Saturday, September 29, 2012


Gargoyles are very fierce-looking creatures that like to sit on the roofs of old buildings such as cathedrals.  They are pretty scary, but they are usually made out of stone, so they cannot actually attack you and eat you.  What they might do, though, is break off and fall down on you, in which case, you would be smashed like a bug.

Roman gargoyles

The ancient Greeks and Romans and Egyptians were the first people to have gargoyles, and the reason they had them was so the gargoyles could spit rainwater out away from the sides of the buildings.  Which was a good thing to do, because otherwise the rainwater would run down the outside walls and do bad things to the mortar that held the stones together.

Notre Dame Cathedral

A gargoyle had a big groove cut into its back, and the rainwater went down this and out through the gargoyle's mouth.  The longer the gargoyle was, the farther the water would shoot out away from the building.  Sometimes there were gargoyles that were not waterspouts.  They were just regular statues.  The proper name for a gargoyle that is not a waterspout is a "grotesque."

Notre Dame Cathedral
Photo @Paul Almasy/Corbis

The word gargoyle sounds funny when you say it, and if you say it a whole bunch of times, really fast, your tongue gets totally tangled up.   Gargoyle comes from the French word gargouille, which means "throat" or "gullet" in English.  There are a bunch of other words in several languages that are similar in sound, and they mean things like "to gurgle," "to swallow," or "to gargle."

Cathedral in Quito, Ecuador

The heyday of gargoyles was in medieval times, when lots of humongous cathedrals got built.  The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris probably has the biggest collection of gargoyles and grotesques.  The clergy made gargoyles into symbols of evil, and they were supposed to scare people into coming to church so that they wouldn't go to hell and get eaten by horrible monsters.  People could feel safe inside the church while they prayed, because the evil creatures could not come in.  But some medieval clergy didn't like the gargoyles and thought they seemed like some sort of idolatry.

Cathédrale de Meaux, South Transept
Photo by Vassil

Most people didn't know how to read back in those days, so that's why the priests gave meanings to the gargoyles and grotesques, and then they used them to teach people.  For example, one of the animals used most often was the lion.  It symbolized pride, which was one of the 7 deadly sins.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Dogs were also used as gargoyles.  Dogs were faithful and loyal and intelligent, but sometimes they stole food from people's kitchens.  This showed how the Devil could tempt a good creature to do bad things.  Wolves represented the leadership of the priests, but also symbolized greed.  Chimeras were animals that were made up of a mix of body parts, like for example, a mermaid is a chimera and so is a centaur.  Chimeras were a warning to people who let themselves be tempted by the devil.

Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin, Scotland
Photo by Ludi Ling

By the early 18th century, lots of buildings started to have gutters that carried water to drainpipes.  So this meant that gargoyles weren't being used anymore.  Which was good because sometimes they fell down and caused a lot of damage.  In 1724, the Parliament of Great Britain passed a law that required all new buildings to be built with drainpipes.

Chrysler Building, NY City
Photos: Fotothing, XRoads, Allnbdt

There are still a few churches and other places being built nowadays that have gargoyles.  Well, they are not real gargoyles that act as waterspouts.  These are more like grotesques or decorative features.  For instance, the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930 in the Art Deco style, and it has a bunch of gargoyle-type things on it.

National Cathedral, Washington D.C.
Photos: Stonecarver, io9

Also, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has grotesques on it.  Some of these are very modern, like for instance Darth Vader from Star Wars.

I guess these gargoyles are kind of cute, but I am glad that our house doesn't have any on it.  This is because I think that it would look weird to have gargoyles on a colonial-style house.  And also, I would always be afraid that one would fall off and hit me in the head.  Some people have gargoyles sitting around in their yards.  If you want one, this would probably be the best thing to do with it.  But I hope Mom doesn't decide to get one.  It's bad enough that we have to put up with that garden gnome she bought a couple of years ago!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Most people know a Siamese cat when they see one, and this is because the breed has been around for a very long time, and it is very popular.  Siamese cats came from the country of Siam, which is now called Thailand.  When Siam changed its name, maybe the name of the cats should have been changed to Thailander cats, but it wasn't, probably because everybody was already more used to saying "Siamese cats."

In the Thai language, this breed is called วิเชียรมาศ or Wichianmat, which means "moon diamond."  There are several different breeds of oriental cats, and the Siamese was the first one to be recognized by breed organizations in the West.

