Saturday, November 10, 2012

The healing magic of canines

As featured Saturday, November 3, 2012, at

It might have escaped human notice, had it not been for the inordinate amount of attention it drew from the other dogs.
Whether he was sitting, lounging, napping or walking around the yard, they followed him everywhere he went, licking the wound on his shoulder.
And he carried on as if soothed, if not oblivious to their efforts to clean the wound.
Antibiotics were administered and the wound cleaned and bandaged, but it wasn’t long before the other dogs managed to remove the bandage and take on the job of doctoring again.
Several days of redoing the bandaging and it became clear that short of isolating the poor boy, they just weren’t going to leave things alone.
Interestingly enough, however, on inspection the wound appeared clean, and infection free with signs of healthy healing — and with all the exposure it had to wind, dirt and the like, it was hard to say if it was the iodine rinses and medicine that were doing the trick, or if it might be the non-stop attention of the canine caretakers.
Wound licking by animals is common enough and in a way it makes perfect sense, after all, it’s not as if they have washcloths, gauze and boiled water at their disposal.
Yet historically, dogs hold a special recognition for their medical prowess, and once upon a time, mankind believed strongly in the magical properties of a dog’s lick,
Found throughout lore and myth are stories of dogs healing by licking the injured or dying.
Early doctors even tried to harness the power, including dogs trained to lick the wounds of patients among hospital staff in ancient Greece.
In modern times, there are still cultures which rely on the healing tongues of dogs, and the old wives tale that dog saliva contains antiseptic remains widely believed by many.
However, even though it seems a little farfetched, it’s not all poppycock.
The saliva of a dog, while not entirely magical, is a little special.
With a high PH level and containing enzymes and substances that prevent the growth of bacteria, a dog’s saliva does have some qualities that help counter the not-so-hygienic passions and pastimes of dogs.
It's true enough, that perhaps it would be worth bottling and marketing — if it were that simple.
But it’s the other stuff mixed in there that begins to unravel the myths.
While canine saliva probably does help protect a pooch from the nasties that find their way into their mouths and also helps maintain a level of dental health, the mouth of a dog is a real yin-yang kind of environment.
Of course it’s a little difficult to convince a wounded dog that they should refrain from using the one medical tool nature gave them.
And sometimes they probably are doing more good than bad.
With constant cleaning, they can keep a wound moist, free of material and in some cases, the composition of their saliva may be just what the doctor ordered.
But much like spinning one bullet in the chamber of an otherwise empty revolver — it only takes one little bit of bacteria to change the landscape dramatically.
And while most of the time, dogs do fine, when it comes to the wounds of other species, particularly humans, the risk is enough to keep dogs out of the pharmaceutical business.
However, while it can’t be found under a microscope, it’s well proven that a big slobbery kiss from your favorite pooch does contain magic that wipe away most any pain.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pet rat's odyssey lasted three days

As featured Saturday, October 27, 2012, at
It lasted three whole days.
Three days of overturned spice bottles rolling on the counters and scrambling noises when the kitchen lights were flipped on.
Human error started it of course, an error that led to the cage being left open.
The first sighting was quite the surprise.
Not so much a surprise in the fact it's not unusual to spot the occasional mouse, but more in the sense that they usually don't have black and white spots.
Nor is the average mouse 5 inches tall when it stands on its hind legs.
As a result, the first sighting unfolded in split-second stages that went something like: What the heck was that...? Where the heck did a rat come from...? Why is the rat's cage empty?
The realization struck about the same time the rat realized she'd been spotted and off she went, finding a hiding place under the kitchen sink, thanks to a door that had been left slightly open.
It seemed a perfect opportunity to corner her, or at least it should have been a perfect opportunity, had it not been for a hole in the drywall, irregularly cut around a pipe.
It's a never ending source of amazement to see how easily a chased animal can contort itself to avoid capture, especially rodents, which appear to turn into propelled amoebas that can squish through the tiniest crevice.
Forcing her broad belly through the hole that was no larger than her head, that's exactly what she did, and in so doing, claimed the wall as her new home.
By no stretch of the imagination was she the first caged pet in the household to go on the lam, but she was the first to take up residence in the kitchen and in so doing, presented quite the conundrum.
She was far too large for a humane mouse trap, using a traditional mouse trap was out of the question for a pet, and for much the same reasons, the poison and a cat options had to be scratched off the list.
Coaxing seemed to be the only next logical step.
Wiggling a pizza crust in front of the opening to her new house, it was only a second before she took the bait and sunk her teeth in.
Time after time, she reached out; stole a mouthful, then withdrew, holding her position while triumphantly feasting on pizza crust.
Partly out of frustration, part out of fear that she would gorge herself and grow too large to escape the hole, I squeezed my hand in after her, only to quickly withdraw it in a slurry of not-so-nice words when she made the honest mistake that we had moved from light refreshments to finger foods.
Finger bandaged, tactics reassessed, the next two days consisted of make-shift traps.
A bucket with scattered snacks on the bottom which she promptly jumped out of – who knew rats could spring over the side of a bucket from a standstill – a jar with a one-way trap lid that she never went near, and more than a couple of futile mad dashes as she discovered every hiding place the kitchen had to offer.
Into the Wild was the thing that finally snared her, and while sadly she didn't get to enjoy 150 minutes of soul searching introspection, she did get an up close look at the main character pensively looking into the Alaskan forest as the DVD case slid across her path and blocked her escape.
Though she screeched all the way Into the Cage, her rant certainly seemed akin to the words of Jon Krauker, "...The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Injections not a concern for horses

