The Best Pet Snakes for Kids and Beginners

Okay so we’re going to try taking a new route today – a fun one, an interesting one, a reptilian one. I realize my blog is mostly about dogs, cats, animal welfare and all that four-legged jazz, but I thought you all might want to take a walk on the wild side with me and learn something new from “Jim the Reptile Guy.” Jim has raised snakes for practically his whole life and is also a great writer. He’s very passionate about all kinds of snakes, not just his own, as well as geckos, lizards, turtles, and other reptiles.

So we all know that there are tons of guys and gals and kids just like Jim all over the world. I mean, there are literally hundreds of thousands of young boys out there begging Mom for a snake or lizard right this very minute, right? So Jim has kindly put together a very detailed and informative article on the best snakes for beginners and kids. You’ll hear from Jim the Reptile Guy again in a about a month!

Who knows, maybe BlogPaws Nashville will see an appearance of a snake… or gecko…? (After all, we did have a Capybara this year!) (+ I would have to borrow one, lol!)

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Are you a budding reptile enthusiast or a parent to one? Do things with scales and shells appeal to you more than those with fur or feathers? Perhaps you’re a lover of all animals and are simply looking to add a cold-blooded critter to your family? No matter the reason, the rhyme, or the season, anyone interested in learning more about reptiles is welcome company in my book.

Today I’m going to be sharing some basic information on my favorite member of the reptile family – the snake. More specifically, I’m going to be talking about which snakes make the best pets, especially for your little people (children.)

I’m an animal enthusiast, but there’s just something about snakes that I’ve always loved. While many in our culture see them as the villains of the animal kingdom (thanks a lot, Bible), or the stuff of nightmares, there’s no denying that snakes are one of the most unique animals on the planet. They can perfectly adapt to a variety of environments and, while not all snakes would be happy living with humans, there are a handful that, when cared for properly, do make wonderful pets.

First things first, though. Before we talk about which snakes may be a good fit for your home, there are some things you’ll need to understand:

- Snakes are NOT domesticated like dogs and cats. While most snakes in the pet trade have been born into captivity, that doesn’t mean they’re domesticated. They’ve evolved over thousands of years to eat, breed, and survive. It’s our job as their caregivers to understand this first and foremost. If you start treating a snake like a cat or dog, letting them roam free, bringing them out for every guest to greet, and not considering their needs first, accidents can and will happen.

- Snakes are reptiles, and reptiles are cold-blooded animals. Snakes use thermoregulation to manage body temperature, thus, you’ll need a hot side and a cool side for your tank or terrarium.

- Snakes and reptiles kept as pets will likely require veterinary care at some point in their lives. Before you add a reptile to your family, please be sure to have access to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.

- A snake is a long-term commitment – many live 20 years or longer.

- Snakes eat rodents. While frozen/thawed rodents are best, some snakes (like Ball Pythons,) can be finicky eaters and may eat only live rodents. Make sure you have access to these should the need arise.

- Snakes are known in the reptile community as master escape artists, so be sure to have an escape-proof tank.

- When considering a snake as a pet for your child, consider the size and temperament of the snake and always supervise children when handling. I’d recommend six as the minimum age at which you’d acquire a snake as a pet for a child.

Now that we have the prerequisites out of the way, let’s look at some great options for you or your child’s first pet snake! I’m going to list the top five breeds I’d recommend for a novice snake owner, five being the one I’d recommend least and one being the best.

5. Boa Constrictor

Boas make the list at number 5 because they’re commonly found in pet stores and are a favorite in the pet trade. I do NOT, however, recommend a Boa for a first snake, especially

Boa Constrictor

Adult Boa Constrictor

for a child. I own a Boa. I’ve owned many Boas and love them. They are absolutely my favorite snake, but I’m an experienced guy who’s been keeping snakes for years (I’ve even bred them). So why don’t I recommend them for a beginner or a child? Because Boas get BIG!

Big snakes need big enclosures. Big snakes also need bigger food. Lastly, bigger snakes are harder to handle. They are heavy and while most experts will tell you that any snake over nine feet will require at least two adults present when handling, I say seven feet. A female Boa can easily reach the 8-13 foot range while males will usually reach between 6-8 feet. Your child may be very happy with a baby or juvenile Boa, but once that cute little baby reaches adulthood, your eight or nine-year-old won’t even be able to handle it. The snake will simply be too big, and at that size, could overpower a child.

A Boa is a terrific intermediate snake for those who’ve gained the experience and have the desire to add a larger snake to their home. Captive Boas come in a wide variety of beautiful color patterns. They are often a favorite among teenage boys.

Appearance: “The coloring of boa constrictors can vary greatly depending on the locality. However, they are generally a brown, grey or cream base color, patterned with brown or reddish brown “saddles” that become more pronounced towards the tail. It is this coloring that gives Boa constrictor constrictor the common name of “red-tailed boa” (per Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boa_constrictor)

Size: Typically, they range in length from 20 inches as neonates to 13 feet as adults.

Life span: Captive life expectancy is 20 to 30 years.

Food: Baby Boas will eat pinky rats and mice. Juvenile boas will eat small rats and graduate up to medium, large, XL, and big adults can eat Guinea pigs and rabbits.

Jim's Daughter with Bianca, his Boa.

Jim’s Daughter with Bianca, his Boa.

Here’s a picture of my six-year-old daughter, Mena, with our Sharp Sunglow female Boa, Bianca. Bianca is a little over one-year-old in this picture and is still growing like a weed. Bianca has been handled regularly since she was a baby and Mena has also been well versed (by me) as to the proper

Jim's Daughter with His Boa, Bianca.

Jim’s Daughter with His Boa, Bianca.

handling and care of our pet. Because of my love for the snake, Mena has been raised not to fear them. She simply sees a beautiful animal that she loves. Over time, though, Bianca will get much bigger (see the adult female pictured above.)