The first Siamese cat to reach the U.S. was a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878 from the American Consul in Bangkok.  In 1884, The British Consul-General brought home a breeding pair for his sister.  These cats had 3 kittens, and this whole Siamese family was shown in 1885 at London's Crystal Palace Show, where everybody was very impressed with them.  Sadly, all 3 kittens died soon after that, but we don't know why, exactly.  Another pair of Siamese that already had kittens was imported to the U.K. in 1886.  The breed got more and more popular from then on, and in 1901 the British Siamese Cat Club was founded.

The original cats that came from Thailand were muscular and graceful and had long bodies.  They were slender and had fairly big ears, but nothing about them was really extreme.  But then in the 1950s and 1960s, breeders and judges started liking Siamese that had very fine bones, narrow heads, and long bodies that looked kind of like tubes.  The heads on these cats were long and wedge-shaped, with great big ears on top.  And the tails were long and skinny, and they were pointy at the end.

Some breeders preferred the original type of cat, but they were in the minority, and they couldn't compete in the show ring very well against the new, modern Siamese.  These breeders got together and wrote up some standards for their cats, who were called by names like "Traditional Siamese," "Old Style Siamese," "Classic Siamese," and "Appleheads."  Several cat organizations now let people show these cats and get championships in a division called "Thai."

Okay, so that's enough history and cat show stuff.  I just needed to explain why some Siamese cats are so scrawny and weird-looking, and why others look more like normal cats.

Now I will tell you about "points," because all the cats in this breed have them, and the points can be several different colors.  Do you know why Siamese cats have points?  It's because they are part albino!  I was shocked to learn this.  Not only that, but the albino stuff comes from an enzyme that helps produce melanin (whatever that is!).  Anyway, this enzyme is sensitive to heat, and it doesn't work at normal body temperatures.  But when it gets out to the feet, face, and tail, where the temperature is cooler, the enzyme works just fine, and that's where the color is.

When Siamese kittens are born, they are mostly all white, but by the time they are 4 weeks old, you can start to see what color they will turn out to be.  Siamese cats get darker as they get older, and if they live in a warm climate, they are a lighter color than if they live in a cold place.

The first Siamese cats that came from Thailand were all seal points, but gradually some other colors developed and got recognized.  In the U.K., any cat that has points in the Siamese style can be registered as a Siamese.  In the U.S., only 4 colors are recognized as real Siamese colors, and cats with any other color points are called Colorpoint Shorthairs.

Here are the point colors:

Seal Point 
Very dark brown, almost black, like the color of a seal.  The body is fawn-colored.  The nose and paw pads are dark, like the points.  Sometimes there is a lot of contrast between the colors of the points and the body, but other times not so much.  This is the color most people think of when they think of Siamese cats.

Photo @life with siamese cats

Chocolate Point
The points are like milk chocolate, and the bodies are creamy white.  The nose and pads are cinnamon-pink.  

Blue Point
These points are slate blue or gray in color.  The bodies are bluish-white, and the paw pads are slate blue.  

Lilac Point
Pinkish-gray points with white bodies.  The noses and pads are lavender-pink.  Cats with lilac points are the lightest of the four recognized colors.

Red Point
Points that are bright, reddish-gold.  The bodies are a creamy-white color.  The U.K. and Australia recognize this point color.  In the U.S., where it might be called "Flame Point," a cat of this color is classified as a Colorpoint Shorthair.

Tortie Point
@Kamée / Creative Commons
Instead of being a solid color, these points are mottled or spotted, like a tortoiseshell cat.  And like tortoiseshell cats, tortie points are females, at least 99.9% of the time.

© iStockphoto | thepropshoppe

Lynx Point
The points can be any Siamese point color, but they are striped, like a tabby cat.  The faces should have well-defined stripes, and there should be an "M" mark on the forehead.  The American Cat Fanciers' Association calls this type of cat a Lynx Colorpoint Shorthair.  Meanwhile, in the U.K., the exact same kind of cat is called a Tabby Point Siamese.

Siamese cats are affectionate, social, and intelligent.  They really like humans, and might bond particularly with one person.  If you have a Siamese, you should be ready to give it quite a bit of attention, because it will demand it.  Many Siamese are very vocal.  They are playful and active, even when they are all grown up.  

