegally hunted for their bones and to procure ‘Chinese medicine’. In 2010, 1,706 tigers were found in India.  2,226 was the head count of Indian tigers in 2014.

Under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 of India, killing a tiger elicits maximum three years of imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs 25,000 ($370 U.S dollars).  If a tiger is killed inside a tiger reserve, then it’s a mandatory jail term of three years which may be extended to seven years and a fine which ranges from Rs 25,000 ($740 U.S dollars) to Rs 2,00,000 ($2960 U.S dollars). If the animal has been killed in the core area of the tiger reserve, it’ll result in seven years of imprisonment and a fine ranging from Rs 5,00,000 ($7,399 U.S dollars) to Rs 50,00,000 ($73,990 U.S dollars). Despite this, tigers are still poached. Sometimes tigers are killed when they encroach on the villages in search of prey, because of deforestation. Boars are regularly tied to a stake in the forest fringes outside the villages, so that the tigers are always full stomached and therefore don’t have to hunt man, cattle, poultry, goats and sheep.

It’s not the natural tendency of a tiger to feast on human flesh. Very seldom do tigers become man-eaters. Wildlife conservationist, Valmik Thapar, suggests that experts should judiciously ascertain if a tiger is a man-eater or not. He feels that if a tiger is too dangerous to be rehabilitated into the wild, the animal should be put to sleep peacefully. rather than serve the remainder of his natural life behind the bars of a zoo. At times, furious mobs have lynched tigers which have killed men.

Often livestock graze in forested areas during which the tiger may capture and eat them. The reason for grazing in the forested area may be that the pasture lands of the villages may have been over-grazed. Human beings, in the search of honey and firewood, venture into the forest depths, and inadvertently walk right into the jaws of the tiger. Often these gatherers have no other source of employment. Tigers are excellent swimmers and can easily pounce on boats and flee with prey. The fishermen in tiger areas are at great risk of tiger related deaths.


A scene from the film, Roar, shows a white Bengal tiger pouncing onto a boat. Bengal tigers have incredible power and athleticism.

The government, in some areas, has made fences out of wooden poles and wired mesh; to keep away tigers from villages. An aversive technique to keep away tigers from villages is electrified human dummies which will produce a mild electric shock. The dangerous tigers receive a shock which is powerful enough to render them unconscious temporarily. The tigers are then captured in cages and freed in a dense area of the jungle. Financial compensation is given to families who have lost their family members and farm animals to the tiger. Efforts are being made so that the tiger and man can peacefully co-exist in India.

Habits and Lifestyle

A tiger is a carnivorous mammal, which lives between eight to ten years in the wild. On an average, it weighs between 240 to 500 lbs. The wild cat’s roar can be heard from three kilometers away.

The Indian tiger loves to feed on deer and wild boar. If it doesn’t find deer and boar; it may have no choice but to prey on birds, rodents and insects. The most common diet usually available to wild tigers in India is comprised of the chital or spotted deer, sambar deer species, sika deer, nilgai (antelope), buffalo, gaur (bison), civets, monkeys, porcupines, frogs, fishes, crabs, giant lizards and snakes. At times, they’ll also hunt baby elephants and rhinos. The feline’s favorite hunt time is on cloudy days or at sun set. They prefer hunting alone instead of in pairs or packs. They take advantage of their coats to camouflage in the flora of the forest and pounce upon their prey when they least expect it.  After the kill, they tear apart and eat the prey in a secluded spot. To facilitate digestion, tigers may eat the following: berries, grass and fruit.

During courtship time, male and female tigers attract one another with howls and whines. Males start roaring to which females respond. When they meet one another face to face, they purr and sniff one another. Post conception, the cubs grow in the tummy of the mother for 16 weeks.

still from film

A white Bengal tiger and her cub resting.

A litter of three cubs is generally born. Each cub weighs approximately two pounds. The cubs don’t leave the den for the first two months. The father tiger at times tries to kill the babies. If any human being takes away the cub, the mother tiger is likely to sniff the trail and rescue the cub after killing the human. Tiger cubs have a high morality rate. The cubs learn to hunt with their mum. Generally, there’s one dominant cub in each litter.

National pride

The following states in India have tiger reserves: Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chattishgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, West Bengal and Karnataka. The Royal Bengal Tiger has been made the national animal of India because of its strength, grace, agility and power.


Photo of Bengal tiger seated next to a cast member for the movie Roar. Although CGI helped create various scenes of tigers in action, real trained tigers were still used on set for the film.

Indian Folklore: Tiger sayings

The Royal Bengal Tiger is often not mentioned by its generic name by the forest dwellers/villagers bordering forests in West Bengal. The prevailing superstition is that the forest goddess whose mythological vehicle is the tiger, will get peeved as she considers referring to the tiger by its real name disrespectful. The tiger has therefore been nicknamed: Raymoni, Babu (master), Alubepari (referring to the male tiger’s testicles which villagers think resemble potatoes), Bon Bibir Bahan (the vehicle of the forest goddess). It’s feared that if mentioned by its name, the tiger will attack.

Away from the forest, the tiger is mentioned by its name with ease and there are many sayings, idioms and proverbs around the animal. Some of them that prevail in the Bengali language are as follows:

·         “Bagher bachcha bagh”: A tiger’s baby is a tiger (literal meaning): The attributes of a praiseworthy person prove that’s he’s/she’s like his/her  laudable parent just like a tiger cub is also a tiger (figurative explanation).

·         “Jekhane bagher bhoy sekhane sondhe hoy”: Where you spot a tiger, evening sets in (literal meaning): There’s danger already which is being intensified just like darkness sets in when you see a tiger.

·         “Jole kumir, dangay bagh”: There are crocodiles in the water and tigers on the land (literal meaning): There’s trouble all around just like one being surrounded by crocodiles and tigers, in water and on land.

·         “Byaghro bikrome juddho kora”: To fight as ferociously as tigers (literal meaning): To fight till the last like ferocious tigers which never give up in a fight (figurative meaning)

·         “Bagh mama sheyal bhagne”: Uncle tiger and nephew fox (literal meaning): To indicate a close bond like a fox and tiger (the fox is said to trail the tiger for leftovers, hence the apparent idea of a close bond has developed) (figurative meaning).

·         “Bagher pechone pheuer moton”: Being close at the tiger’s heels in the hope of meal remnants (literal meaning): Referring to flatterers and  sycophants, who please powerful people for favors like carrion animals follow the tiger for scraps (figurative meaning).

Future of the Tiger 

The current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government of India led by Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is apparently toying with the idea of stripping the tiger of its national animal status and giving it to the lion instead. All animals are beautiful creations of God including the lion. Nevertheless, this replacement may work against the tiger, which is already a seriously endangered species in the country. Wildlife activists have expressed their disapproval regarding this. Let us hope, that the tiger continues to be the country’s national animal and efforts are made to save and multiply them.

Movie poster for the film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans.

Movie poster for the film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans.


All pictures in the article are taken from the Indian film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans, directed by Kamal Sadanah. It was a fictional film on Indian tigers released in 2014. I have the permission of the director, who is happy to give us pictures from the official website of his film. If you’d like to check out the movie for yourself or learn more about the the film click the link, Roar, to see more.

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like gingertail.in, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life. 

Dogs and Sports

Since the dawn of professional and collegiate sports there have always been names for teams inspired by animals. Bengals, Bears, Falcons, even Horned Frogs to name a few. So, it only makes sense that a man’s favorite past time should also include man’s best friend right? For many sports like football, basketball, and baseball, they chose to bring the two together.

First Energy Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are the only team named after a dog, specifically, a bull mastiff. Photo taken from cleveland.com

First Energy Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are the only team in the NFL named after a dog, specifically, a bull mastiff. Photo taken from cleveland.com

Football is widely considered the most popular sport in the United States and we are the only country to actually have a professional league (besides Canada’s CFL) for it. Originally it started from colleges like Yale and Harvard although the rules were slightly different. After its popularity spread like wildfire, teams began to spring up and one of the first with a dog mascot was the University of Georgia. Their original mascot was named Trilby, a female bull terrier. The origin of the name “bulldogs” for the university is still disputed and it wasn’t until almost fifty years after Trilby’s retirement when a bulldog was crowned the new mascot for Georgia. His name was Mr. Angel. After him, it was officially settled that the team would be known as the Georgia Bulldogs and now Uga VIII, a descedant of a long line of Georgia mascots, is reigning supreme mascot. Uga the eighth had seven predecessors bearing not only the same name, but the same pride and school spirit for the University of Georgia. I’m a fan of Uga and have actually included him in a speech about college sports for one of my university classes.

“In Athens, Georgia, an English bulldog by the name of Uga has been a longstanding representation for his school, the Georgia Bulldogs. He is just like any other bulldog lazy and calm, however, he gets to relax on the sideline of one of the biggest names in college football. He’s treated like royalty and gets a Nike jersey made just for him. The name Uga has been passed down for eight generations and actually stands for the University of Georgia. (UGA)” -Lazarus Gomez

UGA VIII, University of Georgia Mascot. Photo tajen from Georgiaanddaughter.com

UGA VIII, University of Georgia Mascot. Photo taken from Georgiaanddaughter.com

Bulldogs are actually one of the most sought after dogs for sports team mascots. High school and college teams frequently use English bulldogs to represent their school due to their ferocious appearance yet lovable nature. There are over 100 schools bearing the name Bulldog including my alma mater, the Las Cruces High School Bulldawgs.