As featured Saturday, October 20, 2012, at
It took nearly a day to work up the nerve.
Intramuscular may not sound so bad to those in health professions, but to a layman reading the instructions on the back of a plastic wrapper, it can sound downright horrific.
And it was enough to get the package shoved in the fridge for the evening  — a stalling, feet dragging case of,  “have to, but really don’t want.”
It’s hard to tell how he did it, but the theory was the gelding had gotten a nail stuck in the toe of his hoof, though the offending nail was never located by the time trouble surfaced.
He started acting strangely, not wanting to put his foot down, but a check of his leg revealed nothing out of the ordinary.
Then a couple days later there was some swelling and he couldn’t put much weight on it, and still no sign of a wound.
Several hoof checks and leg and foot soaks later; there was still no explanation as to what was going on.
Finally the farrier found the source of the trouble, a puncture wound hidden in the hoof had gotten infected.
The wound was easy enough to address once it was discovered. A good cleaning and some iodine did the trick and he showed immediate signs of relief.
But there was still a lingering concern — tetanus.
With parting instructions to clean and flush the wound, the farrier recommended buying the shot and administering it.
It was a great idea, extremely economical and efficient and it was about time to learn how to administer shots, a skill that’s always good to have when there are animals  — and the occasional rusty nail  — around.
In a community where many people give their own injections to pets and livestock, finding a single-use shot at a local store was simple enough.
It was even pleasantly surprising to see how inexpensive it was, but catching a look at the shining needle in the package tainted the savings almost immediately.
The woman who helped with the purchase sensed my reservations as she gave some parting words of advice on how to go about it.
“Got to learn to do this sooner or later,” I said when she offered to come out and do it for me, but I took her number just in case something went horribly wrong.
And the list of things that might go wrong causing pain, too much medicine, poor placement of the shot, oh, and just giving a shot in general — all accompanied the syringe into the fridge.
The next day, the dreaded needle in hand, I hopped the fence and made way towards him, half expecting he would sense what was in store and run, but of course he approached with curiosity as always.
Step one down, we weren’t out of the woods yet, and images of how horses stomp and swat at the light touch of a fly dominated the next few seconds of rubbing the skin on his neck.
Then it was time.
Grabbing a chunk of skin and shaking it, the needle was in and out in a fraction of a second — and he never so much as flinched, not even a little.
Nor did he look back or side-step or even move.
In fact, it was so easy, it didn’t even come close to earning the apprehension that went into it and almost immediately all the other immunizations that had been beside it on the store shelf came to mind.
Best of all, tetanus free, wound healed, the event was a non-event to the horse who still flinches when a fly lands on him but isn’t likely to notice all the shots in his future.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bailing twine can have many uses

