Other Animal Friends
Birds delight our senses with resplendent colors and brilliant songs. On a deeper level, their ability to gracefully soar to great heights speaks to our longing for freedom, happiness, and peace. Bird fanciers relate well to Emily Dickinson’s eloquent lines, “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—” No wonder we seek these elusive creatures in the wild, buy special feeders to attract birds to our gardens, and invite them into our homes for companionship.
If you think about it, it becomes clear that pet birds have to make one of the biggest adjustments to living arrangements of any domesticated animal. Most pet birds are domestically raised and therefore not accustomed to total freedom. Still, these creatures are free-spirited by nature and must be made comfortable living in some form of confinement. It’s easy to see why stress and anxiety are such common problems for birds living in captivity.
If your bird seems anxious or stressed, it may be because it is alone. Birds in the wild almost always live in pairs or groups. Or it may be that its housing, food, or routine may not be appropriate for the species of bird you own. Let’s explore some ways to minimize the stress in your pet bird’s life.
Birds need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night and, to recover from sickness, they may need additional rest and quiet time. To foster restful sleep and quick recovery from illness, you can cover the cage with a towel or blanket.
Stress can sometimes be caused by a change in the environment. When a modification is necessary, try to introduce the change gradually. Basically, anything new, especially other animals, new housemates, and children, is stressful to a bird. Try to keep excess noise down around your bird.
Provide your bird with safe, durable toys, ones large enough to eliminate the possibility of a choking hazard. (You should know that birds sometimes like to take things apart, so bear this in mind when screening toys for choking hazards. Bells are not recommended for this reason.) Be sure your bird’s feet will not get caught in the toys. Keep in mind, too, that toys should be free of harmful dyes and toxic metals. It’s a good idea to question a pet shop manager or breeder about toy safety.
If you would like your birds to breed, you will need a nesting box, as birds require privacy. Be especially careful around your bird when it is breeding; this is especially important with larger birds, which may become temperamental and think nothing of snapping at you with their beak. While most birds will use their beaks in playful ways, when threatened, some birds may be capable of snapping off a finger. Note: Never allow the beak to be around your face or eyes.
Another good option is to feed your bird a diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, and seeds. “Anything that is healthy for humans, basically, is healthy for your parrot,” in the words of bird expert Alicia McWatters, Ph.D., who is not an advocate of feeding birds a pelleted feed. McWatters, author of A Guide to a Naturally Healthy Bird: Nutrition, Feeding, and Natural Healing,2 notes an exception to the “anything healthy for humans” rule: the fruit avocado, which has been found to be toxic to some birds.
Parrots can be finicky about food. If you present a parrot with a bowl of mixed nuts and seeds, for example, the parrot is likely to pick out only its favorites. To trick parrots into eating a more balanced diet, McWatters has created the “mash diet,” a blend of various fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and seeds run briefly through a food processor. The end result should be a mixture that is chunky or minced rather than pureed.
Beans and grains for the mash diet should be presoaked in the refrigerator for 24 hours; frozen vegetables have been blanched before being flash-frozen, and no cooking of the food is necessary. Once you have prepared a batch of the mash diet, you can keep it frozen for 10 to 20 days. After that, the ingredients’ nutritional value starts to decline. A variation of the diet, thinned to the consistency of a broth, may be hand-fed to newborn baby birds.
Although all birds require the same basic nutrients, different species may need more or less of specific nutrients, calories, protein, or fat. For example, birds that need fewer calories from fat include Amazons, pionus, and Quaker, cockatiel, and budgie parrots. Some long-tailed parrots, such as macaws or conures, usually require more fat than other species.
For all birds, change the water once to twice daily to keep the supply clean and free of feces and food debris. Ideally, birds should drink filtered water. Their body weight is many times smaller than that of a person, and they’re more susceptible to the harmful effects of fluoride and other pollutants.
Also, realize that an irregular feeding schedule is another factor that can cause stress for your bird. Birds in the wild forage for food early in the morning and in the afternoon. It’s best to imitate this schedule as closely as possible for pet birds. If they haven’t finished all of their first meal when it’s time for the second, be sure to clear away the leftover portion. Fresh foods, used in the mash diet, spoil quickly. Four to six hours is about as long as fresh food should be left out.