 

4. Milk Snakes

Milk Snakes are generally very docile, hardy and are good snakes for beginners and children. They come in a wide variety of color combinations, but the most common is black/red/yellow.

Size: Hatchling milk snakes range in size from 12-15 inches in length. Adult milk snakes reach anywhere from 3 to 5 feet depending on the locality from which they originated.

Life span: Usually 12 – 15 years, though they can live as long as 20 years.

Milk Snake

Milk Snake

Food: Baby milk snakes will eat pinky mice and graduate up to hopper mice. Adults will typically eat a large mouse or weanling rat.

Fun Fact: The common milk snake is often confused with the deadly coral snake because of the similar colors and pattern. A milk snake has yellow bands with black bordered on either side. A coral snake has black bands bordered by yellow bands on either side. Here’s a handy rhyme I learned as a boy that will help you differentiate between the two:

“Yellow then black, venom they lack. Black then yellow will kill a fellow.”

Coral Snake

Coral Snake

Milk Snakes are a good beginner snake for kids because they’re easily handled, and are pretty active in their cages. Ensuring you have an escape-proof enclosure will be paramount. Also, because of their colors, kids really seem to like them. Please note, however, that baby snakes (no matter the breed) can be a little nippier. They are tiny and vulnerable, so until they get bigger and are used to being handled, they may bite if they feel threatened. No worries, though, the bites are painless.

 

3. King Snakes

King Snakes, like Milk Snakes, are generally very docile, hardy and good snakes for beginners. They come in a wide variety of color combinations, but the most common is the California King Snake which is black/white.

Size: Hatchling King Snakes range in size from 12-15 inches in length; adult King Snakes reach anywhere from 3 to 6 feet.

Life span: Usually 12 – 15 years, though they can live 20 years or longer.

King Snake

King Snake

Food: Baby king snakes will eat pinky mice and graduate up to hopper mice. Adults will typically eat a large mouse or weanling rat.

King Snakes are a good beginner snake for kids because they are easily handled, and are pretty active in their cages just like Milk Snakes. Ensuring you have an escape-proof enclosure will be paramount. While their colors aren’t as varied as Milk Snakes, they’re still quite beautiful. As with Milk Snakes, baby King Snakes may be a little nippier at times.

Fun Fact:

King snakes will eat other snakes as well as lizards, fish, and rodents. Because of their willingness to eat other snakes, they should always be kept alone. King snakes are also immune to the venom of rattle snakes and will eat them in the wild!

A beautiful subspecies of King Snake is the Grey Banded King Snake.

Grey Banded King Snake

Grey Banded King Snake

 

2. Ball Python

The Ball Python is my personal favorite as far as a beginner snake. They grow to a maximum size of only 3-5 feet. They’re also docile and easy to handle. Their name comes from the fact that, when threatened, they roll themselves into a ball, using their big bodies to protect their small heads. Were it not for the fact that they can sometimes be very finicky eaters, they would have been #1 on my list.

Size: Hatchling Ball Pythons range in size from 12-15 inches in length. Adult Ball Pythons reach anywhere from 3 to 5 feet. Females grow larger than males.

Life span: 20 years or longer.

Food: Baby Ball Pythons will eat mice and weanling rats. Adults will typically eat small rats.

Ball Pythons are a great beginner snake for kids because they are so docile and so easy to handle. They aren’t active until nighttime, though, so if your child is looking for a snake that will be active during the day, a Milk, King, or Corn Snake would be a better choice. As with Milk Snakes and King Snakes, baby Ball Pythons may be a little nippier at times, especially near feeding time. On the opposite end of the scale, they may be so shy that they don’t eat at all. While docile and lovely, Ball Pythons require a lot of patience. Making them feel comfortable means maybe not picking them up for a week or more. Excited kids wanting to interact with their pet may find this a difficult task.

Fun Fact:

Because of their popularity in the pet trade, Ball Python breeders have selectively bred animals over the last 20 years or so for a wide variety of color and pattern mutations. We refer to them as “morphs,” as they are genetic mutations. Here are a few examples:

Normal Ball Python as they’d be found in the wild (and in most pet stores)

Normal Ball Python as they’d be found in the wild (and in most pet stores)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a dominant mutation known as a Pinstripe:

Pinstripe Ball Python Picture 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a co-dominant mutation called a Pastel:

Pastel Ball Python Picture 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a recessive mutation called an Albino

Here’s a recessive mutation called an Albino

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Corn Snakes

Normal Corn Snake

Normal Corn Snake

Corn Snakes are #1 on most “best pet snakes” lists and they clinched the #1 spot on my Best Snakes for Children/Beginners list as well. They are very docile, hardy and great snakes for beginners. They come in a wide variety of color combinations, but the most common is red/orange.

As a pre-teen, I owned several corn (and rat) snakes. They are easily kept, handled, fed, and they seem to have a very outgoing personality. Yes, snakes have personalities. I’ve met Corn Snakes who were jerks and ones that seemed sweeter than many dogs I’d known.

Size: Hatchling Corn Snakes range from 12-15 inches in length. Adult corn snakes will reach anywhere from 4 to 6 feet.

Life span: 15-20 years or longer.

Abbott Oakeetee Corn Snake

Abbott Oakeetee Corn Snake

Food: Baby Corn Snakes will eat pinky mice and graduate up to hopper mice. Adults will typically eat a large mouse or weanling rat.

Corn Snakes are the best beginner snake for kids because they are easily handled, reluctant to bite, active, colorful, and big enough to be cool but not so big that you’d worry about your child handling his or her pet. Ensuring you have an escape-proof enclosure will be key as Corn Snakes are pretty active. They come in a variety of colors and there are now even scaleless Corn Snakes! As with Milk Snakes, baby Corn Snakes may be a little nippier, especially near feeding time, but with regular handling and a full belly, this will quickly fade.

