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

So, You Want a Goldfish…

Part One – The Housing Market

Be honest. When you read the title of this article, what came to mind? Did you see a bright orange or golden fish swimming around in a bowl? Maybe the bowl had some rocks and one plant in it, maybe it didn’t, but the point is that for most of the general public, that sort of image is what comes to mind. In fact, when I did a Google search on just the word goldfish in the images category, that very image wasn’t that far down on the image list:

goldfish Search

Even in the suggestions bar, the goldfish bowl is one of the top three options. Right behind those yummy crackers and a collection of photos based on the types of goldfish, sits one word with the accompanying images: “Bowl.” For true goldfish lovers, this very idea causes a twinge of pain or sadness. Not many people really know why, since everywhere we look the human race is bombarded with the traditional image of a goldfish looking perky in the middle of a bowl that is usually devoid of any decoration what so ever. What is wrong with this idea? It is everywhere. Even Elmo from Sesame Street has a goldfish in a bowl!  Well, as a goldfish owner for many, many years, let me tell you what I see when you say the word goldfish: I see a colorful fish, about the size of my hand, swimming around in a giant tank, full of plants, rocks and other interesting items to interact with.

fish Tank

Goldfish tank being set up in a school classroom.

Goldfish Are In The Carp Family

Surprised? Sadly, most people will be. As a society we are so bombarded with the bowl image that we have forgotten the origin of these beautiful fish. These guys belong in the CARP family. Sure, they’re on the small side, but they ARE carp. They belong in the same family as Koi, the same family as that fish someone’s uncle Joe just caught at the lake the other day. They were one of the first types of fish to be domesticated and in many years of breeding for beauty, we humans have forgotten the idea that these guys belong in ponds and large bodies of water. I am always saddened to be standing at the koi pond at Biltmore and hear visitors from ages five to fifty five point out the goldfish swimming among the koi and exclaim their surprise at the smaller fish being there. Yes, keeping goldfish in a pond takes a special climate and certain knowledge, but the truth is that a pond is where they are most happy and healthy.

Now, some of you are reading this and you just got a fish or are looking at a fish care book and are pointing at the image of a goldfish (or two or three) in a ten gallon tank or in a bowl and saying to yourselves, “This says you are wrong. This picture in this book, and the picture on my new tank from the fish store shows goldfish living like this. The tank even says it is for goldfish.” Check those items again. Chances are your ten gallon tank is called a “starter” tank and that image of the goldfish bowl probably has an unexpected caption or has a better explanation within the text.

Starter fish tank

Three goldfish in a starter tank. Charon, Nix and Hydra check out their new accommodations after leaving the pet store. Though Charon will pass away from illness acquired at the store, Nix and Hydra will be transferred from this tank to their regular home in the 60 gallon tank in my classroom.

Researching Your Fish Care

I recently went to the library to do some research on additional food supplements for my goldfish, Nix and Hydra. Our library had only two books on the subject of goldfish, one for adults, and one for children. I checked out both, but for the purposes of this article, I will focus mostly on Goldfish: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual, by Marshall E. Ostrow, since the children’s version was nearly identical in contents, only written for a younger reader. As soon as I opened the book I was horrified to see the image of a fish bowl with more than one fish in it, but on further inspection I relaxed a little, as the caption clearly stated there were TOO MANY fish in the bowl. Reading further, though it did describe how to set up a bowl for your goldfish, it emphasized that this was best only as a temporary residence, such as in instances of sickness, when a fish must be quarantined. Following that introductory chapter, the author chose to discuss only the setup of tanks, much to my relief.

Getting your goldfish a large tank is necessary for several reasons beyond allowing for proper growth and happiness. First of all, goldfish are awesome waste producers and too much waste in the tank can alter your water’s pH to a point that is dangerous for your fish. The smaller the tank, the faster this can occur, meaning you are constantly having to change out water to keep the balance in check, which can be a major stressor for your fish. Secondly, goldfish need a lot of oxygen in their water and the more surface area they have the better, as a small surface area lowers the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, sometimes quite drastically. This is another reason I cringe at images of goldfish bowls, as most of those images show the water all the way at the top, where there is far less water surface area due to the small opening. If you are keeping a goldfish in a quarantine bowl, it is better to fill the bowl to the most round part. Even though this means less water and swim area, it gives them more surface area for oxygen.

Travel fish tank

Charon, Nix, and Hydra inside a tiny 3.5 gallon tank used for transportation or quarantine. They quickly outgrew this tank and needed their 10 gallon starter tank for this purpose.

Now that we know goldfish need a lot of space, the next step is to figure out how big your tank should really be. There are many ways to calculate the size of your future aquarium, one of which is to say that one inch of fish equals one gallon of water. Here is where all those ten gallon tanks come in at the pet store. Measure them and think about it. Sure, having ten gallons means you could have two or three fish in there if they were about a month old and only one inch long. However, in one year your average goldfish could grow to be about five inches long. Your two fish would suddenly be very cramped and miserable, if they had managed to grow as normal. One of the major disadvantages to giving your goldfish less room than they need is that it will stunt their growth, something that can become painful over time, as their internal organs keep growing even if the rest of them does not. Should you decide to use a ten gallon tank as a starter tank, keep a close eye on the behavior of your fish.  If they become less active or seem lethargic at the bottom of the tank, chances are they are already outgrowing the tank. Sometimes the easiest way to perk up your goldfish is to upgrade the size of their home.

Hydra the goldfish

Hydra, about, 6 inches long from nose to tail, watches through her tank as children read a book at circle time.

Measuring by inch means that you have to keep measuring and keep upgrading in order for your fish to be healthy and maintain their proper growth rate. I find it much more practical to think along the lines of what you will need in the future. My motto for goldfish is 50 gallons for the first fish and 10 gallons per fish after that. This seems like a lot and there are people who have managed to keep a fish mostly healthy in a smaller home. It certainly looks ridiculous when you put two small fish in a tank of such a massive size. The purpose of this plan is actually to keep things simple in the long run. Nix and Hydra are both comets, a longer, larger type of goldfish that is also one of the most common. When I bought them they were “babies” at about an inch long, but in ten years a comet can grow to be ten inches long. That is already a 20 gallon tank for two fish, if you are still calculating one inch of fish per gallon. Now, where are they going to swim? Most 20 gallon tanks are only about 24 or 30 inches long, so that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a ten inch fish, not to mention the fact that bigger fish make bigger poops, so you need more than 20 gallons to help dilute that waste and make the situation livable.

A 36 gallon tank at my local pet store is about 20 inches long and 30 inches wide. Nix and Hydra would be happy for maybe a year, when they both reached five inches in length, at which point it is only a matter of months before they start to feel cramped. Once they reach the ten inch growth mark they will be able to line up, nose to tail and fill the length of their home, which doesn’t give them swimming space or the stimulation of exploration. Once you go past the 36 gallon tanks, your options for size start to become limited and you need to keep in mind that a captive comet goldfish can reach a maximum of 13 inches in length. Using a 50 gallon tank for one goldfish gives them 13 gallons of water for their full growth and that 36 gallon swimming space to keep them active and healthy, with an extra gallon left over for rocks and the rest. With a tank this size, another ten gallons per fish, even at their largest size, should be just fine, but keep surface area in mind. Your tank should have a nice long shape to it, rather than a boxy one. Not only does this spread out the weight of your tank (a 55 gallon tank usually weighs around 600 pounds!), it gives them more surface area and oxygen for their water. Plus, what fish doesn’t want play room?


Nix, about 6 inches from nose to tail, foraging at the bottom of the 60 gallon aquarium he calls home.

Once you decide how many fish you are going to have, don’t just dash out and buy the first setup you see that meets the gallon per fish requirement. The next step to goldfish ownership is working out where you are putting your tank, because it is better to buy a tank to fit a location than to force a location to conform to your tank. There are many factors that go into tank placement, such as water temperature, available light sources, the size of your room, and the location of windows, outlets and furniture.

Probably the most important part of placing your tank is the actual floor under it. It is typically recommended that you put your tank near an outside wall, in a place that is structurally sound and able to take on several hundred pounds of regular weight. The floor in this location should be as level as possible, so that stress is not put on one part of the tank over another due to uneven weight distribution. With goldfish you are going to have filters and you will most likely have some form of bubbler, so having an outlet near the tank is a must. If you choose to use the lights on your aquarium, that will require even more power. Your tank should be kept away from the air vents in your room, to prevent sudden changes in temperature, and it should not be placed directly in front of the window for the same reasons, though some sunlight is acceptable and helpful, which I will discuss in another area of this series. Finally, the best place for your tank is in a low traffic area, where it cannot be bumped, bashed or cracked by random objects or people. Your fish will want to be interactive and will become a part of your family more than you realize, but they won’t be happy if they join you in the outside world.

Goldfish Neptune and Pluto

Neptune and Pluto catching some natural light in the corner of their tank near the window.