Birds in captivity require a regular wing trim to keep them safe from harm. Exceptions to this rule are birds kept in a spacious aviary where there is plenty of room for free flight. A wing trim will prevent your bird from flying into a wall or window, two of the leading causes of death in pet birds. Wing clipping will also keep a bird from escaping out the door, possibly never to be seen again. Once your avian veterinarian or another experienced person has shown you how to trim wings properly, you can do it yourself.
Your bird has ten primary wing feathers, and six to ten of these should be clipped. Secondary wing feathers must never be clipped. The feathers on both wings should be clipped evenly. Once its primary wing feathers are clipped, your bird will not fly upwards but glide safely downward, without injury.
Homeopathic Euphrasia (also known as eyebright) can be given as an internal remedy, but the herb euphrasia can be made into a tea for external treatment of eye irritations or infections like conjunctivitis. Once the tea has cooled, dip a cotton ball into it, and apply it to the eye. The problem should clear up in a day or two.
Homeopathic Belladonna can be used to treat heat exhaustion if a bird has accidentally been left outside on a hot, sunny day. How do you know if your bird is overheated? Since birds don’t have sweat glands, an overheated bird will hold its wings away from its body, and its mouth may be open. Besides administering homeopathic Belladonna, the owner of an overheated bird should help the bird gradually cool down by spraying it with water from a mister bottle, a few sprays at a time, for half an hour to an hour, or until the bird has recovered. Be sure to always provide your bird with shade and cool drinking water when taking it outside on a sunny day.
Rabbits can make wonderful pets, but they do present unique challenges for their owners. The most common mistakes well-intentioned rabbit owners make relate to housing and diet.
Pneumonia can be caused by Pasteurella or other bacteria or viruses. Here again, for suspected pneumonia, a trip to a conventional vet is necessary, but the inflammation of the lungs may also be reduced by acupuncture or by treatment with vitamins C and E, or coenzyme Q10. These can supplement, but not replace, antibiotics, if antibiotics are called for to treat the pneumonia.
If you are treating a rabbit at home for anything, be aware that a rabbit’s mouth does not open wide enough for you to force a pill down its throat. So whether you’re giving it supplements, herbal medications, or other medicines, it’s preferable to work with a liquid or powder for your rabbit. Some rabbits will voluntarily drink a supplement mixed with carrot juice or something else sweet. With other rabbits, you will have to squirt the mixture into their mouth.
Another common rabbit health problem is frequent or chronic diarrhea, stemming from a variety of sources. One cause is parasites. Rabbits are prone to parasites, including one called a “rabbit bot,” which lives underneath the skin. According to rabbit veterinarian and natural pet care advocate Nancy Scanlan, D.V.M., parasites are “… one of the cases where most natural treatments are no longer as good or as safe as medical treatments.… So, this is one of the few times that I actually do recommend Western medicine over traditional herbal remedies.”4
Although ferrets are frequently thought of as exotic pets, they’ve actually been domesticated for thousands of years—almost as long as dogs or cats. In ancient Rome it seems that ferrets were used as hunting animals, with their keen sense of smell and ability to wriggle into tight spaces serving them well.
Nowadays, these weasel relatives are becoming increasingly popular as household pets. If you are considering purchasing a ferret, however, check first to make sure it’s legal to own one in the area where you live. Because of the misapprehension that ferrets are exotic, many governments, from local to state, ban ferret ownership under the umbrella of laws against owning any exotic animals.
If you do decide that a ferret is for you, it’s best to obtain one from a reputable breeder, so that you will have an idea of its background and temperament. A ferret may cost anywhere from $100 to $200. Ferrets do fine on their own, but if you have the time and energy, you may decide to adopt two, and the pair should get along fine.
Just like child-proofing for a toddler, ferret-proofing involves securing and covering up anything that may be dangerous. Ferrets are more curious than cats, and with their small, wiry bodies, they can squirm into the tightest of spaces. They can climb and scurry out of reach easily, and are amazingly agile. For example, ferrets can open drawers or cupboards—and do you really want your ferret exploring in your dishes or underwear? Ferrets can also wiggle under closed doors. You will need to block this avenue of escape with a rolled-up towel or something similar. A collar with a bell will help you to locate your ferret should it slip out of sight.