Siamese cats have a shorter lifespan than some other types of cats.  They generally live to 13 or 14, but sometimes they can get as old as 20.  Some of the health problems they might have are kidney disease, basal cell carcinoma, diabetes, asthma, hip dysplasia, and hair loss caused by excessive grooming.

The best thing about Siamese cats is that they have an entire song written about them.  This song comes from the movie Lady and the Tramp.  The first part goes like this:

We are Siamese if you please
We are Siamese if you don't please
Now we're looking over our new domicile
If we like we stay for maybe quite a while.

While the two kitties sing this song, they explore the house, and get Lady, the dog into all sorts of trouble, which seems totally unfair.  You can watch a YouTube video of this song by going here.  I wish somebody would write a song about basenjis, but I don't think anybody has done this.  Maybe I will have to do it myself, but not right now, because right now I'm going to take a nap!

Monday, September 24, 2012


A few weeks ago -- or maybe it was a few months ago -- I wrote a post about some misinformation that I found in The Dictionary of Misinformation, by Tom Burnam.  And now I think it's time to inform you about some more things you might have been misinformed about.

Misinformation #1:  

Maybe you remember that song by Mr. Stephen Foster called "The Old Folks at Home," where Mr. Foster talks about the Swanee River.  Except that there isn't any such river.  There is only the Suwannee River, which goes through part of southern Georgia and the panhandle of Florida.  

Okay, so maybe you are thinking that Mr. Foster just made a mistake in spelling this strange river name that came from the language of the Timucuan Indians.  But if you thought that, you would be wrong, because here is what really happened.  Mr. Foster started writing the words of "The Old Folks at Home," and it was about this African-American who was missing the sweet old life of slavery on the plantation.  And Mr. Foster, who was writing the song in Pittsburgh, needed a two-syllable name of a river where a plantation home was likely to be located.  

So first he tried the PeDee River that goes through the Carolinas, but that sounded kind of silly.  And then his brother suggested the Yazoo River, which is in Mississippi.  But Mr. Foster didn't like that either.  After which, the Foster brothers got out the atlas and started looking at names of rivers, and they found the Suwannee.  Stephen Foster thought this was the perfect name, except that it had three syllables.  So he smushed it together to make two.

A postcard of happy life on the Suwannee River
"The Old Folks at Home" was first published in 1851.  Here's how it goes, in case you forgot.

Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,

Far, far away,

Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,

Dere's wha de old folks stay.

All up and down de whole creation

Sadly I roam,

Still longing for de old plantation,

And for de old folks at home.


All de world am sad and dreary,

Eb-rywhere I roam;

Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary,

Far from de old folks at home!

Of course, Stephen Foster had never seen the Suwannee River, except on a map, so he did not know that it was a blackwater river that went through a bunch of swamps where nobody would ever think of building a plantation.  Florida adopted "Old Folks" as their state song, but eventually they had to change the words to make them more PC.

Misinformation #2:

Some people say that milk is the most nearly perfect food, but this is not true.  What is true is that for all kinds of infant mammals, their mother's milk is the best source of nutrition and colostrum, which provides antibodies for the baby to help keep it from getting sick.  

Humans are the only animals that keep on drinking milk, even after they stop being babies.  The problem with this is that some adult humans no longer have this stuff called lactase, which helps them digest the lactose in milk.  So when these people eat dairy products, they get diarrhea and other nasty symptoms.  This is called being lactose intolerant.

There are maybe 30 to 50 million Americans who are lactose intolerant, and this includes 75% of Native Americans and African Americans.  Among Asian Americans, 90% are lactose intolerant.  So for all these people, milk is a long way from being a nearly perfect food.

Misinformation #3:

It used to be that when somebody had gout, other people told them that they had been drinking too much booze and eating too much rich food.  But now we know that we don't really know what causes gout.  

Gout is very painful, and it usually only happens in one joint, except when it happens in more than one.  There's this chemical called uric acid that is left over when certain foods get digested, but sometimes a person's body makes too much uric acid or else doesn't get rid of the extra uric acid.  