Albino Corn Snake

Albino Corn Snake

Fun Fact:

Like Ball Pythons, Corn Snakes are extremely popular as pets. Also just like Ball Pythons, Corn Snakes are available in a wide variety of color and pattern mutations. Here are a few examples:

Snow Corn Snake

Snow Corn Snake

 

 

 

 

Scaleless Corn Snake

Scaleless Corn Snake

 

So there you have it, my top five. Now you’re probably wondering where to potentially acquire one of these awesome critters. Well, believe it or not, all of the varieties I’ve talked about can probably be found in a local pet store, especially one that specializes in reptiles, but they won’t have all the color and pattern mutations. If you’re interested in acquiring a morph, my two favorite sites are http://www.kingsnake.com and http://www.faunaclassifieds.com. The former has a classifieds section and the breeder should be able to ship your new pet priority overnight right to your door.

*Habitat setup is the most important thing you can do as the owner of a new pet snake, but we’ll talk about that in another article!

Jim Moorman is an author, father, and reptile-lover; you can learn more about him on his websiteJim has been keeping reptiles for over 20 years and has learned through hands-on experience, through research, and from being an active part of the reptile community how to best care for and keep many types of reptiles as pets.

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#AdoptACatMonth Encourages Nationwide Shelter Cat Adoption; Easy Ways to Do Your Part

So you want to help a shelter cat, or maybe assist a few fabulous foster felines, is that right? You’re probably racking your brain trying to understand the most effective route to take for our fantastical furry four-leggers. You may be continuously asking yourself questions as to what you can do to help Fluffy or Fee-Fee get adopted. Perhaps you’ve even called the shelter to see how you can be of service.save a life

Well I’m here, and speaking from experience, to tell you some easy ways to help shelter cats. In no particular order, here are five ways to help shelter cats get adopted into fur-ever homes.

  1. Spread the Word: Whether you take to Facebook and re-post your shelters needy kitties, Retweet another shelter’s cat in need or even take to your blog or website to show your support, it’s easy to do and it’s free. You can feature either pictures or write up some tantalizing tidbits about each kitty. And don’t for one second think that it doesn’t make a difference… I have seen plenty of shelter cats get adopted through social media. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #AdoptaCatMonth!
  2. Volunteer: Volunteers are imperative to a shelter’s operations and to adoptions as well. They not only keep cages and kitties looking fresh and clean, but they give the needed attention to the cats in the shelter. Volunteering doesn’t just mean going and cleaning cages and feeding cats however; many people use a skill set to lend a hand – this is called “in-kind donating,” i.e., the donating of services. For example, I am a writer and blogger with ties to pet care companies. I spend most of my volunteer time nailing down food and supply donations and writing about what’s happening at the shelter for the organization’s Facebook page and web page. Still others have come in and used their photography savvy to help capture better images of the cats for the websites and cage-cards. We all know how important those pictures are!

    A young male cat up for adoption through Love-A-Stray in Avon, Ohio.

    A young male cat up for adoption through Love-A-Stray in Avon, Ohio.

  3. Donate: Donating to a given local rescue or shelter will help them get the supplies that they need to keep the kitties fed and healthy and vivacious. A full, vibrant kitty is a happy kitty. A happy kitty has a much higher chance of being adopted when the time comes around. Donating also helps the shelter offset costs for vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, and medications for kitties with infections or Diabetes, FLV, FIV, Herpes, etc.  
  4. Get More Involved: Contact your local shelter or rescue group (you can search for groups near you here) and ask if they have a wish list or another type of flyer that you can post around town – hit up grocery stores, mom-n-pop style shops, pet stores, your office and your neighborhood. Certain local rescues/shelters may be having special events for Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month which you can help promote. Another great way to get involved in the Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat cause is by writing an op-ed about the importance of pet adoption to your local paper (even the smaller newspapers will publish it!).
  5. Foster: Sign up as a kitty-cat foster parent then have the time of your life caring for the little guys. Be sure you record your adventures on Twitter and Facebook or a blog using the hashtag #AdoptaCatMonth. Then you can spread the word and tell all your friends how rewarding and wonderful the experiences are.  Contact your local shelter or rescue group, or register in Petfinder’s volunteer database.

 

 

 This post is sponsored by BlogPaws. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Adopt-a-Cat Month, but ThoughtsFurPaws only shares information it feels to be relevant to readers. BlogPaws is not responsible for the content of this article.

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Help Me Find “A Home for Hines:” the Heart-Wrenching Story of Hines the Rescue Cat

Although I first met Hines only a few months ago, I can tell you that this wonderful creature will always have a place in my heart. Unfortunately, due to situational circumstances he cannot have a place in my home as well (we already have three rescue cats and it’s a delicate balance as you all know).  So here I go… I’m going to tell you his story in hopes that it will be shared, talked about, Liked, re-posted, commented on, etc. etc. I will do everything in my power to find this cat a new fur-ever home. (My goal is to have him in a new home by the end of August.)

This all starts with you…

So please, I beg of you, for this sweet senior cat, do take a moment out of your busy day to leave a comment, post this on Facebook or your favorite social media site, re-post it on your own site, Tweet the cat’s photo, or anything else that will help Hines get adopted.

If we work together, we can make miracles happen and find A Home for Hines!

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I guess I should start at the very beginning so you have all the details of how exactly Hines came to be known as my “rescue Hines.” And also so you can understand the struggle he’s been through.

About six or so weeks ago, a high school friend, Angela, contacted me (somewhat freaking out) because her “sister’s friends” had a 12-year-old cat they were about to go gas because “they didn’t feel like giving him his insulin anymore or doing the work it takes to care for him anymore.” They were also moving into a new place that didn’t allow pets. (WTH right? I mean, who does that?) She further explained that this kitty, a 12-year-old DMH mix named Hines, was not only a senior (obviously), but was severely diabetic. He required insulin injections every 12 hours. He is overweight (but adorably so), and has a diet regimen that non pet-devotees may find frustrating (he simply can’t eat dry food or treats).