Also be sure to clear the space of dangerous potential edibles, as ferrets will consume anything they can chew or swallow, including rubber, sponges, and chemicals. For your ferret’s safety, you will need to make sure it has no access to nondigestibles, including children’s plastic toys, or poisons such as household cleaners. I can’t stress enough the issue of ferret-proofing your home to prevent terrible accidents. Sadly, an acquaintance of mine opened her dish-washer one morning only to discover that her beloved ferret had crawled inside and—when the dishes were washed—had drowned.
A ferret needs to have a checkup at least once a year, including a physical exam and feces test for parasites. Ferrets are not as susceptible to parasites as are other animals, such as rabbits. If parasites are found, they can be treated conventionally or herbally, but if you choose to use an herbal treatment, do it under the guidance of a ferret vet, because wrongly administered herbal cures can be lethal to ferrets. A ferret reaches middle age at around three or four, so at that point you may want to increase its checkups to twice a year. Ferrets also need to have their teeth cleaned once a year. The most common serious health problems for ferrets are diseases of the adrenal glands, which can be treated by removing cancerous adrenal glands, by glandular therapy, and with nutritional support. A change in weight, or any abnormal behaviors, can be symptoms of illness in your ferret. If these occur you should contact your vet right away. Ferrets are also able to contract and spread human flu, so watch out for flu symptoms in your ferret, for its sake and yours!
Unfortunately, many ferrets in the U.S. die prematurely, of cancer. In other countries, ferrets tend to live longer lives. Researchers who have compared the American and European ferret have correlated the problem with neutering and spaying, which appear to weaken the ferret’s system. American-born ferrets undergo the procedure at 6 weeks and develop cancer 3-1/2 to 4 years later. In Europe, when ferrets are neutered or spayed as adults, they also develop tumors 3-1/2 to 4 years later. When the operation is performed at age 4, they tend to get cancer at 7-1/2 or 8. It would seem, then, that neutering and spaying should be delayed, but a complicating factor is that if a female ferret is left unspayed and is not bred regularly, she will be in heat for prolonged periods and will develop anemia, which can be severe enough to be fatal. At present, there needs to be more study of the spaying/cancer connection. On a positive note, there are ferret specialists who say that with good medical care, proper nutrition, and a safe, loving home, your ferret may share almost a decade of life with you.
Fish ownership is controversial when it comes to tropical fish, endangered by capture and over-harvesting by unethical fish traders. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, advises against owning any tropical fish at all, so as to avoid supporting international dealings in these beautiful, fragile creatures. However, you may already have a tropical fish, or one may come into your life as a gift or as a hand-me-down from someone who can no longer keep it. Also, some fish enthusiasts do point out that there are species that have been domesticated for so long that they no longer resemble their wild ancestors. You could purchase this type; examples are Siamese fighting fish and guppies.
If a tropical fish is already in your life, don’t try to re-introduce it to its natural habitat. Tropical fish cannot just be dropped off anywhere; individual species, such as the beautiful fish that hail from the lakes of Africa, come from isolated parts of the world and must be returned to their home waters. You should also be aware that fish in captivity can pick up and become carriers of diseases that do not exist in their natural habitat. If re-introduced to the sea or lakes, a fish can bring along new diseases, wreaking havoc on the native fish population. (Ecologists also advise us not to attempt returning aquarium plants to the wild, and not to flush them down a toilet. We don’t want species “taking over” habitats they were not meant to be in.)
After reading and educating yourself about the controversies involved in keeping a tropical fish, you may decide to purchase one from a respectable dealer, under circumstances you are certain are beneficial to the fish. Not all fish experts advise against owning tropical fish, but all agree that if you do, you must take special care to respect your fish’s existence as a creature from another world, the world under water.