In 50% of cases, gout shows up in the joint where the big toe is attached to the foot.  Men get gout more often than women, and certain families might be more likely to have gout than other people.  Also if you have a condition such as diabetes, obesity, anemia, or leukemia, you are more likely to get gout.  Certain foods might trigger gout in some people, but you don't get it just because you eat a lot of rich food.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Remember how we used to have five foster kittens?  Well, now we only have three.  I wish I could tell you that two of them got adopted, and that's why we only have three left, but the real story is much sadder than that.  So if you are a person who gets sad easily, you might want to have your tissues handy.

Anyway, first of all, there was little Mickie who, as you probably remember, was rejected by her mother, so we thought maybe something was wrong with her.  But she seemed to be doing okay, and she was eating real cat food with the other kittens, and she was running all around really fast, and she meowed a lot.  What was strange, though, was that she didn't seem to be growing.  She still looked really little, with a big round head and a round body with a pot belly.

Then on Tuesday, Mom decided Mickie wasn't acting right because she didn't have any energy or want to do anything.  Also she had diarrhea and she seemed like she was dehydrated.  So Mom took her over to visit Dr. Regan, who said Mickie had ADR (Ain't Doing Right) and Failure to Thrive.  Mickie weighed  6.5 ounces, which was the same as she weighed three weeks ago when we first started fostering her.  One time Mickie got all the way up to 7.5 ounces, but on Tuesday she was back to 6.5.

Mom thought maybe the time had come to admit that Mickie had something serious wrong with her, and she would never grow up to be a big kitty.  But Dr. Regan and Aunt Tania couldn't bear to put little Mickie to sleep because she was still so active and alert.  So the three of them talked about what to do, and Aunt Tania said she would take Mickie home for a few days to give her fluids and try to get her feeling more perky.

Meanwhile, Mom had planned to take the rest of the kittens to the shelter on Thursday to get them weighed and dewormed and stuff like that.  But then Macie started acting like she didn't feel very good, and we could tell this because she wouldn't eat any supper Tuesday night or any breakfast Wednesday morning.  And then when Mom gave the kittens their lunch, Macie not only didn't eat, but she went over and puked under the rocking chair.

So Mom decided maybe she shouldn't wait until Thursday to take Macie to see Dr. Regan.  But first she had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get new stickers to put on her license plates.  The stickers are orange, and they are very pretty.  And also, Mom had to take Aunt LaDene to the Department of Motor Vehicles so she could get her handicap parking tag renewed.  But after all that was done, Mom took the kittens to the shelter.

Dr. Regan thought Macie was pretty sick, and she said maybe the reason her tummy was so swollen was because she had a bunch of worms.  So Macie got dewormed, and she also got penicillin and vitamin B12 and fluids and something else that was supposed to make her feel less like puking.  And the other three kittens got dewormed.  Then all four of them were tested for FeLeuk/FIV, and everybody was negative, which is a good thing.

Oh, and Aunt Tania said that Mickie wasn't doing very well, but she thought maybe Mickie got weaned too soon, so she was feeding her with a bottle again part of the time.

We hoped that Macie would feel better Wednesday night, after she got all that medicine, but she just sat around and acted like she felt crappy.  She still didn't want to eat, and she didn't poop out any worms or anything else either.  Mom was afraid Macie might die during the night, so she brought Macie's carrier up to our bedroom in case Macie started crying or something while we were asleep.  But whenever Mom got up to go to the bathroom, she looked in the carrier, and Macie started purring.

Well, yesterday Macie still seemed really sick, and her tummy got more and more swollen, and Mom thought maybe there was something stuck in her gut, sort of like that time I ate part of a blanket and it got stuck.  Either that or maybe Macie was bleeding inside.  So Mom made an appointment for Macie with Dr. Patricia because she knew Dr. Patricia could do x-rays and stuff that the doctors at the shelter can't do.  Plus Dr. Patricia's office is lots closer than the shelter, even though it costs more to go there.

It's hard to see a whole lot on an x-ray of such a little kitten, but it looked like Macie had a lot of gas trapped in her intestines, which would mean there was a blockage.  Also there was a bunch of fluid in her abdomen.  Dr. Patricia said the only way to fix the problem would be with surgery, and she was pretty sure Macie would die during the surgery.  So in the end, Mom decided that Macie should be put to sleep.  She called Aunt Tania first to let her know what was going on, and Aunt Tania agreed that was the best decision.