So, you want to get a goldfish. (Hopefully, since fish are schooling animals, you are actually thinking of getting two or three.) Now you have an idea about where that fish should live. It sounds like keeping a goldfish is something hard to do, but honestly it isn’t. Even though the cultural idea of a bowl has now been thrown out the window, these guys are still a lot easier to care for than fish who need constant monitoring when it comes to temperature, salt content, and all the other things that make keeping a fish much more complicated than anyone expects. Still, as simple as it is to keep a goldfish, we can’t just stop here. In later posts I will cover aquarium setup, care and feeding, and try and cover some of the most common types of goldfish out there.

If you can’t wait to get your next fish, I strongly suggest researching what I have yet to cover, but if you can wait, I’ll see you all next time, when I talk about “Moving In.”

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

Product Review: Great Choice Small Animal Pet Home

Great Choice box

Before I start reviewing this product, I need to put out a public safety announcement about rats and cages. It is very important for rat owners to understand that rats need a LARGE living space, with multiple levels that they can use for climbing. Most rat owners prefer cages by Critter Nation because they are a very large size and are durable. Our rats have a Critter Nation when they are in our home, but the problem with these super sized cages is that when you need to make a temporary move or relocate your rats for the very short term, it is not practical to dismantle the cage and move it around, so you are going to need to find a decent travel or temporary option for your little boys and girls.

closed rat cage

Wire spacing with cage door closed. Note that with the door properly latched, the gap between bars over the door is wider than between other bars.

When looking for a cage, you want to make sure that the space between the bars is about a half an inch, because if you go larger you risk small rats being able to squeeze through. It is also preferable to find a cage that does not use plastic as a means of containment, as rats love to chew and so can easily escape. I want to emphasize that when looking for travel or temporary options for you rats, you should think of your rats first and the situation you are going to put them in second. For instance, if you are looking at a cage with a plastic bottom, like the Great Choice Small Animal pet home, the first two questions that should come to mind are:

rat cage clip

Close up of clip that secures the wire top to the plastic bottom of Pet Home.

Does my rat chew? If no, then you are okay to purchase this cage for the rats that you have, but need to keep this in mind again if you get new rats who need to use it. (And as always, regularly inspect any chewable materials for signs of wear.)

How well are they going to be supervised while in this temporary cage? If your rats are chewers, but you are using this cage only to contain them while you quickly clean the cage they already have, you are taking a risk, but MIGHT be okay as long as you listen carefully for chewing sounds. If you are taking them in a car, where someone will be sitting with them and watching them, the person doing the supervising should be prepared to stop the rats from chewing at ANY time. However, if your rats are chewers and you want them to be caged somewhere that they will be left alone, without supervision, this is NOT the best choice.

folded rat cage

Cage dismantled with wire top folded, ready for storage.

The same questions apply to rats who like to escape. If you have escape artists, small girls, or very young rats, the one inch bar spacing on this cage (and the clasp that holds the door closed) is NOT going to reliably contain them. On the other hand, if your babies are reliable, non-chewers who are always on their best behavior, this is a great cage as a temporary home.

closed rat cage

Wire spacing with cage door closed. Note that with the door properly latched, the gap between bars over the door is wider than between other bars.

Another public service announcement that I would like to make before continuing on is about post-surgical containment. Though I would never want to see a rat living in an aquarium tank on a permanent basis, tanks really do make the best recovery areas for your boy or girl to recuperate in, as long as you keep the bedding fresh. Any cage with wire sides will encourage your rat to climb once they feel they are ready to do so, even if there is no second level to the cage. It is natural for a rat to use the sides of their cage as a ladder, and some will even hang upside down from the top and walk around that way, just for the fun of it. Giving your rat those kinds of opportunities after surgery is almost guaranteed to stretch the surgical area and reopen whatever wound or stitching is trying to heal. It breaks my heart to put our rats into the tank for their 14 day recovery period, but in the end that is the best way to ensure that they heal as they should. I would never, ever consider a cage like this as a post-surgical option because of the risks involved.


Cages stacked for storage beside a ten gallon aquarium post-surgical tank.

Now, it must seem to readers that I have started out this article on a very negative note and maybe some have already decided this cage is not for them based only on what they have read so far. In a way, that is what I hope for, because a cage like this caters to a very specific type of rat, which I happen to have: the male non-chewer who has no intention of escaping whatever cage he is put in. Pet stores and online sites try and sell this as a permanent solution, a “rat starter kit” kind of thing, and if I have put off new rat owners to this idea, I am most pleased. This cage is NOT designed to be a permanent home for rats and is NOT acceptable for young rats, as is shown on the box. I think the only way I would use this cage for small rats on a daily basis, is if it were a permanent litter box, sitting somewhere with the door always open, for my free-range rats to enter and exit as they needed.

Even after all of these warnings, this cage actually has MANY positives, though I ask readers to keep in mind that I am the owner of non-chewing, well behaved male rats and am reviewing the product on those grounds.

We started off with one of these cages to keep for emergencies. We live out in the North Carolina countryside, are on well water, and are surrounded by woods. In the winter this area gets frequent ice storms, which can cause disruption in power (and as a result, water) for days at a time. In those instances, we bring ourselves and our animals through the woods to our neighbor’s house, since she has a gas fireplace and wood stove that keep her log cabin nice and warm. We needed something that was mobile, but wouldn’t get in our way all the time when not in use.

After quite a lot of trial and error, we discovered the Great Choice Small Animal Pet Home. The cage is lightweight and fairly easy to carry, even on a short walk through trees. Best of all, the wire portion is collapsible, which means that you can store it easily when you are not using it. Originally we had avoided this product because of the look of the box, which showed a single, young rat in this easily escapable structure with no secondary levels, but when we stopped to think about what we actually needed, we realized that we should try this one out. It ended up being the perfect choice for our boys, who were never chewers and are perfectly content to settle in their cages because they are free-range when we are at home.

rat cage hooks

Corner of cage as it is in the process of being assembled. Two hooks on the left side and one hook on the right weave together to hold both sides in place.

Assembly is simple, yet tricky, since the hooks that hold together the wire portion of the cage can become tangled with each other when folded for storage, meaning there is some wiggling and shaking involved in unpacking the cage, but once you have the top opened up, putting it together is a breeze. There are three hooks on each corner of the cage, two hooks on the side of one wall, one hook on the other, so that you have to weave the side pieces together, adding to the stability of the lid once it is assembled. When all four sides are hooked up, all you have to do is put litter in the tray, give your rats somewhere to hide, drop in a toy, then lower the wire lid on the plastic tub and clip it down on the sides.

Size is important when you pick out a temporary cage. You do not want the structure to be large and cumbersome, but you want your rats to feel comfortable. The Great Choice Small Animal Pet Home actually offers more room than one would expect from looking at the box, because of the compact nature of its folded state. Once put together, there is enough space in this cage for a hammock and a small nesting box (something the size of a tissue box will do). You can fit a food dish or two in it as well, but once you add the water bottle there is not much room for a litter box, so be prepared to have the cage cleaned frequently, for the sake of sanitation and the sanity of any rats who demand a place to put their poo.

North and Whisper modeling the cage

North and Whisper model the setup using two Lixit Critter Space Pods.

The fact that the cage is wire-topped also makes it conducive to using Lixit Critter Space Pods inside. Though getting them attached is an exercise in spatial orientation, once you discover the trick of which leg best fits where, snapping the pod in place is a breeze. The cage holds one pod well, but there is also room for two. We use the two ball setup for our oldest boys, Whisper and North, who have breathing issues and prefer to hang their heads over the side of solid objects at times when respiration isn’t as easy as it should be. Rather than force them to take turns using one pod, we provide them one apiece. Since they are older and less active, the need for full-body stretching or an active play area isn’t as important as their respiratory comfort.

With either setup in this cage, there is enough room for short jumps from the floor to the top of the nesting box, or from the box to whatever you have hanging to create a second sleeping level. Even with the upper portion filled with Space Pods, there are places where your rat can stand and stretch, or climb on the side of the cage for exercise or attention. Another bonus of using this cage is that if you are in a location where your rats will get free range time, you can simply open the door of the cage and let them go in and out as they please, no matter what their age, since the door makes a short ramp at the entrance when opened. (You might want to cover it with a stretched out sock or some other fabric for comfort, depending on the age and ability of your rats.)

clasp close up

Close up of door latch, notice how it bends the bars of the cage when hooked over cage bar.

My only concern for non-chewing, large sized rats when using this setup is that the latch for the door is not as secure as I would prefer. The door has two bent bars on it, formed in the shape of a number 7, where the pointed part of the 7 seems to fit perfectly in the gap of two bars above the door. Inexperienced owners or pet sitters who do not know rats well might think that you simply push the door into place, letting the pointed part of the seven rest comfortably between the two bars. This is NOT a secure position for the door to be in, as it can easily fall back open or be pushed free by your rats. Anyone closing the door to the cage must be certain that they push the 7 hooks all the way THROUGH the bars, bending down the top bar so that the upper part of the 7 hangs OVER the bar. Once in this position the rat cannot push the door open from their side, though this way of closing the door warps the shape of the cage bars considerably, making a larger gap in that area.


