Monday, September 5, 2016


I don't know if there is a Labor Day in Mongolia, but if there is, people should use it to honor a very important working dog, the Bankhar.  These dogs are native to the Mongolian Steppe, where they play a huge role in herding and protecting the livestock of the nomadic people.

There are several types of ancient dog breeds, including the Tibetan Mastiff.  If you read in Wikipedia about Tibetan Mastiffs, you will get the idea that Bankhar is just the Mongolian word for that breed.  And maybe it is.  But if that is true, why are there organizations dedicated especially to breeding Bankhar and placing them with Mongolian families?  Why don't they just use Tibetan Mastiffs?  I find this all somewhat confusing.

©Bruce Elfstrom

Anyway, one of these organizations is called the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project, and it is located in the U.S.  This group is a non-profit that researches, breeds, and trains working dogs to be placed in Mongolian homes where the dogs are needed to protect the sheep, goats, horses, camels, and yaks that these people depend on for their livelihood.

For many centuries, Bankhar filled this role, but then during the Soviet occupation, this way of protecting the nomads' herds was lost.  That meant that wolves and snow leopards could come in and kill off all the livestock.  People began to protect their animals by poisoning and shooting the predators.  There seemed to be no other option, but the result was that these predator animals became endangered.

The nomads of Mongolia live in this type of home, called a ger.
Gers are made of felt and wood.  They are very warm,
and also easy to move.

So bringing back the Bankar dogs to protect the livestock also helps protect wolves and snow leopards because the nomads no longer feel that their only choice is to kill the predators.

Marco Polo returning from China.
He liked Bankhar so much that he brought one home with him.
This made him the first Westerner recorded as owning one.

So these organizations that are working to increase the number of Bankhar do that by finding healthy breeding pairs, then training the puppies to herd and protect livestock.  After that, the dogs are placed with deserving families, free of charge.

This means that in the end, everyone is happy, the Bankhar, the nomads, the livestock, the wolves, and the snow leopards.  You can't really ask for more happiness than that!

Monday, July 4, 2016


It is Independence Day, and that means it's time for my traditional blog entry about a made-in-America breed of dog.  This year I am going to tell you about the Redbone Coonhound, partly just because I like the name of the breed!

Of course, my first question was why any dog would be said to have red bones, since we all know that bones are white -- at least after you gnaw the meat off of them.  I was beginning to think that the mystery of the name would not be solved by my research, but finally I dug up the fact that one of the early developers of this breed was Peter Redbone of Tennessee.  Another early breeder was Mr. Redbone's contemporary, Georgia F.L. Birdsong of Georgia.  So I guess the dogs could have been called Birdsong Coonhounds, but somehow this does not sound like the name of serious hunting dogs.

So anyway, Redbones were developed from red-colored foxhounds that Scottish immigrants brought with them to Georgia in the late 18th century.  These were crossed with Irish-bred foxhounds and with bloodhounds.  The idea was to get dogs who could hunt prey that climbed trees, dogs who were unafraid of taking on animals such as raccoons, bears, and cougars, and who liked to swim if necessary.  Redbones are popular with hunters because of their speed and agility over all types of terrain, and because of their instinctual treeing of prey.

Wikipedia; Photo by Rcaa

As you might expect of a hound, Redbones are quite vocal.  In addition to their "normal" baying, they give out a special, emotional bay when they have an animal treed or cornered.  Hunters recognize this sound and can use it to locate the dogs and their prey.

Redbone Coonhounds have been bred to have solid red coats that are short and smooth against the body, but coarse enough to provide protection in dense underbrush.  The breed standard allows for a dark muzzle and a small amount of white on the chest and feet.  The body is typical of the coonhounds subgroup, with long, straight legs and a wide barrel chest.  The ears are long and drooping; the eyes are dark brown or hazel; and the dogs' expression is often said to be pleading.  The nose of a Redbone should always be black.