Mom also paid to have a necropsy done on Macie, which is the same thing as an autopsy, except it's for animals.  Dr. Patricia thought maybe Macie had something called FIP, which stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis.  I'm not going to try to explain what FIP is because it's very complicated, and complicated stuff makes me confused.  But I will say that there are lots of symptoms that might mean a cat has FIP, and even when a necropsy is done, the lab can only say that the results are "consistent with" FIP.  But if Macie maybe had FIP, then our other kittens might have it, too, and it would be good to know that.

After Mom got home, she called Aunt Tania to talk to her some more, and Aunt Tania said that she had Mickie put to sleep yesterday, too.  It turned out that Mickie started getting a lot of diarrhea and was acting all lethargic, and by yesterday morning she was very sick.  So she and Macie ended up dying on the same day, and now they can play together at the Rainbow Bridge, which will be a lot of fun for them.

Dr. Patricia called Mom after she had looked at Macie's insides, which she had to do so she could get a bunch of samples ready to send to the laboratory for the necropsy.  She found out that Macie's intestine did this weird thing like a telescope, where one part went up inside the other part.  Dr. Patricia said there was no way this could have been fixed with surgery.  Also Macie had a swollen liver and kidneys, and there was lots of fluid in her stomach and abdomen.

In about five days, we will get the results back from the lab.  We are just hoping that Macie does not have anything "consistent with" FIP because we don't want our other kittens to get sick, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This whole week, which started on Monday and will end on Sunday, is Petfinder's Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week.  So I thought it would be a great chance for me to tell you about some pets that you might want to adopt here in the Kansas City area.  Or if you live someplace else, you can also adopt a less-adoptable pet, just by going to your local shelter or rescue group.  Because sadly, there are always lots of dogs and cats that people overlook when they are trying to find a pet to adopt.  And sometimes it's because these animals have physical problems or because they are older or something like that.  But it's really not the animal's fault, and if you just adopt them, they can be loving and wonderful, and you'll be very happy to have them in your life.

Anyway, this is Spirit, who is a very pretty Aussie mix.  He is about 2 years old, very friendly and well-behaved, and he gets along great with dogs and cats.  Spirit was abused and neglected, and when he was rescued, he was starving and dehydrated.  He ended up with some kidney damage, so he has to eat a special kind of food.  Also he has to go to the vet 3 or 4 times a year to get tests done to make sure his kidneys are still working okay.  So all of this will cost a little extra money, but having a dog like Spirit would make it worth the cost.

Hercules is a German Shepherd who was abandoned in a rental house.  He tested positive for heartworms, so he is getting treated right now, and he isn't allowed to run around loose in the yard.  Instead, he has to stay on a leash when he goes out.  Hercules is friendly with most dogs.  He is 3 years old and weighs 75 pounds.

Maggie May is another animal who was left in a house when her people moved away.  I'm not sure why anybody would do this to their pet, but a lot of people seem to do it.  Maggie May is 10 or 12 years old, but cats can live long lives, so she has lots of good years left.  Maggie May was really matted when she came to the shelter, so she had to be shaved.  The best kind of home for her would be a nice, quiet one.

Daisy is a pitbull mix, so that means people who live in certain parts of this area can't adopt her because it's against the law.  And other people are nervous about having a pitbull.  But Daisy is a nice girl who is fun and friendly.  She has a lot of energy and is very playful, so she would would like to live with someone who could take her for a walk every day, or maybe even let her go running with them.  Daisy is a year and a half old, weighs about 40 pounds, and gets along with most other dogs.

There is nothing wrong with Pretzel except that she has been at the shelter since she was a kitten.  She's 6 years old now.  Pretzel is friendly and playful, and she likes other cats.

Okay, well, all those animals I just told you about can be adopted at the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City.  Now I will tell you about a few cats that DivaPets has.  This is the rescue group Mom fosters kittens for.  There are some cats there that happen to be less adoptable, but they are still very nice cats, and they need homes just as much as the cute little kittens do.

Wobbles got her name because she walks funny.  When she was a kitten, Wobbles had a bad virus infection that gave her some nerve damage.  So now she looks like she might be drunk on catnip when she walks, but she can't help it.  That's just the way she is.  Wobbles is a year and a half old, and she is a very sweet kitty.

Tilt had a horrible ear infection when he was little, so now he goes around with his head tilted to one side.  He is a very pretty cat, and he gets along well with other kitties.

