Saturday, June 23, 2012

Praying Mantis, the Baby Blue Mystery Bug, Orb Weavers and Mud Daubers--What's for Dinner?

While it's true that all of God's creatures must eat, some tend to be a bit more aggressive when fetching their dinner. Perhaps grotesque would be a better word, or disgusting, even freaky! I have found this to be the case in four creatures that I have photographed. Three that I have been blessed with opportunities to observe and photograph often--Praying Mantises, Mud Daubers, and Orb Weavers--and another I have only seen once and called the Baby Blue Mystery Bug, but identified this morning with the help of MantisPets.com, mantis experts who also respect the beauty in all of God's creatures. According to the experts, although the Baby Blue Mystery Bug I photographed in Texas is not a mantis, it is considered an "assassin bug," a deceptively vicious killer!


Sweet little baby blue "assassin bug."


Now, before you jump to the defense of those adorable praying mantis, let me assure you that I love them, too. When you see them with their (deadly) forelegs clasped together as if in prayer, the first thought is that they are praising the Lord, and perhaps they are giving thanks for a yummy meal. However, it is those spiked forelegs that the mantis uses to grab and hold its victim. (Oddly enough, its closest relatives are cockroaches and termites, though I would think most people find the mantis a bit more appealing!)


Baby praying mantis sitting on my finger. 

Mantis are predatory creatures and only eat food they catch themselves, though they are kept as pets. Their prey includes scorpions, lizards, birds (sad, but true, they do like baby birds), fish, frogs, snakes, and rodents. They use camouflage to ambush their prey. In fact, I first learned about the predatory habits of the mantis when I spotted one on a vine on my bedroom patio where small birds liked to build their nests. This particular Praying Mantis was a mix of brown and green camo colors and blended right in with Texas!


Baby praying mantis in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.


My young neighbor was visiting my house in Kingsland, Texas that day. I stepped onto my patio to fetch something when I noticed the mantis. I ran to fetch my camera and tell her about the fascinating bug. She shook her head and told me they were "vicious killers!" At first, I thought she was kidding, then she explained that she had just finished watching a video about their eating habits in her science class at school. I photographed the mantis, then moved it closer to the creek, away from the baby birds.

A few months later I was in nearby Marble Falls, Texas when I noticed a very tiny, baby blue creature on a plant. I was fascinated by its beauty and ran for my camera. Something told me not to try and pick it up--strange bugs can sometimes leave strange bites! When I downloaded the photos I was suddenly grateful for the wisdom not to touch the creature--it had a large hook, called a probiscus, protruding from its chin! I contacted many of my usual resources trying to identify the creature, to no avail. This morning, however, I received an email from mantispets.com--they had a name for my baby blue mystery bug! This beautiful little creature is called a Wheelbug, and it's in a class of bugs called--get ready for this one--the ASSASSINS! That's right! That cute little blue baby is a fierce and deadly killer!


Wheel Bug nymph in Marble Falls, Texas. 


According to my morning email from mantispets.com, the Wheelbug is the largest species of assassin bugs in North America. They said the one I photographed was a half-grown nymph--still pretty small and without its adult wings. They also said newly hatched young are bright red, which would be equally interesting to see! The spike, or probiscus, is used to pierce the armor of other insects. They then inject the insect with digestive juices to suck out the contents of their prey. (Remind me to stop reading my email during breakfast!)


Wheel Bug nymph turning around to get a better look at me.


"They are the only type of animal/insect that will prey on such nuisance species as squash bugs, mexican bean beetles, tomato/tobacco hornworms, and other pests that birds and such won't eat," I was told. "They are generally pretty gentle, but if they should happen to mistake your finger for prey, they will pierce it and can cause a nasty wound by injecting those juices. If you are allergic to bee stings, it could cause a life-threatening reaction." They are currently attempting to breed these creatures at mantispets.com to offer them as beneficial insects for gardeners.


Wheel Bug nymph creeping away...


