Articles about Small Animals

Who Has Your Vote? – 10 Presidential Pet Facts

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Bo, President's Obama's dog, sitting in front of the White HouseThe most powerful leader in the free world has many responsibilities. The President of the United States tends to many tasks: writing policy and discussing legislation, signing bills into law, and working with other nations for the benefit of both countries’ people. Most presidents and their families also take on the added responsibility of housing and caring for animals. Many of the pets were companions and farm animals from the president’s previous residence. So let’s take a look at some of the unique critters and happenings with animals in the White House.

  • John Quincy Adams received a pet alligator from a French friend! The gator lived in the East Room bathroom, but two months later Adams returned the gift. This was not the last White House resident to have such a reptile, as Herbert Hoover’s son had two alligators!
  • America’s 7th president, Andrew Jackson, had a parrot named Poll, who had a penchant for expletives. When Jackson died in office, the parrot had to be removed from the funeral, because he wouldn’t stop swearing.
  • In 1863, Tad Lincoln became friends with the turkey intended for Thanksgiving meal. He begged his father, and Abraham Lincoln pardoned Jack the Turkey from that fate. He lived the rest of his days on the White House grounds.
  • Andrew Johnson had a tough time during his impeachment proceedings in 1868. He befriended mice in his bedroom during this time, and he fed them biscuits.
  • Rutherford Hayes had the first Siamese cat in the United States; she was named Siam.
  • James A. Garfield had a dog named Veto. Though Garfield never vetoed a bill in office, as he was there for only four months before he was assassinated.
  • Teddy Roosevelt was a larger-than-life man, and he kept pets in the same manner. Over 40 pets were in the White House during his term. Some of the notable ones are a macaw parrot, a pony, a one-legged rooster, guinea pigs, and bears!
  • Dogs are by far a popular pet choice. 31 of the 44 presidents had canines, and all presidents since 1989 have had a dog in the White House.
  • John F. Kennedy was the first president to have hamsters in the White House. Their names were Debbie and Billie.
  • Gerald Ford took his rescue dog Liberty out for a late night bathroom break. He forgot to tell the Secret Service, and they were locked out of the White House. President Ford banged on a stairwell door until some of the staff heard and let them back in.

The Last Kid on the Block—
You have chosen. . . wisely

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

The Knudsens celebrate their choice of pet.

Honestly? I like when I’m right. Not in a prove-other-people-wrong kind of way, but rather a plan-has-come-to-fruition kind of way.

About this time last year, we were entertaining our son’s request for a pet fish. Much hemming and hawing ensued, and in December we welcomed four tropical fish into our home.

We’d lose three fish before our tank completely cycled, and introduce our son to loss in a way he hadn’t experienced before—for better or for worse. We would go on to add 10 more fish with great success, save for one sickly tetra, and find our groove as pet owners.

I’ll admit we thought we were ready to take on a bigger tank this past summer, but then that whirlwind called “the school year” began again, and our family became engrossed in all of its associated activities. Even our son hasn’t asked about a larger tank in weeks.

For now, I think our 10-gallon community is perfect for us: the kids appreciate the fish, and love to watch their antics at feeding time. My husband and I enjoy them, and strive to keep them happy and healthy (both the kids and the fish!). As an added bonus, I manage to make time for the minutes of maintenance each week, with help from my son.

A happy status quo is where being right comes in—we’ve actually managed to make decent (but hardly perfect) decisions. It’s a good place to be. I feel for friends—and their pets—who are less than happy with their choices. And I like to think we did something right, in addition to being lucky.

This is where we end our initial journey to become pet owners, and if we haven’t already, shift to the journey of pet ownership. I’m not sure whether we’ll pick up more fish along the way, nor am I sure how long we’ll keep pets. But I’m certainly better for having had the experience, and I know my family is, too.

“The Last Kid on the Block” has been a series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
Food safety for the entire family

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Feeding your pets has become a little safer with the adoption of the PETNet system.

Feeding my family is a big deal. We eat a vegetarian diet and make natural, organic food a priority. But for all my effort, I still worry about the safety of our food. Vegetables are susceptible to E. coli, too!