Phobos and Deimos model in a setup with hammock and nesting box.

Beyond the somewhat frustrating door, we are madly in love with these cages as temporary housing for our non-chewing, large, male rats. We have used them for short distance travel and had our rat sitter use them at her place when we are away, with both situations working out well for everyone involved. In the long-term, we most recently needed them when our ceiling caved in last winter and I was forced to move out with our boys while the house underwent construction for four months. In that situation, the boys were left alone in the cages while I was at work, and the doors were opened for free range time once I got home.

I think what I like most about these cages goes beyond their portability, easy storage and simple nature. These cages are easy-clean, wired dwellings that, unlike tanks and other closed structures, allow circulation within the small space, making it a healthier choice for your pet on the go.

Compact storage.
Easy to clean and assemble.
Lightweight, easily mobile.
Wire top allows air circulation and proper ventilation.
Enough room for a nesting box, hanging bed, very small chew toy, food dish and water bottle.
Suitable space as a TEMPORARY residence for large, well behaved rats.

Wires have one inch gaps, allowing escape of small rats.
Bottom is plastic, allowing for escape by chewing.
No room for litter box.
Cage door needs extra attention when latching shut.
NOT suitable for young, small rat shown on package!
NOT suitable as a PERMANENT residence for large, well behaved rats!


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

Dogs Can Be Star Trek Fans, Too!


One of the many decorations that greeted fans at Creation’s annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In William Shatner’s hour long documentary Get A Life, fans of Star Trek relive the experience of their fandom and give non-fans a glimpse into what it is like to be a part of the worldwide Star Trek family. The film focuses on the essence of being a fan of Star Trek and emphasizes that while some people paint or build Lego structures for a hobby, Trek fans immerse themselves in the various incarnations of the show for the same reasons those painters paint or the builders build.

klingon bird of prey

Klingon Bird of Prey Balloon Art and the artist who created it.

The general consensus about this particular fandom is one we are all familiar with; Star Trek is a franchise that tells us we are all accepted for who we are and that no matter what happens now, we have a chance at a brighter tomorrow if we all pull together in that unity of mutual respect and understanding. The documentary goes deeper than this, though, highlighting fans who have chosen careers, made friends, or found spouses because of their love for the show and what it means to them. I, myself, have a group of friends who are more of a family to me, and though we bonded because of our love for theatre and the arts, we met over time at various Star Trek conventions around the globe. It always amazes me to be sitting at lunch with these people from all walks of life and think that we would never have known each other if it were not for Star Trek.

Robert Walter, president of the Joseph Campbell Foundation explains in Shatner’s documentary that humans are hardwired for narrative and want to find a way to make sense of our experiences in story, the way Star Trek does. “The shows that really endure and that have this kind of rabid fandom, they speak to the human experience, and hopefully with enough variation that wherever you are you can find a way in. They speak about a society that doesn’t exclude you. They’re set in some kind of cosmological field that you don’t turn it on and go, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous,'” he explains to Shatner in the documentary. We all expect fans to see a hero and model themselves after the hero, but according to Walter, there is much more happening when the costumes are in play. “What they are doing is what a practicing Christian in the Renaissance might have done when they adopted a patron saint for their confirmation and took on that saint’s name, and then used that saint as a touchstone for their behavior down the line.”

Get A Life discusses, in various ways, something even non-fans are familiar with: attending an event in costume. For the most part, when you meet people at a convention and ask why they dress as a Klingon or Borg, they will say they do it because it is fun, or because they are really quiet people who get to live another life when playing the character they have chosen. Some will say it is an outlet for emotion or a way for them to suddenly become comfortable in a crowd. Others will tell you it is a means of finding self-validation, while some will say they are doing it for the prize money awarded at the costume contest. (You’ve got to pay for those gold tickets somehow.) No matter what the reason they chose to wear their various uniforms or versions of alien makeup, most fans who attend in character will tell you they wouldn’t ever consider going to a Star Trek Convention in just a t-shirt and jeans, like many fans do.


Author, Mirrani (sporting the standard shirt and jeans attire) standing under one of the banners at Creation Entertainment’s annual Las Vegas convention.

I was giving this a lot of thought as I was packing my bags to head to Creation’s Star Trek convention in Las Vegas at the beginning of August. Memories of various events came to me and I recalled familiar faces from all of the years I had attended in the past. I remembered certain people who would be guaranteed to appear in particular costumes, but I also recalled the image of a man taking his three miniature poodles around the convention, each dressed in a classic Starfleet uniform. This image blended with my memory of the documentary when it showed those same dogs being included as “uniformed fans” so that they were able to attend the record breaking gathering of fans in costume at the 45th anniversary convention; the first time the event was held at the Rio Hotel and Casino. All of those things combined to bring up one question in my mind. I knew why people dressed up for the event, but why did the dogs?

With notebook in hand, I headed to the event area and the first person I met was a friend of mine who works for Creation. He was set up at the entrance and was helping attendees find where to go for tickets and registration. At this station he had seen several animals in costume and had described them to me. Finding them in a wall-to-wall crowd of countless Star Trek fans was not an easy task and I know I missed quite a few four legged attendees, but I did manage to talk with two humans about their dressed up dogs.


Sabrina, a medical alert dog, shows off her medical uniform.

First, I met Kat Mac Kenzie (of Katy Mac Kreations) and her dog Sabrina, who was wearing a stunning, hand-made TNG era Starfleet uniform, complete with insignia pin pocket, which was backed with quilting for comfort and protection. Sabrina’s costume was so well made that fans began telling Mac Kenzie that she should create uniforms to sell. “I am considering selling vests, but I am only in the beginning stages,” she told me. Putting together costumes like Sabrina’s takes a lot of thought and time, and there are plenty of logistics that have to be worked out such as what materials to use and how to make an accurate dog sizing chart, but Kat was thinking positively about moving forward with it all. In our more recent communications, she has confirmed that she is moving ahead with these plans. “I should have a few mock vests/dog jackets made in a couple of weeks. It is my primary crafting project; I have a sizing guide set up and am looking for venues to launch an online platform.”

At the convention I asked why she chose the TNG uniform for Sabrina. “Last year was our first convention here and after that experience I wanted to make a cooler, lightweight vest that would be more comfortable for all the walking. I thought why not make it something Star Trek?” I WAS surprised by the fan response, however. Mac Kenzie said that few fans understood why she chose the teal uniform of the medical field. “They keep asking me, ‘Why not make it red?’ and I have to tell them, ‘She is a medical alert dog. She should be in blue.'” I have to say that as I was taking Sabrina’s picture, I thought the teal of the medical uniform was the perfect choice for her all around.


Asimov poses at the entrance to Quark’s Bar. For this convention he adds a Star Trek cap to his service dog attire.

After spending an hour or two peering around swarms of moving legs and experiencing the ups and downs of falsely identifying several rolling bags as four legged critters, I ran into Lisa Mueller (of and her dog, Asimov, sitting outside of Quark’s Bar. Asimov’s outfit was simple but stunning; a blue hat, made by Lisa, to which she had added the original series Star Trek patch. Having worked in and out of the Star Trek franchise since the late 1980’s, Mueller and Asimov both attended the premiere of Star Trek Renegades, which she said was an honor. For that occasion Asimov wore his brand new hat and when the convention came around, he had an excellent opportunity to wear it again.

Lisa and I also talked about how service animals react in public spaces and how they interact with each other at these events. I asked about the service vest versus the hat. If Asimov recognizes that the vest is on and that means he is working, does he also behave differently when the hat is on? “Yes I think so,” Lisa said, “Another good example would be when he wears his Mickey hat at Disneyland. He often prances because he realizes he’s getting more attention than usual.”


Asimov sports his Mickey Mouse ears at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Photo courtesy of Lisa Mueller.

I had posed a similar question to Kat Mac Kenzie as I watched Sabrina keep a quiet eye on the crowd that passed us while we talked. Mac Kenzie’s answer came in two parts, the first of which was simple; no matter what Sabrina is wearing, she was always quietly attentive. “She likes to keep an eye out for me,” Kat said. The rest of her answer takes a little bit of explaining. Across from us was a pile of sound-activated tribbles, which provided the backdrop for the rest of the story. Imagine walking past a display of round fuzzy creatures and seeing a dog in costume, playing with them. “At first I wasn’t sure how she would react to the tribbles, but she started playing after a while. Soon she was throwing them up in the air for herself. It became a show for all the fans.”


Movement around the tribble pile catches Sabrina’s attention during her photo shoot.