Dogs go hand and hand with sports so well that there have even been sports created for canines to participate in. A popular yet somewhat frowned upon sport is greyhound racing. Although the practice is legal in many states, many question the well-being of the dogs and the treatment they are subjected to from their owners. There are organizations in various states that oppose these races and look towards caring for these dogs as pets rather than using them for sport. Nonetheless, Greyhounds are incredibly fast and powerful and it’s obvious why people would want to see them race. Thus, they have a sport created specifically for these magnificent dogs.


A racing Greyhound in mid-stride.

Greyhounds definitely aren’t the only canines that compete in sporting events. The Westminster Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club are just two of the large organizations that host annual competitions for dogs to compete in. At these kennel club gatherings dogs star in confirmation shows, rallys, agility, tracking and even field events. Trainers work relentlessly to fine tune their dogs to be the best in their respective field/events. Other events that these pets compete in range from Best of Breed all the way up to the Best of Show. The diversity of the dogs that compete is immense. Anything from a Golden Retriever to a St. Bernard can be found at these prestigious shows.  The latest winner of the agility competition at the WKC show was a Border Collie named Tex. However, the Best in Show winner was CJ, a Pointer (German Shorthaired). Awards and even cash prizes are given to winners of events and the popularity of these shows are ever growing.


A large dog being judged based on its composition, grooming, and breed at Kennel Club show.

Many star athletes would be nothing without their K-9 companions accompanying them at home. Pro athletes have been known to even bring along their pets to the team locker rooms for games and practices. Super star David Ortiz from the Boston Red Sox is known for loving tiny dogs. He visits the animal rescue shelter in Boston and openly promotes adoptions in the area.  An article was written on dogtipper.com about the star participating in an ad campaign for Pedigree dog food. Ortiz said,  “I couldn’t imagine a day without my dogs Foxxy and Happy. It’s amazing to see how they have not only transformed our family, but also each other.”

David Ortiz isn’t the only athlete that loves animals. PETA had an ad campaign featuring many tattooed professional athletes like Dennis Rodman, Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, and Le’Veon Bell to help get a message out. The campaign used the slogan, “Ink, not mink,” which utilized the athletes’ fame to gain attention on the issue of killing animals for their fur. In each photo professional sports stars are naked accompanied with text saying, “Be comfortable in your own skin and let animals keep theirs.” The list of guests appearing in these beautiful ads includes sports stars from soccer, football, basketball and baseball. However, athletes aren’t the only famed talents in the “ink, not mink ads. There are photos of rapper Waka Flaka, Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, and even Jackass star Steve-O who “let it all hang out” to raise awareness for pets and animals that they love so much.

Team USA Soccer goalie Tim Howard posing for the "Ink, not mink." PETA ad campaign

Team USA Soccer goalie Tim Howard posing for the “Ink, not mink.” PETA ad campaign. Photo taken from peta.org.

Ink, Not Mink

Dog lovers come in all shapes and sizes, some more athletic and famous than others. Us normal folks aren’t the only ones who are a little obsessive with their pets and have photos of them everywhere. It’s common to see sports stars like Mike Conlee (Memphis Grizzlies) post photos on Twitter of his German Shepard puppy or Klay Thompson’s bulldog taking a nap on Instagram(Golden State Warriors). These dogs have their own spot in these thriving sports teams even if it isn’t being on the field participating or barking for their owner’s success. Athletes, like the rest of us, love their dogs and go home after a long day to receive slobbery kisses.


Lazarus Gomez

Lazarus Gomez, an aspiring writer/photographer from Phoenix, Arizona has been freelance writing for local newspapers and is currently majoring in journalism at New Mexico State University. He has always been an avid animal lover and has two large bulldogs named Levi and Diesel. He currently resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico and is hoping to pursue his passion in sports writing.

FAQs and Other Animals

It’s hard to imagine we’re coming up on one year of business at Your Pet Space.  Wow! But even in the last ten months, we’ve had many many clients ask us variations of questions or present us with situations somewhat dissimilar to those listed on our Frequently Asked Questions Page.  So I thought this might be a good place to answer…

black dog

1.) How is Doggy Daycare better than taking my dog to the dog park or letting him loose for a run in the desert?

Well, dog parks are great places–but there can be issues you won’t find here–not usually with the dogs…but with the owners!  Because very few owners at the dog park know how to read dog body language, or have any idea how thier dog with react to yours.  A dog who has his owner present may feel an urge to protect him, and go into defensive mode.  Worst of all, owners sometimes think that–left to their own devices–dogs will just “work it out” when they have an issue.  Sadly, this often results in a fight with injury to one or both dogs.

Dogs of different breeds can use various forms of body language to signal things like, “I don’t want to meet you,”, “I feel afraid” or “Let’s play!”.  These can often be so different that the other dog doesn’t get the message clearly–somewhat like a speaker I heard at a conference once, telling a story.  He was from Spain, and giving a talk in Brazil, where they speak Portuguese.  The languages are similar, and yet not exactly the same.  He asked in Spanish if he could remove his jacket.  Then he realized the attendees were giving him wild looks because in Portuguese he had asked about removing his clothes.  Similarly, a dog may think the other dog is signalling a readiness to play, when he’s actually being challenged or warned away.

Can you be safe taking your dog to the dog park?  Sure.  If you are well versed in how dogs talk to each other with their body language, and your dog stays fairly close to you.  And as long as you know when to take your dog home (namely, as soon as you spot another dog whose body language signals spell trouble.)

dog in the desert

As to the desert… I have spoken with a few clients and acquaintances locally that let their dog run off leash in the desert on a regular basis.  Honestly, the idea makes me cringe, as there are so many incidents every year of dogs coming to harm off leash and uncontained in a safe space.  Also, even if you think your dog will not leave your side you are really gambling with any instinct that causes them to chase an animal or shy away from an unexpected noise or other event.  Please, for the safety of your pet, reconsider this option.

In comparison, doggy daycare at Your Pet Space is supervised by staff well versed in dog body language, (many have graduated or are attending the Animal Companion Program at NMSU), trained in canine First Aid and CPR, and in addition the other dogs playing with your dogs are evaluated on a point value off leash play assessment, so that we know they are very unlikely to be dangerous to your dog. Unlike the desert, there are no rattlesnakes here, either.  😉  And since we have full air and heat inside our building, your pet will be comfortable no matter the weather.

standard measuring cups

2.) How can I ensure my dog is fed properly when he stays with you?

First, although our FAQ recommends you bring your dog’s own food since it’s easier on their stomach than switching to ours, it’s also important to give us clear instructions on each boarding stay.  Why do we ask you do this at every stay?  Simple: we may have no idea what changed since we last cared for your dog overnight.  Does he have a new allergy or medical condition?  Have you changed his food, and therefore the quantity is different?  Or is the amount we should give different because your dog has moved from puppyhood to adolescent?  Is your dog dieting?  It never hurts to double check and see what we have for your pet on our feeding schedule.  And of course always give us written instructions in standard measurements–the food scoop you use for your dog may be left behind or not of a standard size…so just saying “1 scoop” isn’t precise.  And we so want to get it right!  😉

digging dog

3.) Why does your form ask so many questions about how my dog behaves and commands he knows?

We ask details about your dog(s) so we can ensure their safety and understand in the way you do what they’re trying to tell us.  For instance, if your dog is a digger, climber or chewer we need to know this to make sure they are never in danger.  If your dog barks when he is upset instead of whining, we want to know that, so we can reduce his stress.

Although most dog body language is consistent, these details will help us give your dog the best stay possible.  And please don’t be embarrassed to tell us your dog has trouble with some commands.  We can help!  We routinely teach all dogs that come to us to sit and wait before going through gates, and to wait before eating, and we can help if your dog pulls on the leash or jumps up on people, too.  Just let us know what you need.

sleeping dog

4.) Why do you have doggy naptime?  How do you make my dog nap? What if my dog won’t nap?  What if I must check in or out during doggy naptime?

In a 6,000 square foot playspace, your active dog could hurt himself running around for the entire day.  We have seen large facilities where this happens!  One of the facilities we worked with in Ohio also had a three hour time of the day when they were closed and the dogs were sleeping…and when our own dogs came home from there, they were significantly less stressed than at previous facilities.  Our prime directive is always to make your dog’s time with us as stress free as possible–and the more closely we stay to a routine your dog would have at home (like taking an afternoon nap), the better we are able to accomplish this.

When we begin naptime, we mimic night by lowering all the lights in the facility, and turning on the “stars” in the Milky Way sleeping area! (Ever noticed the tiny Christmas lights that are over this area?)  Since the sleep patterns for dogs are diurnal, most of the dogs will just walk in, pick a comfy bed, and go right to sleep.  In fact, many of our regular dogs will line up about 1145am each day and doze in a line along the Milky Way fence–because they know it’s almost time to go in!  New dogs usually pace around a few minutes, confused, but when they see everyone else is sleeping, they lie down too and are soon asleep.