I immediately, especially upon hearing of the cat’s illustrious personality, said that I would take him and had a place for him to go. Really I hadn’t even called the shelter I work with yet – LoveAStray Cat Rescue in Avon, Ohio. The owner, Ellen, is a good friend, but this, bringing a new cat in, was one I had never approached her with.

Essentially I said I’d take Hines without even asking Ellen if she had room for him; I simply wanted Hines out of that hellhole with those assholes who “didn’t want to take care of him anymore,” please pardon my French. I called Ellen that same day and we played phone tag a few times. I was getting nervous. I kept racking my brain trying to think of someone who could take Hines. After exhausting a comprehensive list of friends and relatives, I thought more seriously about taking him myself. Then, a couple days later, after confirming with Ellen, I was able to tell Angela that the shelter could take Hines after all, but not for about 8 days as we needed a cage to open up.

Angela, who doesn’t even own or know Hines, proceeded to lay out a pretty penny to assist me in his rescue at this point. We needed him to be put up in a medical kennel for those 8 days because the stupid heartless owners couldn’t even be bothered to hold on to him for another week. They were ready to just kill him and be done with it… hands clean – end of story. (Don’t get me started on them.)

So after the long 8 days passed, I went to get Hines. I would be not only his official transport to the shelter, but his one-night-wonder-foster-Mommy! I was stoked! It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I was in a great mood. It took FOREVER to get to the kennel but I didn’t mind. I DID mind when I got inside and saw that this “medical kennel” was feeding Hines dry food and not wet. I mean, COME ON. Most people who have ever owned a pet even once in their lives know you don’t give a severely diabetic cat anything but wet food – no treats, nothing. It’s too dangerous. The “vet techs” or whatever they were, were nice enough despite that fault. I also noticed that Hines could use a grooming, or even just a good brushing. His prior parents obviously didn’t care that this senior sweetie had let his grooming habits fall by the wayside. I made a mental note.  And then I did something that made me swell with pride…

Sweet Hines, the Senior Wonder Kitty

Sweet Hines, the Senior Wonder Kitty

I am severely trypanophobic – I’m absolutely terrified of needles and everything involved with them (I can barely get an IV put in without fainting). So this was going to be interesting…The techs, who couldn’t even brush him while he was there for 8 days, needed to show me how to give him his insulin. I would be required to administer it that night and the next morning in an exact 12-hour increment. Now I have plenty of experience giving dogs and cats medications and fixing injuries, etc. As a pet parent, you learn all those things. But insulin injections are a different story – at least for me they were.

*It is here that I want to insert how you can overcome anything in order to help someone (or something) else. Hines was important enough to me for me to grab that syringe, take the cap off, and then grab his skin and inject the insulin – flawless on the first try (which was using only saline). I was shocked at myself! I did it!!! I mean, I knew going in this was going to be an issue, but I totally overcame it because I knew this cat needed me to be able to do it for him! And I did! And Hinesy is so good about getting his meds – he barely budges, even when you have to pinch up his skin and even when you inject the needle (ew). It was great! Hines will just lie there, especially if you feed him while you give the insulin. He is just so happy to be touched and petted and loved that he doesn’t care if you’re sticking a needle in him!

Anyhow, it took us over an hour-and-a-half in traffic to get back to our side of town. Hines was a gem in the car – he didn’t meow once; he didn’t make a peep. He simply sat in his carrier like a pro and enjoyed the sunshine coming in through the windows. Of course I was baby-talking to him the whole time to comfort him so I’m sure that helped.  (I hope it did…) I had started noticing by now how chilled out this cat was, how friendly without warrant, how amazingly calm and cool he was. It’s rare I tell you…

Upon arrival at home, I immediately took Hines up to my room and rushed him (in carrier) past our three cats. We didn’t want to stress him out even more than he may have already been – so we figured keeping him in my room for the night with me would be the best idea. After all, he already was responding to my voice. Additionally, this way our 4-year-old males wouldn’t get in his eye or bother him and my senior girl wouldn’t feel jealous. I have a large room with a connecting bathroom and huge walk-in closet so it’s not like Hines was confined to a teeny space; trust me, he had plenty of things to do in my room. He had his very own scratching post and toys, tons of nip, his own toys that the asshole-owners left him with, plus a litter box in the bathroom, a huge bed to snoop around under (and to sleep on I found out later), plenty of fresh water, boxes to play in and open windows to sit in. I also laid blankets and towels around in different places for him to lie down on.

I noticed at first that Hinesy was quite reticent – he didn’t want to give up the cuddles and love, he didn’t want to give up the emotions that he had been feeling having been abandoned by his family of 12 years. He was also too interested in sniffing out the other cats and all the good stuff in my room.

Yeah, that lasted about 10 minutes.

After that he was all over me. I sat on the floor with him for hours upon hours – that whole night – reading and writing and watching TV. He would play with my cat’s nip toys for a while, and then he’d come over and throw himself at me (it’s hilarious to see a 16-lb cat throw himself belly-up for love! MOL!).

At dinnertime I gave Hines his insulin like a pro! I was so proud – and he didn’t fidget at all! Hines plowed through an entire can of Friskies and then came and rested by me. He was tentative at first when eating – God only knows what kind of diet he had been on since he was diagnosed as diabetic a year ago… I mean, even the kennel was giving him dry food. Anyways, dinner and dinnertime insulin went very well. The problem was that Hines still hadn’t used the litter box and I was afraid he may try to “mark” my room or me as his new territory since there are two other male cats in the house… I kept picking up his furry and soft big body and putting him in the box. After the fourth attempt, I finally resigned myself to bed.

Hinesy lying down... his coloring is beautiful!

Hinesy lying down… his coloring is beautiful!

Hines wanted to stay on the carpet and lay down so I let him. I wasn’t about to force him to sleep with me or cuddle (and honestly it would have been easier on my heart if he didn’t as well…). I woke up about 2 a.m. to use the bathroom and low and behold the litter box had been used! I was so happy and so proud of Hines for not marking in this strange, new place!