The behavior of the Wheelbug reminds me of the Orb Weavers I saw in great abundance in my Texas gardens and occasionally found in my Colorado gardens, as well. Orb Weavers weave lovely, spiral or wheel-shaped webs, huge webs, sometimes double webs connecting trees and shrubs. The Golden Orb Weaver is highly prized for the thick, durable silk it emits from its body. In fact, there is a tapestry made from the silk of the Golden Silk Orb Weaver on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The females can be as large as my hand and the males so small they are difficult to see. The males, of course, are eaten by the females, so they sometimes sneak up on the female and impregnate her while she is busy eating. I actually saw this happen once.


Miss Alice the Orb Weaver who lived near my patio in Texas. 


In 2010 a huge Orb Weaver that I named Miss Alice built her web outside my bedroom patio. The web was so huge I had to duck when I walked through the doorway. I made videos and took photos of her the entire summer and often watched her eating process. They tend to be mostly nocturnal, so she posed quite nicely for me during the daylight. They are not at all aggressive toward humans. In fact, Charlotte in the children's novel by E.B. White, Charlotte's Web, was an Orb Weaver.


Miss Alice the Orb Weaver wrapping up her prey.

Orb Weavers do bite if they feel threatened, so it's recommended that you do not try to handle them, though I have had one on my body before, and I've learned they can be very stubborn. Once, an Orb Weaver tried to build its web across the middle of my garden where I was building a pond. It was a great place to catch those bugs that attacked my flowers, but the web was so large that I was unable to work around it, so my husband moved the spider to a nearby bush. A few minutes later the spider was back, spinning its web. This time I moved it. I thought I was free to start working on my pond. On my hands and knees, I started to dig through the soil with a hand shovel. I felt a tickle on my neck. I thought, "No, it's not possible. I'm imagining this," and continued to work. Another tickle on the neck, then the shoulder. I slowly turned my head. Sure enough, the giant Orb Weaver was sitting on my shoulder, staring at me. THAT was Miss Alice! This time, I moved her to the ivy surrounding my bedroom patio. She seemed to like this better, though when the temperatures reached 110, she moved her web to the north side of the house. The life of Miss Alice is documented in earlier posts on this blog.


Miss Alice the Orb Weaver--notice the design on her web. 
As soon as she finished wrapping her prey she rebuilt her web.

The Orb Weaver, of course, catches its meal in its web. As the web begins to bounce from the struggle, the Orb Weaver is alerted and quickly pounces on the prey before it can escape--I have, by the way, seen butterflies and bees manage to escape before the spider arrived. The Orb Weaver eats its prey in a similar fashion to the assassins. First, it gives the prey a quick bite and injects it with toxin, then it spins its silk around its victim and waits for the victim to die. One source I read said the insides of the prey turns to liquid. However, according Iowa State University's bugguide.net, " the spider will literally vomit digestive fluid over the prey. Then the prey is chewed with the "jaws" (chelicerae), and the fluid is sucked back into the mouth together with some liquefied "meat" from the prey. The spider repeats this process as often as necessary to digest, and ingest, all but the inedible hard parts. What is discarded afterwards is a small ball of residue." Hmm, yummy.


Miss Alice still wrapping her prey.

I have observed spiders become victims of other creatures, too, though not the big Orb Weavers. Mud Daubers eat spiders, and in an interesting manner.(Okay, I know, this is a matter of opinion). We had an infestation of Mud Daubers at our house in Texas. In fact, when we moved to New Mexico and unpacked those boxes that were stored in the garage during the selling process, we found Mud Dauber nests in every single box attached to books, clothes, knick knacks--they are busy little critters! I believe these were black and yellow Mud Daubers. They didn't bother us, and we didn't seem to bother them, so they stayed busy in our garage and I would sometimes watch them as I walked through on my way to the garden.


Mud Dauber, photo by Alvesgaspar.

The Mud Dauber will catch its prey, generally spiders, and sting it once, which paralyzes the creature. The Mud Dauber then carries the spider back to its nest with its legs, which is really wild to watch! The Mud Dauber nest consists of one or more cylinders made of dried mud with a tiny hole for the front door. The Mud Dauber will slowly stuff the spider through the hole--yes, it's gross. It deposits a single egg on the spider, then seals the hole of the nest with more mud. Sometimes more than one spider is inserted into the same hole. I watched a Mud Dauber stuff four spiders into one nest once. The Mud Dauber does not return to the nest. The hatchlings eat the prey and leave their home to deal with their abandonment issues on their own, poor little orphans.