Once in awhile, we have a younger or more active doggy guest, or one that has arrived close to naptime, so they have a bit too much energy and would rather play than nap.  That’s ok–we just put them in an area away from the Milky Way with a toy or another active dog.  And they can have their fun while the others sleep.

Oh!  And if you ever have a check in or out that MUST happen during doggy naptime, just call us ahead so we can close for naptime a bit later (preferably no later than 1pm), or open earlier (preferably no earlier than 2pm).  This still gives the other dogs a solid naptime, and prevents the upset of everyone being awakened and stressed during the excitement of someone coming in.

I hope these answers have helped clarify some more Frequently Asked Questions.  If you think of something else you want to ask, feel free to comment here, e-mail me or call us at Your Pet Space!

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, Publisher, is also the Vice President of Your Pet Space, a cage free dog boarding facility serving the greater Las Cruces, NM area. She is also a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave. 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 joy@yourpetspace.info as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.


Through The Eyes of A Labrador Owner

Owning a Sporting breed dog that loves to work…

The Search

I currently own a 1 year 3 month old chocolate American Labrador Retriever that has graced Your Pet Space’s blog page (the lab that was sitting in the water bowl) named Aspen. I had been looking for a dog for months, and once I was back in Las Cruces I went with a friend one day to look at dogs in El Paso. I had already had an idea of what dogs I wanted to look at because I went online and wrote down the cage numbers about two nights beforehand. The day was finally here, my friend and I went to lunch, then had a bit of a delay but we eventually made it to the shelter. I went around and looked in the cages to try and see the dogs I had picked out first before asking to take any of them out.

Aspen's freedom ride!

Aspen’s freedom ride!

After taking a while to decide which dog to look at first, I chose one that was with a young Pitbull mix. This 8 month old female pup had only been in the shelter for 3 days, so unfortunately no information was known as to why she ended up there. The shelter pegged her for a Labrador Retriever mix, but I thought otherwise, which I will explain later in the article.  She was brought out of her cage she shared and, even though unsure, she was very happy and gave me kisses right away and rested her head in my lap. After that I had to see how she acted around children, men and women of all ages; she did great with everyone. For the last test, I had to see how she would do around other dogs so we went back and got one of my friend’s dogs and brought her along. To my luck, this pup did not seem to mind the dog, or having her ears and tail messed with. That was when I knew she was the right fit so I was the last adoption made that day. She was then spayed about two days later and I was able to pick her up around 3:00pm. I brought her home from the shelter with everything set up to go, including her new name: Aspen.

Thrills of training

Not long after I adopted her, school started up again so she was doing crate training before I had to go back in order to get her ready for it; well, she ended up having a hard time with being in a crate. She would drag things in that were close enough and chew them up, or whine and yowl for about five minutes after my roommate and I left to go to class. She also had no prior obedience training, like most shelter dogs, which was another hurdle I knew we’d have to pass together. Her training commenced in September of 2016 with beginning obedience for six weeks–this was when I remembered that shelter dogs don’t show their true personalities at the shelter; remember the “I don’t care” reaction she gave to my friend’s dog? Well, that turned out not to be the case. Aspen wanted to play with the other dogs in class instead of work on our training. Eventually though, we were able to graduate and move on to intermediate obedience.

Aspen asleep

Aspen asleep in her crate.

Intermediate obedience went a little more smoothly, seeing as she did not have as high an excitement level with other dogs once I got her attention back on me. She was also able to graduate and move on to intermediate obedience level 2. It was during intermediate level 2 that our trainer pointed out to me that she thinks she may be a purebred Labrador Retriever, so I got curious and did some research. Apparently there is an American and European style Labrador, with the European style being more broadly built, heavier set, with a blocky head; similar to labs seen in the show rings. Whereas the American style was built more for purpose instead of preference; they are more athletically built, have longer legs, a less blocky head, and a more defined rib cage. It was about the time this class started (I’d owned her for about 5 months) that I noticed a change in the way she behaved when being left in her crate; she used to watch me leave even with a Kong that was frozen with goodies in it for her. I started to notice that she no longer did this, she licked at her Kong contently and ignored the fact that I was even there which was a HUGE improvement for this dog. I had read online that music helps, so I decided to play the music at night first when she was falling asleep to let her associate it with a calm state, then I would play it while she was in her crate. I do think the music helped, and I still play it to this day for her when I leave for class. I have owned her for about 6 months now and she is barely getting to the point where I give her a “leave it” command around other dogs and children, and she listens (some of the time). I have to work hard with getting her attention on me for a couple minutes, more so with other dogs, and once I’ve got her attention on me she does what I have been working so hard with her on; act like there are no other dogs. She loves to work, and by work I mean learn. She has come VERY far with all her obedience classes and the training I do with her on my own.

Training improvements

In a total of six months of training, and through it turning one year old, she went from pulling me on leash all the time and not knowing one command to walking on a loose leash and knowing how to sit. Then from there she learned the command “stand” which is VERY difficult to teach once sit has been taught! She also has gone on to learn “down”, “left, slow” (when making a left turn she has to slow down in order to stay in the heel position), and “right, hurry” (when making a right turn she has to speed up a bit to stay at a heel position). I have also been able to extend the duration to which I ask her for a down stay, and we are currently working on our duration for a sit stay since we are not as good at duration with those just yet. Aspen has also learned “wait” which I use to let her outside or for her to come back inside the house, she also has to wait to get her food, play with her toys, and play with other dogs. The most important command I have taught her is “come”, which we are still working on; she listens well at home or in obedience class but it is still a struggle in outdoor areas, like parks.

Aspen celebrating

Aspen celebrating turning 1 year old with a pupaccino from Starbucks.

What it is like having a highly intelligent dog

For being so young, Aspen learns new commands very quickly and is a highly intelligent dog that lives to learn. She is one of those dogs that is so smart and motivated to work, that if she is not given a job to do, she easily gets bored and finds something to occupy her time instead. Owning a dog that loves to work has its benefits for me because I love to work with her and do some training each day. I have my reasons for training her at such a high level, which will continue, and even through all our downs we have faced with training issues, I am constantly reminded of the ups of our relationship. I love Aspen very much seeing that she is not the atypical Lab; she loves to work, but at home she is content just lying around all day with me as long as she gets at least two work and two play sessions in per day.

My advice on owning a sporting breed such as a Labrador is, if you do not have the time to exercise a breed like Aspen’s and make sure they are given a job to do to keep them happy, don’t get one because they can become destructive. They are so smart they find ways to occupy themselves by exhibiting the behaviors that are undesirable to owners and this is why so many dogs end up in shelters.

Aspen showing off

Aspen showing off her training accomplishments.

Dedication to the dog that has already taught me so much

All in all, I could not have asked for a better dog; yes, we still have a long way to go, since she will be working eventually, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.


aspen posing

Aspen posing for a cookie.



Taylor-Otero Taylor Otero is a First Aid and CPR Certified Dog Handler at Your Pet Space, as well as a Pet Tech Instructor of the same.  Currently, she is also a senior at NMSU studying to obtain her B.S. in animal science in May 2016. After graduating, she hopes to get a master’s degree studying animal behavior and welfare, and plans to use that degree in her future as a dog trainer and possible veterinary technician. Taylor wants to own a dog training/daycare/boarding facility one day! She has had dogs, rabbits, horses, cats, birds and turtles.

Luis Montalván and Tuesday – Finding a Home After War

Around Memorial Day, I wrote an article about Staff Sergeant Reckless, a horse who served our nation as a Marine in the Korean War. I had next expected that I would write about another animal that had served. There are certainly a plethora of “soldier animal” stories in print these days, and I had a few in mind, but wasn’t really sure how to pick between them. My mind was completely changed when I went to the library and searched with the keywords “soldier” and “dog.” At the top of the choices available was a children’s picture book, which came as a total surprise to me, since it is often hard to find a book for young readers that deals honestly and specifically with Veterans’ issues. I was instantly curious and scrolled down to see more. Listed with the children’s book was a book by the same author, with the same dog on the cover.

A story that both adults AND children could read? As I am a preschool teacher and an avid reader, this was not an opportunity that I was going to pass up. Once I had both in my hands, I devoured them. In fact, I finished the children’s book instantly and found it so perfect that I immediately incorporated it into the day’s lesson plan.

The two books, Tuesday Tucks Me In and Until Tuesday, are both about Luis Carlos Montalván, who has written the story of his life before and after being partnered with a service dog named Tuesday. Montalván was a Captain in the U.S. Army and served two tours in the Iraq War, where he was attacked. He now lives with the pain and disability of both a traumatic brain injury and the damage to his spine that resulted from the incident. He also lives with something that we are hearing more about in these times of modern warfare; post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Tuesday helps Luis

Tuesday helps Luis on a crowded subway. Image by Don Dion, from the book Tuesday Tucks Me In

As someone with both family members and family friends who have served in different divisions of the U.S. Armed Forces during various conflicts in history, I am always proud to share the story of a soldier who has served our country. Anyone who is brave enough to put on a uniform and risk life and limb so that their fellow countrymen can stay at home and dither about what to watch on Netflix deserves more respect than I feel I can ever give. There is more bravery in that sacrifice than I could ever hope to have. When most people hear that I teach preschool, they usually say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Well soldiers, that is nothing compared to what you have given us and I couldn’t ever imagine being in your shoes. I honestly do not know how YOU do it, especially after having such a clear picture painted to me of the post war struggles that you face.