Don’t keep just one fish if you have room for more. Fish enjoy companionship. But make sure that the different types of fish are compatible and thrive in the same aquatic environment before mixing species in your tank. For example, different types of fish may require different pH levels in their water. Also, different fish carry different diseases, and illnesses such as white spot may be introduced by a new fish in the tank. Fish need a constant water temperature of 68 to 78 degrees, depending on the species. Keep a thermometer in the tank to monitor the water temperature. You can easily attach an aquarium thermometer to the glass with a suction cup. Your fish tank needs to be cleaned regularly, probably twice a week or so. But never change all of the water at one time. Fish like familiar water. Exchange 10 to 25 percent of the water at each cleaning. Give your fish live plants for shelter and protection, instead of plastic plants, which do not provide oxygen for the tank. Besides live plants, driftwood, rocks, and ceramics make good hiding and playing areas for your fish. Rocks are especially good for territorial fish, such as cichlids or red-tailed black sharks, which need hiding places. You can build a cave for your fish out of several small or mid-sized rocks. Make sure that all rocks you place in your aquarium have smoothed-off edges. Fish can injure themselves on sharp edges. Avoid metal objects, which will rust and are unhealthy for the fish; rocks or stones that contain lime; coconut shells; and seashells.
When you are buying an aquarium, don’t cut corners on cost. Investing in a high-quality aquarium will pay off for you in the quality of your fish’s life. You will need to cover the floor of your aquarium with something in which plants can take root. Your bottom covering may also contribute to the aesthetic design of your aquarium. Fine-sized quartz gravel is one attractive and practical choice. Large gravel can bring too much dirt along with it, polluting your tank. Gravel must be neutral, meaning free of lime, so as not to disturb the water’s pH balance. The quartz should also not be too light-colored; otherwise, it will reflect light inside the tank, making the water too bright for your fish. Although quartz may be pre-washed when you buy it, it’s a good idea to wash it again before adding it to your tank. Mix in an aquarium fertilizer when you first put the gravel in the aquarium. You may also press tablets into the gravel later, if you need to, to support plant growth. Sand is not a good bottom cover, but some fish like to “root” in a sandy bottom and will appreciate a small sandy spot in the gravel. Corydoras and barbs are examples of these fish. Check with your supplier to learn if one of your fish is a rooter.
Allow yourself enough time to set up the aquarium properly. Making a mistake along the way means you’ll have to start over from scratch. You can avoid time-consuming and expensive mistakes by proceeding slowly and deliberately from step to step. Allow yourself at least one complete day; a weekend off is even better. Patience is the rule when setting up an aquatic environment and adding fish to it in your home. Just think of the millions of years it took to create your fish’s natural habitat. It’s important to remember that once the pump and filter have been installed and are functioning, you should wait two weeks before introducing any fish. Fish placed in unconditioned water can become seriously ill. Never put a fish in cloudy water.
During those two weeks you can select and purchase the fish for your tank. So many types of fish are available that trying to choose can be overwhelming. Your guiding principle should be to select fish that will be comfortable in your aquarium, depending on the size and location of your tank. When buying different species that will live together, you need to create a balanced community of compatible fishes. Some species cannot be successfully housed together. You also want to avoid, at all costs, overpopulating your tank, which will create undue stress for your fish and can lead to serious outbreaks of disease. When you are mixing species, don’t put all the fish in at one time. Add a few from one species, then more of another species a few days later, and so on. Even within species, some fish cannot be mixed. Territorial male fish, for example, will not tolerate sharing an aquarium with another male of the same species. They will fight to the death. Siamese fighting fish are an example of this type of fish.
Some fish are top dwellers, some middle dwellers, and some bottom dwellers. In mixing species, take advantage of all the living space in your aquarium by having some fish from each category. Just be sure to get expert information on species that can or cannot be housed together—before move-in day.
Only buy fish that you are certain have come from clean, healthy, and well-maintained aquariums. Before you purchase any fish, check them for symptoms of disease, including frayed fins, dull skin, white, granular spots, cottony white patches, or drifting. Drifting is a warning sign that a fish may be dying. Flying foxes are one good fish to start out with because they are algae eaters that will actually help you keep your tank clean.
The transition from store or source aquarium to home aquarium is a difficult one for sensitive fish. To ease the stress of this change, first place the water-filled plastic bag that the fish comes home in inside the aquarium. When the temperature inside the bag matches the water temperature inside your aquarium, open the bag and let the fish swim out.