As featured Saturday, October 13, 2012, at

Ingenuity and creativity surfaced in those times when it was boring inside on long summer days, yet if you made the mistake of getting caught underfoot you were sure to be given a chore.
Out of sight, however, a kid could often stay out of mind as well.
Ropes, halters, plant hangers, you name it, they were born of such out-of-sight times, left over bailing twine and countless such hours of sitting in the barn – hours spent braiding and tying.
While braiding lengths of bailing twine together to hang a swing from the door of the barn for kids to use, that familiar feeling surfaced with memories of those hours of the past.
Of course, rather than in days gone by, when the natural fibers of the twine left splinters and tore at the skin, this twine was bright pink and yellow and made of plastic strands.
And braiding 20-feet of rope didn't hurt and lock-up the fingers back then, but otherwise it was a surprising realization to discover not much had changed, including the calming comfort that came with sitting in the quiet and crossing strand-over-strand, over and over again.
Bailing twine is one of those nifty little collateral items that just become part of the scenery in a barn.
With two or three strands wrapped around each bale of hay, they start to add up over time and if allowed, can even cause quite a mess.
But when you see them hung neatly over a nail or railing, you know you are in the barn of someone who treasures the value and versatility of bailing twine, or "hay string" as some call it.
Proportionately, barn work often seems to outsize the time one gets to spend with their horses, so it seems fitting that their food comes with such a one-size-fits-all tool.
And in a functional and pragmatic barn, the pink ropes can often be spotted holding railings together, serving as door pulls, bucket handles, netting, or hangers for tools, picks and brushes.
One might assume a farmers' young daughter has run rampant trying to "pretty" up the barn, but though the colors are catchy these days – with hues of mostly pink, but also orange, yellow, red green and sometimes black or white – those bright strands are simply a solution to just about any fix-it dilemma.
Recently a friend shared a photo of a young boy at her barn with pink twine looped and tied to his jeans because he was getting ready to ride, but had forgotten his belt and couldn't keep his pants up.
The image got the wheels turning about all the different ways the stuff has come in handy over the years.
Tie a circle at the end of a piece of twine, slip it over the nose of a horse, bring the loose end around behind the ears, tie it off, and you have an ultra-quick catch halter that fits in a pocket.
Braided into long ropes and tied to those metal clips that always seem to turn up around a barn, they make for strong leashes and lead ropes.
Strands tied to rails and twisted together in a grid pattern can create a temporary fence.
Tightly wrapped around a hose, twine can seal off a leak long enough to finish filling a tank, and tied from one corner to another, it makes a great place to hang spray bottles, blankets and more.
Some people out there get really creative with their bailing twine, weaving it into hammocks, rugs and bags, and one website even suggests strands of it tied to a horses tail as a makeshift fly swatter/hair extension for those whose tails have met unfortunate ends.
But perhaps best of all, a pile of twine, out-of-sight times, the idle hands of a child, and a quiet spot in the barn can weave incredible memories.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Accidents happen: Animals forgive

As featured Oct. 6, 2012 on

Popping off the ground, the barbed wire flew up and in an instant her legs were planted in the middle of it.
And the predictable happened.
She stepped forward, her front legs met with the resistance of the wire, then her rear hoof snagged.
Her eyes enlarged her breathing quickened and the next few seconds were like those that come after a firecracker is lit and tossed.
But the funny thing about firecrackers is you can’t run over and check, you just have to wait and see if they’re going to blow — And much the same, the wire puzzle, though potentially disastrous, had to be left up to her.
Panic and terror made her shake, but the mare pushed through, overcoming the barbs that snagged and scratched at the skin on her legs until she gave one final bound and jumped clear, leaving the fence to pop back into its place.
The next hour was spent cleaning her legs and rubbing salve on her thankfully superficial wounds, with repeats every day for a week after.
It hardly seemed a sufficient penance, considering it had been my dumb idea to hold the fence down so she could cross in the first place.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how accidents happen, but of course that’s hindsight.

• The cat meowed like it does every night — meow to be let out, meow to be let in … after a while, the meows start to blend.
Tired and feeling a little bit of tough love take over, he shut the door and locked up for the night, heading off to call it a day.
The next day, eyes cast downward, he told guiltily of how his wife found the cat that morning, sandwiched between the storm door and the back door of the house — thankfully this time, still meowing.
• She put her son’s hamsters together in a cage and didn’t think a thing of it, certainly not imagining it would end in disaster, much less a childhood trauma.
That is until one of the boys found his brother’s hamster having a victory meal on one side of the cage and few remaining pieces on the other.
• His cat loved to go for walks and responded well to a leash, a perfect solution for an apartment pet.
Her enjoyment of their leisurely strolls led to the next natural step and he upped the pace, happy when she raced to keep up with him.
When she slowed, he tugged the leash, hoping to help her burn off some pent up energy.
Finally, she refused to go any further and plopped to the ground.
Leaning down, he was horrified to see she wasn’t being obstinate as he had thought, but rather the soft flesh on the pads of her paws was raw and bleeding.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how accidents happen, but of course that’s hindsight. 
Sometimes even the best intentions go awry — the fastest path, a curfew lesson on a warm, starry night, generous accommodations with a bonus pal or a healthy jog through the park — at one time or another, most pet owners experience a good thing-turned disaster.
If only they could talk, they might tell us, “I can’t walk over that!” “Hey! I’m stuck!” “My feet hurt,” or, “Don’t leave me here, he’s mean.”
As luck would have it, however, (not counting the unfortunate hamster) animals seem to know when the intentions are a world apart from the results and are quick to pick up right where they left off with you.
… Even if they do pause to glare at the door, hiss at the leash or snort at barbed wire.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eight legs at a time