I have always known that life in the military is not as glorious as people believe, but reading Montalván’s story in his own words was somehow eye opening, even when I knew the system was letting our soldiers down and that civilians had little understanding of the types of mental and physical wounds of which our wounded warriors suffer.. There is a natural way in which he writes that warms and welcomes you. It is so natural that I almost wrote, “HEARING Montalván’s story,” in the line above. Sitting here, writing up my thoughts and feelings after desperately gobbling up every word in the book, I honestly felt as if I had been sitting somewhere listening to him tell what happened instead of rapidly turning pages like a mad addict, unable to put down the book until the very end. Even now that I’m finished I can’t put it down and have been taking both books with me everywhere I go to show off to other people.

Book cover Tuesday Tucks Me In

Tuesday Tucks Me In, a children’s story by Luis Montalván, pictures by Dan Dion

Tuesday Tucks Me In

When you see an adult story that has also been written for young readers, there is generally a large gap in the type of storytelling that is used. Grown people tend to get the whole picture, while children get only a tiny glimpse of it because the author is using simple ideas and leaving out a lot of what it was that made the adults fall in love with the words written for them. I was totally astounded at Montalván’s ability to incorporate EVERY aspect of the adult book into the children’s version. Never before have I seen such a perfect merging of story, image, and information for children to experience. No, he doesn’t describe memories in exact detail the way he does for the adults, but he tells children that he has “daytime nightmares” which make him nervous about going places where there are loud noises or sudden movements. He talks about taking Tuesday to the Veteran’s hospital and even describes how Tuesday watches the trains go by in the subway station, covering each of those things in both books.

Every word Montalván uses in Tuesday Tucks Me In, relates perfectly to the children that hear his words and when you combine this storytelling with the emotional photography, every aspect of what the adults know is somehow set out for younger minds to experience. I don’t even know that I can properly describe how this works, but I know that I have pointed every parent I know to this story and then told them to get both books so they can read Until Tuesday after they read Tuesday Tucks Me In to their children.

Until Tuesday Cover

Until Tuesday, by Luis Montalván

Until Tuesday

Until Tuesday is the perfect companion to the children’s book… or is it that the children’s book is the perfect companion for Until Tuesday? Either way, I said this above, and I will say it again —  get both and read both because I could not imagine having one without the other, especially if you are the type of parent and/or teacher who likes to discuss books with children while you read or after you are finished.

Montalván’s story hits the adult world in a deeply personal way. On some level, we all know the feelings of inadequateness that he expresses when his inabilities confine him; we all know the worry of going on a first date, and the struggles of moving to a new neighborhood. The difference between the way ordinary people experience these feelings and what someone with PTSD goes through is made crystal clear with every turn of the page. I know people with PTSD and have some understanding of what it is like to live with the condition. I have felt the sorrows of those who have had to listen to someone tell them this was not a real illness or it was something they were using as an excuse to be lazy, but I have never experienced first-hand the small, everyday things that change a sufferer’s life until I started reading about Montalván and Tuesday.

Just as he did with Tuesday Tucks Me In, Montalván manages to find exactly the words and storytelling technique that touches the hearts and minds of anyone reading. He gives us a background on Tuesday and he gives us a background on himself, before the lives of the soldier and the dog merge and the story changes from one of a desperate struggle to one of hope and understanding.

This isn’t just a story about a wounded soldier and his service dog, though Montalván also incorporates his experiences of being someone with a disability living in a world where no dogs are allowed to go. There are happy times, like the day when he AND Tuesday graduated from Columbia University, but there are difficult times when he and Tuesday were harassed by people who were maybe just trying to do their jobs, but were obviously ignorant of what having a service animal really means. This is a story of hope and determination. It contains elements of expectation, frustration and joy. Obviously, this is a book about a human who loves an animal, but it is also the story of an animal’s love for a human. I think though, that the most important thing to take away from reading Until Tuesday is the understanding of how necessary it is to give service animals to those suffering from PTSD, or for people with physical injuries that might not be obvious to someone passing by.

Montalván and Tuesday have taken up this role of education with excellence and perfection and I applaud them for finding a way through the difficult memories in order to teach those who will never be forced to experience the things former Captain Luis Carlos Montalván cannot escape. It is because of his service (and the service of every warrior) that I can sit here at my computer, typing up my praises for these books, and it is because of Tuesday that Montalván was able to write these books for us. I cannot imagine the pain that reliving these memories brought to the author, but I know that his dog was right there when needed, ready to be the calm spot in a chaotic storm during the process.

When I found these books, my original intention was to write about dogs who serve former soldiers, but having read Tuesday Tucks Me In and Until Tuesday I now know that there is no way that I could convey the experience of what it is like to have a dog like Tuesday when you need him the most. For this reason, I asked Luis Carlos Montalván to review this article for me. He provided me with that help and granted me permission to use the images you see here. I welcomed it all with open arms and a grateful heart.

Captain Montalván, I thank you for your service to our country.

Tuesday, I thank you for your service to he who needed and so deserved 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 owned, 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 mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Birds Of India

Incredible India has a wide array of feathered species. There are approximately 1314 species of birds in the country. Forty two of them are endemic to India. Here’s a brief overview of thirty out of the hundreds of Indian birds that exist:

peacock full

Peacock, photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Peacock: It was declared the national bird of India because of its grace and beauty and connotations related to Indian philosophy and spirituality. Indra, the Hindu god of rain and thunderstorms, is often portrayed as a peacock. It is also considered as the vehicle of Hindu god Muruga. It’s believed in India that when the male bird spreads its wings, rain is on the way. Wild peacocks live in forested regions near water bodies in India. The bird is also domesticated in villages.

magpie robin

Magpie Robin

Magpie Robin: This bird is found in India, right from the Himalayas in the north to Cape Comorin in the south. At one point of time, it was believed that at least a pair of magpie robins lived in every Indian garden of Agra and Oudh. The male bird is a white and black bird, unlike the larger English robin. It’s seen as flying above the ground at a height of 6000 feet, performing gymnastic feats in the air. It lays eggs either in the hole of a building or in the hole of a tree.

Indian Snake Bird: This fish eating bird has a dagger like beak and long neck. It throws the fish up in the air and swallows it. It’s an agile swimmer and powerful flier. Nicknamed the Indian darter, the bird is found both in salt and fresh water bodies; in creeks, tidal estuaries and lakes. Once, this bird was kept as a pet by Indians. The Buddeas, a band of gypsies who wandered all over East Bengal in boats loved keeping these birds as pets.


Scarlet Minivet

Minivets: This bird is as colorful as a rainbow: red, yellow, gray, blue, green, black and white. These tiny longed tailed birds are veritable nomads who don’t remain in one place, unless they are nesting. There are various species of minivets in India, with most of them dwelling in the Himalayan mountain range. The cup like nest of these birds, composed of grasses, twigs, moss and cobwebs is in itself a work of art.

Pied woodpeckers: Of the many species of woodpeckers that dwell in India, a few have pied plumes. Most of them live in the Himalayas. One species lives in Cochin and another in the Andamans. This black and white bird has a yellow forehead and short red crest. The lower plumes are white in color. Like other woodpeckers, this bird also searches for insects in tree trunks. Nuts, seeds, berries and fruit are also a part of its diet.


Pied Crested Cuckoo

Pied crested cuckoo: The upper part of the bird is black and the tail feathers are white. It’s also called the Rain Bird as with the onset of the monsoon, this bird can be seen. It has migratory instincts and graces India during the wet season.

Vulture: This bird of prey, though available all over India, is depleting in numbers; nine species of vulture exist in the country nowadays. They are most prominent in cremation grounds. A common sight is vultures feeding on the remnant of an unburned corpse which is afloat on the water of the River Ganges.

Peacock, tail spread.

Peacock, tail spread. Photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

The Indian Robin: This bird is found in grassy and stony regions and scrub forests. They lurk in dry habitats and avoid areas of wet rainfall. These birds have queer nesting habits with nests made of grass, cotton and vegetable fibers. The nest is lined with human or horse hair, feathers and snake’s skin. It mainly feeds on insects but may catch a lizard or a frog when feeding the young.

The Shikra: This bird of prey is a slightly built bird as big as a pigeon. The upper plumes are gray, the wings and tail are black, the breast is white with brown spots in young birds. It was a favorite of falconers as it could be trained to procure food with great alacrity. However, as it has feeble claws it can’t tackle large quarry. The bird feeds mainly on lizards and also gulps down sparrows, small birds, mice and rats.

Grey Hornbill: This bird is found on the plains of India at an elevation of 2000 feet. It’s found in the southern Himalayan foothills and the Ganges delta in the east. It makes nests in the hollows of lofty trees between April and June. It tries to keep away from human beings, which is why it loves to inhabit forest tracks. It feeds on fruit, and is often seen on Banyan and Peepal trees. After plucking a berry, it tosses the fruit up into the air and then catches it with its beak.

Flamingo: The two types of flamingos which exist in India are the common and lesser flamingos. Flamingos can be seen in lakes and backwaters around Chennai. The Pallikarnai wetland in Chennai, Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat and Sewri in Mumbai are some of the places where these birds are found in India. In the Runn of Kutch, when there’s sufficient rain, flamingo nests can be seen. The bird is unfortunately decreasing in numbers in the country.