When I heard that this was not the only costume vest that Sabrina owned, I asked how she responded to the various items. Did she act differently in one costume over another? Did she have a favorite? “She doesn’t like pompoms,” Mac Kenzie told me. “I think because they poke her or get in her way. We never force her to wear an outfit, we let her sniff it and check it out first. Sometimes, when she first wears it, she will shake a little and get used to it that way.” These trial and error introductions were how Sabrina let Kat know she was not a fan of large tutus and that smaller costumes and vests were best.

As the convention wound down and I packed up to go home, I thought about the new friends I had made while writing up this article. I contemplated the costumes and thought about people I had talked to about meeting service animals. Not surprisingly, a lot of people remembered meeting the animals, but didn’t see them as dogs on the job, only as animals in costume. During our interview, Mac Kenzie admitted to me that Sabrina watches Star Trek with her, and I can certainly believe that because (as regular readers of my articles know) our rat North would not ever miss an episode of Sleepy Hollow or Hell on Wheels. Looking back at my weekend, with all of this in mind, I can’t help thinking that the gentleman and his three dogs had it right. Maybe these guys really should count as uniformed fans and not just animals dressed up for an occasion.

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

Get A Life, An EPIX Original documentary directed by William Shatner, is available here.

Mirrani would like to thank Kat Mac Kenzie for her time spent talking about Service Dogs and fandom, both in Vegas and through messages afterward. She would also like to thank Lisa Muller for her part in making sure everything was just how it should be in the final draft of this article. Finally, a shout out must be sent to Max Grodénchik (Rom of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and his wife Carina, who helped contribute to some of this through an email interview that never got quoted, but did have an impact on what is contained within these paragraphs. If anyone would like to see Max work live, he and the rest of the Rat Pack will be performing at Creation’s 50th anniversary conventions next year.

The Conservators Center Update

It is with a happy heart that I get to report on the goings on at the Conservators Center as a part of our spotlight on animal organizations. So many things have happened there since I last wrote The Story of Several Servals back in March that I thought it was time for an update. The folks at the Center have been very busy fighting the wording of House Bill 554, raising funds for the summer care of their animals (who have been painting up a storm), and welcoming a new member to their animal family. Below is a quick review of what is going on with my favorite place to meet Lions, Tigers, Wolves… and now, a Coyote!

House Bill 554

If you receive our newsletter, you might have seen that the Center was facing some serious concerns with a new bill (House Bill 554) which was intended to protect the public from harmful wild animals. The issue with said bill continuing the way it was written was that it would require many legitimate organizations to shut down and could have led to the euthanization of some animals. Places like the Conservators Center, Duke Lemur Center, and other wildlife sanctuaries open to the public would no longer be able to function under the conditions specified, since they give guided tours of their facilities in order to help raise funds to care for the animals, as well as to educate and promote conservation. After many polite emails to all the right people and much discussion of the bill on voting day, it was announced that the bill would be reworded and that the Conservators Center and other facilities with the same purpose would not be forced to close. There are still a few issues with the bill as it has been changed, mostly related to technical language and industry concepts that are hard to negotiate, but as it stands, the Conservators Center and many similar places around the state can remain open and active. If you wrote to your legislators, I thank you, and I know the Center thanks you as well.

Meet Sullivan!

At around the same time, a small pup was found along the side of a local road and taken in by some well-intentioned people who thought they had found a feral dog. At the first visit to their vet, they were in for quite a surprise when they discovered they had a small coyote on their hands. Sadly, because it can be easy to mistake a coyote pup for a coyote-dog cross or for a feral dog, the coyote had been taken into the home of humans and treated as a puppy would be and it was impossible for him to be re-released into his wild home. It wasn’t long before the Conservators Center was contacted and the pup was given a new home, with trainers and handlers who are used to working with wild animals.

sullivan the coyote pup

Sullivan as a pup. – Photo by Taylor Hattori Images

The Conservators Center had a naming contest for Sullivan as a part of their summer costs fundraising campaign and one lucky person who donated got to pick the perfect name. Over time, the Center has posted videos of Sulli playing and howling with his handlers. Regular followers on Facebook and Twitter have been able to watch him grow and there is certainly no doubt that this little guy is a coyote! Both playful and handsome, he has begun greeting visitors and is available for lifetime adoption. I cannot wait to get out and meet him next time I go through on a tour.

(The Conservators Center also gained another New Guinea Singing Dog named Mouse, as a friend for Tsumi, who had lost her companion earlier in the year.)

twitter post

Recent Twitter post from the Conservators Center

Keeping Animals Cool

This time of year is comfortable for the lions and some other animals who live at the Conservators Center and are used to a warm climate, but for the tigers, binturongs, and others, heat is not a condition they would regularly be familiar with. It takes a lot of work and effort to help keep these animals comfortable in the hot summer months in the southern state of North Carolina, where we don’t just deal with heat, we deal with humidity and heat indexes that can get over 105 on any given day. This is a time when the Conservators Center needs a lot of help in the form of donations.

Money raised at this time of year helps to pay for things such as outdoor fans, wading pools, shade cloths and hammocks, water hoses and reels, pest control, and all the bills that go with constantly running fans and changing the water in wading pools several times a day. There are so many things the Center needs at this time of year that donations are a real, true blessing, and one of the ways they are raising money is by selling paintings…

Animals and Art

From July 23rd through September 4th the Conservators Center is teaming up with the Alamance County Arts Council to produce an exhibit of over 50 pieces of art created by the animals at the Center. These aren’t just paw prints on paper, these are beautiful masterpieces, blending color and texture onto real canvases. How do they do it? The humans at the Center base coat the canvas with a safe tempera paint, let that dry, then add liquid paints enhanced with smells that the animals like (cinnamon, perfume, etc) and allow the animals to rub, sniff, and otherwise interact with the canvas as they would with an object in nature that stimulated their senses. Sometimes you get claw or tooth marks along with the prints from the fur, but that is all part of each animal’s interaction with their canvas. This is an enrichment activity that the humans are specially trained to administer and is fully enjoyable by the animals. No one is ever forced to paint and the activity has been going on for ten years now.

Typically the paintings go up for auction, but this year they are going on display, as well as being available for purchase through the Alamance County Arts Council. There are several pictures that were posted of this year’s artwork, but my personal favorite has to be “Introversions” by Ugmo Lion and Kira Lion. (I mean, come on. This is Your Pet Space, of course I’m going to show you artwork by a lion named Kira.)


Description of the art and artists by the Conservators Center website:

Ugmo Lion and Kira Lion are different in a lot of ways. Ugmo is enjoying her golden years; Kira is still in the prime of her life. Ugmo was rescued from a negligent breeding facility in 2004; Kira was entrusted to the Center by a reputable zoo. They even live in separate enclosures, but they have one thing in common: both of them live with an extrovert! Ugmo’s roommate, Kiara, is a social butterfly, quick to greet her favorite human friends and receive endless amounts of attention. And Kira’s roommate—Arthur, a white tiger—is the star of the Conservators Center. But Ugmo and Kira don’t mind. Most of the time, they can be found lounging in the back of their enclosures, looking on with soft smiles as their bright, unreserved roomies ham it up in the front. This painting is an exploration of the joy of introversion: the luxury of resting quietly in dark shadowy places, with no pressure to perform or act outside of one’s nature—and how wonderful it is to know you are just as valued and adored as your more gregarious counterparts.

Kira's paw

Kira Lion – wild paw at work. Photo by Taylor Hattori

The last of the major events that has happened at the Conservators Center was a surgery for Kiara Lion, who was slowly changing in her old age. Her temperament wasn’t what it used to be and the folks at the Center requested the help of Dr. Doug Ray from the Animal Hospital of Mebane. With the help of students from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Doug performed a spay and exploratory surgery in order to be certain that her hormonal imbalance could be corrected and her emotional state set to the right place again.


Doug teaches Sarah about the anesthesia machine. It was donated by a dedicated group of Lifetime Adopters who wanted to ensure good surgical outcomes for our geriatric residents, who are the most at risk when we must administer anesthesia.

This is yet another example of the wonderful opportunities that the Conservators Center makes possible for education and outreach. It is because of this wonderful group that the Carnivore Team at NCSU were able to participate in a big cat surgery, and it is because of this same group that members of the community get to meet Kiara and all of the other animals that would normally be so far from us. For these things and so much more, many members of the animal kingdom and animal lovers everywhere are forever grateful.

The full story of Kiara’s surgery can be found on their website.

All images and image descriptions are used from the Conservators Center website, with permission on the condition that we give credit to photographers as was noted.

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

Helping a Smart and Picky Rat Adjust to Big Change

North with fountain

North, figuring out how his fountain works and telling us to turn it on for him.

Regular readers already know of my rat North, who suffered a serious case of pneumonia almost a year ago. Since then, because of the resulting lung deterioration, he has become a rat with special medical needs. He has always been a rat with special emotional needs because he is too smart for his own good. Now I know all rats are smart, they are easily trainable and extremely curious, it’s one of the things that make them appealing as pets, but when we brought North home we knew he was going to be different. From the very beginning, he and his brother Whisper began to train US.