A Mud Dauber nest inside of a box that held books while we were moving. 
Many of our belongings were in storage for nearly a year during the moving process
from Texas to New Mexico and when I unpacked them they were filled with Mud Dauber
nests and sunflower seed shells. We have no idea where the shells came from. 

I have to admit I'm a bit excited to finally have a name for the baby blue bug, though Wheelbug isn't exactly a heart-pounding name for such a creature. Now that I understand its eating habits, I think I would have named it "Spiky Blue Beast" or "Powder Blue Terminator." Something along those lines. And now that you know the eating habits of my favorite bugs, I'm sure you've built up quite an appetite. Put down the computer and go get some lunch. If the kitchen is empty, I'm sure you'll find something to eat in the backyard!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Edgo Levine: Eulogy for a Friend


Edgo was always smiling, and he had such a beautiful smile!

There are friends who come and go in your life, and then there are friends who leave their paw marks on your heart forever. Edgo was such a friend. We knew each other for many years. He was a sweet, energetic, protective Aussie who started with my children's other mother, but spent most of his life with my daughter and her family. He died on June 5, 2012, but lives on in great memories we all share of this wonderful dog.


My grandchildren saying goodbye to Edgo.

I first met Edgo as a puppy. He was full of energy and...fur! Edgo was the fuzziest, furriest dog I have ever known. I know Australian Shepherds are supposed to make great sheep dogs, but he actually resembled the sheep! He had the typical herding instincts as a puppy, nuzzling the children in the family, moving them from place to place, but he also had protective instincts that sometimes astounded me.

I have a rare form of arthritis that can sometimes be very severe. One afternoon, as I carried groceries into my daughters house from the car, my knees suddenly gave out from beneath me. The grocery sacks fell onto the counter, and I fell to the floor. Edgo ran into the kitchen and stood over my body, two legs on each side of my chest, his chin straight, eyes forward. I told him I was okay and he briefly lowered his head to lick me on the nose, then returned to his protective stance, waiting until my son-in-law found me and helped me up from the floor.


Edgo, always smiling!

When my daughter was pregnant with her oldest child, Edgo started sleeping beside her bed. This may not have been the best situation for my daughter as she was often kept awake by his scratching and snoring, but Edgo felt it was his job to protect her. No one instructed him to do this, but he knew something was different about my daughter. In his mind, he believed she was in a fragile state and needed to be protected, and that was his job. Night after night he followed her into the bedroom, curled up next to her side of the bed and stayed there until morning. From that time on, Edgo decided his place was by her side. During the day, he played with the children, followed my son-in-law around the yard as he did his chores, and cuddled with me when I stayed at their house for visits, but most of the time, he was by my daughter's side, protecting.


My granddaughter hugging Edgo.

Edgo was attacked by a large dog when he was a puppy and he did not get along with other dogs. He adored cats, and even played with them, but not dogs. It saddened me to think of the joy he could have had in his life if he had not been attacked as a puppy. With his energy and playful attitude, he would have made great friends at the dog park or a wonderful addition to a pack.

And oh my goodness did he have a playful attitude! Edgo loved to play with my grandchildren and watched over them as if they were his own children. He also loved to chase tennis balls. When I came for a visit, my grandchildren often put on plays or fashion shows and while I watched and took pictures I always had to keep one hand free to throw the ball to Edgo. He chased that ball for hours!

I still remember the first time I threw the ball and he didn't chase. Instead, he slowly walked over to my side and lay down at my feet. It was such a shock to me to recognize that he was growing old. In my mind, he was always a puppy. In my mind, he is still a puppy.


Edgo getting ready to crawl beneath the couch.

My daughter's home has a short set of stairs leading from the kitchen to the den. As he grew older, Edgo preferred to sleep in the living room beneath the lounger where it was cool, but if the kids and I got rowdy--and we always get rowdy--he would walk over to the top of the stairs to check on us. When I saw him looking down at us I stood at the bottom of the stairs and did my own version of the Temptation's song, "Papa was a Rolling Stone." I clapped my hands and rocked back and forth on my feet, singing, "Edgo was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his paw was his home, and when he moved all he left us was a doggy bone..." As I sang my song, Edgo stepped from side to side, mimicking my movements, and howled as if he was singing. "Hey Momma!" I continued, and he hopped from foot to foot as if he was still a silly pup. "I heard Edgo was a dog of all trades! Chasing the tennis balls and begging to play! Momma I'm depending on you to tell us the truth!" I sang, and Edgo followed right along, rocking back and forth with that beautiful, captivating smile on his face.

