The Chitter-Chatter of Little Pigs

By Remy Alexandre
 Growing up, my good friend had a guinea pig named Dudley. Whenever I called my friend, I would hear a constant squeaking in the background. I naturally assumed that Dudley was either competing for my friend’s attention or that he was a friendly fellow, trying to say hello. Either way, he caused quite a ruckus.
Guinea pigs may not oink like their namesakes, but that’s because they’re not pigs at all. They’re classified as rodents and, like many other animals, they can be quite vocal about what they are feeling. While to me it seemed like Dudley made only one sound – a constant squeak – guinea pigs can actually express themselves in a variety of ways. Here are the meanings behind some common guinea pig sounds.

Wheeking. This is the sound most people associate with the little piggies. It’s a loud, high-pitched squeak and it usually means that they are excited or are trying to get some attention. There may be some sort of danger approaching, but it’s more likely that they can hear you getting their food ready.
Shrieking. Both higher and louder than wheeking, this sound signals that a guinea pig is scared or in pain. Shrieking can also be a call for help or a warning that danger is near.
Teeth Chattering. If there is ever a time to avoid snuggling your furry friend, it’s when he’s chattering his teeth. This means that he is upset or angry, and he will usually also raise his neck fur (to appear as large as possible) and start rocking back and forth. That is one angry little piggy.
Whining. If you wanted to be left alone – or were just generally annoyed – you’d probably start whining too. Guinea pigs will whine when another pig is harassing them or if a human is petting them in a way that they don’t like. Yes, apparently even guinea pigs aren’t above whining.
Muttering. Sometimes when they run along the floor, guinea pigs sound almost like they are muttering to themselves. This just means that they are happy, and are enjoying doing their own thing.
Purring. As you would expect, purring means that a guinea pig is content. He may purr when he is enjoying your affection, or even just when grooming himself.
Rumbling. This is a deeper sort of purr and means that your guinea pig has one thing on his mind. That’s right, he’s in heat! To impress another pig, they will also sway their hips and walk around the object of their affection. Ooh-la-la! Watch out if they learn to bat their eyelashes!
Chirping. This may be the most mysterious of all guinea pig sounds. Some owners will never hear chirping, and some guinea pigs will never chirp. As the name implies, it sounds just like a bird’s chirping. While chirping, a guinea pig will appear to be almost in a trance. All of the other piggies will stop to listen, but once the song ends, they will all return to their activities as if nothing happened. No one knows for sure why guinea pigs chirp, but some owners believe they do it just for fun!
Of course, body language also plays a big role in guinea pig communication. When guinea pigs are stretched out on the floor or cage bottom, they are completely relaxed, much like us on the couch. They will touch noses to greet each other, or if the meeting isn’t as friendly, they will try to demonstrate dominance by stiffening their legs.
If you are petting your rodent chum and he isn’t enjoying it, he will throw his head back, as if throwing your hand away. A final amusing behaviour, and my personal favorite, is ‘popcorning’, when a guinea pig is just so happy that he jumps straight up in the air, like a kernel of corn in a hot pan. It’s like he just can’t contain all the happiness he is feeling!
Much like any other relationship, if you pay attention to what your guinea pig is telling you, it will improve both of your lives. Had I paid more attention to dear Dudley back in the day, maybe, just maybe, I would’ve heard the elusive chirping of the guinea pig. Now that would’ve been something.
By Allison Vorstenbosch

Why Are Dogs Man’s Best Friend?

By Neeto da Silva

 “We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. In return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.” — Margery Facklam (Author)

