Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Animal grief: how animals mourn

November 5th, 2011

Animal Grief - how animals mourn

Animal Grief - how animals mourn

Many thanks to Jude and Paul and the team at Hubble & Hattie for this promo video and their help with the book, not to mention Si Dunn for his music – now available on iTunes. See the video here:-

Watch Animal Grief: How Animals Mourn now on YouTube

Don’t laugh next time someone tells you that animals can feel grief. There’s now the science to prove it.

The dolphins at Monkey Mia

February 13th, 2011

If you’re looking for an amazing encounter with wildlife at close quarters, and are heading to western Australia, plan your route carefully! Driving along the dirt road to Monkey Mia, close to the town of Denham, some 800km (500ml) north of Perth in Australia will lead to an opportunity for a truly unique encounter with wild dolphins. A small group of these marine mammals living in the area actually swim into the shore on a regular basis and allow themselves to be touched by people – an event that happens nowhere else in the world.

One of the dolphins at Monkey Mia.

One of the dolphins at Monkey Mia.

The origins of this strange liaison date back over 30 years, when one of the bottlenose dolphins living in Shark Bay started to drive fish into shallow water beneath the wooden fishing jetty, making it simple for the fishermen to make a good catch. They showed their gratitude by throwing some of the fish back to the dolphin. Gradually, this became something of a regular event, and Old Charley, as he was christened, became a local celebrity.

Other dolphins in the vicinity were soon attracted to this part of the bay where the pickings were easy, but it was not until 1964 that a teenager on holiday in the area persuaded an old toothless dolphin nicknamed Old Speckled Belly to take fish from her hand while she stood in shallow water close to the jetty. This dolphin then allowed herself to be fed by other people in a similar way.

By the time that Wilf and Hazel Mason took over the caravan park next to the shore in 1975, the dolphins had become regular visitors. News of their readiness to associate with people has spread, and today, the campsite has grown into a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. Every day, the park ranger heads down to the shore around seven o’clock in the morning, when the dolphins are most likely to make an appearance. The eager crowd of visitors are organised into a line in the shallows and wait in anticipation.

The dolphins usually first reveal their presence by leaping out of the water further out to sea. As they approach the beach, the dolphins then readily accept the greetings from the people there, allowing themselves to be stroked and taking fish from the hand. Sometimes, mother dolphins bring their young, and so knowledge about this encounter has been handed down through the generations. Just as Old Charley had usually swum off by 8.30am, those visiting the beach today still adhere to his routine, so that if there has not been a sighting of the dolphins by this stage, they are unlikely to be seen that day.

Out of an estimated population of some 150 dolphins in the Shark Bay area however, less than a dozen will venture inshore to the beach. They can all be recognised by individual marks and nicks on the bodies and fins, allowing scientists to monitor their comings and goings, but no-one can yet explain as to why some are ready to associate closely with humans in this way. The fact that these dolphins do not swim away as soon as they have eaten suggests that they enjoy aspects of human contact, beyond the obvious attraction of food.

Dog Photographer of the Year

July 19th, 2010

The 2010 Dog Photographer of the Year competition has been launched, and it’s easy to take part. For full details, call 020 7518 1035/1009. Entries should be accompanied by a donation of £3.50, with all monies raised going to the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which funds a wide variety of work ranging from research into canine diseases to welfare initiatives and the promotion of support dogs which work closely alongside people.

The winning photographs will be put on display at Discover Dogs, London’s leading canine event which takes place at Earls Court in November, and the overall winner will be placed on the front cover of the Kennel Gazette, the flagship monthly publication of the Kennel Club. Winners from each category will be presented with a framed print of their photograph.

There are four categories:-
* Dogs at Work
* Dog at Play
* Dog Portrait
* Man’s Best Friend

There is also a special category for entrants under 16, simply called ‘I Love Dogs’ – entry is free in this case.

Discover your dog’s ancestry!

May 9th, 2010

Do you have a cross-bred or mongrel but aren’t sure of its origins? It’s always fascinating attempting to work out which particular breeds may originally have contributed to your pet’s make-up. Several years ago, I tried to come up with a formula to identify different characteristics for this purpose. It formed the basis of The Mutt Book : Decoding Your Mutt’s Heritage, which was published in association with the Dogs Trust.

This wasn’t scientific of course, but now, for the first time, you can take the guesswork out of the equation, as a DNA test has just been launched which should reveal your dog’s true origins. All you need to do is to take a swab from your dog’s cheek, which is completely painless and easy to do, and then send it direct to the laboratory.

Within three weeks, you’ll receive your pet’s official ancestry report back. This will be based on a comparison with the DNA of over 170 breeds – the largest database of its type on the market.

Neale Fretwell, director of research and development at Mars Veterinary which has pioneered the test, points out that knowing your dog’s background is important, because there are significant breed differences, not just in terms of appearance but behaviour as well.

“It’s not just about curiosity,” he says. “The smarter you are about your dog’s past, the smarter you can be about his future”. Neale explains that by knowing the breeds which contributed to your pet’s ancestry, so you will be able to meet its feeding, training and exercise requirements more effectively.

The test itself costs £61.29 and is available through Pet-Supermarket. Just click here, visit the site and type ‘DNA Test’ in the search box.