While there have long been national resources to protect humans, a 2007 melamine contamination of cat and dog foods was a tragic example of how powerless pet owners were. Within a month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration received several thousand reports of cat and dog deaths from renal failure after eating contaminated food.

Companies began to voluntarily recall their products, but in a self-regulated industry, there was no way for owners to ensure their pets’ food was safe.

We didn’t have pets at the time, but we watched helplessly as friends lost their beloved cat. The media reported they weren’t alone, but deaths continued. It felt like a crime.

Four years have passed, and earlier this month, the U.S. government’s Partnership for Food Protection and FDA announced the launch of the Pet Event Tracking Network, or PETNet (clever, eh?).

The network will allow the FDA and Federal and State agencies to exchange information about pet-food related incidents. The result is a real-time means of sharing critical information about pet-food contamination or other defects. The hope is that many fewer pets will die before a problem is identified.

While PETNet is working in your favor, you can be proactive as a pet owner. The Humane Society posts a listing of recent recalls. If you find your pet has consumed a recalled product, call your vet—even if your pet isn’t exhibiting symptoms.

You also can protect your pets by cleaning their food dishes between meals, and water dishes every day or two.

We have fish, who we feed tropical fish flakes. Unfortunately, if the flakes were contaminated, I doubt their little bodies could survive poisoning. But it’s good to know that if a problem arises, a system is in place to help before it becomes a national or global problem.

*     *     *     *     *

If you’ve been following our adoption of 11 fish, I don’t have much news to report. All are healthy and happy, but our new tank acquisition has stalled. Hopefully we’ll get our act together and I’ll have something exciting to share soon!

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
Help your pet weather the storm

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

On hot summer days, a cool pet is a safe pet.

This summer is proving a season of extreme weather in Chicago. After a very snowy winter and a very cloudy spring, we recently experienced two “small” tornadoes and a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds, which wreaked havoc on our area’s very old electrical grid. Now we’re under an excessive heat warning—and let me tell you, it’s excessively hot.

We’re grateful everyone has managed to stay safe so far (knock wood), but days-long power outages and serious heat have tested our moxie. It’s tough enough to manage a family in times of crisis, or at least great discomfort. What about our pets?

Severe Weather
Tornado season isn’t over, nor is hurricane season, for that matter. Have you thought about an emergency plan for your pets? I know to herd my family into the basement if we’re under a tornado warning (unfortunately, the fish are more difficult). What if your pets are prone to hiding during a storm? What if you lose power and the filter and heater on your aquarium stop running?

One idea is to put your pets in their cages or carriers as soon as a tornado watch is issued.  Stick to the basement or a room where you’ll all be safe to ride out the storm. Calm your pets by talking to them and offering a favorite toy. Cover birds. Keep everyone away from windows.

As the storm approaches, try to keep pets indoors. If your dog needs to do his or her business, use a leash: storms can be scary! Your dog may be stressed, and could become disoriented and wander away from home. After a storm, a leash is important, too. Be wary of debris and downed power lines.

If you lose power—or worse—have an emergency kit already prepared for your animals:

  • Food: Consider keeping an extra bag of dry food on hand. If canned food is required, stock about a week’s worth and replace/use it every two months so you don’t end up with expired emergency grub. And don’t forget a manual can opener!
  • Water: Bottled water is a necessity for humans, but don’t forget your pets, too. A water dish will be helpful. A week’s supply is ideal.
  • Transport: Be sure you include a safe way to transport your pet: cages, carriers, kennels, leashes, etc. If you’re pressed for time, you can use pillowcases off your bed for cats.
  • Potty: If your pet resides in a cage or uses a litter box, you may want to set aside newspapers or a box of kitty litter (some lids can be used as a litter box).
  • Health and safety: Keep a copy of your pet’s vaccinations on hand, as well as any necessary medications (two-weeks’ worth for peace of mind). Consider keeping a first aid booklet on hand. Collars with ID tags are a must.
  • Fish and exotic pets: If you have fish, invest in a battery-powered air filter for your aquarium so your pets don’t suffer from lack of oxygen. If you have snakes or other temperature-sensitive animals, keep extension cords handy to plug in heat lamps when you have power (or go somewhere that does!).