I went out and petted him for a while (yes it was 2 a.m. but I wanted to check on his emotional state) and finally decided to lift him up onto the bed with me. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up the next morning. I had to set my alarm so that his insulin could be given at an exact 12-hour interval so it was super early when I awoke again. It may have been dark out still…. Regardless, when I did wake up, you will never guess where Hines was. He had inserted himself into the crux of my chest and stomach area (I was lying on my side) and had completely leaned his whole huge body into me. It was like having a 16-pound furry heating blanket on my chest and tummy.

Of course, when I awoke and discovered this, that was it for me. I lost it. I started crying after I got out of bed (I didn’t want to cry in front of him). I wanted so badly to keep this cat, I wanted so badly for him to just be happy all the time, I wanted so badly for him to be going to a home instead of a cage. I started to feel like I had failed him. I tried SO hard to find him a home, but it’s just not as easy as it sounds, as most of you involved with rescue may know. Suddenly, it occurred to me that Hines might be seriously affected by being put in a cage for an endless amount of time after he had been a free-roaming cat his whole life. Had I not done enough? Was there something more I could do?

I pondered these things while giving him his morning insulin and his breakfast, another can of Friskies, which he inhaled again, albeit a bit slower. The insulin went in perfectly on the first try again, thank God. Hines is such a lover that he was pretty much thanking me for the delicious foodies – he’d take a few bites then stop and come over for some rubbie-dubbies on me. Then he’d go back to plow through a few more bites and saunter back over to me and give me head-butts. (You have no idea how frickin’ adorable it is when a senior cat gives you head-butts for attention.)

Hines and I watched TV and played and cuddled a little bit more. About 11 a.m. we got him in his carrier (which he is an angel about) and headed for LoveAStray. I was getting nervous… My palms were sweating and a million thoughts were running through my head as we pulled up. “What if Hinesy can’t find a family?” “What if his meds get messed up or something?” And then someone (a volunteer) at the shelter interrupted my worrisome thoughts and said something not so nice to me…

“You do know Jaime that most senior cats who come in here will stop eating on their own accord and eventually die, right?”

Well thanks for that. Thanks a lot. At least I am prepared now.

I quietly walked outside the barn to my car for a second, my heart pounding so hard I felt it was coming up through my esophagus. I could feel the singeing hot tears approaching my eyes from behind…. I honestly wanted to go punch that person in the face. I couldn’t believe the audacity of this person. I couldn’t believe how seemingly careless this comment was. And I couldn’t believe that it was coming from a rescue volunteer. (A bitter one obviously.) Now I have never been one to cry or lose my emotions over sad dog videos, or heart-breaking rescue stories. I’ve never been one who can’t walk into a shelter. I’ve never been one who can’t see an animal suffering. WHY? Because I KNOW that what I do as a volunteer is HELPING them suffer no longer. Yes I may cry later about these things, but never while I’m there or in the moment…

But in this moment, I went completely weak. This was when my six/seven weeks of emotions over this sweet kitty finally came to a head. I lost it; I was hysterical. I was crying and carrying on like a child for a few minutes there, yelling and screaming. I was mad at the former owners for doing this to Hinesy, mad at the shelter worker for saying that to me and dashing my hopes, and mad at society for creating a world where it’s seemingly permissible to treat pets as expendable. Most of all I was mad at me. I was mad at myself for not being able to find a home to take him to. I was mad at myself because a giant cage in a wonderful shelter was the best I could do for him… but it’s still a cage. Had I failed him?

We set everything up with Hines and got him in his cage, toys and water/food bowls laid out with more and more blankies for him. I couldn’t stay to watch them put him in the cage and if I did I honestly don’t remember it – I must have blocked it out. Imagine how Hines feels….

Hines in his cage. "Help me spring outta here please!"

Hines in his cage. “Help me spring outta here please!”

I spoke with the shelter owner several days later and she informed me that Hines was not eating. I was crushed. Beyond crushed. I was ripped in two… I couldn’t help but think of that volunteer’s warning to me earlier. It haunts me still…

My immediate reaction was to gather up some wet food from my house and my kitties’ stockpile to take in. After all, he ate twice for me. So I would simply go in there and feed him every night if I had to. I don’t care – whatever gets him to eat. The first time I went in with wet food, I brought his favorite toy from my house for him to have. I came walking around the corner and called out “Hinesy, what are you doing baby-cat?” He almost immediately jumped down in the cage from the upper perch and starting pawing at the cage lock. I, of course, upon seeing this, immediately opened up the cage and soon enough Hinesy was in my arms again, purring and giving me head-butts to the head! It was awesome! He remembered me – and he loved me still! A few minutes later, I was thrilled to hear that he had actually just started eating his wet food a day or two before (I had been out of town). So I didn’t really need to bring the wet food but left it there anyways.

That visit had Hinesy in my arms for about 40+ minutes; I held him while the volunteers cleaned his cage. (I must tell you – I’m not in thee best shape, but if you ever want to work out your arms and shoulders, simply hold up a 16-pound cat for 40-45 minutes straight. It works wonders – I was sore for two days. My muscles were shaking, MOL!)

This was when I started getting some feedback from the shelter workers and volunteers about Hines…

From a 16-year-old volunteer: “Hines is one of the sweetest and most loving cats that I’ve seen in the barn ever.”

From a 55-year-old, 15-year veteran shelter worker: “Hines is seriously one of the sweetest cats we’ve ever had; everyone just loves him and in fact, argues over who cleans his cage because they all want to hold him.”

From a 34-year-old veteran shelter volunteer: “Everyone wants to hold Hines all the time because he is so nice and pleasant. And he is soooo good about getting his insulin. It’s also really funny to see him so playful since he is so old!”

Hinesy was so happy to see me that day, it made my heart hurt, but it made it happy, too. When I went to put him back in his cage, he clung to me like a small child, with one arm around each side of my neck. L It killed me, but at the same time made me realize that Hinesy was holding his own in that cage; he was doing what he needed to do in that shelter to get by and he still is a very happy cat. I felt a huge wave of relief slowly calm me down.