We think Miss BK got hit by a car when she was a kitten, or at least somehow she got injured.  She ended up with something called a prolapsed anus, which means the inside of her anus kept coming out, which it's not supposed to do.  Miss BK had several kinds of treatment, and nothing seemed to work, so the rescue people were thinking they might have to put her to sleep.  But then a veterinarian did surgery on her, and after that, her anus was just fine and it stopped doing that prolapse thing.  Miss BK is all well now, and she doesn't even have to eat special, soft food anymore, like she did before the surgery.

Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet-Week is more than halfway over, which means that you need to rush out and adopt a less-adoptable pet right away, if you're going to do it this week.  But the truth is that there are always pets out there who end up waiting a long time to get adopted.  So the next time you are looking for a dog or cat to adopt, you should think about making one of these pets a part of your family.  At least that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


This is the true story of a very brave doggy heroine who lives in the Philippines.  Her name is Kabang, which means "spotty" in the Visayan language.  In December of 2011, Kabang saved two young girls who were about to get hit by a motorcycle, but when she did that, Kabang herself got hurt very badly.

The Rudy and Christina Bunggal found Kabang when she was just a little stray puppy, and they made her a part of their family.  The Bunggals fed their puppy milk and porridge, even though they are poor and only make about US$3.50 a day.  Kabang loves playing with Dina, the Bunggals' 11-year-old daughter, and sleeps with her at night.

Anyway, one day in December, Dina and her 3-year-old cousin, Princess, were hanging out together near Mr. Bunggal's shop, and they decided to cross the street.  Except that they didn't notice a motorcycle that was coming really fast towards them.  But Kabang saw the motorcycle, and she ran out and attacked it head-on to keep it from hitting the girls.  If it had hit them, they would probably have got hurt or maybe even killed.  But the only thing that happened was that they fell down and got some bruises.

The man on the motorcycle also got a little bruised, but Kabang wasn't so lucky.  Her snout went up over the top of the front wheel, and stuck there.  Then when the motorcycle fell over, Kabang's upper jaw was torn off.  The people who saw the accident ran over to help, and they pulled Kabang loose, but she ran away, and no one could find her for two weeks.  The family was afraid their heroic dog had gone off someplace to die.

But then Kabang came home again!  The city pound staff asked Mr. Bunggal to bring the dog in so they could put her to sleep, but Mr. Bunggal refused to do that.  "It does not matter if she's ugly now.  What is important to us is she saved our children and we cannot thank her enough for that."

A little while later, Kabang got pregnant, and she had a litter of 6 puppies.  Sadly, she is in danger of getting a bad infection or bone fungus because her face is a big, open wound.  She has to take antibiotics every single day to stay healthy.  There is no one in the Philippines who can do the kind of surgery Kabang needs to rebuild her face.  The Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital of the University of California in Davis is willing to treat Kabang, but it will be very expensive.

When the story of Kabang started getting out in the news and on Facebook, people began to donate money so that Kabang could go the the U.S. and have surgery.  Dr. Anton Lim, a veterinarian in the Philippines, is caring for Kabang right now, and he says it will take at least $20,000 for transportation costs and then for the surgery.

Kabang with the Bunggals' grandson.
Photo by Anton Lim/Tzu Chi Foundation

By September 1, only $4,300 had been raised, which was a long way from being enough.  But then, guess what!  A lot of people must have given a bunch of money, because on September 14, the group Care for Kabang announced they had reached their goal of $20,000.  They also said the costs might be more than the amount they raised, so if people still want to give, they are welcome to do that.  Any extra money will be used for unexpected expenses and for Kabang's future medical care.  Anybody who wants to donate can go to   And there is also a Facebook page.

So that is the story of Kabang and the family she loves.  It is kind of a sad story, but we hope it will have a very happy ending.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


A llama at the KC Zoo
Llamas are like the South American version of a camel, except they don't have humps.  Also, they are shorter than camels, and you can't ride them unless you are a little kid.  A full-grown llama is between 5.5 and 6 feet tall, if you measure from the top of its head, and it weighs from 280 to 450 pounds.

People who live in the Andes have used llamas for centuries as pack animals.  A llama can carry about 50 or 75 pounds for up to 20 miles.  Usually llamas are nice, gentle animals that do what they are asked to do, but sometimes a llama will decide it has too much weight to carry.  In this case, it will just lie down and not go anyplace.  And if the llama is really annoyed, it might spit, hiss, and kick at its owner until it gets a lighter load to carry.