Paddy Bird: Also known as the pond heron, it looks for prey from small water bodies. It is often seen at the side of soaked paddy fields. It’s frequently seen standing on the water’s edge, all huddled up. It bears the ill reputation of being a lazy creature. The bird loves snacking on frogs and water insects. It is commonly seen in the country’s wetlands. It is often seen making use of the water hyacinths to dig deeper into the water to find prey.

Merlins: They are pygmy falcons which are found at both sea level and high mountains. They feed on reptiles, small birds, insects and bats. They tend to inhabit deserted nests of other birds. In earlier times, they were used for the purpose of falconry.

Green pigeons: In the wild, these birds love to inhabit fruit trees, preferably in forested areas. It happens to be the state bird of the Indian state of Maharashtra. These yellow footed green plumed birds live in flocks.


parrot photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Parrots: These birds are often kept as caged pets in India. Some pet owners even clip their wings and teach them human talk. The Kamasutra manual says that it’s necessary for a man to teach a parrot to talk. They are also considered birds of love in India and many a fable has been woven around them. The first written mention of the parrot was apparently in the ancient Rig Veda text of India.

Parakeets: These birds which have originated in India live from 25 to 30 years. The Ringneck variety can live up to 50 years. The Ringnecks feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables and berries. They are seen in miniscule cages in many Indian households, though it’s illegal to do so. They’ve been bred in captivity in India ever since 200 BC. They are popular as pets as they can mimic human voice.

Bulbul: There are various kinds of bulbuls in India. They come in various colors- yellow, red, orange etc. They munch on fruits, seeds, tiny insects, nectar, arthropods and small vertebrates. These birds are known to be monogamous.

Common Cuckoo: This solitary and shy bird is found in open woodlands and forested areas. In villages, the sweet song of the bird, rings through the trees, especially in spring. It also has the negative reputation of being a brood parasite. It lays a solo egg in the nest of a crow or a drongo and destroys an egg from the nest to lay its own. Thereby the lazy bird shirks the responsibility of child raising.

Wire tailed swallow: They are called wired tailed as they have fine long outer tail feathers which hang like wires. They are generally spotted in pairs near water bodies and human habitats. They feed on insects which are often caught while they are flying. They build bowl like nests close to water bodies.

Kingfisher: Out of ninety species of kingfishers in the world, a dozen are found in India. The Common Kingfisher or River Kingfisher is quite widespread in the country. The White Throated Kingfisher, also known as the Tree Kingfisher resides away from water bodies. The Pied Kingfisher is found in fresh waters. The Blue Eared Kingfisher is spotted in streams in deeply wooded areas. The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher loves to live in shaded streams in moist forests with broad leaved trees. The Brown Winged Kingfisher is seen in mangroves, coasts, creeks and tidal rivers. The Stork Billed Kingfisher dwells in sluggish waterways and shaded lakes. The Ruddy Kingfisher lives in forested swampy mangrove areas. The Crested Kingfishers prefers swift mountainous rivers and river foothills.

Terns: Though predominantly sea birds; they are also found in marshlands, ponds and lakes. They also eye places which are fast drying up, as they can find their prey which comprises of fish more easily there.

Indian crow variety

Indian crow variety, photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Red Turtle Dove: This bird exists throughout India, more so in South India, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It’s a summer visitor to the country. They like to reside in wooded tracts and tree plantations. They try to stay away from deserted regions.

Hoopoes: This bird can be seen in North India digging out insects from the soil from dawn to dusk. Their egg laying season is in early spring of the northern hemisphere. They build nests in the cavities of trees and buildings. Unlike some other bird species, they aren’t wary of humans.

Sarus Crane: Also the largest bird of India, this crane was once found nowhere outside the country. This happens to be the only crane species in India which stays in the country all year round. It exists along the Gangetic plains. It lurks about in shallow waters digging into the mud eating aquatic plants, insects (mainly grasshoppers) and fish (during captivity). It breeds predominantly during the monsoon in India.

This bird is venerated by Indian Hindus and there was a prohibition against eating its flesh in ancient Hindu scriptures. It was a close contender to the peafowl in the race to being the national bird of India. It’s been observed that if the bird’s mate is killed, its partner wails for days. The killing of the bird is believed to have inspired a deeply grieved sage Valmiki to pen the Hindu epic Ramayan.

Swallow Plover: These plover like birds with fork tails, skim over the surface of water and predominantly feed on insects. They lay eggs on sandy islets. An interesting feature of the eggs that they lay is that each egg looks very different.

Sunbirds: These birds are honey suckers who are found in the warmer parts of peninsular India and fly away from the colder parts of the country in winter. The male birds have lovely voices and sing as sweetly as canaries. Sometimes they feed on tiny insects. They build unique nests with cobwebs wound round branches from which the nest hangs. Their pear shaped nests are lined with cozy silk cotton.

myna bird

Myna bird, photo courtesy of Kurush Dastur

Myna: This bird has a black hooded head, brown body and yellow patches below the eyes. Mynas in north-west India are paler than the south Indian birds. They breed all over, right from sea level to a height of 3000 meters in the Himalayas. This bird uses and also usurps the nests of woodpeckers and parakeets, often by knocking out the chicks. They feed on arachnids, insects, reptiles, crustaceans, seeds, small mammals, grains, fruits etc. Seeing one myna is considered unlucky and seeing a pair is thought to be lucky in India.

Indian crow

Crow variety, photo courtesy of Veerendra Bhargava

Crow: It’s a very common bird in India. They are carrion birds which are believed to clean up the place. Crows’ nests are seen often on Indian trees. At marketplaces they are seen sifting through garbage for scraps of food. This bird also has an interesting place in Hindu mythological literature.

Sparrow: Sparrows, seen widely in India twenty years ago, now are an endangered species in the same country. The house sparrow has a merry, chirping call. Animal activists all over India are raising a hue and cry to save this bird. These tiny birds feed on cereal grains, livestock feed and insects.

Indian pigeon

Pigeon variety, photo courtesy of Veerendra Bhargava

Pigeon: Feeding pigeons is considered as a pious act in India. A common sight is people feeding numerous pigeons food grains in public places, especially early in the mornings. White pigeons with tails with gorgeous plumes were patronized by Indian royalty in yesteryear.

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like gingertail.in, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life. 

Loving Your Pet’s Smile

dog face

You Can Brush Your Pet’s Teeth!

My dog, Seba, loves giving kisses!  But sometimes they’re smelly, if I’ve forgotten to brush her teeth.  What?  Brush my dog’s teeth?  Yes!  Not only does she tolerate me brushing her teeth, she expects it and there are some things she seems to enjoy—such as the peanut butter flavored toothpaste!

Here’s a vid of me brushing Seba’s teeth.

Ok, so yes–you should brush your pet’s teeth.  But how do you know when?  Ideally, a pet’s teeth should be white (not yellow, brown or gray), their gums should be bubble gum pink—except in the case of pets whose gums are a different color naturally—and they should not have bad breath.

Pets do not usually develop cavities the way children do, but they can contract periodontal (gum) disease due to buildup of tartar.  Once the gums are infected and inflamed, they can lose their teeth.  But a long time before that happens, they may be having pain that they won’t show in the same way you would…

In addition, once infection sets in, their immune system becomes compromised, and this can lead to heart and other types of disease.

I was lucky with Seba, because greyhounds are quite used to being touched all over and handled with humans doing all kinds of strange things to them—including dressing them in racing silks, winning banners…and later, when they are adopted to a home, everything from fancy collars with dangly bling to coats to booties for their feet in the winter!  So it was an easy segue to start putting a toothbrush in her mouth.

canine dental

But HOW Do You Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?

But, if your pet isn’t used to this, the way to start is by using something on your finger that the pet loves—like tuna juice for cats or plain peanut butter for dogs (just be sure to avoid any peanut butter containing xylitol as a sweetener, since this is highly toxic to our canine friends).  You want to approach the pet from the side, not face to face.  A smaller dog or a cat you can place on your lap, with its face away from you.  Our cat lovers may want to try a Cat In The Bag as an easy way to brush your feline’s teeth, and it can be used in many other instances, as well.)

Seba knows when Momma is talking baby talk to her, she is safe and something good is coming in the way of treats and pets.  But any reassuring sound you make or praise you give throughout the process will create a pleasant association for your pet.  Start for short sessions on a regular basis and build up to a full mouth brushing, starting at the back  on the inside and using short, circular strokes with the brush.

cat roar

The Facts About Pet Gum Disease

You may have thought that gum disease only affects humans, but in fact pet gum disease is the leading dental problem vets see, and affects 80% of dogs and 70% of cats.  In general, pets are more susceptible as they grow older, but toy breeds are particularly so, because of tooth crowding.

Gum disease in pets is caused by the same things as in humans: bacteria from leftover food particles causes plaque along the gumline.  If not cleaned away, the plaque hardens into tartar, which clings strongly to the teeth.  This can happen in as little as 3 days.  Gingivitus, bad breath and inflammation of the gum follow which, if still untreated, can cause loosening of the teeth, abcesses and further infection.  All during this process, the pet is in pain–and, unlike you, will not be able to schedule an appointment for themselves!