Rat Rules of the house as dictated by North and Whisper:

1) “If I pull on your sleeve, it means lift your arm so I can run on it to someone else’s arm or to something close by.”

2) “If I stand on your hand and lift my nose at someone else, it means I want them to lift their arm.”

3) “If I am riding on your shoulder and tap your cheek with my nose, it means I want you to turn that way.”

4) “If I tap really fast, it means you’re not moving fast enough and you’d better hurry up.”

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Both Whisper and North do these things, but Whisper is always very calm about it, using the commands only when he most needs to get his point across to us.  North, on the other hand, quickly began to use them with a purpose.

It wasn’t long before North worked out our daily routines. Most rats get used to the regular schedule of their humans, but we soon realized that he hadn’t just figured out that after dinner we watch TV, he figured out that starting at 8pm we watch TV.  He began coming to me for a snuggle after dinner, at exactly 8pm, lasting until exactly 8:30.

North’s Routine:

1) Go to my first human and tap on her to get her to pick me up.

2) Climb across her shoulders and pull her sleeve to indicate I want to go across to the snuggle chair.

3) Cross to the snuggle chair and settle with my other human.

4) When snuggle is over, climb other human and pull on sleeve to indicate I want to cross to the first human again.

5) Cross the first human and climb down onto sofa for the rest of my play time.

If no one was available to get him to my chair, or if I wasn’t in the chair to start with, North would go on a frantic search for a human who could fix the situation.  One evening, he even jumped on one of our guests, who promptly gave him to my wife. Once in her arms, North tugged on the FRONT of her shirt, pulling her to where I was, down the hall, working in the computer room. By this point we all knew what this meant and North was brought in to me, with much eager cheek tapping.

North and Whisper

Whisper and North settled down on their table next to the snuggle chair.

A TV Watching Rat

After a few months of all of this it became so much of a habit with us that we mindlessly lifted our arms and snuggled into blankets without thinking anything of it. We completely failed to notice that on certain nights, instead of sleeping inside of his nesting box, North would climb on top of the box and face the TV.  By now you can guess that I am about to tell you he had memorized the schedule there as well, but it took us a while to realize there were certain shows he would “watch.” Most of the time North cares little about the television, but he has two favourites that he literally cannot live without: Hell on Wheels and Sleepy Hollow. These two shows he will not miss and when their regular seasons are on air, he is settled in his TV spot just as the show comes on.  And when he is sick? Well, he snuggles down in his blankets and watches reruns of both.  Sometimes this is the only way we can get him to eat food!

north watching TV

North watching Hell on Wheels from his nesting box.

His absolute favourite is Sleepy Hollow, which he still watches on Monday nights, even though the season has finished. When I come home on Monday he is desperate to get my attention, running all kinds of ways, standing up on his back legs, waving his arms in the air. At the mention of Sleepy Hollow he settles down, but heaven forbid I should forget to put on a rerun for him at exactly 9pm!  North has actually become somewhat famous for his Sleepy Hollow watching, as a video of him has gone around one of the rat groups I belong to, and even surprised our vet, who was stunned to see how attentive North was being.

North watching sleepy hollow

North eating banana, recovering from a bout of pneumonia, watching Sleepy Hollow.

Recently things changed at our house.  In January our ceiling caved in and needed to be repaired. Unfortunately for all of us, North can’t live in the dust and paint of construction, and with the insulation out as well, the house was much too cold for his recurring pneumonia, so the rats and I had to move out. With a rat this particular about routines, relocating was much more complicated than getting the spare cages and hauling things into a temporary home at my mother’s house. Along with all of his regular food and cage supplies, I had to pack baby food and yogurt, medications, and therapeutic items like North’s heating bed. Of course, the move required taking a computer for him to use as a television set.


North and Whisper watching an episode of Evolve with John Edward, another of their favourite shows. It’s an episode I’m in, actually, and one in which they are mentioned.

Many would ask why I went through all of the trouble. It seems ridiculous that I should cater to the needs of a rat in this way. Few realize the anxiety North displays when even one part of his routine is out of place. For a little fur creature who tells time and depends on that understanding of his schedule to lower his stress, it was a vital step to take. I knew we were going to be away from home for an undetermined number of days, I knew that my wife wasn’t going to be with us and I knew that the unfamiliar surroundings would prevent North from feeling comfortable. I also knew that as soon as he is uncomfortable it becomes difficult for him to breathe and he begins to lose color in his limbs. These stresses prevent him from regulating his body temperature and reduce his appetite, so I was prepared to keep strictly to his routine, even when we were away.

So this meant watching episodes of Hell on Wheels, Evolve, and Sleepy Hollow.  It meant continuing with his steam treatments in the morning and in the evening.  It also meant learning new rules, such as “When I come out of the steam you will NOT have the fan on. It’s bad for me to have the cold air after humidity!” This is a recent addition to North’s list of regulations, something he taught me just the other night, when he came back from his steam as usual, but wouldn’t eat. Instead he ran frantic circles around the dish and gave me such determined, intense glances that it looked like something out of a horror movie. I kid you not, I sent a message to my wife, filled with concern over his behaviour. It wasn’t until he looked up at the fan above him that I noticed I had forgotten to turn it off.  Once I did he settled down again and waited for his “movies.”

Watch North Watch His “Movies” Here

While some things have changed (the time we watch TV together and where we do it) I have tried my best to keep as much of his routine the same as it has always been.  For a while it was touch and go, but I am happy to say that even though we are still not back at home, North is alive and well. I am also happy to say that as I write this, we only have one more week of construction and then we’re back to everything he knows best, his own cage, his own chair, his own reruns. After having been gone for three whole months, I will no doubt have to help him adjust to life at home, but something tells me it isn’t going to take him long to settle in this 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

Product Review: Bentoball


Sahara with Bentoball

When you have a dog who displays a fear of the typical dog toys it is difficult to find something that is durable and engaging.  Sahara, our oldest dog, was a rescue and we did all of the things you do when you rescue a new animal, including purchasing new dog toys. We can only guess at the type of environment we saved her from, because she was terrified of everything we gave her. Simply picking up a dog toy would send her cowering into the next room, trembling as she desperately sought a place to hide.  Just getting her to chew on a rope toy on the ground took months and having her chase sticks took even longer. We always wanted to get her a busy ball of sorts, something that would dispense treats and keep her engaged when we were at work and unable to provide interactive stimulation. Nothing we tried ever worked and all of Sahara’s brand new toys ended up going to our neighbor’s dog when he came for a visit.



We recently got another dog to be a companion for Sahara.  It took a lot of looking and a lot of work to find just the right companion for her.  We needed a younger dog that she could care for (Sahara had puppies before she came to us and her mothering instincts are VERY strong – I’m sure you will hear more on that in some other post) but we also wanted the dog to be old enough to show Sahara how to “be a dog.” In the end, we got Brinly, who is energetic and only two years younger, but became the perfect fit.  Soon Brinly had Sahara running at dog parks and regularly playing with rope chew toys. The key there is the word “rope.” Brinly came to us unwilling to play with anything that wasn’t soft, so again we had a dilemma. Neither of our dogs would have anything to do with hard chew toys or treat dispensers. It was a very frustrating situation.


What Is BentoBall?

Enter the BentoBall! While standing around in the pet store one day, it happened to catch my eye. This was a treat dispensing, chewable toy that would help clean their teeth and keep them entertained… if only we could get them to use it! The surface looked softer than your typical rubber toy and I wondered if that would make a difference. Hoping for the best we purchased one ball for the two of them to share, mostly because we had been down the road of giving away all the toys before and we wanted to go the way of caution this time. As it turned out we had to go back the next day to get a second one.

Brinly with the Bentoball.

Brinly with the Bentoball.

The girls loved playing with this thing! Brinly went at it right away because it was a softer, chewable material that had some give to it. Sahara watched Brinly for a good hour or so, then cautiously took a turn for herself. The rest, as they say, is history.


So what is it about this ball that is so appealing?  I’ll start from the dog’s point of view, which is that this bright, bouncy ball has a large “everlasting” treat at its core. These treats are easy to replace and refills are easy to get your hands on. While the one side of the ball holds this large treat, the other side has a hollow pocket, which you can fill with any kind of munchies that your dog loves, making it stimulating in two ways. A dog can either work at having the ball dispense their favorite treat OR they can lick and chew at the large “everlasting” side. The dispensing side has a customizable hole, which allows you to snip off parts of the opening to make it larger in order accommodate the treats of your choice.  We decided not to customize this opening and left it as it was, which seems to work just fine for bits of cookie, since I have to keep filling it.

bentoball open

From a human’s point of view, the ball is free of latex, vinyl and phthalates, the textured surface helps to clean teeth and the ball itself is dishwasher safe.  The “indestructible” material this ball is made out of certainly seems to be just that, but without being hard or harsh. Our best chewer has worked on it for a month straight and it looks brand new. When it comes to describing the feel of the material, it is easiest to describe it as a sort of stiff gummy bear; it is soft enough to have some give, but hard enough that it doesn’t rip. The large chew treat is wheat free and the ridged texture also provides some dental health benefits. Most importantly, this ball provides hours of fun for dogs like Brinly, who are very high energy or have nervous behaviors. Want more benefits on the human side? This product is made in the USA.