Looking for examples of why dog is man’s (and woman’s!) best friend, I turned first to Cinder, my 13 year-old Lab-Border Collie, for a little inspiration. Regrettably, she was well into her afternoon nap under the kitchen table and much too deaf to hear my calls. With my primary source out of action, I had little choice but to take drastic measures.
I meandered over to the public library and made my way to the most logical spot to start my search, the children’s section. Browsing the shelves my eye spotted the perfect book with which to start my research into the Canis lupus familiaris. Pulling a slim, hardcover book, aptly titled Dog, off the shelf, I felt I was being watched.
I turned around to see a young girl, clutching a book about cats, glaring at me. She immediately informed me that “Dogs are grodey,” and that “Cats are far superior.” Not wanting to be outdone, I reminded her that dogs, like Laika, have been to space. Unimpressed, she retorted that cows can jump over the moon whenever they want. Then, with a turn of her heel, she left in triumph. Outwitted by her youthful logic, I began to wonder what kind of offspring a dish and spoon would have. Dishoons? Spoonishes?
Shaking myself back to reality, I moved over to the tables to peruse my book. Regrettably, I realized much too late that the tables and chairs in the children’s section are, well, child-sized. By the time I plopped down into the chair my knees were past the point of no return. Nevertheless, with knees neatly tucked up under my chin, I set about the task of reading the book. Thankfully, I hadn’t gotten more than two pages in before finding one of the reasons dogs are man’s best friends.
By Neeto da Silva
Since man domesticated the dog, the two have enjoyed some 12,000 years of friendship, give or take half a decade. That’s one heck of a long time to be friends, and it shows. Both dogs and humans have an almost eerie way of being able to read each other’s non-verbal cues and dogs beat out any other animal at picking up on our cues.
They can know when a nod means, “The treat is under the third bowl,” while playing a version of the shell game with them, or when that same nod means, “Get out of the way,” while rushing out the door. Strangely, Cinder can also tell when I’m opening the fridge for drink or food. If it’s the latter she trundles into the kitchen to claim her rightful portion – all this in spite of the fact she’s stone deaf.
Which brings me to another point. Cinder, like other dogs, does more than just mooch her share of the food. In her prime she earned some of her keep as a working dog by pulling a sled laden with newspapers in the winter months. She is also the best exercise plan I’ve ever invested in. She’s a trusted personal trainer I can’t ignore. Nothing says “Get out of bed and take me for a walk!” like a cold nose on your arm.
The tasks that dogs perform around the world are as varied as dogs themselves. They even help find truffles! Regrettably, I am told, that the truffles dogs find are of the fungal variety, not the chocolate kind. However, the universal relationship that exists between humans and dogs is undeniable. It is loving, kind and like nothing else that can be witnessed on this earth.
So, despite the fact that I won’t be able to have Cinder find chocolate truffles for me, I return to her, knowing she’ll be waiting to greet me when I get home, with her leash in her mouth and ready to get me my day’s exercise.
By Kevin Mogk

Natural Flea Treatments

Photographed by Shirley Bittner
Last fall, after a routine visit to the groomer, I was surprised to learn that Lucky Charms, my eight-year-old Shih Tzu had fleas! Having lived through a lice infestation in my teens, the thought of playing host to another parasite made my skin crawl. I swiftly started my research about how to get rid of the itty-bitty pests and make sure they never came back!

First, the basics. Fleas are small wingless insects adapted to feeding on the blood of their host. While different species of fleas will specialize as parasites on specific warm-blooded vertebrates, including dogs, cats, and humans, they may use other mammals as a host as well.
Fleas are a nuisance for many reasons. Their bites cause an itching sensation which can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks. Some animals may even suffer allergic reasons to flea saliva and develop flea bite dermatitis – a skin condition causing extreme itchiness, thickening of the skin and skin lesions. In other animals, however, the only way to spot a flea infestation is by noticing dark specks in their coat or the fleas themselves. (If these specks are indeed flea droppings, they will “bleed” red when placed on a damp paper towel, if they don’t, the specks are most likely just dirt).

According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, broad spectrum parasite control should be administered year round to protect against all parasites, not just fleas. Methods of parasite control include, shampoos, dips, powders, sprays, and oral medications, however, the most popular and vet recommended are Advantage and Frontline — monthly topical applications for both dogs and cats. While effective, the active ingredients in these therapies are insecticides, which can leave behind a high chemical residue or be absorbed into the animal’s subcutaneous fat layer. Meanwhile, labels on these therapies warm no to get these substances on your skin, to wash your hands and to keep away from children.