Signs of periodontal disease in pets are:

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive Salivation
  • Loose or Missing Teeth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Obvious pain or difficulty while eating
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Yellow brown tartar deposits

dog mouth

But What About The Dental Treats I Give My Pet?

Like a lot of other pet products on the market, these are well loved by owners–but keep in mind they do not replace a toothbrush or professional cleaning.  Treats should not be soft (or become soft as in the case of rawhides) as hard food and treats help remove built up plaque from the pet’s teeth.  You want a tough, chewy treat, but not extremely hard like cow hooves or pig ears.  Hard objects can chip and wear down teeth prematurely.  However, in general, providing your pet a chew toy is beneficial, even if you spot some bleeding of the gums, as in particular dog gingiva is more sensitive than that of humans.

Healthy gums should be bubble gum pink with no signs of redness or irritation.

cat teeth

At The Vet

As part of your pet’s routine, your vet should be checking their mouth, gums and teeth.  If they find your dog needs a cleaning, they will use one of two methods (generally, under anaesthesia): manual or mechanical scaling.

Manual scaling is used for mild cases of tartar buildup or as a followup to a mechanical scaling procedure.

Mechanical scaling uses ultrasonic scalers powered by compressed air.

After scaling off the tartar, the pet’s teeth are polished, just like a human’s.  This is a key process to ensure the natural nooks and crannies of the teeth are smooth, and less easily able to allow tartar to adhere.  Irrigation with a water based solution is the final step in the process, rinsing away any further debris.

Sometimes, your pet may need teeth removed–especially if they are extremely loose, broken beneath the gumline or split.  This ensures your pet can have comfortable meals after healing and that any infection cannot spread throughout the body.

So here’s the takeaway: yes, you can brush your pet’s teeth!  And you should.  It can lengthen their life considerably, not to mentione their enjoyment of it.  Plus–no smelly kisses!

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, Publisher, is also the Vice President of Your Pet Space, a cage free dog boarding facility serving the greater Las Cruces, NM area. She is also a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave (below). 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 joy@yourpetspace.info as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.

Rose Memorial

The West Side Highway Rats

In July of last year, hundreds of domestic white rats were dumped on the median of the West Side Highway in New York City. Surrounded by heavy traffic, with no access to food or water, these domestic rats had little hope of survival. A team of dedicated animal lovers quickly jumped in to save them. Planning capture missions and eventually “rat trains,” over 500 saved rats were transferred to several rescue organizations along the east coast from New York, all the way down to Virginia.

The city was less than helpful in this rescue, putting down poison and capturing (then killing) at least 300 rats from the median. No officials offered to investigate the situation and none have since reached out to help seek justice for these sweet refugees. (That I am aware of.) Many of the rats rescued after the poisoning did not survive, some dying by the dozens within days of each other. Some finally finding a loving (if temporary) home with a rescue organization. A majority of the rescued rats did survive however, and began to find comfort and new hope for life with people that cared for them.

Median on the West Side Highway in New York City, where workers are searching for rats in their burrows. It was a struggle to find people to help save the abandoned rats. Posted October 2, 2015 by the West Side Highway Rats community on Facebook, used with permission.

Median on the West Side Highway in New York City, where workers are searching for rats in their burrows. It was a struggle to find people to help save the abandoned rats. Posted October 2, 2015 by the West Side Highway Rats community on Facebook, used with permission.

Our family lives in North Carolina and was desperate to help however, we were unable to make the long trip, or be of any use until we got notice of the east coast rat train that transported these sweet, unfortunate rats, south. Overjoyed at the opportunity to finally help out, we almost volunteered to transport and adopt some of these rats ourselves. Sadly, we knew we had one male who would not take kindly to strangers entering his home and we had to make the hard decision to not introduce new rats into our current mischief. Though we ended up making the hard choice to watch the West Side Highway rats from afar, I did end up randomly connecting to one through my work here at Your Pet Space.

Last year, I shared the story of Toby, the white rat who had become a star on Broadway in, “The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time.” Her trainer, Lydia DesRoche, adopted three of those highway rats, named Blanche, Dorothy and Rose. One of these “Golden Girls” would later get her big break on the Broadway stage. When Toby needed to step away from the role because of a tumor that needed surgery to remove, and her subsequent issues with recovery; Tulip, another of DesRoche’s rats, took over the role. She wasn’t as excited about it as Toby was unfortunately, and Rose eventually stepped in to begin as her understudy.

Rose loved the work and became not only a sensation with those she worked with, but an ambassador for rescue rats and especially the rest of her West Side Highway family. One night, Rose got her big break and her love of the theater was evident the next day when DesRoche held both girls and opened the little red cage they use on set. In an article from the New York Times, Lydia retells the story: “I said ‘Who wants to go on?’ and Rose jumped in first.” She was an instant star and went on stage again on a night soon after, when one of the actors requested her specifically.

 Tulip and Rose - taken from Lydia DesRoche's Instagram, used with permission.

Tulip and Rose – taken from Lydia DesRoche’s Instagram, used with permission.

With this new place among the stars, Rose’s job of ambassador also grew. Articles of the West Side Highway rat who was becoming the next Broadway sensation were popping up all over the internet. People that had never heard of the highway rats were learning their story and people who never knew about the intelligence and loving nature of rats were starting to see them in a new light as they read about Rose’s life and personality.

Then, on January 26th, the Times put out a new story (the one quoted previously) but this one brought heart breaking news. Rose, the rising star, had died in a tragic accident at her home. She was climbing and exploring one of her favorite shelves when a door detached from the structure and fell on her. She was hurried to the vet, but passed away on the journey there.

Last week I reached out to Lydia DesRoche and conveyed my deepest sympathies. I understand what it is like to have had a rat pass from a tragic incident and know how hard it is to lose one that is so young. Our entire family was devastated by the announcement of Rose’s passing.

Rescued rats going to adoption event. Posted on West Side Highway Rats Facebook page, used with permission. One of the comments describes the image: "August 23rd when HALT came with 96 rats for adoption day at Mooshoes." - comment posted by Laura Georgina Budean

Rescued rats going to adoption event. Posted on West Side Highway Rats Facebook page, used with permission. One of the comments describes the image: “August 23rd when HALT came with 96 rats for adoption day at Mooshoes.” – comment posted by Laura Georgina Budean

I have been working on a post about myself meeting Tulip back stage over the holiday season and decided to save that for later in order to share this memorial of Rose with everyone. I cannot say enough how important it is to have Rose and others bring to light cases of cruelty, neglect, and abandonment involving small animals. Rats like these are fed poison when abandoned and their rescuers struggled desperately to find people to help take them to safety. Had they been kittens or puppies, entire neighborhoods of animal lovers would undoubtedly have flocked to the scene to help in the rescue efforts.

Rose was one of the rats on the median when the city put out the poison. Rather than being captured by city workers who intended only to end the lives of the rats who had been placed in the median, Rose was lucky enough to be captured by people who meant to find her a loving home. She found that home with Lydia and found new life and joy in her role on Broadway.

"Toby is at work. Rose and Blanche explore the great Rat Diva's cage." Taken from Lydia DesRoche's Instagram page, used with permission.

“Toby is at work. Rose and Blanche explore the great Rat Diva’s cage.” Taken from Lydia DesRoche’s Instagram page, used with permission.

Rose is survived by her sisters, Blanche and Dorothy, and all of the other highway rats in her family who are with new humans that love and care for them. She lives on in the hearts and minds of all of those she touched and all that had the opportunity to work with her both on and off stage. The people at Curious Incident have made a donation to Mainely Rat Rescue in her honor. If you would like to donate to a rescue organization that helped Rose and her family, the site thetravelinrat.org has the following information available:

West Side Highway Rats:

In mid-July over 100 white rats were found dumped on a traffic median near the West Side Highway and 57th St, NYC. To get updates and see adoptable rats, please check out The West Side Highway Rats Facebook page.

Rescues and individuals involved in this effort:

HALT Rescue, Florence, NJ – http://www.haltrescue.com/

Shadow Tail Squirrel & Small Animal Sanctuary, Staatsburg, NY – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shadow-Tail-Squirrel-Small-Animal-Sanctuary/912450065482296

Mainely Rat Rescue, Falmouth, ME – http://www.mainelyratrescue.org/

Philly Rat Rescue, Philadelphia, PA – http://www.phillyratrescue.com/

Rat Nation of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA – https://www.facebook.com/RatNationPittsburgh/

gRATitude Rat Rescue, Pylesville, MD – https://www.facebook.com/pages/GRATitude-Rat-Rescue/217125965019246?ref=br_tf

Luna’s House, Edgewood, MD  – http://lunashouse.org/

Dakota’s Dream, Winchester, VA – http://www.dakotasdream.com/

Lisa A, New York, NY – lilyanselmo@gmail.com

"With Toby temporarily out of commission, Rose generously offered to step in as Tulip's understudy." Image taken from Lydia DesRoche's Instagram page, used with permission

“With Toby temporarily out of commission, Rose generously offered to step in as Tulip’s understudy.” Image taken from Lydia DesRoche’s Instagram page, used with permission

Last night, in my dreams, I stood in the middle of a New York City street and watched as the marquee lights went dark on Broadway – a tradition that marks the passing of a prominent actor or other worker in the theater. When this happens it means that the person who passed did something very meaningful and highlights them as an important history maker in the Broadway community. I found my dream fitting. Though Rose wasn’t the star of the show and wasn’t the first rat to play Toby, she was the perfect ambassador of her kind. We had planned a trip up to see Curious Incident again in spring and I am sad to know that I will never get to see Rose’s famous kiss live on stage, but the next time any rat pops their head out to deliver their kiss scene with perfection and joy, I will be thinking of Rose, the rising star who touched the hearts of so many in such a short amount of time.