Now, you’ve fallen in love with this product based on what I’ve told you, how do you use it? That part is easy, since it comes with one chicken flavored dental treat already inserted in the ball. All your dog needs you to do is open the package. From that point on they can happily chew away on the dental treat. If you want to mix things up a little bit, or if you need to encourage your dog to play with the ball, you just stick a cookie or favorite treat out of the dispenser side. This is what we had to do with our dogs. I put a whole cookie in the dispensing hole, making sure that it stuck out halfway, to make it obvious.  Once Sahara and Brinly discovered this strange thing gave them their favorite treats, it was virtually impossible to get them to stop playing with it. Constant use also meant that the dental treat needed to be replaced the next day, which brings me to say that when you get one of these balls, you should go ahead and get the refills while you are at it, because while the dental treats do last a long time, that first day or two really wears them out faster due to your dog’s fascination with their newness.

dental treat

Replacing the dental chew is easy; you simply get the edge of the treat wet just a tiny bit and insert it into the large opening. While the toy is stretchy, there is a little bit of elbow grease involved if you want to just push the treat in. I would personally recommend using a knife or some other thin tool to help you insert the chew. We found that sliding the knife around the rim of the opening helped pry the rubber with much less effort. Once you have the treat in, the packaging recommends that you let it dry before you give the toy to your dog, but otherwise, you are done. It really couldn’t be much simpler.

Overall, I can’t say how happy we are with this product. It has given our most fearful dog the confidence to enjoy play and it has given our most active dog an outlet for that activity. Though we have had it for only a month now, I can safely say that even with the dogs chewing on empty balls, there are no marks of wear and I have no reason to believe they will rip easily. Treats of all varieties fit inside the dispensing compartment and the large dental chew isn’t too much trouble to get in, but provides hours of pleasure for the dogs and is certainly not easy for them to get out. Keeping the balls clean is easy, since they are dishwasher safe. I highly recommend this toy for active or timid dogs everywhere.

Final Scoop On the BentoBall


Sturdy construction

Long lasting treat

Cleans teeth and keeps dogs engaged

Dishwasher safe


People with lower hand strength or a disability affecting their hand/coordination may need someone to help them put the dental chew in the toy.

I am Sahara, and I approve this message.sahara face shot

Staff Sergeant Reckless, A True Marine

In this day and age of technology, where tanks and drones have made combat much less personal, many have forgotten the times when horses, mules, dogs, even camels and birds served their country, putting their lives on the line, along with the soldiers who worked with them. Many assume that animals no longer serve alongside their human counterparts. It is for this reason, and because we are who we are here at Your Pet Space, that I would take this day to share a story with you about an animal who served her country. She was once famous enough to have television personalities begging for her to come on their shows, but now the horse who was a household name has begun to slip through the fog of fading memory. She is becoming a forgotten warrior from a forgotten war and it is my hope that this post will begin to change that. With no further babbling, it is my pleasure to introduce Staff Sergeant Reckless.

Reckless the horse with wire

Reckless loaded with a reel of communication wire.

Born in Korea and originally named Ah Chim Hai (Flame-of-the- Morning), Reckless started life as a racehorse, training at the Seoul Racetrack. When war began, her owner, Kim Huk Moon (a pseudonym used at the owner’s request to remain anonymous), found himself faced with a very hard decision. He could keep the horse that he so desperately loved, or sell her to the United States Marines for $250, money he desperately needed in order to purchase a prosthetic limb for his sister, who lost her leg when a mine exploded near her. In what must have been the most difficult choice he would have to make, he sold his horse, sending her on a journey that no one would ever have expected.

War began in Korea in 1950 and it didn’t take long for American troops to enter the fight on South Korea’s behalf. We were fighting against communism and we fought hard. At the war’s end in 1953 nearly 40,000 soldiers were killed and 100,000 wounded.  If you were to combine the losses of all soldiers and civilians from both sides, your count would reach nearly 5 million. As the battles raged, the Anti-Tank Company of the 5th Marines faced a serious problem. Terrain where they were stationed around Kamon-dong was steep and they were fighting with a recoilless rifle, which is basically a six foot long, 115 pound tube that sits on a tripod and fires 75mm shells. It was designed for use on the front lines and you would think that would make it easily portable, but the opposite was true. In the steep terrain in the area of fighting around Panmunjom, using a recoilless rifle was unbelievably loud, backbreaking work that required firing a few rapid shots, dismantling the rifle and hauling it to a new location before it was able to be targeted by incoming fire. In the icy Korean winters, trucks simply weren’t an option for moving the rifles up and down the inclines, so men carried the weapons and volatile ammunition on their own. It took several of them to do the job, often two would carry the gun, one would take the tripod, and the ammunition (each round measuring 4 and ¾ inches in diameter, 29 inches in length, and weighing 24 pounds) would go on the backs of the soldiers, typically two rounds per man and these rounds were live.

Reckless with rife and saddlepack

Reckless with 75mm recoilless rifle and pack saddle.

It was the commander of the platoon, Eric Pedersen, who realized a horse would make this work a lot easier and was given permission for the purchase. When Ah Chim Hai arrived the soldiers named her Reckless, after the recoilless rifle that she would carry. The men built her a bunker to standard specifications, covered her with a green Marine blanket at night and on the especially cold nights, allowed her to come into their tents and sleep by their stoves. She eventually became so familiar with the marines that she came and went into tents as she pleased, making them part of her herd.

Reckless withLatham

Reckless at Chang-dan, Korea, with TSgt. Joseph Latham, the Marine who put her through ‘hoof camp.’ A Seoul race pony, she thrived on bacon and eggs.” Caption courtesy the Saturday Evening Post.

Just like any soldier, Reckless was put through training. In “hoof camp” she was taught to step over wire, lie down, kneel, and shown how to take cover into a bunker when there was incoming fire. She wanted nothing but to please her new herd and she worked hard to learn all of these skills. Eventually she was fully capable of ducking and covering just like any human Marine in her platoon. They prepared her as much as possible for actual combat, but when the time came it was certainly hard on her. Even though she was carrying about 150 pounds at the time, Reckless jumped completely off the ground when she encountered her first taste of real weapons fire from the recoilless rifle. By the third blast she had calmed enough that she no longer flinched, but she sweated horribly, a sure sign that she feared for her life.  Still, under all of that stress, she and her handler delivered 5 loads of ammunition before the battle was over.

Reckless took part in many other battles and grew as accustomed to the noises as was possible for a Marine. (Though it has been noted she had nightmares, even after she retired and some Marines believed she was reliving those days the way she kicked and ran in her sleep.) New accommodations had to be built for her everywhere she went and at times her fellow Marines would throw their own flak jackets on her to protect her from incoming fire. Everyone did these things willingly, to protect one of their own who was fighting by their side. In these battles Reckless would repeatedly climb the steep terrain, carrying the ammunition for their rifles on her back. Over and over again she would take a running start and go as far as she could, pause, then move on when she was able. Often she made these trips on her own, with no one leading her. She made the choice to take the ammunition to the Marines and return again for another load, and she did it with all of the strength she had in her, sometimes from daybreak to sunset, all while carrying up to 144 pounds of live ammunition on her back.

Reckless on the Battlefield

Reckless on the Battlefield.

battle for outpost Vegas

It was the battle for outpost Vegas that she is best known for, a battle that is thought of as unequal to any other when it comes to the savagery of war. This was the defining battle of the Korean War, one that saw Reckless climbing a 45 degree incline at a trot or a gallop, desperately trying to maintain her balance with the extreme weight of the ammunition on her back. Some of the men were helping, but Reckless made two trips for every one of theirs and she carried eight rounds at a time. Through all of her fear at the incoming fire, Reckless never went slack on her duties, she charged up the hill again and again, ducking down with the Marines in their bunkers when enemy fire hit, then heading back down the hill once she was given the all clear. On occasion she was given a rest and rub down, taking some food and water, but for the most part, she continued on bravely, sometimes rescuing a wounded man from the fighting and carrying him down to safety only to be loaded with ammunition and head back up the hill immediately after.

It was on two of these trips that Reckless was wounded. On one climb up the hill, shrapnel cut her head, just above her left eye, and on another she was struck in her left flank, but like a true Marine, she continued on, wound and all. At the guns she was treated with iodine and sent back down for more ammunition. Again she went willingly, though by the end of the battle she was beginning to slow her pace. To quote the book by Robin Hutton, “No matter how tired she was, the mare with an almost incomprehensible sense of duty just kept going.”