Another good use for llamas is to make clothes out of their wool.  This wool is very soft, and it doesn't feel oily because it doesn't have any lanolin in it.  The poop of llamas can be dried and burned as fuel, their hides can be used to make leather objects, and llamas can also be eaten.

The scientific name for llamas is Lama glama.  Another animal, the guanaco, is also in the Lama genus.  The alpaca and vicuña are in a different genus.  Llamas and alpacas are totally domesticated, but guanacos and vicuñas are wild.

Llamas actually started out in North America, and then they moved to South America about 2.5 million years ago.  We know this because llama fossils have been found in the Rocky Mountains and also in Central America.  These fossils are from the Pleistocene era, and some of them are bigger than modern llamas.  If you were hanging out in the U.S. about 25,000 years ago, you would have seen llamas in places like California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, and Florida.  But by the end of the Ice Age, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, there weren't any camel-type animals left in North America.

A 1920 postcard from Peru
The people who lived in the Andean highlands of Peru about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago domesticated guanacos and turned them into a separate species called the llama.  This makes llamas some of the oldest domestic animals in the whole world.  Today in South America there are about 7 million llamas and alpacas.  Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Canada, there are something like 65,000 llamas, 7,000 alpacas, and 200 guanacos.  Llamas are also popular in countries like New Zealand because people like their wool.

One use of llamas in the U.S. is as pack animals for hikers.  Besides that, they are used for their wool, for cart pulling, as therapy animals, for exhibition in shows and parades, and as companions.  Llamas can even be used to guard flocks of sheep.  The best kind of sheep-guarding llama is a male who has been neutered.  This llama will bond with the sheep, and then he will scare off the coyotes and anything else that wants to hurt his flock.

Female llamas don't have a heat cycle.  Instead, they breed with a male first, and then produce an egg.  So they often get pregnant on the very first try.  After that, it takes 11.5 months before the baby, which is called a cría, is born.  The mother gives birth standing up, and it only takes about half an hour to do it.  Other female llamas from the herd stand around to guard the new baby from male llamas and predators.  Crías get on their feet and start nursing within an hour after being born.  A mama llama can't lick her baby because her tongue is attached inside her mouth and only comes out about 1/2".  But she can still nuzzle the cría and hum to it.  I could not find out what tunes the mother llamas hum, but I imagine they are lullabies.

If llamas are trained and socialized at an early age, they are generally friendly and gentle to be around.  They are curious, so they usually go up to new people without being afraid.  Crías who have to be bottle-fed and who get over-socialized sometimes are hard to deal with as adults.  These animals treat humans the way they might treat other llamas, by spitting, kicking, and neck wrestling.

KC Zoo
One time Mom got spat on by a llama, and here's how it happened.  Mom went to this place called Exotic Animal Park, which is close to Springfield, Missouri.  And at this park, you drive through and look at the animals, but you don't get out of your car, just in case the animals get aggressive.  Anyway, you can buy this food stuff to feed the animals, and it is these green sticks made of maybe grass or hay or something all molded together.  So Mom fed this one llama that came up to the car window, which she wasn't supposed to roll down very far, except that she pretty much rolled it down all the way.

And the first llama ate a piece of the green stick, and then Mom tried to give another piece of the stick to the next llama who was in line behind the first llama.  But the first llama didn't like that, and he started spitting at Mom and at the other llama, and what he spat was all this green stuff from the green stick he'd been eating.  So then Mom had green llama spit on her clothes and on her car seat.  And that's when she decided maybe she should roll up her window.

Anyway, Mom thought it was pretty funny that she got spat on by a llama, because how many people can say that ever happened to them?  Frankly, it seems kind of silly to me, but Mom really likes this story, so that's why she made me tell it to you.

Okay, so when llamas aren't eating green stick things at Exotic Animal Park, what do they eat?  The answer is that they just graze on grass and hay and stuff like that, the same as cows or sheep.  Llamas have a stomach with 3 compartments, and after they eat their food the first time, they can belch it back up and chew it some more so they can digest it better.

I asked Mom if we could get a llama of our very own.  She said she would like to have one, but it would be better if we lived in a place where there is more space to graze.  So maybe someday we can move to the country and get a llama, which would be lots of fun -- if it ever really happened.