When my grandchildren were younger, I often slept on the couch in the den so they could find me if they woke up in the middle of the night, even though my son-in-law built a bedroom for me in their home. Edgo liked to fall asleep by my side. Eventually, of course, he would trot up the stairs to check on my daughter and finish the evening snoring away beside her bed, but he liked to fall asleep by me, I think because he liked the never-ending petting that I'd grown used to having two labs--I have so many animals now that I often wake up in the middle of the night and find my hand moving on its own, petting whatever animal has crawled up onto my chest.

I am also a certified Reiki therapist and Edgo was a Reiki hound! He loved Reiki! If I sat down on the floor he ran to my side, roll onto his back and waited for the energy. If I had a child in my arms, he stayed on his back. He was patient. He would wait for his turn. If I scratched his belly or rubbed his head, he was fine with that, too, but what he really loved was Reiki. I did this often in his older years. We had something in common--arthritis--and I knew it helped him feel better. Most of the time, it put him to sleep, and he always slept with that sweet smile on his face.


That sweet Edgo smile!

Oh yes, dogs do smile. Edgo smiled often, especially when he was playing with the children. He also gave hugs. When I came into the house, he would run to my side then roll around on the floor waiting for his hug. I got down on my knees and wrapped my arms around him and lay my head on his chest. He wrapped his paws around my back, just like he was giving me a hug, and he always smiled. I believe animals have rights--not certain rights, but all rights, as humans have rights. The right to shelter, food, safety. I believe respect, compassion, and kindness is a right that all animals have simply because God created them. And most of all, I believe they have the right to be loved, and I love Edgo with all of my heart.

I planned my last visit because I knew it was getting close to Edgo's time to leave us and I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to tell him how much I love him and how much his friendship and protection of my family meant to me.

Once I arrived, though, I realized I wasn't ready to say goodbye. I started searching the internet for alternative medicinal treatments and filled my daughter's refrigerator with pills with strange names and bottles of cod liver oil. My son-in-law stood silently by, shaking his head, but as man who served twice in Iraq, I think he understood this was part of the grieving process. He knew that I knew it was Edgo's time to go, and for the rest of the family the grieving process had already begun, but I was just beginning the denial, prayers, begging God to stop this from happening.

Eventually, I knew it was his time. I had to say goodbye, to hold him in my arms, hug him, rock him, sing to him, and tell him how much I loved him. So I did. Night after night, until I finally left for New Mexico, I held him in my arms and told him how much I loved him.


My granddaughter saying goodbye to Edgo.

When the phone call came from my son-in-law, I was standing in the desert with my chocolate labs, chihuahua, and Baby the Desert Dog, watching them run and play on a sandy road and watching the Sandia Mountains turn bright red as the sun slowly disappeared on the horizon. I looked at the buzzing phone. At first, I refused to answer. Then, as I watched my dogs running through the sagebrush, barking and playing, I realized how appropriate the moment was, with the sky blazing with color, the dogs behaving like little puppies, a cool breeze moving through my hair. Edgo would have loved this moment, I thought, and I realized he was with me. I knew who was on the phone, and I knew why he was calling.

I returned Aaron's call. "We spent a long time saying goodbye to Edgo before I took him to the vet," he told me. "I held him in my arms and it was very peaceful," my son-in-law said, but I knew this already, because Edgo was always at peace. He was well-loved, and he loved deeply in return.

Edgo has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. He is no longer afraid of other dogs. Now he plays with them, chasing the yellow tennis balls through grassy meadows, barking to his heart's content, running like a puppy in the cool breeze at sunset. He is a young again, strong, vigorous, full of energy, compassion, and love. Oh, so much love. Yes, Edgo is happy, because he knows that some day he will see his family again. Until that time, we have our memories, and they are all good. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lost Dog in the Desert

Nearly two weeks ago, I was driving to the sandy hilltop to walk the dogs when I suddenly had the oddest feeling that I was going to see, well, a dog! The feeling was so strong that I slowed down my car when we reached the road leading to the hilltop and scanned the fields of sagebrush. Nothing. The feeling grew stronger as we approached our favorite spot and I started to panic, thinking that perhaps this was an instinctive warning that we were going to encounter a coyote.