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 owned, 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 mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Working at Your Pet Space

 An insider’s perspective

The famous Your Pet Space sign we have put up outside of the facility.

The famous Your Pet Space sign we have put up outside of the facility.

                When you first walk into the big red doors at Your Pet Space you quickly realize that this isn’t any ordinary place of business. One quick glance around the ever-changing complex can give you a good idea of the environment that the owners, Joy and Dave Jones, provide at the only cage free boarding facility in the city. When I had first joined the team of loving and caring staff members I noticed the amazing services that Your Pet Space provides for its clients and the community. They are the only boarding facility that is IBPSA (International Boarding & Pet Services Association) certified in Las Cruces as well as having the only pet CPR certified staff. YPS also works with some of the most amazing groups of people ranging from fantastic pet trainers to the nice folks at APA (Action program for Animals).

Dave and Jones the owners of Your Pet Space

Dave and Joy Jones, the owners of Your Pet Space.

          Expanding our space  

  I had applied at Your Pet Space searching for a part time job that I could maintain while being a full time student at the university. What I didn’t know was that I would fall in love with the animals and all the things that I find myself busy doing here. I was hired before we officially opened for business and had no idea what to expect. I first began with helping Dave build the various fences that would help us create our quadrants available for dog care. It was very interesting to manufacture our own walls and help with the rubber flooring that we would provide for the animals in my first few days working. Dave Jones is quite the handyman and I’ve found that he would much rather build his own things than rely on something he can find somewhere in the stores or online. It took a few tries and failures to finally decide on the perfect lock systems to allow our dogs to come inside our quadrants with ease but not be able to escape. Still, things can always be improved and Dave never stops thinking of new ways to better our facility.

Dave Jones checking up on the walls he built for the facility.

Dave Jones checking up on the walls he built for the Alpha quadrant.

Doggy daycare

After I had done my share of help with the “carpentry” aspect of my job I jumped right into working with the animals. Although I did not have much experience, other than taking care of my own two dogs, I was eager to learn from the pet experts themselves. Joy was able to teach me how to control a large group of dogs with relative ease. She also was very helpful with teaching me the most practical ways to play with the dogs without starting too much commotion amongst the pack. It’s crazy how much you can learn from an animal after spending the day with them. I started my job worried about getting hair on my clothes and getting slobbered on but have now found myself embracing the love from all the dogs I have the opportunity to care for. No two days are alike here at Your Pet Space and the energy in the facility is contagious.

Dave playing with some of the dogs we have staying with us for daycare/boarding.

Dave playing with some of the “crewmen” we have staying with us for daycare/boarding.

Laz the writer

                When I wasn’t working at the complex I found opportunities to pursue my dream in writing while still benefiting the place I worked. Joy Jones gave me the chance to write articles for the website that she ran, with a chance of being published, if it met the criteria that she asked for. I was blessed to have a shot at gaining some experience in the world I longed to be a part of, while still being employed by the great folks at Your Pet Space. I was super excited to get to work and I managed to get two articles published in my first month. What is a bulldog? Greyhounds vs. Coyotes Things at school however, began to demand more of my time and I was no longer able write articles until now.

Photograph of the current quadrant system we have set up. We are ever changing however and are always willing to change it up if needed.

Photograph of the current quadrant system we have set up. Dave cleverly built the fences to easily be moved and we’re always prepared to change it up if needed.

     Laz the editor

Since then I have managed to get steady hours at this place I love to work, and have even found myself taking on new responsibilities. I am fortunate enough to be the new managing editor of yourpetspace.info. I am very excited to be working towards something I would like to do as a career in my near future. I handle editing the various articles we receive from the multi-talented and multicultural authors working for Joy and Your Pet Space. Now that I am running things on the website we can have multiple scheduled article postings a week and I can relieve Joy of some unneeded stress as well.

The Milky Way, a place for the dogs at our facility to take a nap during the day.

The Milky Way, a place for the dogs at our facility to take a nap during the day.

Gateway to sweet doggy dreams…

When it comes to our place of business, stress isn’t something just us humans go through. Dogs too can become stressed out and need a nap just like people do. Your Pet Space is great because we offer a three-hour napping period for all the dogs to relax at noon and get some well-deserved rest from playing all morning. During this time we turn off most of the lights and lock the doors so that nobody disturbs the animals. Nap time in the Milky Way gives myself and the owners time to eat lunch and calm the pack of dogs down for a bit. It also gives me time to work on the website and to write my own articles.

A quick snapshot of a few of our "space cadets" during nap time.

A quick snapshot of a few of our “space cadets” during nap time.

Your Pet Space? 

If the idea of a cage free boarding facility wasn’t awesome enough, just throw in the fact that Your Pet Space is set up to literally be your pet “space.” Dave and Joy are huge sci-fi fans and show their passion for it through their businesses theme. One quick visit to their official website yourpetspace.com gives you a huge clue as to what they are all about. Drawing your eye when you step through the doors is a large space mural with stars that actually light up. In the Milky Way there are tents or space pup tents for dogs to sleep in during nap time. For new clients, or clients that come very frequently, we offer a mission report. It is basically a card written specifically for each dog giving the owners a summary of how their dog has been doing during their time with us. Not only is the idea creative with its terminology, it is also shows the amount of attention we show each client’s dog. The “Ambassadog’s” Seba and Hoagy, Joy and Dave’s dogs, are always meeting new “cadets” to accompany them on their daily “deep space missions” we have at our facility. Beam me up doggy!

Space mural custom made for our facility.

Space mural custom made for our facility.

Duty calls

With a lot of animals in our care comes a lot of cleaning and other chores as well. We use veterinary grade, animal friendly products to mop up and sanitize our floors after accidents and try to handle them as quickly as we can spot them. Often times new dogs will “relieve” themselves immediately upon entry of our facility, which we try to emphasize, is a totally normal thing for us. I think of Your Pet Space as a safe haven for dogs because we will never lose our temper and instead treat them just as we’d treat our own pets. Sometimes the dogs may tear up the beds or wear down toys from excessive play but it’s never treated as a serious problem. Dogs are dogs and we understand that things can happen while they’re enjoying their time with us. Our priority is the safety and care of your dogs.

One of our daycare dogs, Lou. She loves to play in our water bowls.

One of our daycare dogs, Lou. She loves to play in our water bowls.

Scooby snacks

Feeding time is also something to write about here because it tends to be one of the most hectic times at Your Pet Space. In this moment, knowing the dogs you’re working with is very helpful. It pays off to know that certain dogs can become very aggressive or territorial when it comes to their food. When you know who you’re working with, you can accommodate and put certain dogs in separate quadrants when they eat to avoid problems. We also have a handy red cart that allows us to expedite the whole process and have multiple food bowls with us at once for feeding. We get various dog foods from clients and are always precise in feeding their pets the correct amount specified by their owners. No order is too tall for us and we understand that certain dogs may need medications or special feedings that we’re happy to administer.

The bright red food cart we use to help feed and give water to our dogs.

The bright red food cart we use to help feed and give water to our dogs.

Out of this world experience…

Since first starting at Your Pet Space, my shifts have become longer but have began to feel much shorter. I have seen the business grow from the grand opening and everyday we are becoming bigger and more popular among pet owners in the city. Playing and interacting with the dogs has become so natural to me that stepping into the Alpha quadrant, our main holding area, has made me feel like I’m truly the leader of the pack. Just a few stays with us has changed a lot of anxious and nervous dogs for the better. This is a place where a dog can burn excess energy and experience a fun social environment. Playing “pitball” and running over and under the “space bridge” is just a small part of the Your Pet Space experience. I’ve grown fond and familiar with a lot of our client’s pets in the short time I’ve been a part of the Jones’s team. Our demographic is pet owners who love their animals and want them to be supervised and taken care of the same way they would be at home. Your Pet Space is a great place to work, to board, and for your pets, a great place to stay.

Sleepy cadet Jolene resting in one of our space pup tents.

Sleepy cadet Jolene resting in one of our space pup tents.

Lazarus Gomez

 Lazarus Gomez, an aspiring writer/photographer from Phoenix, Arizona has been freelance writing for local newspapers and is currently majoring in journalism at New Mexico State University. He has always been an avid animal lover and has two large bulldogs named Levi and Diesel. He currently resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico and is hoping to pursue his passion in sports writing.

Keeping Playtime Safe

Keeping Playtime Safe

I am a member of many online rat groups that generally talk about the same things; rats are smart, rats are cute, rats are clean, rats are loving and loveable, rats can be hard to find medical care for. Every once in a while another familiar topic comes up: toys.