Males stand between 22 and 27 inches at the shoulder, with females from 21 to 26 inches.  The hounds' build should be lean, muscular, and well-proportioned.  Weights generally range from 46 to 70 pounds.   The AKC standard says, "The Redbone mingles handsome looks and an even temperament with a confident air and fine hunting talents."  The breed has been registered with the United Kennel Club since 1904 and the American Kennel Club since 2010.
Redbones make excellent companions and family pets, but are energetic dogs who need regular exercise.  They are eager to greet family members by leaping up and licking everyone.  The dogs should be taught not to knock people and small children over in their enthusiasm.  Redbones are good swimmers and love to join the family in the pool.  Because of their prey drive, they are usually not good with smaller animals such as cats.

I'm not even going to ask Mom if we can have a Redbone Coonhound because we have enough cat-chasing dogs here already -- namely, my crazy brothers Tristan and Marius.  Also, I am afraid that a Redbone might mistake one of us chihuahuas for prey and try to make us climb a tree, which is something I would definitely not be good at!

Thursday, June 30, 2016


If you have been paying attention at all, you might have noticed that there is a fad going on called "adult coloring books."  Of course, children have been coloring in coloring books for decades, and sometimes they allowed their parents to color in their books, too.  But mostly, coloring was a thing you did when you were a kid, and then you outgrew it.  Unless you became an artist.

All of the pictures in this blog entry are examples of coloring my mom has done.
She graciously allowed me to use them without paying any royalty fees.

But now, suddenly, adult humans have decided that coloring is something they want to spend time doing.  Dogs do not color, and there are two good reasons for this:  (1) dogs do not have opposable thumbs, and (2) dogs don't want to waste their energy doing something silly like coloring, when they could just take a nap.

Mom likes using colored pencils best.

Unfortunately, Mom has got all caught up in this coloring craze, so now she would rather waste an evening sitting in front of the TV, coloring, than helping me write in my blog.  I resent this.  And the other thing I resent is that although Mom will let me sit on her lap while she's coloring, she does not have any hands free to pet me.

This one is colored with crayons.

However, once Mom gets it into her head to do something, there is no arguing with her.  The best I can do is try to understand why she feels compelled to behave the way she does.  So I did some research, and what I learned was that some psychologists say coloring is a sort of "mindfulness technique" like meditation or yoga.  But the good part about coloring is that you don't have to get into any weird positions, like you do with yoga. 

Mom did this one with felt markers.

Coloring is supposed to slow down your heart rate and respiration and make you feel less stressed.  It loosens muscles and stimulates the brain.  Of course, if you ask me, there's nothing like a nice nap to loosen muscles, and if you dream about chasing squirrels, that is sure to stimulate your brain.  But as usual, nobody asked me.

Mom said she didn't think there were any chihuahuas in her book, so she colored a collie instead.

Here are some other benefits of coloring that people have talked about:  it fulfills a creative urge, it's calming, it lets you think about nothing for a little while, it helps you access parts of your brain that you don't normally use, it's something anybody can do, you're not judged on how you color, and it makes you feel more self-confident and happy.

There are coloring books on almost any subject you can think of.  The ones Mom has are:  Dogs & Cats, Animals, Celtic Designs, Aztec Designs, and Southwest Desert Scenes.  On Amazon, you can get coloring books about Owls, Dogs,Cats, Sea Life, Horses, Elephants, Entangled Dragonflies, Anatomy, Physiology, Mandalas, Tattoos, Star Wars™, and the Supernatural.  Other titles are God Bless America, Cats & Quilts, Grimm Fairy Tales, The Psalms in Color, Art Nouveau Animal Designs, Kaleidoscope Wonders, I Dream of Yarn, Fanciful Fashions, Swear Word Coloring Book: Hilarious Sweary Coloring Book for Fun and Stress Relief, Sit the Fuck Down and Color, and Bullshit: An Adult Coloring Book with 40 Swear Words to Color and Relax.