After another week or so, I went back to see Hinesy again. He was just as sweet, he was still eating, and I got the same awesome feedback from the new shelter vet tech and some different volunteers.

I’m happy to report that Hinesy survived his journey through abandonment and eventual rescue in the best of spirits. He is happy, he is eating, he is (for a diabetic overweight cat) otherwise healthy, and he has a great attitude.

HOWEVER… Hines went through something that no cat (or dog or ferret or home-based animal) should have to go through… Hinesy lost his family of 12 years. That right there is sad enough.

I swear some people think that animals don’t have feelings. Well I’m here to tell you that they DO. Some people think cats and dogs are disposable. They’re NOT. Cats and dogs are some of the most intuitive, emotional beings on this planet. They sense what we feel – they pick up on the emotions we put out. And after all this time in a home where he wasn’t wanted, Hinesy STILL has a great attitude and a loving demeanor. This is all despite the fact that he was totally abandoned by poor excuses for human beings. Hinesy still shows compassion, love, happiness, silliness, and more. He is, hands-down, the sweetest most loving, affectionate and tender cat I’ve ever known. EVER. And he’s not even mine.

And this is why I need to find this cat a home. Like, now….

A sleeping Hinesy is so adorable... what a delightful cat!
A sleeping Hinesy is so adorable… what a delightful cat!

This is why I will not stop pestering people, flyering, emailing, and putting him on every social media outlet I can. I don’t care if I have to drive him to California to be in a new adoptive home, I will do it.

PLEASE HELP ME HELP HINES. Please help me help him defy the odds and find a magical, loving fur-ever home.

Please share this post, for the love of God, if you have ever shared one thing in your life, PLEASE let it be this post, I beg of you. Put it on Facebook, send it to a family member, email the link to friends, post about it on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or wherever else you like to post. Or leave me a comment telling me how you feel about what Hines’ former owners did to him.

Please, please, please, I beg of you, help me find “A Home for Hines.”

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BlogPaws 2014 Kicks Off (and Kicks Arse) in Lake Las Vegas!

It’s offficially here – theeee best pet blogging and social media conference in the whole world, BlogPaws.

Lake LVWith a variety of attendees, both veteran blogging mavens and newbie social media mavericks; an assortment of awesome keynote speakers, including HABRI (Human Animal Bond Research Initiative); a plethora of pets (including a Capybara and Jack the Pom {pictured in sunglasses); plus a hot desert setting in Lake Las Vegas, things really couldn’t get any more enticing…

Session topics range from WordPress Tips and Tricks to SEO for Beginners to Monetization to Copyright Rules/Legal Issues we face as bloggers to Building a Business out of your Blog.

You really can’t go wrong here folks. I’m talkin’ about some serious learning and some equally intense networking opportunities — both with other pet bloggers and with fantastic sponsors like Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Weruva, PetSmart Charities, BISSELL and Petfinder. WHOA Nelly!

Jack the Pom stylin' in his personalized sunglasses! Only at BlogPaws...!

Jack the Pom stylin’ in his personalized sunglasses! Only at BlogPaws…!

As a six-conference veteran I can tell you honestly that the Founders of BlogPaws do NOT mess around when putting this behemoth baby of a conference together for us. After all, BlogPaws is the ‘top dog’ of pet communities! It’s an inclusive, global community of pet enthusiasts who write about and support pets via social media, plain and  simple. But it’s so much more than that to those of use who hold it close to our hearts. It’s connecting brands with pet parents and it’s connecting pet parents with each other, 24/7/365. It means making new friends, catching up with those people you’ve only “met” on Facebook or a dog blog, getting to hang with cool sponsors and and perhaps foster a new relationship – a product review possibly…. and so much more.

We were lucky enough to hear from Eldad Hagar, one of my new heroes, yesterday. Eldad runs an extremely dedicated, reputable and small animal rescue organization in California called Hope for Paws. He has single-handedly saved HUNDREDS of dogs from deserts, massive industrial trash heaps and more. An angel of a human being, Eldad’s stories can be seen on Facebook and YouTube. (Grab your Kleenex but please know that these stories all end happy!)

Stay tuned for more updates from BlogPaws 2014 in Lake Las Vegas, NV! And don’t forget, you can register now for BlogPaws 2015 in Nashville at www.blogpaws.com!

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Griffin, the Rescue Pit Bull; How a Former Fighting Pittie Rehabilitated and Loved Again

Today I’m sharing the very important story of a beloved friend of mine, Andee, who, along with her dear husband Brandon, took in an abandoned Pit Bull and gave and gave and gave until there was nothing more to give… This is an important story, I will say it again. It’s a story of rescue, a story of redemption, a story of love, and a story of suffering and sacrifice. It’s also an excellent example of the bond that can quickly form between humans and their animals.

So why is this story important? Because it shows not only a human being’s spectacular level of caring and compassion, but also because it demonstrates how a so-called “bully breed” (an American Pit Bull Terrier) can be reformed, renewed and, overall, a superb family dog. It also shows something deeper, an issue that we often don’t want to address… What happens if a dog cannot be rehabbed? What happens if the risks of owning a dog like this just outweigh the benefits? What happens when you’ve spent thousands of dollars, tons of man hours, and countless tears and the dog is still not “normal” per se?

These issues are all explored in “Griffin, the Rescue Pit Bull…” I hope you all can appreciate this story as much as I do. Please leave me your feelings in the comments section.

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Griffin’s story began in August of 2011. A good friend of ours, Monique, contacted us about a dog her co-worker found on the streets of Carlsbad, CA. Her co-worker saw him and pulled over, opened the door, and Griff jumped right in. He was unaltered, underweight, and had a chain around his neck. All the rescuers quickly saw how sweet and silly this precious dog was right away.