It’s rare, but occasionally tanks do burst or develop leaks. Before purchasing an aquarium, add it to your contents or home-owner’s insurance, if possible, and find out if you have coverage for water damage, or can add it to your existing policy. Whenever you buy an electrical accessory for your aquarium (lights, filters, pumps, heaters, etc.), make sure it has been approved by the Underwriters Laboratory (abbreviated UL). Equipment that goes inside the tank must be explicitly labeled as meeting underwater safety requirements. Between the current source and any electrical accessory to your tank, attach a “fault current protective switch.” This will interrupt the power supply immediately in the event of a defect in appliances or electrical cables. Always unplug electrical accessories or appliances before working in the aquarium or removing appliances from the aquarium. Never attempt electrical repairs yourself. Hire a qualified professional. Here, too, your investment will pay off—in health and safety!
Dry food, in tablet, pellet, or flake form, can be a healthy basis of your fishes’ diet. Tablets are good for bottom dwellers, since they will drip straight to the bottom of the tank. Flakes are good for top dwellers. Whether you are feeding your fish dry, frozen, or live food, the fish should eat quickly—most of the food should be gone within five minutes of adding it to the tank. Stay and watch your fish after you feed them, to make sure they are eating properly. If the food isn’t consumed quickly, you’re giving too much, or it’s the wrong kind of food, or there’s another problem that needs to be identified. Not eating at all is a sign of disease in fish. Remember that underfeeding is better than overfeeding in the case of fish, which can easily bloat and become constipated. Note, however, that if you have baby fish, they’ll need to be fed frequently, every few hours. If you have to be away on vacation or for an extended period, automatic food dispensers are available. But remember that automatic feeding will deprive you of the opportunity to observe your fishes’ eating behavior. As a beginning aquarist, do not give your fish leftovers of “people food” except as an occasional special treat. The food you eat can cause many problems for your fish, such as the introduction of unhealthy-for-fish bacteria into the tank. More experienced aquarists develop a sense of what’s appropriate, and how much, to give a fish from a human diet. In general, fish need to eat only tiny amounts of food. They cannot handle large chunks of leftovers.
Waste products (excrement, decaying food, and plant parts) are not a problem as long as you maintain a clean tank and as long as sufficient oxygen is present in the tank. If your fish refuse to eat or come to the surface and gasp for air, they may be suffering from hypoxia, poisoning due to lack of oxygen caused by excessive waste in the tank. If this happens you will need to add oxygen to the tank continually for two to three weeks to get the balance right again. Change one-third of the water immediately upon noticing the symptoms of poisoning, and one-third every week for the next three weeks. Clean the filter immediately. Do not feed the fish for three days. Remember, you can avoid such emergencies through good routine cleaning and tank maintenance.
As you can see, the proper care of fish is somewhat involved, but once these splendid creatures are a part of your environment, you will probably find that it is well worth the effort.
Why do people love horses? A horse is expensive, it is not a house pet, nor is it a creature that will be with you most of the time, a companion for day and night. Yet a horse is a companion—a huge, strong friend, an athlete in its own right, whom you will enter into partnership with if you intend to ride. Pleasure riding is the major motivator for most people buying horses, and so it is the best place to start when thinking about what’s involved in horse ownership. The challenges and conditions of horse ownership are far different from those facing the owner of smaller, house pets. Since your horse will not live under the same roof as you, you may not be your horse’s only—or even primary—caretaker. If you are fortunate enough to have enough property for a corral and stable, and live in an area where those things are legal, that’s great—you will be involved in your horse’s daily life. If you are planning to own a horse that will be boarded somewhere other than your own property, you will need to know and trust those who will be feeding, grooming, and tending to your horse when you’re not around. Taking care of a horse is a big responsibility, and it has to be done properly. Good care for horses can be expensive, so budget has to be another primary consideration when buying a horse. Boarding a horse can cost anywhere between $300 and $1000 per month.
Before you make a purchase you also need to know what you want from your horse. Assuming that you will ride, which most owners do, are you planning to ride just for pleasure, or do you have dreams of competing, or jumping, or showing your horse? If you plan to compete, you’ll need to spend hours every day practicing and taking lessons. So depending on your wishes, you will need to make a greater or lesser time commitment to being with your horse, and to buy a more or less expensive horse.