The place where I walk my dogs, the sagebrush where Baby was hiding.


The feeling grew so strong that I decided to turn around and go somewhere else. As I started to back up my truck, a young brindle male shepherd mix crept out of the sagebrush and sat in front of my bumper. To say I was surprised is an understatement. He was thin, scraggly, and clearly asking for help.


Baby when he first crawled out of the sagebrush. 


I got out of the truck with our water bottle and dish and offered him some water, which he eagerly accepted. I then tried to pet him--he rolled over onto his back and let me scratch his belly. I decided to let Buddy--my friendly meter--out of the truck to see what would happen. Holly and Chewy escaped out the side door. Buddy and the new dog were instant friends. Holly and Chewy strangely ignored the new dog. They acknowledged that he was there, but acted as if he belonged there, as if he had always been there.


When Baby first met my husband he followed my husband everywhere, 
sitting at his feet with his head bowed down. I'm not sure what that meant. 
He is still very attached to my husband. 

It was a bit touchy for a few minutes. When Buddy would get too rowdy the new dog would run back into the sagebrush, then his head would pop up like the coyotes do and he would peek at us for a few minutes before rejoining us. I began to wonder how long he had been roaming the desert to learn this habit.

Buddy and the new dog ran up the road just as another car came down. I ran after them and told the man Buddy was my dog. "Is the other dog yours?" I asked. He hadn't seen another dog. We looked at the sagebrush on the side of the road and there he was, his little brown head peeking up over the top of the bushes. The young man had two labs in his truck and I had three dogs in mine, so we were in a bit of a pickle. He called the Humane Society, though, and they told us they would meet us at a local intersection...if we could convince the dog to come with us. The dog allowed us to clip Buddy's leash around his neck and the young man tried to drive with his arm out his car window as the dog ran alongside. It took quite a while as the leash kept slipping. We were concerned about lifting the dog into my truck bed in case he tried to bite, and had the same concern for putting him in one of the vehicles. We finally made it to the street corner and waited until 10 at night--no Humane Society.

I decided to take the dog home since I didn't have to work the next day. The dog readily accept everyone, even my husband, who was not eager to accept the dog. I started calling the dog Baby--it seemed to fit. He's very young. Baby spent the evening sitting at my husband's feet, staring up at him. I could feel his ribs, so I fed him slowly and he acted as if he was starving, and very grateful. He was wary of Chewy the chihuahua at first, but perfectly comfortable with the labs, (but who isn't?) That night, when I got up for water, I discovered Baby snuggled between the two labs, sleeping. I knew then that I would have trouble leaving the dog at the Humane Society.

I was right, I had trouble. Baby allowed me to put a collar on him and the leash and walked by my side as if he had been trained. He was very trusting and loving. At the Humane Society, they told me he was under a year old and a shepherd mix. He was a little undernourished, but otherwise healthy. They took our information and told me I had a week to find his owner, then I would either have to surrender him or he would legally be mine. If I surrendered him, they had five days to find an owner before he would be "put down." The kennel was full of lost and abandoned dogs. I took Baby with me, along with information on low cost shots and neutering clinics.


Baby and my husband walking in the desert. 


Baby is now a part of the family. He has a love/hate relationship with the cat, but the cat likes to smack him around, which isn't very nice. It took two years for Chewy to get used to having his forehead smacked! He lifted his leg a few times in the house, but no longer. He eats three times a day as opposed to the twice a day the older dogs eat, but he is more active and much younger, and still a bit skinny.


Baby chews on pieces of wood all the time--and he always sticks his butt up in the air. 
I finally bought Kongs for all of the dogs and he plays with his Kong all day long. 