By law he had to spend five days in the shelter. Brandon, my husband, and I agreed we would take him if he wasn’t claimed. I called each day to see if he was still there. Five days quickly passed and no one came to pick him up. The poor boy was dumped and left to fend for himself. We took Ellee, our female AmStaff/American Bulldog/Chesapeake Bay Retriever rescue, to the shelter to meet him. They seemed to hit it off. They played together, peed on each other’s pee and sniffed together. We signed the papers, paid the fee and went home. We picked him up on September 1, 2011 at the vet where he was neutered. We were so excited, but figured we must be a bit nuts considering that we had a move planned – a big one. We would be permanently transplanting ourselves and our four-leggers from California to Colorado in a little over a month.

We named him, this sweet Pittie, “Griffin” with the help of my Mom. The name fit his personality perfectly — he ended up being a big ol’ goofball of a dog.

Upon arrival home (still in California), we quickly realized that Griff didn’t know what a bed was, he didn’t recognize a full bowl of water, and he did not understand the concept of a consistent meal. He scarfed his food down so fast and would drink the entire bowl of water as if it would disappear if he did not consume it quickly. He had huge calluses on his elbows; obviously from sleeping on concrete. His front legs had difficulty performing, it seemed as if there was trouble with them holding him up correctly; they would even shake and splay out to the side after just a short walk.

That aside, Griff immediately began guarding his food from Ellee. We thought, “Okay we can break him of this. No problem…”

Then we noticed he’d attack her over space…

Griff and Ellee

Griff and Ellee

So we thought, again, “Okay, any dog can be rehabilitated.” Cesar Milan has shown us this… I mean, other than the food and space issues, the two dogs played together well and seemed totally compatible.

After only a few days of having him, Griffin came down with pneumonia. We fed him food and water through a syringe, took him to the vet for daily nebulization, and nebulized him at home with the hot shower running in the closed bathroom. We didn’t think he’d survive. He was down to a measly 55 pounds (a dog of his size should be 75). He could barely walk and his breathing was terrible. However, sure enough, with our perseverance, he slowly got better and soon enough was fully recovered.

Once recovered, we started to leash-train Griff. My goodness, was this a task! We started by working on his sensitivity to touch on the neck. He would jump every time touched there, no matter how gentle and/or slow the touch was. He was also sensitive to the touch on a certain spot on his side. He could be sound asleep on the couch and if you accidentally touched the spot on his side he would quickly awaken and jump down. I felt terrible every time this happened. He did slightly overcome these sensitivities, but never did so fully. Griffin did eventually adjust to being in the house and sleeping on a bed. He loved beds, he loved his crate, and he especially loved the couch! :)

Here we are only a month later getting ready for our move. We have learned how to manage Griffin’s issues to keep a happy home. So we went ahead and made the move to Colorado. Griffin and Ellee both loved the new backyard and the snow from the blizzard that welcomed us. Oh boy, did Griff love the snow! He loved to run in snow, eat snow and just be out in the snow. Seeing him take such pleasure in something made our hearts so happy!

As time went by, Griffin became more and more of a resource guarder. Poor Ellee lost half of her ear because of this…

We experienced our first “ugly dog attack” when Brandon took Griffin on a walk one evening. A neighbor had his dog in the front yard off-leash. The dog ran up in an aggressive manner to Brandon and Griffin. Griff went into automatic defense mode. He held on to the dog’s neck and tried to shake him. Brandon was able to break it up, but not before the other dog bit him (Brandon) in the leg. Both dogs were fine. We were traumatized and so was Griffin.

This led us to hire trainer number one. She helped with basic obedience and creating a stronger bond between us. We learned what signs to look for. Things also became more manageable between him and Ellee.

He still had his issues and fear of everything outside of the house; outside of his bubble we had created. He was excited to go on walks, but would keep his tail between his legs and head down the entire
time. Our hearts broke. We wanted so badly for him to relax and enjoy walks. Seeing a dog in constant fear is devastating. Humans did this to him. We did not know anything about his background, but we were sure someone either trained him to fight or just flat out abused him. We knew he had never been in a house and we knew he was not fed adequately. He did not know love before us. It was painfully obvious.

We started sessions with trainer number two. Rhea was recommended by our vet since she knew Rhea had rehabilitated many “bully breeds” and placed them in homes. Dogs deemed unadoptable now become the perfect family pet. She was at the Longmont Shelter so every Saturday we made the hour’s drive to and from. Here Griff worked with other dogs. He never learned how to be amongst them without attacking no matter what Rhea did. He would shake and stick to our side. We did notice he was much better with Ellee at home. The trainer did tell us Resource Guarding (diagnosed by her) was extremely difficult to break if you can break it at all. We stopped going after about six sessions since he was not progressing.

We decided to go camping in a remote area one day. Griffin stayed in the tent most of the first night. We awoke early the next day and decided to go on a hike. We walked past some other campers setting up their tent. They had three dogs with them. All three started to run up to us when the owner of two called them back to her. The third did not listen to his owner. He went straight up to Griffin and would not leave him alone even with us blocking him and his owner calling him. Griffin was terrified and the other dog knew this. After a few minutes Griff turned and latched onto the dog. He started shaking him. The dog was screaming. Brandon lifted Griffin’s hind legs to prevent the shaking. He would not let go. Finally after what felt like a lifetime, Griffin let go. The other dog popped up and ran to the owner. Miraculously, the dog was not injured. The people, surprisingly, apologized for not having control over their dog. I stayed back and explained Griffin’s situation. They were very understating; a rarity. We went back to camp completely devastated. Griffin went in to the tent and stayed there the rest of the day. He was depressed. We knew he did not like attacking. He was just so terrified due to whatever happened to him in his previous life; he couldn’t just let go and trust us completely.

Andee, Brandon and Sweet Griff

Andee, Brandon and Sweet Griff

We then hired trainer number three; he told us he was the “Cesar Milan of Colorado.” He trained under the man who taught Cesar everything he knew… Naturally, we thought we had found our answer.