Once you’ve made the decision to buy, and you are at the shopping stage, spend enough time with your potential horse to get to know its temperament. Each horse is unique, and a horse’s innate personality will remain the same no matter what the training, so you will want a horse that is sweet-natured and kind. Ideally, you and your potential horse should just take to each other. Remember, you’re going to be working and playing together.
You also, of course, want to buy a healthy horse. Check its eyes for good, strong, uncloudy brown color (although some types of horses do have a blue eye) and very little white visible around the eye. Have a vet do a checkup and give you a clean bill of health. Colic is an extremely common, and dangerous, condition for horses because they have a “one-way-only” digestive system, notes Susan Travellin of Woodside Farm Dog and Horse Training in Califon, New Jersey.5 That is to say, horses cannot throw up. They also have extremely long, twisting intestines, and so it’s easy for a horse to develop a blockage in its intestines. Many horses will experience colic at least once in their lifetime. The easiest symptom of colic to spot is bloating in the horse’s belly, so when you are horse shopping you certainly want to make sure no bloating is present.
Veterinarian Nancy Scanlan stresses the importance of having a vet check out any horse you are contemplating buying, noting that you want to make sure that the animal doesn’t have a condition that could result in permanent lameness. Also, if you’re interested in breeding a mare, the vet can check her for breeding soundness.
In choosing boarding for your horse, look for a place with as much open, outdoor space as possible, and a groomer or trainer who will take your horse outside regularly—every day, for hours, if possible. This will go a long way toward keeping your horse happy and healthy. Horses need proper exercise, fresh air, sunshine, and an opportunity to see the outside world without having to look out over a high wall. (In the wild, whenever a horse raises its head it means that it’s alarmed.)
One of the physical consequences of over-confinement is an increase in the number of horses suffering from arthritis. Another is stress, which can lead to ulcers. Keep your horse moving to help avoid this!
Horses, like guinea pigs, rabbits, and rats, are grinders, and because domesticated horses are fed concentrated foods they aren’t given the opportunity to grind as much as they should. As a result their teeth often develop sharp points, which can cut their tongue or cheek. To keep teeth healthy, a qualified veterinarian or dental technician will need to grind down the sharp points, which is called “floating.” Teeth should be floated at least once a year, sometimes more. Later in life, horses may need to have the incisors or their front teeth shortened because they don’t get the kind of wear they would in the wild nipping grass and scraping roots of plants in sandy soil.
Although commercially produced horse feed is of generally good quality, the more fresh, organic food you can give your horse the better. A quality, grass-mix hay is a good basic diet, commercial or fresh. Horses love carrots, apples, and all fruit as treats. Many trainers like to give them alfalfa, especially in the winter, for its extra protein and calcium. Plain oats, barley, and corn of a good quality are healthful, too; they should be rolled so as not to cause excessive wear on the teeth. Note that heavily muscled breeds, such as quarter horses, do best with as little grain as possible. An alfalfa hay is a prime food choice for performing horses that need some extra protein. Timothy hay seems to get mixed reviews—some trainers think it’s a good basic ingredient, but others feel it is nutritionally weak. Not surprisingly, processed and pelleted foods should be avoided. Such foods can cause intestinal problems such as ulcers.
Some people feed young horses high-protein diets to get them to grow quickly so they will be ready for competition sooner. But baby horses are not supposed to grow too fast. Their bones should grow at a relatively slow rate. Otherwise, their bones may become too soft and their ligaments too weak to hold up the horse’s weight. That can result in serious bone, muscle, neurological, and joint problems.
Acupuncture is something you may want to look into for your horse; very good results have been seen with this therapy for lameness and chronic colic. Another thing to be aware of is that horses need to be wormed regularly in order to prevent possible damage to major blood vessels.
A healthy horse should have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years, although it may not be strong enough to ride past its 20s. It can still have a happy life, and be a friend to you.