Excessive Heat
I, for one, cannot handle heat and humidity, but I might make it look easy compared to a dog. Dogs can only sweat through their footpads and cool themselves by panting, making them susceptible to heat stress, injury or death.

When it’s hot, the best place for your pet is indoors in the AC. If that’s not possible, the second best place is in the shade with a constant supply of fresh, cool water. Animals’ ears and noses are especially prone to sunburn, and footpads can burn on hot surfaces.

The worst place for any animal is in a parked car, even if it’s only a minute (so don’t even think about it).

Be especially vigilant if your pet is elderly and/or overweight. Pets with flat faces, including pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke.

Signs of a serious heat-related condition include restlessness, heavy panting, vomiting, lethargy and lack of appetite or coordination. You can lower a symptomatic dog’s body temperature by providing the dog with water, applying a cold towel to the dog’s head and chest or immersing the dog in tepid (not ice-cold) water. Then immediately call a veterinarian.

It figures that we’re under another severe thunderstorm watch. Please keep your fingers crossed that it misses us—and be sure you’re prepared for your next storm!

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
Why I’m not wild about wild pets

Friday, June 24th, 2011

A frog can make a great pet, but be wise and purchase one from a trusted pet store.

My son and his baseball teammates were recently accompanied in the outfield by frogs—seemingly hundreds of tiny frogs! What more could a boy ask for? Not surprisingly, several boys asked mom or dad if they could bring home a frog or two as pets.

One dad said yes (to his wife’s chagrin), and his son left with four frogs. Why not? Frogs make great pets!

Correction: they make great pets if the frogs are prepared for captivity and if you are prepared to provide the proper food and habitat.

What this frog-laden family didn’t know is that it’s illegal to keep wildlife as pets in the state of Illinois: “It is unlawful to take, possess, sell or offer for sale, any such wild birds . . . or such wild mammals . . . contrary to the provisions of the Illinois Wildlife Code.”

For the majority of us who may not consult our state’s wildlife code with much frequency, it’s wise to think twice before bringing wildlife into your home.

Legality aside, wild animals cannot be domesticated by being captive-born or hand-raised. According to the Humane Society, dogs and cats have been domesticated by selective breeding for desired traits over thousands of years. A wild animal’s instinctive nature makes it unsuitable as a pet.

If you’re not easily swayed, consider the following:

  • A cute, cuddly young animal may become very aggressive and try to escape as it matures.
  • Many wild animals are most active at night, disturbing your sleep and proving “boring” pets during the day.
  • Feeding wild animals is not as simple as buying a bag of squirrel chow: their dietary needs are different from domestic pets and specific to their habitats. A wild pet may suffer and die from malnutrition.
  • Diseases carried by healthy wild animals can make people sick. Diseases of sick wild animals may be unfamiliar to veterinarians, or vets may choose not to treat a wild pet because of legal implications.
  • A wild animal’s life span might be longer than you’ve bargained for, possibly more than 40 years.

As for our froggy friends—or my son’s friend with frogs—I’m not exactly certain of the frogs’ species. Do these frogs require live insects as part of a healthy diet? Do they fare best at a particular temperature or humidity level? Will they need to hibernate for the winter? And how big will they grow to be?

I’m sad to say that one of the four frogs has already met an untimely death, dropped above its tank and paralyzed by the fall. Three remain, but my son’s mom hopes they don’t last long. Does an animal deserve such a fate?

You can help! Share this information with friends. And before you bring home a wild pet, ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m doing legal?
  • Am I willing to provide the animal an appropriate diet and habitat?
  • Do I realize I can’t change an animal’s instinctive behavior?
  • Am I willing to risk my health?
  • Am I willing to risk the animal’s life?

If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, please let wild animals live in the wild. Visit a pet store you trust to find a pet (frog!) that’s perfect for you.

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.