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Posts Tagged ‘pets’

As yet another power cut finds me with time, and no little sweat, on my hands, it occurs I actually have something to write about. (Yeah, yeah …)

Getting ready for a feed.

Getting ready for a feed.

While perspiration gets the better of me I’m watching adult fodies on the feeder teach their second clutch of chicks how to take advantage of the easy sustenance, the occasional myna bully notwithstanding. The dogs are flat out and panting. The cat has long since lost interest in the poor skink he tortured to death earlier. Even the plants have thrown in the towel, or the leaf, or whatever.

The only member of the household with any energy at all this early afternoon is Sparky, the tenrec. At the moment she’s scampering around behind me on the couch and trying to skootch her way up into my lap, a position not terribly comfortable for me when hunching over my Mac on the coffee table in front of me.

You see, tenrecs are pokey; not in the move-real-slow-and-slug-like pokey, but rather the ouch variety. They have quills. In fact they’re covered in short, sharp pointy hair-like structures meant to ward off the many animals that would enjoy making lunch out of them.

Unlike British hedgehogs, tenrecs cannot roll themselves into a ball for protection, so along with the pointy body armor comes a mouthful of tiny razors that can make hash of absurdly large centipedes and yank giant African Land Snails from their baby-shoe-sized shells.

Some scale on size.

Some scale on size.

The most fecund of all mammals, litters of tenrecs can number well into double digits, 32 little ones being the known max with 10 to 20 the norm. Mom leads them from the birthing nest into the wild very early and protocol dictates they follow her in single file, so it happens that those at the end of the line sometimes take a wrong turn and end up where they shouldn’t be, like in the mouth of a dog or cat or at the bottom of a ridge they have no chance of conquering. This would be the reason I’ve ended up raising 11 of them over the past few years.

The first that came to me was a little guy we called Riki. He was somewhere around two weeks old and very obviously not in a good place for a baby tenrec; along the side of the road trying like hell to scale a 12’ tall sheer wall of rock. Stopping the car to pick him up was a reflex action on my part, having no idea how I would care for this odd, spiky dudelette or if it was safe to handle one.

I had, of course, seen them in passing here and recalled a pair who lived at the Sacramento Zoo when I worked there, but those were kept in the Education Building and out of my sphere of knowledge.

Google being my go-to source, I went to and was surprised to find the top search results had nothing to to with caring for tenrecs and everything to do with cooking them. Although a recipe for wine sauce sounded nice, it was certainly not helpful under the circumstance. (Native to Madagascar, they were introduced into Seychelles by settlers from Reunion as a food source. They still eat them there and in Mauritius. In Seychelles, no.)

Further digging eventually led me to articles on basic care and feeding, as well as sites that sold tenrecs as exotic pets in the US, the UK and other lands far distant from all tenrec roots in the Indian Ocean. They were, however, helpful and informative and I was happy to learn that due to import restrictions and such tenrecs had been tested for just about every ailment known by and contagious to mankind. They neither get nor carry rabies, foot-and-mouth or leptospirosis, and although it wasn’t mentioned I quickly found out they’re not even popular with fleas.
Successful raising and eventual release of Riki was followed by the same for Rocky, Rinny, Tiny, Tango and a handful of others, some with me for short times, others longer, depending on how big they were when rescued and how adept they were are sorting things out for themselves. All were released in my garden, which may account for an increasing number of babies needing help right at my doorstep, but given the benefits of tenrec control on snails, centipedes and baby rats, it seems a fair trade.

Plus, each has been different in its own way and all have taught me more about their care. I’d syringe fed all at the beginning, so none were ever aggressive with me, but it was clear being handled stressed them and it never occurred to me that actually taming might happen, which was fine. They’re primitive creatures, one of the oldest mammals on the planet, and haven’t changed much at all since they shared the Earth with dinosaurs. Their evolution happening before there were humans, it made sense that my species would hold about as much significance for them as a column of sentient light would to me, just blending into the general scenery and only scary in cases of direct contact.

IMG_0045_2

Cozy time.

Then came Sparky.