The relationship between people and horses is unique in the spectrum of pet ownership. True, other animals have been domesticated as long as horses (dogs, goats, even ferrets used for hunting in ancient Rome). True, other animals have been used for work (herding dogs, sledding dogs). But there is something special about the work relationship between people and horses, and something unique in the partnership. Sometimes—perhaps even usually—this is a beautiful, meaningful relationship, and in fact Linda Tellington-Jones herself is an example of a person whose life has revolved around horses and their care. As Susan Travellin says, there are such things as “horse people,” and horse people pretty much don’t talk about, or think about, anything much besides horses.8 So a person like Tellington-Jones, or Travellin, or Sam Powell, has come to understand a lot about traditional approaches to horse training, which are generally based on the assumption that horses are “dumb” and that they need to be dominated into submission.
Linda Tellington-Jones grew up in western Canada, in a world full of animals and close to nature. Early on she became a horse trainer and began to realize that horses are not “lesser beings,” but sentient beings, like us, that need to be trusted, respected, and communicated with for an effective relationship. Years later, Tellington-Jones found herself studying with the celebrated physicist Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, learning his Feldenkrais Method of Functional Integration at the Humanistic Psychology Institute in San Francisco. The aim of Dr. Feldenkrais’s method is to reintegrate the mind and body following any sort of imbalance, such as injury, illness, or undue stress. The method is used by athletes, dancers, or anyone else in peak form wishing to reach a fuller physical and mental potential. The technique involves a series of nonhabitual, gentle movements and manipulations all over the body. After studying this for several years, Tellington-Jones combined the principles she learned with her understanding of horses. Her goal was to help humans teach horses by encouraging rather than dominating. Thus, tensions between horses and humans that made the animals resistant to learning could be eliminated, and the learning potential of horses could be expanded. The system of training and bodywork for horses was termed Tellington Equine Awareness Movements (TEAM) and the principles underlying the application of circular movements for horses, and later for all animals, became known as TTouch.
When you are doing a series of TTouches on your horse or other animal, the point is not to stimulate muscles, but rather to stimulate the nervous system. Therefore, the touches may be very light—especially if you are working on a small animal or an injured large animal—and still be highly effective. Achieving the right touch takes some practice; when starting out, practitioners tend to automatically switch into massage mode, which actually illustrates a key factor of the Tellington Touch: the nonhabitual aspect. The point of using the TTouch on a horse is to help the animal break destructive cycles or bad habits that it has fallen into. In order to “wake up” your horse you will be touching it and stimulating it in ways that are new and different. The idea is to energize your horse, make it more aware, and make it more responsive. So stay at the surface to communicate with its nerve endings.
Most Tellington Touches are clockwise circular motions, and any of them can be performed on any part of the horse’s body. Does your horse seem tense? Where is it holding that tension? You might want to start there. Or start around the neck and face so that you can talk to your horse as well. Since horses are prone to colic and digestive problems, the belly can be a good place to start. One of Linda Tellington-Jones’s first experiences with healing a horse in a holistic manner, before she developed the TTouch, was working on a horse suffering from severe colic, which doctors did not expect to live. By staying with the animal all night, working over its ears and stomach, she helped the horse pass the blockage in its intestines, and the horse made a full recovery. One thing that Tellington-Jones took from this experience was that ears are a receptive part of the body, something that is also known to acupuncturists and other holistic practitioners.
There are 15 basic TTouches, and each one has a name. Starting out with your flat hand somewhere on the horse’s body, and pushing the skin around in clockwise circles, is called the “abalone touch.” This is a good one to start with. Then lift your fingers so that only your fingertips are touching, and again turn your fingers in a circle. This is called the “clouded leopard.” And so on. The movements are performed in conjunction with rhythmic breathing—the practitioner’s—in order to increase the practitioner’s focus and relaxation. This then helps the horse tune into the person, enhancing communication between them. The technique is simple as well as effective, so, instead of petting or patting your horse pointlessly you might get into the habit of always doing one of these moves. It could improve your relationship dramatically.
The Tellington Touch method can be used on any animal, and is discussed in Chapter 5.
Hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, rats … they’re small, they don’t take up much room, and to many people they barely seem like pets at all but more like a novelty, or a toy, to keep in a little cage somewhere or anywhere, with very low maintenance.