He also sits, gives me paw, understands no, already knows his name, walks on a leash even when the other dogs are running circles around us in the desert, sleeps with the big dogs, loves to have his belly scratched, cuddles me, and smothers my face with kisses if I try to take a nap. I am going to try to teach him tricks--he is one of the smartest dogs I've seen. He gets a bit anxious when there is too much commotion, but we now have four dogs and a cat, so that's understandable. I rearranged the areas around the door to lessen traffic jams and moved the dog food so I no longer have four dogs hovering around me at feeding time. I also feed him outside and the other dogs inside. I am working on removing his food then giving it back to lessen food anxiety. He has no problems with looking me in the eyes or shyness of any kind. Last night, he had his first bath, and handled it beautifully.


Baby walking on a leash with my husband while the chocolate labs follow along.
When we first adopted him we kept him on a leash until he learn to stay with the pack.
Now, I walk him on a leash in the neighborhood every day so he gets continuous exercise
as he tends to get a bit chubby (he has a peanut butter addiction.) 

We are now at our limit for animals--in this area, the limit is five. I never imagined I would have this many animals in this small house, and when the grandchildren come, it will be a challenge--there will definitely be increased noise and activity, so the dogs will most likely be spending their time outside. The week has passed and he is now "our dog." Next week, he meets the vet for his shots. I believe things happen for a reason. I don't know why Baby came into our lives, but it is obvious to me he was meant to be here. He adores us, and we love him, too. My husband still grumbles about "all these dogs," but as I watch him walking Baby down the dusty trails at sunset, I know in my heart that he would never give one of them up.

Sleeping Dogs...

There's something so sweet about watching a dog sleep, the way they curl up tight and rest their heads on their paws. My dogs are very picky about their sleeping habits. The chocolate lab twins have padded beds, three of them, because Buddy is a very large dog. I line the beds up at night next to the couch--Holly likes to rest her back against the couch. The beds are covered with old sheets and blankets that I wash once a week because they love the smell of clean sheets. Who doesn't?

In the summertime, the blankets cover the beds and when it's time to sleep at night, I tuck the dogs in with the sheets. In the wintertime the sheets cover the beds and the dogs are tucked in with their blankets. Buddy likes to have his head covered and Holly likes to have the sheet tucked in tight around her back.


Buddy and Holly. That's Buddy you see with his head sticking up beneath the blanket. 


I'm not sure when this happened, my husband and I originally agreed that no animals would be allowed in our bed, but we now share our bed with two--Niblet the giant black cat and Chewy the chihuahua. Chewy is a fair weather friend. If I'm taking too long to get ready for bed, he slides up next to my husband, wiggles his way beneath my husband's arm and closes his eyes. Most of the time, though, he waits for me then wiggles his way beneath the blanket. He curls into a ball with his back against my stomach.


Chewy refusing to get out of bed. 


The cat used to wait for everyone to settle, then he would make himself comfortable somewhere around my husband's legs, trapping my husband so he could not move. Niblet is now 15 years old, though, and seems to be having trouble getting up onto our tall bed, so my husband moved a chair next to the bed. At first, Niblet used the chair to climb into bed, but he's now decided he prefers to curl up on the seat of the chair to sleep. This makes it difficult for Chewy who frequently wakes up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water--I keep a bowl on the floor of the master bath. Chewy has no problem jumping down, he just leaps over the cat and the chair, but he can't jump back up! The cat is on the chair, the chair blocks most of my side of the bed, and my husband stretches out along his side of the bed, so I am often awakened in the middle of the night to a soft "yip," letting me know that Chewy needs a helping hand to get back onto the bed.

Why does Chewy wake up so often in the middle of the night? Chewy has frequent dog-mares. Chewy was abandoned near our property in Texas--five acres of forest land surrounded by vast acres of the same. He appeared at our home during a thunderstorm. We were later told that he had tried to seek help at the home of many of our neighbors who chased him away. No offense to my neighbors, but he was a tiny, helpless pup at the time and I cannot imagine turning my back on an animal begging for help, but that's the story we were told.


Chewy


I don't know how long Chewy was roaming the forests looking for a home, but it may have been days, perhaps weeks. He is now solid muscle with a shiny, healthy coat, but when he appeared in our driveway, he was tiny, thin, and his coat was dirty. I can only imagine what happened to him before he arrived at our house, and I do not imagine his life in the forest was easy.