It may have been the case that the dogs discovered a nest. When I glanced out the kitchen window and saw my dog, Flee, playing with something on the drive it seemed too small to be anything but a rhinoceros beetle or some other big bug, but I went for a look anyway. (I do like rhino beetles, so would have saved one of those, too.)

What it was, of course, was a baby tenrec about the size of my thumb, probably less than a week old, and, thankfully, not worse for the wear it had experienced as a squishy toy. Flee dropped her at my feet and I brought her inside for what was now the usual treatment.

I keep a small wire cage just for the purpose, so kitted it out in banana leaves and other browse and half a coconut husk as a den, then put the baby in, closed the door and let her recover from her ordeal. (You’ll note I’m referring to Sparky as ‘her’, but at the time I had no idea of the gender. Sparky actually started out as Spartacus, dubbed so by my son, Sam. He’s 12, so no surprise there.)

A few hours later, she took well to the syringe … I feed yogurt with a bit of egg yoke to start with and provide water … and continued to settle in nicely. I worried a bit because she seemed a bit less robust than others I’d raised, less skittish, so watched her for any signs of internal damage Flee have have caused.

She loves being petted.

She loves being petted.

All of the other tenrecs extended great effort in evading my hand when retrieving them from the cage for feeding. Most would rifle under the leaf letter, then climb the wire to monkey-bar along the top in brief panic as I wrestled them out, only settling when enclosed in my palm. Sparky didn’t do this. In fact, it was only about a week before I noticed her actually approaching me.

I must admit I went a bit Sally Field for a while … She likes me! She really likes me! … but it was a tremendous privilege to have this amazing little creature respond in ways even a puny human like me could interpret as a connection.

That was five months ago, and the connection continues. When I walk up to Sparky’s house now she wakes up, gives a big yawn, then waddles from her coconut husk, or wherever she’s been lounging, and greets me at the door. She wanders on to my open palm when the door opens and we cuddle on the couch for a while. She loves to be petted and scratched, so I dig my fingers into her quills and give her skin a good tickle, removing loose spines as I go, then stroke her soft underbelly as she closes her eyes and gets into the mood.

In the evenings she joins Pat and me on the couch for movie time and meanders back and forth between and behind us, occasionally pushing the cat out of the way to do so. Her nose perpetually sniffing the air, quills raised on the back of her head when she tries to climb up the back of the sofa and always grateful for a hand up.

She even likes the cat ... sort of.

She even likes the cat … sort of.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever enjoyed the honor of tenrec love, but would not be surprised to learn that Sparky is one of a kind.

She’s five months old now, growing as she should, and just as sweet and funny a critter as I could have imagined. I’m hoping this continues and, with a potential lifespan of 8+ years, that she’s with me for a long, long time.

(Sparky’s diet consists of just about everything, her favs being cherry yogurt and roast chicken. She also gets egg, liver, papaya, banana, fish and whatever else we have on hand. She also always has fresh water and a small dish of dirt that she enjoys. Minerals! She may be a bit spoiled, as she has no interest whatsoever in snails, but, then again, I’ve never cooked them in garlic for her.)

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Wrapping my head around the holidays … looking happy about it … dwelling is not an option … cleaning out corners is …

My dog and stuff

My dog is called Mitzy
she’s ditzy
My cat is Diego,
hasta luego
The tortoise is Helmut
… the shell, mate …
I do with my critters,
their litter,
and fritter
away many minutes
with little else in it
My kids
are Sam, Cj and Jenn
and Jaren, of course,
although he’s now a “been”
I’ve a mother,
three brothers,
Larry, Tom and …
oh … Jim …
and, very thankfully,
a whole raft of friends.
There’s Andy and Gay
who both make every day
a tolerable passing of
whatever may
come hell or high water
show up when my daughter
the grown one (I miss her)
is beyond where I aughter
while I’m with her sister.
It’s life on this rock
that keeps me in hock
always missing someone
even as I keep stock
of those coming and going
I love them all, knowing
time passes so fast
What’s it mean? I could ask
my dog who’s called Mitzy

Cambodia in Seventeen Syllables
Always conflicted,
smiling through horror
Poison on the top shelf waits

X-mas

It’s ghosts I hang
on the Christmas tree
shades of all that
couldn’t be
Another year has
come and gone,
another season
thrust upon
all tinsel, balls and
shiny fluff
and meant to be
diverting stuff
but serving only to remind
of all that has been left behind

Leftovers

How does one finish with
stuff that’s not done
like a bird in the oven
still bleeding?