So anyway, that's what humans are up to these days.  I have to admit that they have a lot of stress to get rid of because of the annoying political campaign that has been going on for months, and which won't be over until November.  Plus bad things are always happening, such as people with guns going into public places and shooting a lot of other people.  If coloring makes a person more relaxed, I guess I shouldn't complain.  Still, it seems like just petting a dog or cat would have the same effect.  Or taking a nice, long nap, like I mentioned before.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


There are lots of fascinating monkeys hanging around out there in the jungles, and I need to get busy writing about more of them during this Year of the Monkey.  Which is why today I am going to tell you about spider monkeys.

These monkeys are New World monkeys, and they live in the tropical forests of Central and South America.  All seven species in the genus are threatened.  The IUCN Red List declares one species to be vulnerable, four species to be endangered, and two species critically endangered.  The black-headed and the brown spider monkeys are in the last category.

Spider monkeys get their common name from their really long arms and their prehensile tails, which can wrap around a branch and support their the entire body weight.  When the monkeys walk, their arms practically drag on the ground. They use their tails for balance, and not their arms.  While in the treetops, the animals are very graceful and nimble.  Their fingers are long and recurved, and their thumbs are quite short.  Their tails serve as a fifth hand as they swing from branch to branch.

Only gibbons are said to be more agile than spider monkeys.  The treetops are where spider monkeys feel at home and spend much of their time.  That's where they forage, and they sleep there at night.  They are highly social animals and generally gather in groups of as many as two or three dozen.  At night, they split up into small sleeping parties of a half dozen or fewer.  Foraging also occurs in smaller groups.

Black Spider Monkeys 
Photographer: Eric Baccega/Getty Images

The monkeys' preferred diet consists of fruits and nuts, but they will also eat leaves, bark, bird eggs, insects, and honey, if their usual fare is not available.  Spider monkeys can be quite noisy.  They communicate with many calls, screeches, barks, screams, whinnies, and other sounds.

Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, Costa Rica 
Photographer:  Arturo de Frias Marques

A troop of monkeys usually spends most of the night sleeping in carefully selected trees.  Groups are thought to be led by an alpha female.  Her job is to plan an efficient feeding route each day.  Most of the foraging is done between dawn and 10:00 a.m.  After that, the adults rest while the young monkeys play.  More feeding may take place from time to time during the day until about 10:00 at night.  Spider monkeys do not spend much time grooming, possibly because their short thumbs make the activity difficult.

These monkeys are among the largest of those in the New World, with the biggest males weighing 24 pounds. This means that they yield enough meat to make it worthwhile for indigenous people to hunt them.  Because of their size, spider monkeys need a habitat consisting of large tracts of moist, evergreen forest and undisturbed primary rainforest.  Sadly, much of this type of habitat is being lost to logging and farming.

Captive White-Bellied Spider Monkey

Female spider monkeys only give birth to a single baby every two to five years.  For the first ten weeks after birth, the baby is totally dependent on its mother.  After that, it begins to explore on its own and play with other young monkeys.  Mothers continue to care for their offspring for the first year of their lives and often move about with the babies clinging to their backs.

Red-faced spider monkey

Young monkeys are very cute, of course, and you may be thinking that it would be nice to have one as a pet.  But if you think this, you are WRONG!  First of all, spider monkeys can never be potty-trained.  The baby ones will wear diapers, but older monkeys will just rip their diapers off.  So you will need to keep your monkey in an enclosure where you can clean up after it.

Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, Belize Zoo   Photographer Michael Schamis

Besides which, it's a long-term commitment to have a pet monkey because their can live 30 years or so.  They require social interaction and attention, plus you have to spend a lot of money on feeding and taking care of them.  In some places, it is illegal to have a wild animal as a pet.  And that's what monkeys are.  They are wild animals who should have the best place possible to live.  If they can't be in the rainforest, they at least deserve to live in a zoo or wildlife reserve.

So don't go out and buy yourself a monkey.  It's bad for the monkey, and it's bad for you, too.  That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it!