Photographed by Shirley Bittner

For this reason, natural flea remedies are becoming quite popular alternatives to the conventional treatments. Natural and organic sprays, shampoos and collars are available on the market; although , contrary to what the label might say, these may not always be 100% natural. Instead, the easiest and cheapest way to repel fleas is to use what nature has given us. Research conducted in 2003 and 2004 by Cheryl Lans examined three natural treatments for flea problems. 

At the first sight of fleas, pets were soaked with a strained infusion of two cups of packed lemon balm, one cup of boiling water and four cups of warm water, left to steep for 30 minutes, then allowed to air dry. This treatment was repeated twice a week. Diatomaceous earth was also sprinkled on the pet’s skin. This fossilized algae has physico-sorptive properties which cause the fleas to dehydrate and die. Lastly, a spritzer was made with a strained concoction of citrus peels in one cup of water steeped overnight and also allowed to air dry. Lans’ study concludes that all methods were effective in controlling fleas.

While pet parents are left to decide on the best action plan to prevent, treat and control fleas, both conventional and holistic wisdoms agree that the best way to protect your pet against fleas is keeping them and their environment healthy. This begins with a thorough cleaning of your home. Pet’s bedding should also be washed and tumble dried weekly. Lans adds that leaving fresh crushed lavender stems in the bedding also repels fleas.

When it comes to the health of your pet, optimal nutrition is essential. To repair unhealthy skin feed your pet a proper diet. Frequent grooming is also important as it allows you to keep an eye on the condition of your pet’s coat and skin, not to mention you can catch those pesky parasites before they become an infestation.

As always, when it comes to the health of your pet, communicate with your veterinarian. In Lucky’s experience, that one and only flea bath she had at the groomers took care of her flea problem. Currently she enjoys weekly baths as well as a weekly citrus peel spritz. Fleas now cower at the sheer thought of invading our home, and Lady Luck smells nice too!

By Krystine McKinnon

Figuring our Your Finicky Feline

By Mike Golec
If you’ve ever owned cat, then you know that they have their individual quirks. Mew loves green beans. He will hide underneath any chair with that green bean and growl if anybody comes near him. Fluffy enjoys playing fetch with gold necklaces. Kitten loves to have the ABC song sung to him. Henry has no use for catnip, whatsoever.
But for the most part, there are a lot of common cat behaviours and we like to think we generally understand them; like when they start kneading their claws as you pet them. Since they would have started this kneading action when still nursing from their mother in order to make the milk come faster, it’s a sign of comfort and contentment. Or, that time Fluffy brought you a dead mouse and thought you would be pleased? He was actually just trying to look out for you by teaching you how to hunt. This is something cats would normally teach to their kittens and since you haven’t brought any dead birds in the house lately, they just want to give you a hand.

So how can we possibly begin to understand what these creatures are up to most of the time? Providing some surprising insights into these confusing creatures is Dr. Carol Teed, who founded the Cat Clinic of Niagara fifteen years ago.
Most of us are used to the calming sound of a cat purring while he is being pet, and assume it means happiness. But contentment is not the only reason they purr. “We often see kitties that are very ill that are purring,” reveals Dr. Teed. “You want to think that they’re doing it because they are happy, but often I know that they will purr when they are in a lot of discomfort and are feeling bad. I think that they’re often doing that just to comfort themselves.”
There are also some behaviours that can be disruptive and problematic if not addressed or fully understood. According to Dr. Teed, cats very clearly tell us what they need. “When a kitty urinates out of the box, for me that’s telling me that, okay, we’re not meeting all this cat’s needs,” explains Dr. Teed. The disruptive behaviour is a means of acting out, because you, the owner, are not responding to what they need in their domestic environment. “Behavioural issues are much, much more common in indoor cats and especially in multi-cat households,” Dr. Teed continues. “I don’t advocate having kitties go outside, but there’s a whole range of problems that we see in indoor cats that we simply don’t see in outdoor cats.”
Why are indoor cats so much more likely to develop behavioural problems? “It often has to do with the fact they can’t express all their catness when they’re indoors,” says Dr. Teed, who explains that having multiple cats can also increase the number of issues. “Often there is crowding, really where a kitty can’t find the space that it needs when it needs it.”
One of the most common behavioural issues that she deals with at the clinic is litter box related. “I can tell you, it’s a given that you’re going to have out of the box behaviours if you don’t have the right number of boxes. Or if you don’t have multiple locations and you’re not cleaning them at least every single day,” stresses Dr. Teed. “That’s why the rule about the litter box, one box per cat, plus an extra one, is really, really important once you have more than a cat in your house.”  Would you want to use unclean facilities when nature calls? Didn’t think so. Well, neither does your cat!