Cat voted leader of UK political party : policy change follows

April 18th, 2010

One cat has risen to lead one of the United Kingdom’s most colourful political parties. The Monster Raving Loony Party was set up in 1983 by a rock musician David Sutch, who was better-known to the public as Screaming Lord Sutch, and campaigned hard at various elections on policies including the abolition of income tax. Following the death of the party founder in 1999, the membership then met to vote for a successor.

The result was a tie between Alan “Howling Laud” Hope, who was acting leader, and his cherished pet, Cat Mandu. The cat was hailed as being responsible for producing the party’s manifesto for the general election of 2001, which consisted of a blank sheet of paper. Sadly, this new era of co-operation in British politics came to a premature end in July 2002, when Cat Mandu was killed by a car crossing the street.

But Cat Mandu lived long enough to see a lasting policy change affecting cats, arising from a proposal put forward by the Monster Raving Loony Party in 1984. Their proposal for pet passports was laughed at by all the mainstream parties at that stage. And yet these were introduced by the British government in 2001 and now cats can travel to the United Kingdom from Europe and a number of other countries without having to spend time in quarantine.

Cat Mandu is just one of cats featured in my book Famous Felines available here from the Pet Info Club shop.

Environmental vandalism in Brighton

April 16th, 2010

When BBC’s Countryfile programme visited the English city of Brighton and Hove recently to cover the urban shepherd scheme, focusing on how sheep are being allowed to graze in the confines of the city’s parkland, they didn’t record the massive habitat damage taking place in another area of the city directly because of this programme.

Huge swathes of mature woodland which are home to a wide variety of species ranging from jays to pheasants, are being felled and burnt to create new sheep habitat. Yet this has never even been a sheep grazing area – at least for the past half century. If sheep habitat was required, there is a downland field just five minutes walk away, which has been left fallow, and so could have been used very easily.

It’s hard to understand how a Council where the Greens have a very significant influence, and hope to return a Green Member of Parliament for the first time in the forthcoming General Election could allow this wanton act of enviromental vandalism to occur. This is no different from clearing rainforest for agriculture. Furthermore, disturbing the habitat of breeding birds at this time of year is also a criminal offence, but in spite of being aware of this, the council workers have carried on regardless.

Some of the destroyed area of woodland.

Some of the destroyed area of woodland

Wolves Deserve Better

April 4th, 2010

It’s always struck me as amazing what bad press wolves get, and how little they’ve done to deserve it! The number of wolf attacks on people is miniscule, and these are usually linked with rabid individuals. It’s ironic that while we’ve sought to eliminate wolves from wherever they may come into contact with us, so we’ve taken their descendant, in the guise of the domestic dog, to all four corners of the globe. In some instances, people have then literally depended on dogs for their survival.

Anyone who has been to Rome will know the legend about two twins, called Romulus and Remus, who were the illegitimate twins of the god Mars and the vestal virgin Rhea. Unwanted, they were hurled into the River Tiber where it was presumed they would drown.

The current carried them ashore in a remote spot however, and their cries then attracted a female wolf. Rather than killing the babies, she carried them back to a cave which overlooked the locality of Rome, and suckled them. They stayed with her until rescued by a shepherd, and then founded the city here.

This tale is very easily dismissed as a myth, but in fact, there are over fifty recorded cases of both wolves and feral dogs caring for abandoned children. Some, especially from India are surprisingly well-documented.

Such reports include the case of two girls rescued in the 1920s by a Dr. Singh, who ran an orphanage in Mindapore and was alerted to their presence in the area by villagers who had observed the children with the wolves. The youngsters displayed distinctive wolf-like behaviour, which included walking on all fours and lapping up water. The natural world is not as ordered as people frequently believe to be the case ….

Stay Healthy With A Pet!

March 30th, 2010

Scientific studies are now revealing that those who keep pets tend to be healthier than the rest of the population. While keeping a dog is obviously likely to result in owners taking daily exercise when they walk their pet, there are other less obvious benefits as well.  Research at Cambridge University in the UK has revealed that people with pets also tend to suffer fewer minor ailments such as colds and headaches.

It is no coincidence that aquaria are often included in potentially stressful locations such as dentists’s waiting rooms. Watching tropical fish swimming in an aquarium is known to be relaxing, leading to a measurable reduction in both blood pressure and heart rate.  This may help to account for the fact that the survival rate for people recovering from heart attacks is also higher among pet-owners than those without pets.

Adoption campaign in New York.

Adoption campaign in New York.

© sayheypatrick

Elderly Benefit Particularly From Pets

March 5th, 2010

The news that legislation is being proposed in the UK which would give elderly people the right to take their pets with them when they move into residential care homes or sheltered accommodation  is long overdue. Separation from a pet which has been a constant companion over a number of years can be incredibly traumatic. Furthermore, the benefits of pet-ownership for the elderly are well-established.

Young barhead budgerigars

Several years ago, two groups of elderly people took an active part in a study investigating the impact of pets on people’s lives.  The members of one group were given a budgerigar each, while the others received a begonia pot plant. Those with budgerigars showed marked changes in their lifestyle as a result of their new pet. They insisted on taking responsibility, by going out to purchase seed and other essentials for their bird’s care, and clearly become very attached to their pet.

There was also another more subtle change which the researchers recorded as well.  Keeping a budgerigar made their owners more outgoing and less introspective than had formerly been the case, and gave them a more positive outlook on life, as well as a new topic for conversation.