This trainer taught us confidence training. We worked with Griffin every day. We continued sessions with this trainer for about four months. In the beginning he said Griffin would work with his pack of dogs but the last several sessions felt as if we were paying him to walk Griffin. Eventually I asked him if Griff could now work with his pack. Griffin needed to learn how to be around other dogs without going into automatic defense. I never heard back from the trainer. This man emailed me weekly to ask how things were going with Griffin and when we should book our next training session. I did not receive email, a phone call, or a text after I asked him about working with his dogs. This told me he did not have the courage to tell us he could not fix Griffin.

Another fear of Griffin’s was children. We had friends in town last summer. Griffin stayed in the backyard, his bedroom (yes, my dogs had their own bedroom) or in our bedroom. We were not about to test him with our friends’ children. He was outside one morning, and we had the blinds closed. Our friends’ youngest, who was one-year-old at the time, crawled over and pulled the blinds back. Griffin was lying in front of the slider door. He saw Ben and attacked the slider door without hesitation. We believe he associated children with dogs.

We now knew we could never have him around children.

We continued to work with Griffin, keep a very managed home, and a strict schedule. We continued to tell ourselves he would get better with age and time — until the last two situations occurred…

My brother recently had a baby and the new family came over one Sunday afternoon. Griffin was in his crate in the other room. Brandon had Kallen, our nephew, in his arms. Once everyone was settled, I let Griffin out and he was quite calm. He sniffed the car seat, said hello to everyone and then plopped down in front of the fireplace. All was great until Kallen started fussing. Griffin jumped up and flew across the room to Brandon and started growling at the baby. I immediately placed myself in between Griffin and Brandon. I grabbed Griffin and took him to his crate. Brandon and I stayed calm so we did not scare my brother and his girlfriend. Brandon and I just looked at each other and did not have to say a word about what we were thinking.

The last situation happened a week before we put him down. We set out on our daily walk. Once we were in the park we noticed a man in front of us was walking very slowly with his older dog. We hung back. Once he got far enough ahead we continued. I went first with Ellee; Brandon followed with Griffin. The man stopped in a grassy area and watched us walk by. Griffin then slid behind Brandon and lunged at the dog. Part of his leash came off when Brandon grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground. The man did not move during this whole fiasco. Once Griffin got up and walked back towards me the man slowly continued on. He did not say a word. He did not change facial expressions. As Griff walked back towards me my heart sank as he found refuge in my arms. I fixed his leash, stood up, and looked at Brandon with tear-filled eyes.

We knew the time had come to say goodbye. We knew Griffin was too damaged by his previous owner, or should I say monster. We knew it was not fair to keep him in this fear-filled world. We knew it was not realistic for us to keep living in a bubble.

Brandon set up a time to talk to trainer number two, Rhea. We trusted and respected her. She explained that in a dog’s life you want quality over quantity, i.e., you do not want to keep them around when they’re just living miserably. She told us we had given him the best two-and-a-half years possible. He knew love now, which he did not know before. But Griffin was not going to heal. His wounds were too deep. Despite what we see on The Dog Whisperer, not all dogs can be rehabilitated. She said she knew how much we loved him. We have gone above and beyond in trying to rehabilitate him. Rhea said it was time to put him down. We were simply out of options.

Brandon and I both bawled our eyes out in disbelief that it had come to this. That it had come to losing him.

The phone call with Rhea was on a Friday. We spent the weekend feeding him spectacular meals, loving on him, walking him, talking about all his goofiness and what he did for us. How he helped us grow. We talked about how we each experienced a love that we never knew existed. How he rehabilitated Brandon (which is too personal of an issue to explain here). Neither of us has ever cried so hard and so much in our entire lives. We could not eat. We could not sleep.

Monday arrived. I called our vet, Dr. Walters, and left a message for her to call me back. She too rescues bully breeds. She goes one step further and finds fosters for dogs and cares for dogs until she can find their forever home. You will often find a dog up for adoption roaming the vet office along with the resident kitty. She called me back later that evening. The first thing she said to me was, “I 100% support your decision.” She went on to say she knew this day could come and that we had exhausted all options. She once had a rescue that she too had to euthanize. We talked for a while, well, I tried to talk through my dry heaving. We set up a time for the following day to say goodbye. She made sure we had two hours with no one else in the office other than her, her co-worker and vet tech. They all knew Griffin very well and loved him as much as we did.

Griff and Brandon

Griff and Brandon

Tuesday arrived. We kept our routine. He snuggled with me in bed, we got up, he ate, we went on a walk, and then we loaded him up in the car with his blanket. I have no idea where the strength came from, but I was strong. Griffin simply went to sleep that day. As he left this painful world, an overwhelming sense of peace overcame me as I pet him through the last breath. Brandon held his head and told him how great he was. He said, “Thank you for all you taught me, I love you so much.” When Dr. Walters looked up at us and said he was gone she rushed out of the room. I guess she did not want us to see her cry which I did anyway when I went back to use the restroom before we left. I gave Griffin one last kiss, said I love you and left.

When we walked out of the office we noticed it was snowing. Great big fluffy snowflakes were falling from the sky. Snow was not predicted that day. I know in my heart it was Griffin telling us he was at peace. The same type of snow, unpredicted, happened again exactly one week later to the hour of his passing.

We are left behind – broken into pieces. We’re angry with the person who did this to him. To us. Our lives will never be the same. A void will go with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. A gaping hole is permanently ensconced in our hearts. Griffin’s singing, talking, laying on his back with his legs straight up in the air, his morning cuddles in our bed, his loving eyes, his huge hugs, and so much more are missed on a daily basis.

We miss his shadow. His motivation to never miss a walk. He taught us that love exists even in anger, frustration and fear. He showed us there is a reason for the pain in this life. The pain is to make us better people, to teach us what needs to be fixed in this world.

But through the pain love always conquers… Love always prevails.

Griffin is and always will be our little big boy.

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