Can’t very well eat things
still moving now
can we? Not while it still keeps
its beating

It has stewed, it has baked
but no matter,
stlll kicking this thing’s not
completing

the process of dying
takes time and may
nevertheless bear
repeating

Hunger can’t rush it,
wishing won’t work,
but no worries.
We’re feeding

on scraps of leftovers
savouring each
it seems we are
still needing.

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Mitzy Gainer

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything personal, but it’s time I shared a bit about life …

Shortly after I left for my vacation in Europe a few weeks back, a night of mayhem ensued here at Anse Soleil that resulted in the death of more than twenty-five dogs. My Rottweiler, Dinah, was one of the victims.

I set up facebook group dedicated to passing along information on random poisoning of animals and the horrific toxin that is scattered with that intent, but this post isn’t about that.

It’s about Mitzy.

I arrived back in Seychelles early on a Sunday morning, met by Gay, Sam and Cj at the airport. It was on the drive home that Gay told me about Dinah, and in addition to being sad about the loss of such a great dog, I was angry about the circumstance and concerned over security.

I live in the bush, and dogs are the first line of defense in this country. An adult dog with a good bark is about the best protection there is against intruders, and mine was dead. The thought of starting over with a puppy did not appeal, as my energy levels at the moment don’t allow for the outpouring of work, patience and time a puppy requires, so by the time we reached the house I was making a mental list of new locks, security lights and cameras, even trip wires maybe, that would be needed to let me sleep in peace now that I had been robbed of my automatic barking alarm.

Pulling into my house we couldn’t help but notice, much to our surprise, seated comfortably on my top step … a dog. It was astonishing enough to see a living canine in the area, since almost all had been killed, but to find one apparently awaiting my return was astounding.

We’d never seen this smallish beast before, but she seemed to know us. Tentative, but tail wagging, she was young, but no puppy, her maturity obvious by teats that had nursed at least one litter. At less than half Dinah’s size, she didn’t terrify, but there was no question she could bark.

Tired after my journey, I didn’t bother shooing her off, as I would the stray dogs that occasionally made their way down my road in the past, and somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that she was here for a reason.

When the next morning dawned and she was still around, I found it odd since strays usually continue their straying and rarely stick around for longer than takes an opportunistic sniff to discover no food is available. Not only was she holding her ground, she managed to look very settled in it, so I let her onto the veranda. An obligatory nosing around seemed to confirm to her that she belonged. She was so polite in the process … even to the cats … and that had me thinking the same thing.

I waited three days before the kids and I started discussing names, wanting to be sure she wasn’t simply passing through or attempting to hide a vicious or obnoxious nature. Not only was she at the door each morning with what can only be described as a huge smile on her muzzle, she’d also made no messes, damaged no goods AND had alerted me to the presence of visitors.

After the kids ran dry on names, I named her Mitzy, first because she’s small and I liked the cadence of Itsy Bitsy Mitzy, but also for Mitzy Gaynor … not because I expect her to sing and dance, but because I can spell it ‘gainer”, as in: Dinah’s loss was Mitzy’s gain.

After a couple of weeks, I took Mitzy in to get her vaccinated and spayed. She had never before, I’m very sure, been on a leash or ridden in a car, but she took to both as if Westminster had been the last stop on a world tour. Within minutes of hitting the road, she hopped up onto the shelf behind the back seat and spent the entire drive to town calmly gazing at trees and traffic.

Happy grinning dog ...

In less than a month she’s settled into routines that fit our family; each night as I tuck the kids into bed, she joins in, moving from Cj to Sam with a friendly lick from her for a goodnight pat from them. She hops up on my bed for a cuddle as I wind down, then slips downstairs to sleep on the rug near the door … listening for any sound that might require a bark.

It seems that Dinah died, and Mitzy went to heaven; from scrawny stray … and local dogs can have a very hard life … to treasured family member. How she did it, how she knew, I have no idea, but there must be a wisdom in this silly little dog.

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