In that one day Reckless made 51 round trips, carrying 386 rounds of ammunition, and walking more than 35 miles up and down that hill, most of the time on her own through heavy fire. Many marines talk about what an inspiration it was to see that small, Mongolian mare climbing the hills by herself, coming with everything they needed in order to continue to fight. She worked so hard and kept the men so well stocked that the barrel of one of the guns actually melted from use.

Reckless is promoted

Reckless is promoted to sergeant. On the platform (L to R: Gen. Pate, Capt. Andrew Kovac, Col. Elby D. Martin Jr. listen as MSgt. John Strange reads the citation. Standing beside Reckless are Sgt. Lively (L and TSgt. Dave Woods (R).

When the war was over, a campaign was started to bring Reckless to American soil. In her time in Korea Reckless had been officially promoted to the rank of Sergeant and had been given the appropriate ceremony for said promotion. This was not an honorary title, this was the real thing, as was befitting a marine who had earned two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with Star, a Navy Unit Citation, a National Defence Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal with three stars, a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and the French fourragere, awarded to the 5th Marines after World War I. She wore all of those decorations, and her sergeant stripes on her specially made red and gold blanket. At this time Reckless was a household name and when she finally came to her new home in America, she came home as a hero.

Reckless eats centerpieces

Who needs cake when there are carnations? Reckless eats the centrepieces. (Reception at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel).

There is so much more to say about Reckless; how she continued to work with the Marines at her new home in Camp Pendleton, how she attended official functions, made public appearances, and was promoted one last time to Staff Sergeant. In all of this time she was treated as a the true marine she was: some would salute her and no one that she outranked was permitted to lead her at official functions, as that would mean they were giving her orders. Reckless became a mother four times over, giving birth to three sons, two of which (PFC Fearless and Private Dauntless) were given ranks, while her third son Chesty became a trail horse. Sadly, her unnamed daughter died prematurely and all of her sons were gelded, so there are no grandchildren to carry on her bravery and determination to the next generation. All of these things (and many more) can be found in Robin Hutton’s book Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse. What I would like to conclude with is a note on how you can honor this brave marine.

reckless monument

Dedication of the Reckless monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center.

Robbin Hutton and others have fought for years now to bring the bravery and determination that was Reckless back into the public eye. In July of 2013 the Marine Corps finally unveiled a statue titled “An Uphill Battle,” a statue of Reckless created by Jocelyn Russell. The statue resides in the grounds at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center in Triangle Virginia and contains in its base a small sample of the hero’s hair, installed there by Robbin herself. The statue came about through generous donations to the Sgt. Reckless Memorial Fund (including donations by Betty White and William Shatner), a process which continues to the day of this writing in order to install a memorial at Camp Pendleton.

I encourage everyone who reads this to pick up Robbin’s book and properly experience the life of Sergeant Reckless in a way I am unable to do here. I would give you a more in-depth review, but this story is about Reckless and I know Robin would want it this way. I will say that almost all of my knowledge of Reckless came from devouring the pages of her book.

Sgt. Reckless Book Cover

If you are so inclined, you can join the Sergeant Reckless fanclub on Facebook or go to the official webpage and make a donation to her Camp Pendleton Memorial Fund. On this Memorial Day, let us decorate the grave of a true Marine.

Thank you for your service, Staff Sergeant Reckless.

All photos and captions in this post come as printed from Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse and were contributions from the Author. I would like to thank Robin Hutton for her help in sharing this story with us.

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

My Animal Talks!


Stories Of How My Pets Communicate

We have all seen videos of pets making a noise that sounds like human speech. Dogs howling “I love you”, cats yowling “Hello”, and of course we all expect birds to pick up some vocabulary when they are around us. Do these animals really know what they are doing? Most don’t, of course, but there are some animals that do communicate in ways we consider to be language, like the gorillas that have learned to sign. So unless you have a gorilla, you’re out of luck when it comes to communicating with your pet, right? Not if you learn to talk the way your pet talks.

Animals have a language that is all their own and each species often has a different kind of language from the others. Just like humans, some are capable of learning how to “talk” in other languages, which is usually when you see those mixed species animal friend videos go viral on YouTube. How does that dog seem so happy with that deer? They have found that common ground in language between their species. I watch the videos and though my eye is untrained, I have no problems picking up some ideas rather quickly. Among other observations, the most obvious is that the deer has learned some of the dog’s playful body language and the dog has learned some of the deer’s neck grooming behaviours. There is just enough common ground between them to maintain that friendship, partly because they have learned to “talk” in the other’s language.


It is possible for humans to do the same thing, if we allow ourselves the time to learn.  Animals will quite happily study our behaviours, mostly out of genetic necessity.  Take our local deer; they freeze in place and stare at whatever strange thing is moving around them to try and decide if they should dash away for their lives. This is their nature. It is what keeps them alive. If the deer in your neighbourhood don’t do this, they have probably become too used to the human activities around them, which can be a dangerous situation with any wild animals.

We are lucky enough to live out beyond the rural boundary, where the deer haven’t adjusted to life with humans in a way that is unnatural for them. Still, loving animal communication since I was a child, I wanted a way to let them go about their lives while we went about ours without disturbing them too much, the way they would coexist with a bird or a squirrel. I didn’t want to open my door and walk to my car, terrifying an entire herd of deer in the process, so I began whistling when I saw them.  It wasn’t a tune or anything, just a note once or twice, occasionally making sound. In this way I would move about my yard, not really looking at them or paying them too much attention at all. At first this confused them, but after some time they began to appreciate it. They are still wild animals, they remain unsure about my intentions and they do move deeper into the woods when they see me, but they aren’t dashing out into the country roads in a panic, to be hit by an unsuspecting driver who is coming around the bend at 45 miles an hour. They have learned that my typical behaviour is to exist in the yard, occasionally making a whistle sound and that this particular behaviour doesn’t harm them. They hear me and will casually wander into the woods, flicking their tails a little in agitation that I have disturbed their peace. The same trick also lets them know I am coming down the private drive we share with other families. A short whistle out the window lets them know I see them and I move forward while they shuffle into the trees. Most astonishingly, in recent years, the older deer have actually come to expect that we should announce ourselves to each other. If I do not see them, they will snort at me to let me know they are there, then flick their tails straight up and trot off into the woods, alerting that they aren’t comfortable with this unusually quiet behaviour on my part. This actually startles some guests at night, so be aware if you come visiting.


The deer aren’t my pets, and I wouldn’t ever want them to be, but I use them to prove the point that all animals have the capability to learn the behaviours of others, even the human variety. If we think about it, this should be obvious.  When we see a bird in our yard, don’t we expect it to eventually fly off? Don’t we all know that a fish out of water is going to flop around in a desperate struggle to get back in? We know these things because we experience them in some way, either in life or on video.  Well, our pets experience us regularly too. They have seen us get food from containers, they expect that we will sleep in the big rectangular fluffy thing instead of on the floor, and they know that we all love looking at that noisy light box on the wall or tapping our fingers on the smaller light boxes that we hold in our hands. If we are doing these things regularly, that must be the way of life.  So when my rats, for example, hear me shuffle boxes around or move a plastic bag, they instantly expect that food is being handled, even if the plastic bag is being put in a pocket to use for the dog’s walk.

How do we increase our communication with our pets?

Some animals can be trained to respond to commands.  Dogs are trained to sit, stay, beg, and do any other number of nifty things. They hear a word, they learn the behaviour that is expected at the mention of that word, then they do the thing required.  It’s that simple. Sometimes you can go beyond that training and teach them to express themselves with the word they have learned.  For example, one of our dogs, Sahara, loves belly rubs.  She flops over, holds her short little leg up in the air and waits.  You rub, then stop, and she turns to look at you as if to say, “Well?  Where’s the rest?” I went a little farther with this expression, knowing that she was trying to ask for more. I taught her that if she touched her cheek when someone had given her a belly rub, she would get more belly rubs. It was an extension of the paw waving behaviour she was already displaying, so she picked it up quickly.  When she realized I only rubbed her belly when she touched her cheek, and not when she put her paw in the air and looked at me, she transitioned to asking for “more” on a regular basis. Recently she has tried this once or twice when getting treats or dinner, all on her own, without prompting.  We have created a monster.

sekhemkare the cat

I have also learned to “talk” with my cat, Sekhemkare, and some of my fish.  With cats, of course, there are usually no issues at all in communication, since they either leave humans alone entirely or have no problem what so ever in telling us what to do. In the case of our cat, the story comes from replacing his favourite toy, “Piggy”, which had become filthy. We got him a new one and picked up the old one to throw away, only to discover in the morning that the old Piggy was happily resting in the middle of the living room floor while the new Piggy was drowned in the cat’s water dish.  That message was clear; death to all imposters.

spit the fish

With my fish, communication has been an interesting ride.  The best results came from Nix, Hydra, Pluto, and LaForge, who all learned how to get my attention by spitting into the corner of their tank.  They quickly discovered that this sound would instigate my making sounds (talking to them) and moving closer to where they were. Each of them began to use this technique to “call” me the way you would call a dog or cat.  LaForge was an only fish and Pluto was also alone for a time, and they were often perfectly content to have me walk over to the tank and sit beside them for a while. In their case this was a way of saying they wanted that “schooling” feeling of having another living thing there with them.  Nix and Hydra are my current fish and use this “call” to tell me that I have forgotten to feed them at exactly the time that they expect to be fed.  If I ignore the “call” they will often leap slightly from the water and knock into the lid of the tank, which I have decided must be their version of swearing at me for not hurrying up about it.