It can be relatively difficult to find toys suitable for rats, because they chew more than a lot of other animals. For a long time, there weren’t a lot of stimulating rat toys out there, just sticks with bells on them, like you’d give to birds, or maybe a basket you could hang in the cage. Both of these items are food dispensers that encourage movement, investigation and brain power to a certain extent, but rats need other kinds of stimulation too. They are big on nesting and need nesting boxes and plenty of comfortable places inside of their cage to snuggle down for the afternoon. For these needs, hammocks, soft tent-like structures, fuzzy beds, nesting boxes and various types of large tubing are typically used for rats. They are becoming more and more common in pet stores, where you can usually walk in and find something packaged with the picture of a rat on it.

McKay and Keller were two of my rats who loved the wheel and taught their children to do the same. Other rats have decided the same wheel is only good for sleeping in.

McKay and Keller were two of my rats who loved the wheel and taught their children to do the same. Other rats have decided the same wheel is only good for sleeping in.

In my many years of rat ownership I have found that what I get for a certain rat doesn’t always work for another rat. One pair of rats may love the plastic running wheel, while others may hate it and use it only as a bed. Some rats loved running in the plastic tubes we bought many years ago, others only used them to get from point A to point B and ignored them otherwise. Almost all of my rats like soft, snuggly places, but some could not stand hammocks to be in their cage and would rip them apart as soon as they saw one. It makes sense, really. Humans have preferences too. Some people love Minecraft, others would rather stick to Neverwinter. Some of us are readers, some of us focus better on movies and television. Different strokes for different folks works differently for rats though.

Rats have a tendency to reuse items that are given to them. It is quite possible that your rat will look at your hammock and decide that you have given them a nesting blanket, but have stupidly stuck it to the ceiling where it is useless for nesting. They will promptly cut it down and drag it away into their nesting box. It is just as possible that your rat will love your hammock, but hate the hard plastic stuff that you cluttered their cage with and expect them to run through. Those rats probably think their humans are nuts, not allowing them open space to drag their nesting materials around. They may find themselves struggling to pull a soft nesting toy through an opening in a plastic toy that isn’t anywhere near large enough.

Unlike most female rats, Click preferred not to chew her soft toys and chose to pile as many blankets in her bed as possible, without getting a hole in them. Once they started to fray she would reject them, pushing them to the door of her cage for us to collect.

Unlike most female rats, Click preferred not to chew her soft toys and chose to pile as many blankets in her bed as possible, without getting a hole in them. Once they started to fray she would reject them, pushing them to the door of her cage for us to collect.

The fact is that all animals have the ability to break their toys, either because they are natural “Destruct-o-cons” or out of pure accident. Whatever caused the toy to break, once the integrity of the product is compromised, it becomes hazardous to your animals.

Most toys caution consumers in the fine print.

Most toys caution consumers in the fine print.

Almost every toy I have ever purchased has had some kind of warning on the package. The manufacturers encourage supervision with toys, even if the concept behind the toy doesn’t exactly fit with the warning. Who is honestly going to take everything out of their rat’s cage before going to work every day? Yes, the warning is mostly to protect the people who make the products, but it is also meant to be taken seriously. A damaged toy left within reach of an animal can do some serious harm when you are not around to notice. I have heard horror stories of people going to work with healthy rats and coming home to one that had strangled itself in its own nesting materials.

It is tempting to take a toy that has caused your pet distress and display that product on social media sites as unsafe and dangerous. Many people will then jump on the bandwagon and start campaigns to have the toys removed from the shelves. While there are some times when this is appropriate, we can’t forget that text on the back of the package.

The warning that came with one of the soft toys for ferrets that my rats used, cautioning against “excessive wear.”

The warning that came with one of the soft toys for ferrets that my rats used, cautioning against “excessive wear.”

So what exactly is “excessive wear?”

 When it comes to answering this question I prefer to apply a rat-sized twist on the preschool regulations for playground equipment. On a preschool playground gaps in objects are measured by what can fit through them, which basically means that a hole has to be small enough that nothing fits through it or large enough that everything can fit through it. It is a more complicated process than it sounds, but the basic concept is that children can easily fit their legs through appropriate openings, but not their heads, which prevents strangling. It also means that holes must be small enough that their feet can’t slip through, trapping their legs, or large enough that their entire body can fit through so that they do not trap their shoulders. Our school has two separate playgrounds, measured for two periods in a child’s development. The youngest children cannot come to the playground with the older children because their body measurements would not match those of the older kids. An opening that is not dangerous for a five year old could be hazardous to a much smaller two year old.

When I look at the wear in any toys I give to my rats, I use some of the same criteria, but I have to take into account the nature of a rat’s body. The trick with rats is that their heads can fit through much smaller openings than you think. This is great for rats in the wild, who can squish their bodies through cracks in solid objects, but rats playing with softer toys can easily get trapped in the same sized opening, since fabric reacts differently than something like a cement block does. As a rule with all soft toys, as soon as I see ANY evidence of a hole where it shouldn’t be, it is time to remove that object. Any opening large enough for your rat’s nose to fit through can be hazardous to the rat that uses it. Once they can push their heads far enough into said opening, they can very rarely get the rest of their bodies through and the more they struggle the worse it can become for them. Even the smallest holes can choke a rat in this way.

Close up of a soft bed that has been chewed on by rats. This particular hole has been manually expanded to demonstrate that a tiny opening can quickly produce something that a rat could easily get its head stuck in.

Close up of a soft bed that has been chewed on by rats. This particular hole has been manually expanded to demonstrate that a tiny opening can quickly produce something that a rat could easily get its head stuck in.

When looking at human-made openings in soft toys, the ideal size is one that an animal larger than yours can fit through. If a manufactured opening looks to be too small for your pet, pick a different toy for them. Trying to alter the toy to their needs by expanding the opening can be very dangerous, as it can compromise the structure of the toy and lead to fraying. The same is true with toys that have been damaged by your pet. Simply sewing up an opening is not going to make the toy useable again, in fact, it can make the object even more dangerous.

It must seem that the process of looking for “excessive wear” involves discarding a toy the minute any flaw is discovered, making your purchase a waste of your time and money. This isn’t necessarily the case. Toys that are inappropriate to use in your rat’s cage, where they stay when you are away at work and unable to supervise them, might still find uses elsewhere. Some of the toys we remove from the cage become objects to be used in our play area, where our rats are being SUPERVISED at ALL times. This does not mean we allow hazardous items into the play space, it only means that things like a bed with a hole that COULD become dangerous are moved to where we can see them every minute that they are being used.

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ALL READERS: Our play space is within arm’s reach of where we typically relax as a family. When we come home from work the rats go to the play space and we sit down to our evening’s activities. Typically this is the time when we interact with our rats through play or training and they are NOT using the slightly worn toys in the same ways that they would if the object was in their cage. A soft tunnel that has been chewed on will be re-purposed as a tunnel run for training and is removed if a rat begins nesting inside it. Having all of the toys within reach also means that if there are any signs or sounds of a struggle within the play space, the rat can be helped out of the situation within seconds. They are never left alone with these items and I do not recommend that a toy be used in any situation where it is unsafe to do so. When in doubt if the damage to your toy is “excessive”, discard the object. Better safe than sorry.

This chewed up hammock is now used as a warming blanket, wrapped around our older rats after they have had a bath. Because we are holding them while they are using the blanket, we can properly supervise the use of the newly purposed hammock and prevent strangling on the unsafe opening.

This chewed up hammock is now used as a warming blanket, wrapped around our older rats after they have had a bath. Because we are holding them while they are using the blanket, we can properly supervise the use of the newly purposed hammock and prevent strangling on the unsafe opening.

It isn’t only the hole in an object that pet owners need to be worried about. Soft toys that are frayed can become a hazardous. True a frayed object isn’t as dangerous as one that could trap your rat’s head, but as something comes unravelled it is much easier for your small pet to get their toe nail or toe caught up in the strings. Every type of object is different in its use, making some types of fraying more dangerous than others. The easiest way to prevent injury from this type of damage is to keep an eye on your rat’s movements when they use the toy. If their nails catch on any part of the fabric, or if they seem to be tugging their foot a little bit as they walk around, it probably means the toy is catching their nails or toes. I have seen many rats have their nails ripped off because the soft bedding has caught the nail and the rat has pulled the foot free, leaving the nail behind. Though this is a minor injury and your rat will recover, I have always found it better to prevent the stress of the injury by removing anything that is damaged enough to cause movement issues.

Phobos is looking a little unsure about the frayed edge of his hammock. This toy was reused as a warming blanket, but has been used here to demonstrate the dangers of fraying. A rat’s toe could easily be caught in those swirly loops of thread.

Phobos is looking a little unsure about the frayed edge of his hammock. This toy was reused as a warming blanket, but has been used here to demonstrate the dangers of fraying. A rat’s toe could easily be caught in those swirly loops of thread.

Basically the issue of soft toy safety falls on the pet owner’s shoulders. Even the best soft toy ever made can become dangerous to your pet if it is mistreated or neglected. The manufacturers include warnings like “supervision is advised” and “discontinue use if you see signs of excessive wear” because they know there are dangers involved when giving a soft toy to a nesting animal. Like you, they want your pet to have fun, but they also want your pet to be safe, and the best way to make certain both of those things happen is to remind you, that having a healthy pet means caring for them AND their toys.

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 owned, 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 mirrani@yourpetspace.info