Wrong! A lot of us have misconceptions about domesticated rodents. Rodents are living beings with their own needs. And probably their biggest need is for their caretakers to realize this. Just like other furry pets, they require attention and care, and, at base, respect for the creatures that they are. Sometimes parents buy rodents for young children, thinking they will be easy pets for kids. But there are many facts to be aware of before you buy a rodent as a pet for your child. First, many rodents are nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning they prefer to be active at night or during the twilight hours of early morning or late evening. (Examples: chinchillas or hamsters, and rabbits too, actually, although they are able to adapt to human schedules more easily than other rodents). At night, the little hamsters will be awake in their cages, running in their wheel while the kids they share a room with are trying to sleep. This is one reason that families sometimes abandon rodents that were bought with good intentions. If nighttimes aren’t the problem, children may insist on making the hamster’s playtime coincide with their own, after school or all day on weekends. This can be incredibly stressful for a rodent, since it drastically interferes with the animal’s own body clock.
Not only are many rodents nocturnal, but they can be biters as well, making them problematic for young children. Gerbils are also a problematic choice for a child’s pet because gerbils like to stay busy constantly with their own building projects. They do not like to be interrupted to be held or played with, and they can simply refuse to be held by children, squirming their way out of a child’s grip and scratching the child in the process.
This doesn’t mean, however, that rodents should just be left alone. Like other domesticated mammals, rodents want their owner’s attention, and some playtime is good for them. Paying attention to your rodent will help it avoid health problems.
This book has repeatedly emphasized that pet owners need to understand their animals’ experience of the world in order to be good caretakers for them. The wilder a species is—the further it is from human existence—the truer this maxim is. Whenever you are considering buying a so-called exotic pet, you are thinking about bringing into your home a creature that was not created for living in a human world. Dogs, cats, horses, and goats have been domesticated for millennia, and co-existing with humans is part of their essence. But other animals are simply not designed or intended for living in houses or apartments. Fish are an example of this. As we discussed in the section on fish in this chapter, the responsible fish owner needs to create a water world that is separate from, and protected from, the contaminants and noise of our human world. To be responsible pet owners, we must respect our animals by understanding each one’s needs.
Snakes, like birds and fish, live a natural life far away from human contact. Being domesticated puts snakes under a great deal of stress, just by virtue of their being captive in an unnatural environment. The wild snake slithers when it wants and rests when it wants (in fact, many species of snake, such as the python, are extremely placid in their natural state), lives on the ground or climbs trees, and, being cold-blooded, moves under shelter when it needs to escape extremes of hot or cold. Since snakes are mostly tropical creatures, they prefer and are healthiest in temperatures of around 80 degrees. Now, proceeding from a snake “mindset,” imagine being forced to live in confined, cold, mammal spaces—no wonder domestication is stressful for a snake!
The Tellington Touch has been applied to snakes, as well as to our furrier friends. This approach takes into account the fact that snakes have unique physical structures that may suffer from domestication. Did you know that a snake’s lungs are almost half as long as the snake itself? A snake can develop lung trouble if it’s confined to its cage for too long a period; the snake can’t stretch fully and so lung congestion results.
This is where TTouches, such as the “belly lift,” can help. To use this technique, slowly lift the belly of the snake off the ground, hold, and then release. Repeat the movement down the snake’s belly. You can also try the “python lift” to relieve tension and spasm in the neck area (it’s good for humans, too). Place your fingers on the back of the snake, just below the head. Lift the skin and muscle an inch or so. Hold for a few seconds, and then slowly release. Do not put too much pressure on the muscle; that will cause the snake to hold its breath.
1. Gary Null interview with Arthur Young, V.M.D., May 10, 2000.
2. Gary Null interview with Alicia McWatters, Ph.D., Mar. 10, 2000.
3. Tellington-Jones, Linda, with Sybil Taylor, The Tellington Touch: A Revolutionary Natural Method to Train and Care for Your Favorite Animal, Penguin Books, 1993, pp. 129-142.
4. Gary Null interview with Nancy Scanlan, V.M.D., Mar. 17, 2000.
5. Gary Null interview with Susan Travellin, August 2000.
6. Gary Null interview with Judith Shoemaker, August 2000.
7. Gary Null interview with Sam Powell.
8. Gary Null interview with Susan Travellin, September 2000.