Deimos the rat


How My Pets Communicate: The Rats

Now we come back to the rats, who are probably the best communicators of any of the pets that I have. Their minds work more like human minds than just about any animal I have ever encountered. This is one of the reasons rats are so often studied in order to help humans.  There are so many stories when it comes to rats talking with us that it is hard to pick one or two to share. We have had rats tap our cheeks or pull on our clothes to tell us where they want us to take them, we have had rats who have dictated exactly where they expect us to leave their food by dragging their dish to the proper place until we finally got the idea, we have a rat who learned to let himself out of his cage, but would only chew a tiny notch in the furniture, then go back inside and wait for us to notice.  “See? I let myself out again. That’s three times this week, in case you are counting, like I am.”

Two of our rats have been such good communicators that I gave serious thought to teaching them to use technology to actually speak.  Archie was the first of these and sadly he passed away at a very young age, before his training went very far. I learned of his abilities when I realized that he would actually listen to individual words and seemed to work out their meaning within a week or so. I would talk to him and when there was a word he was unfamiliar with, he would tilt his head and look very intent.  He would do this repeatedly until he had learned the word. What do I mean by this?  Take the word “water” for example. To sum up his vocabulary skills quickly, I will shorten his learning process to a few sentences, but it went something along these lines… I would be talking to him and say something like, “I’m going to get your water, be right back.” He would tilt his head and shift his ears forward, a clear sign he was listening to me. I would repeat the word I thought he was trying to learn: “Water?” If he repeated the head tilt, I knew this was the thing he was focused on, so I would then go and get the water bottle, put it in his cage and repeat the word “water”, usually in a sentence, sometimes on its own.  After about a week, if he heard the word water, he would go to either his bottle or the sink, even if we weren’t talking to him. After some time of this, he began to tell us when he wanted fresh water by bonking his head under the bottle if we didn’t talk about water when cleaned his cage.  He would stick his head under the bottle, lift it up, drop it and wait.  If nothing happened he would do it again and repeat the action until someone said the word “water.”  Usually in the form of the sentence: “Okay, Archie, I’ll get you water, just wait a minute!”

archie the rat


In a few months there were many words that Archie knew and several he was fond of. “Water”, “treats”, “kisses” and “snuggles” were all favourites, but he also knew the meanings of “yes” and “no”, along with many other useful words.  He could also tell the difference between a single “no”, which we used to emphasize new rules, and “no, no, no”, which we used to remind him of rules he already knew how to follow (like no rats on the floor).  I began to work with this increasing vocabulary, certain that there would be a way to help him call to us like the fish did or to express his needs.  I bought little jar lid attachments, intended to help the blind label things.  You record a short message then push the button to play it back.  I began teaching Archie to push the buttons and that pushing the buttons would give him the reward of the thing that he had “requested.”  The hardest part was helping him understand that when he heard the word “kisses” come out of the device, it meant he would GET kisses, not that he should GIVE them.  Sadly, just as he was learning this he became sick and then passed away, so I will never know how far this training could have gone with him.

north the rat


Our latest boy, North, will be featured in another article about helping animals adjust to new routines because his communication is the strongest when something is supposed to happen and doesn’t.  For instance, when the power goes out and we then can’t turn the lights on when it gets dark, he dashes around looking up at light bulbs and pulling on our arms. His communication is always very clear.  In this case you can almost see the speech bubble over his head: “Stupid humans.  It’s dark, make it light again!”

The point of all of this is that I have had many people tell me they wished they could have the same connection with animals that I do. Often they ask me what my secret is. How is it that even as a three year old child I seemed to be able to interact with animals in a way that they completely understood? How did I get them following me around or “listening” to what I was telling them to do? There is only one answer: observation. It’s something you need for any language. In order to learn how to say “teddy bear” in such a way that someone else understands it, you have to figure out what word the other person uses for “teddy bear.” The same is true when “talking” with animals; you just have to switch your mind into a different, physical, form of communication.  Sometimes “I’m so glad you’re here!” really sounds like water slapping against the glass of a fish tank. Accepting that is the first step to really “talking” with the animals around us.

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

Product Review: Top Fin Large Aquarium Vacuum

Regular readers will recall a similar post that I made some time at the end of last year.  In my review of the smaller vacuum, I had stated I would be needing a larger one and would review that product as well.  Now that my goldfish, Nix and Hydra, are permanently moved from their “starter tank” to their home in a 60 gallon aquarium at school, I needed to upgrade my gravel vacuum, so here I am again.

Assembling The Aquarium Vacuum

Assembly of this vacuum is exactly the same as the smaller variety, a very simple process that even my pre-schoolers could figure out rather quickly.  The kit consists of two tubes, one longer, one shorter, the bulb, and a clip to hold the longer tube in your bucket, all the same parts as the smaller version, they’re just bigger. This can make them a little harder to fit together tightly, but with the proper fiddling and a little bit of extra squeezing, it works out in the end.  Remember you want a tight fit between the bulb and the hoses so that they don’t fall apart on you while you are using them. Also, make sure you follow the arrows that are printed on the side of the bulb. You want the water to follow the in/out direction indicated on the side.

bulb to top fin vacuum

I found that the longer tube on the x-large version doesn’t seem to have the extra length to it that the small version did. When I cleaned Nix and Hydra’s tank with the small vacuum, I seemed to have extra tubing winding all around the inside of my bucket, but there have been a few times when I have almost pulled the tubing out of the bucket when using the x-large vacuum, so be aware that it is somewhat easier to accidentally pull your tube from your bucket when you are cleaning. Normally I would put this down to being an issue with the height of my tank, however it is on average the same height of other tanks of comparable size and volume, so I’m not sure that is the entire cause of the seeming lack in hose length.

top fin vacuum clip

The speed of the water flow seems to be much more rapid compared to the smaller vacuum, probably due to the larger size of the intake nozzle. This is both a help and a hindrance, since I have had to empty my bucket much more frequently than with the smaller version. With the small vacuum I was able to watch the intake tube, but with the larger one I find myself putting more attention on the bucket, which between pulling the tube out and overflowing from rapid intake, can become a distraction to the actual removal of waste from the tank. After many tries, I have found that the trick to slowing down the flow is to actually encourage the intake hose to become partly filled with gravel. Water still comes through, but at a much slower pace, however, this means you are not taking out as much waste as you would like. It isn’t ideal, but it does work. Figuring out what works best for you might be a little bit of a puzzle, but it shouldn’t take long to come up with your own tricks of the trade.

Water Replenishment In Your Aquarium

aquarium setup

The overall amount of waste that the x-large vacuum collects seems to be proportionally equal to that of the small vacuum, meaning I am spending as much time and effort per gallon as I was with the smaller tank setup. Having changed Nix and Hydra’s water regularly since January, I can say that the tank continues to look as fresh as the day I moved it in to my classroom. It should be noted that I vacuum the tank once (sometimes twice) a week, which brings me to the only serious issue that I have with using this vacuum on a large aquarium: Water Replenishment

Nix and Hydra live on well water, which comes from my house, outside of town. Their tank is a good 10 minutes away from the water that fills it. This is my choice, because to me this is the healthiest option for my fish. I have never fully trusted purifying droplets or evaporation techniques that are supposed to make city water safe for my fish to swim in. The down side of this healthier way of living for them means that I have to haul over 36 litres of water per tank change from house to car, from car to school and up a flight of stairs to the tank.  That number is for only a quick, sloppy job, if I intend to do a more complete cleaning, I have to make several trips back and forth. This is a process that I am quickly losing fondness for, but it is one of my own making, so I can’t really complain. What I can do, though, is contemplate how others would refill the aquarium after cleaning it out.  I would suggest that before fish owners purchase this vacuum, they consider their water source carefully. It is important to freshen the water in the tank, so changing the water out when you vacuum the gravel makes a lot of sense, but if you are looking for a vacuum that will take out less water and more gunk, you might want to find another version. Personally, I would love to have one, slower vacuum for cleaning the waste only where it piles up frequently, and another for actually cleaning the tank with. For now, the setup I am using works, but I am giving serious consideration to finding yet another vacuum that can conserve water on the days when I need to.

pumping out aquarium

Overall, I’m really happy with the x-large vacuum. It is still safe for the fish and is just as easy to use, even if it takes a little bit more getting used to than the small size. It’s a great vacuum for total tank cleaning, but I’d find another if you intend to use it for spot-cleaning.

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