By Mike Golec
One of the best ways to help your indoor cat avoid going stir-crazy is having a safe way for them to experience the outside world. “There are lots of structures you can build on the market that could even be attached to the house with a cat door,” says Dr. Teed. This type of controlled experience with the outside helps to enlarge their world, which is beneficial. “A lot of interesting things happen outside for a cat. You know, just watching the insects, and the wind through the leaves and all of that. And of course, birds. It’s really expanding, life expanding for them,” insists Dr. Teed, who believes that expansion is a natural part of a well lived life.
You should also play lots of games with your cats to keep them from getting bored and help them stay active. Dr. Teed’s tip is to hide treats, because it not only keeps kitties active, but simulates their instinctive need to capture prey.
Despite their reputation of being lazy and rather blasé about life, cats also experience life stresses. These can include moving, a caregiver leaving, or enduring the introduction of a new pet or even a baby. These changes can be hard for a cat to deal with, but we can help them through these experiences by spending extra time with them. “Basically for them, home is where the mom is. So as long as they are with us, things are pretty good, but they need time and extra comfort from us, during those times,” Dr. Teed patiently explains. “Lots of extra love goes a long way.”
One of the most important things to remember is a cat’s personality. “Every cat is an individual so look at them individually and decide what they need,” says Dr. Teed.
Cats will probably always be mysterious creatures, but we can still make sure that they have the appropriate means to live happy, healthy lives and properly express all their catness in fine feline glory.
By Allison Vorstenbosch

A Musher’s Guide

By Tyler Pollard
There is perhaps no sport that has as much romance and grace associated with it as dog sledding. Over 4000 years old, many believe that life up north would not have been feasible without this ancient mode of travel, because the dogs delivered medicine, supplies, and news, while allowing mobility for hunting and fishing. And although modern day continues to witness the sight of strong, sleek huskies running across crystal white snow in the open expanse of the north, while pulling a musher on a sleigh, often times reality can be far from this romanticized scene. Beneath the idealization of people and animals working in sync lies a dark underbelly of the dog sledding world. Like all sports, there is in fact the good, the bad, and the ugly.


The Good: Mush Fun!

Today survival isn’t the main reason for dog sledding; now is that of sport. The first recreational dog sled race was held the 1800’s and continues to be used for fun today.
“As Canadians, dog sledding is a huge part of our heritage,”says Gavin Baker, owner of Trail Dancer Kennels. “When people from outside our country think of Canada, they think of hockey, maple syrup, and dog sledding. Yet, most Canadians haven’t ever even tried it.”
There are many local and international races hosted here in Canada every year. There are also several holiday escapes that offer dog sledding tours, so everyone can easily experience the thrill of this historic pastime.
One way to truly experience all that dog sledding has to offer is to own a dog sled team. Baker does just that. Like many dog sledding buffs, he started out owning one dog and quickly realized that it would be far more fun to own another, and another, and…you get the idea. Now Baker is gearing up his sled dog team to compete in the 1,635 km Yukon Quest in 2012.
However, it is a good idea to volunteer at a local kennel to first test out the chilly waters if you’re dabbling with the idea of starting a dog-team. This is exactly what Alex Burnet is doing at Trail Dancer Kennels. “The best part of my experience is the amount of knowledge I’m able to soak up. I’m getting to see first hand the amount of commitment and work that goes into operating a kennel,” Burnet says. “I would recommend this as a starting point to anyone who is interested in getting into the sport.”
Not ready to train a team of dogs yourself? Book a dog sledding winter escape instead! Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding, located in Valemount, BC, is the perfect place to experience a Canadian winter getaway for a day. The tours, such as, Ghosts of Cold Fire Creek and Moonlight Run, take people deep into the heart of the Rocky Mountains with nothing but a sled between them and the snow. If you are are not able to make your way out west, however, there are places elsewhere in Canada to rub noses with sled dogs. For instance, for Ontarians, Winterdance Dogsled Tours runs dog sled tours alongside Algonquin National Park that range from 2 hours to full on multi-day excursions.
Another great way to get a taste of this unique sport is to simply watch a race. Check out Sled Dog Central to find races near you.