Our other animals have dreams, too. The chocolate twins were attacked by a pack of coyotes once and suffered severe injuries. Holly was bit three times on the stomach by something--the vet believed it was a brown recluse spider, but the local university vet clinic thought it was baby rattlesnakes. We had 35 acres on the Colorado prairies at the time so either one is a possibility. She was so sick the vet sent her home to die. Her belly was black from her chin to her tail. I was desperate and determined to keep her alive, and my daughter was helping me. She eventually found a natural treatment on the internet, a "draw" using flaxseed meal, lavender oil and activated charcoal. I used a paint brush to paint her chest with the mix every 15 minutes for three days before pink started to show around the edges of her stomach. I did not sleep for three days, holding her head on my lap, gently washing her chest, then repainting it with a fresh batch of charcoal. After seven days, only a small circle of black remained. She now has three small scars, and our vet sells activated charcoal in her office.



Buddy sleeping.


Holly Sleeping

Buddy was hit by our truck. He saw my husband coming home from work and took off running down the hill. He darted out from between two trees just as my husband turned into our driveway. The truck hit him softly, but sent him sprawling across the pavement, which scraped the skin from his belly. He was bedridden in serious pain for two weeks. I am assuming these are the sources of my dog's dog-mares, but to be honest, I don't know. They don't speak English.

Our cat has cat-mares. He was abandoned in a dumpster as a kitten and rescued by my daughter's friends, but he was so young! Is it possible he still fears abandonment and dreams of that hot, dark, metal box? I don't know. He used to sneak out of the house (I only have indoor cats) and tease the neighbor's dog by prancing back and forth on the fence when he was a kitten. He is a Maine Coon and has a long, thick, fluffy tail. The dog must have nabbed the tail because he came into the house without any fur on the last half of the tail. His fur grew back, and he stopped sneaking out of the house, but is it possible he still dreams of the near-loss of his tail?

The FYI section in the February 2012 issue of Popular Science attempts to answer the question "Do Animals Dream?." According to the author, Kaitlin Miller, dogs actually go through the same sleep stages as humans, "only faster." Miller refers to research by Stanley Coren, psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of The Intelligence of Dogs.

Research has shown that dogs enter REM sleep, or dream sleep, within 20 minutes. I have seen this in my chocolate labs when they lie down at my feet, their limbs and chins draped across each other's bodies looking comfortable and peaceful, then suddenly one of them will start twitching and softly "woofing" as if he or she is "chasing bunnies" as we call it. My chocolate labs are very large dogs, even for labs. They are not overweight, but tall, and each weighs nearly 90 pounds. According to Coren's research, large dogs dream longer, though he does not understand why.

Coren also states that the dreams of little dogs come faster, and they dream more frequently. My chihuahua sleeps on my bed, on my lap, or beside me on the couch, so I have the opportunity to observe his sleep habits more often. When we first rescued him, as I said before, he had been abandoned in the forests of Texas. When he was young, I noticed that he often appeared to be dreaming that he was being chased. I had to wake him carefully because he often woke up frightened. Now, two years later, his dreams are sometimes more peaceful, but he still has those moments when he whimpers or cries in his sleep.

Coren's research also showed that infants of all species dream more often than adults, and I wonder why? One would think they would dream less as they would have less experiences to recall, or perhaps there is an answer to a mystery in this discovery, as well. What do infants dream about? If, as some psychologists claim, dreams are metaphorical, a way that we work out our day to day problems, then why do infants dream?

Another interesting aspect of Coren's research shows that insects and fish do not experience REM sleep, but some birds do, and all mammals. Finches, Coren claims, dream about the melodies of their songs, which is a lovely thought, in my opinion. Rats often replay the mazes they have run through during tests. Again, this piques my interests--how did Coren figure that out?

Coren suggested the possibility that reptiles might experience REM sleep because many scientists believe human dream processes might be "a holdover form our reptilian brains." Of course, this also draws on the question of whether or not one believes in evolution or creationism.

For the most part, animal dreams, like human dreams, remain a mystery, but there is something about a whimpering, sleeping dog that tugs at my heart. I do not know if he or she is dreaming of a fun romp through the woods or being chased by coyotes and I would rather gently wake the dog up than take the chance that he or she is reliving a bad experience.


Buddy and Holly Cuddling