Last week, In Search of Ponies focused on the plight of the male tarantula, a common sight along New Mexico roadways as they go ambling by on their grueling pilgrimages to find a mate.

Though intimidating to look at, the basically harmless tarantula is probably one of the most misunderstood critters out there and we are fortunate to have such a unique creature living in our neck of the woods.

There's lots of interesting information available about tarantulas and they are certainly intriguing, so before you squish, take a minute to learn a little more about them.

Here is a great video featuring Dr. Ralph Charlton, invertebrates curator at Albuquerque's BioPark:

New Yorker Sam Marshall grew up to be one of the foremost experts on tarantulas after seeing one during a family vacation to New Mexico. Check out this interesting story in which he shares a ton of information and explains his passion for the eight-legged ones:


Deadly mission

As featured Sept. 22, 2012, at

Even as they make their way through the world, so narrow is their focus that it’s unlikely they think of, or even notice much of what goes on around them.
In fact, they’re so preoccupied; it’s no surprise when they walk calmly into traffic.
Don’t let their rangy, menacing appearance scare you — truth is their looks really have nothing to do with you and everything to do with function.
Enduring excruciating heat, often without the relief of water, they make their way through rough and unforgiving terrain, surrounded by enemies and pushing forward to complete their life’s mission.
And while they travel up to 50 miles to accomplish that mission every fall — a seemingly insurmountable distance when it’s being covered four inches at a time — the irony is that after expending all that energy and effort, if their work pays off and they reach their destination, the success will likely be punctuated by death.
A few days ago, one such gentleman froze and crouched down against the pavement as vehicles passed overhead.
Older, or battered by his journey, or perhaps a little of both, the fur on his eight legs was patchy and sparse, with dry skin showing underneath and more skin showing through the hair on his abdomen.
But he sparked to life when shooed, scurried into the cover of grass along the ditch and carried on.
One of those unique residents that don’t go further east than the Mississippi, there are approximately 50 species of tarantula in North America, nearly 900 in the world, and none are considered deadly to humans.
Known for their docile nature, that’s not to say they’re entirely helpless.
They can bite, but usually don’t. Instead, tarantulas subscribe to the walk softly school of thought because they do carry a big stick.
When highly agitated, they are capable of kicking the hair off their abdomens toward an enemy, the small, barbed particles float through the air and into the nose, mouth and eyes.
Comparable to itching powder, the hair attack just gives an adversary something else to think about while they get away.
If there is a flaw in the gentle crawlers, it might be the fact that, alas, tarantulas live and give their lives for the ladies.
Most all tarantulas spotted out and about are mature males in search of their soul mates, and few communities have a tougher dating scene than the tarantulas.
Hidden away in burrows, the females wait to be found.
But just being found doesn’t mean the stars align and the rest is romance, because if she doesn’t approve of her suitors, they still make a good snack.
If they manage to win her affections, there’s a good chance they will still make a good snack after adding a branch to the family tree and even those fortunate enough to walk away from a job well done aren’t exactly in the clear either.
Trudging exhausted, back from whence they came, they make easy marks for the wasps, lizards, snakes, birds and others who find them delightfully nutritious.
In light of all that, it seems a bit unnecessary to go out of the way to smash them under a shoe, even if it’s too far a stretch to appreciate them on their own merits — after all, certain death awaits them anyway, if they’re just allowed to pass.
Or for the more daring, take a moment to look past the itchy hair, long legs and fangs to give a little attaboy as the multi-eyed face of determination and perseverance marches by, eight steps at a time.