By Tyler Pollard

The Bad: Mush Madness…

It is important to note that this graceful and impressive sport is not without challenge, risk or danger. Many races are grueling and treacherous, making them risky for both the dogs and the musher alike.
Dangers and Injuries

The last thing you want to happen is to let go of your sled when you are out in the middle of nowhere, for often times the dogs simply will not wait. Deep freeze temperatures, frost bite, hypothermia, and getting lost are all frightening concerns. If unattended, the dogs could get caught and tangled in trees, hit by a car, hurt or in a fight. Exhaustion and malnutrition can be additional risks for dogs separated from their musher and sled. So in short, the musher must always hold on and stay with the team for mutual protection.
Just like any competitive sport injuries can also occur in dog sledding. The wrists and shoulders can sometimes get hurt, but more often it is the feet. Snow can get pushed up between the pads of the foot causing pressure splits. Dogs cannot race if their feet are not in top form, so prevention is a main priority. Apart from which, any foot injury causes pain which is important to avoid.
“I end up spending much more time down on my knees caring for the dogs than I do out running them,”Baker remarks about the importance of providing the proper care for the dogs. “All of [the risks and injuries] can be avoided with due diligence. You and your team just need to be prepared.”
Cost and Commitment
The cost and commitment of dog sledding is another downside that can’t be avoided when it comes to this sport. “It is like having 20 Olympic athletes to take care of,” Baker explains.“You are the coach, parent, trainer, vet caregiver, maintenance guy, and everything else.” When it comes to dog sledding, you are much more than a musher driving a sled. It is a full-time job and consequently a large expense.
“There is so much more work, time, and money that goes into it. Dog sledding is not a sport. It is a lifestyle. This is why many people don’t continue with it once they start. They don’t do their homework or budget for it,” Baker remarks, once again believing that preparation is a key ingredient for success.
Keeping the dogs healthy and happy is a significant cost. Racing is another one entirely. Baker and the team at Trail Dancer Kennels are always looking for sponsorships in order to continue racing competitively.

The Ugly

While most sled dog owners take better care of their dogs than they do of themselves, unfortunate instances of neglect do arise from time to time and it is sadly the dogs who suffer. For example, in late November 2009, about 100 sled dogs were rescued from a kennel in rural Quebec, because they were found to have inadequate food, water, and shelter. 
The fact that the dog sledding industry is largely self-regulating, makes it is difficult to know how often similar cases of neglect or abuse occur; although non-profit organizations do encourage a watchful eye.
“Animal neglect and abuse is a community problem, and it takes a community to solve it,” stresses Rebecca Aldworth, the Executive Director of Humane Society International/Canada. To do your part, you can pressure the government to form stronger animal protection laws, donate to animal protection groups, report known abuse or neglect, and educate yourself and others of the responsibility that comes with owning animals.

Despite it being widely recognized that the majority of dog sledders take impeccable care of their dogs both on and off the race trail, authorities at HSI and the SPCA remain nonetheless concerned about the strain that long distance races can have on dogs. “Dogs run incredible distances under grueling trail and weather conditions, and that combination of factors has typically resulted in injuries and death in each year’s race,” Rebecca Aldworth. As a result, there are continuous efforts afoot to ensure the health and safety of sled dogs throughout the nation.

To the Finish Line?

If done responsibly, ethically and knowledgeably, taking a little time to experience what fellow Canadians have been doing for a long time can be a rewarding and exhilarating ride. Just be sure to treat the dogs with the utmost respect, so that both the animals’ well-being and future of the sport can be preserved.
By Claire Rowsell