Monday, June 6, 2016


Lots of people have never heard of an American Curl cat, and even more people have never owned one.  But even though this is a fairly new breed, it is gradually becoming more popular, and you can now find a few American Curls in non-American places such as France and Japan.

The way the breed got started was kind of by accident.  In June of 1981, a black, longhaired stray kitty showed up at the home of Joe and Grace Ruga in Lakewood, California.  This cat had funny-looking ears that sort of bent backward instead of sticking straight up like normal cat ears do.  The Rugas adopted the cat and named her Shulamith.  Six months later, she had kittens which also had curled ears.  And this was the beginning of the American Curl breed.

In 1983, cat fanciers began selective breeding to produce cats with curled ears.  They found out that it was pretty easy to do this because the curled-ear gene is dominant.  Any cat with even one copy of the gene will show the trait.

In 1986 an American Curl was exhibited at a cat show for the first time, and in 1992 the longhaired American Curl was given championship status by The International Cat Association.  In 1999, the breed became the first one to be admitted to the Cat Fanciers' Association Championship Class with both longhaired and shorthaired divisions.

American Curl kittens are born with straight ears which begin to curl back within 3 to 5 days.  The small rosebud ears then gradually uncurl until they are "set" after about 16 weeks.  This is the point at which a breeder decides whether a kitten is show quality or pet quality.  The ideal curl should form an arc between 90º and 180º.  If the ears are too straight or if they curl so far that the tips touch the head, the cat cannot be shown.  But of course these kitties still make wonderful pets.

Any color of coat is acceptable for an American Curl.  Both the longhaired and shorthaired cats have soft, silky coats that lie flat against their bodies.  Because there is no undercoat, these cats don't shed much and don't need much grooming.

American Curls are very friendly and people-oriented.  They are not especially talkative, but they make trill-like cooing sounds.  Intelligent, playful, and curious, they keep their kitten-like personalities well into adulthood.

Because it was bred so much with non-pedigree cats while the breed was being established, the American Curl is generally a healthy breed.  Their average lifespan is more than 13 years.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


In my first entry about this museum, I showed you pictures of some of the miniatures.  Now I am going to tell you about toys.

First of all, here are some strange-looking dogs, a cat, and a bear.  I especially like the dog with the ears that stick up.

This bear was really, really big -- like even taller than Mom!  It was made by a German company called Stieff.  This company was started in 1880 by Margarete Steiff, who later had help from her brother Fritz.  Stieff started out by making elephants, but later she made dogs, cats, and pigs.  She designed and made most of the prototypes herself.  In 1897, Steiff's nephew Richard joined the company.  He is the one who first created the teddy bear in 1902.  By 1907, the company had made 974,000 bears, and they have been making more ever since.

Stieff toys are designed to be safe for children.  The most common materials in them are alpaca, felt, mohair, and woven plush.  They are stuffed with wood shavings or polyester fibers.  All the Stieff toys have the famous "button in ear," which shows that it is authentic and not an imitation.

Here are some other toys that Mom saw in the museum:

These are the kinds of toys that boys played with the in the 1940s:

And girls played at being little housewives:

Here are some George and Martha Washington dolls.  They don't look as happy as Barbie and Ken, but they have fancier clothes.

There were a lot of doll houses in the exhibit.  They were sort of like miniatures, but they were made for girls to play with, furnish, and decorate.  Some of them were very large and fancy.  A chihuahua could go inside one of the rooms and curl up and take a nap -- if there weren't so many dolls and other things in the way.

I'm not sure what that black animal is, but it might be a goat.  At our house, Mom doesn't let goats come in the kitchen.

This is the doll house dining room, full of doll-sized furniture and dishes.

Here are the dolly children, playing in their playroom.

You can see several rooms of this doll house, almost as if the wall fell off.

So that's pretty much all of the Toy and Miniature stuff I'm going to show you.  If you want to see more, you should go to the museum in person.  My opinion is that there are some fairly good exhibits there, as far as I can tell from the pictures Mom took.  The two things I think they really need to add are: (1) dog toys, and (2) dog houses.