"You really got a hold on me"
Featured above are two very special black-tailed prairie dogs: 'The Outlaws.. Jesse and Frank James of The James Gang prairie dogs.
Standing on the right is Jesse James, a displaced black tailed prairie dog from the pet trade who stole my heart immediately. Jesse taught me all about the very special relationship and love that unfolds between a human and a prairie dog, and was the first of many prairie dogs to directly join my world. Jesse showed me the world through the eyes of a prairie dog. I learned that prairie dogs share a profound vulnerability that human children experience; both all too often take the brunt of human callousness. They both thrive in a safe environment. Jesse communicated his need to feel safe and I responded by providing a safe haven for him. His basic needs of exercise, food, love and warmth were met, and he quickly became an interactive member of our family. Gaining the trust of a prairie dog is a gift that must be earned, and when you receive such a gift, you are forever changed. When I met Jesse James my life took a new direction; as an advocate with a focus on educating the public about the plight of the prairie dog. Jesse taught me all the intracacies of life of the black-tailed prairie dogs. The social life of this species is very similar to the life of humans. They greet one another with a kiss of recognition and display strong family values. They live and work in a community. They sleep at night and work all day. Jesse James exhibited more advanced social skills than any other animal I'd ever known. In January 2006, just as he was entering into his eighth year, cancer invaded his bladder and kidneys and took my Jesse from me. He was and always will be a legend in my heart and in my life.
Featured in the photo next to Jesse James (on all fours), is my beloved Frankie, who came to live with me when he was nearly six years old, and had lived that entire time with virtually no physical contact with any other living being. Needless to say, when I met Frankie, I picked him up and held him. He had never experienced that before, and he bonded instantly and deeply with me. He went on to live well beyond his 12th birthday. Even though he lived a long full life, it wasn't long enough for me. During his time with me, he spent most of his day following me around the house, or sitting in my lap. Frank showed me that there is no love in all the world.. like the love of a prairie dog. He would tug on my pant leg pleading for me to pick him up or to sit on the floor with him and snuggle. Frankie was the first to give me prairie dog kisses. In their natural setting, prairie dogs *kiss* or lock teeth when they greet one another, and Frankie was very generous with kisses, right up until the very end of his time with me. I consider that to be one of the greatest gifts a prairie dog bestows upon their human. I lost my Frankie in July 2005 to a massive coronary due to old age [natural causes] and when he died, a part of me went with him.
These rescued prairie dogs became my family through the years. The loss of one of these family members is devastating. The average human being is clueless about the nature of the prairie dog and the fact that they are such spiritual little beings.. like none other that has ever touched my life. They are as different and unique as any other mammal. Our relationship has evolved over a lifetime - their lifetime. I feel compelled to tell everyone I meet, one person at a time, how prairie dogs have touched my life. Although many of the original gang members are no longer with me physically, their paw prints are etched permanently on my heart. I feel so blessed to have been part of their world.
Frank and Jesse James were the basis and foundation of the "Prairie Dog Rescue of RI", where I took in displaced and unwanted prairie dogs from all over southern New England. My rescue operation worked in conjunction with Roger Williams Park Zoo, Animal Control Officers, a very knowledgeable Vet, and other animal welfarists throughout the United States. In June of 2001, I relocated my efforts to a little farm in Indiana. Through the years, and through my Prairie Dog Forum online, countless prairie dogs have been placed securely in pre-screened, pre-approved homes nationwide. In October of 2007, I founded a non-profit shelter for prairie dogs: Midwest Prairie Dog Shelter, Inc. ~ "The Last Stop" where I continued to provide a sanctuary for prairie dogs in need, until October of 2016.
It is our hope that you will find this site to be both informative and enjoyable. The plight of the prairie dog requires immediate attention - both as pets and in their natural habitat. As you burrow through this website, we hope to enlighten you about the nature of the prairie dog. You can also find our page on Facebook.
When considering any pet, it is important to research the animal's habits and behaviors and measure compatibility factors with yours. This is imperative with prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are not a pet for everyone because they require constant interaction with their families, and can be quite demanding of your attention at times because of their highly social nature. Prairie dogs are not a pet that will thrive in solitude, needing little or no interaction from you. Not every prairie dog will make a good pet, and not every human would be compatible with a prairie dog. Prairie dogs need to dig, tunnel, chew and build, which can be viewed as "destructive" by some, and "creative" by others. If you view this behavior as creative, and can accommodate their habits, you can be assured that no other pet will capture your heart the way a prairie dog will! Prairie dogs can be very "busy" animals. They require a variety of "safe" materials in which to expend their energy. My observations of black-tailed prairie dogs in their natural habitat revealed to me their strong tendency to be in constant physical contact with one another, and when sharing life with humans, that same constant contact is demanded. Prairie dogs are amazing little critters, and it is truly my pleasure to share my years of experience with those who desire to learn about the necessary provisions for a healthy and safe environment for captive prairie dogs.
Prairie dogs are as American as apple pie and baseball. Explorers Lewis and Clark discovered prairie dogs long ago, and captured and brought a pup to President Thomas Jefferson. The President was both delighted and entertained by the little "barking ground squirrel", and it is said that he shared a piece of his apple with his new friend. The little prairie dog lived out its life (as a pet) in what is now known as Independence Hall in Pennsylvania. 'Prairie dogs as pets' is not a new phenomenon; in fact, records indicate that as far back as the early 1900's, newspaper articles proudly displayed children with their beloved prairie dog pets. It's unfortunate that there aren't laws in place to regulate the pet trade and screen individuals [pet owners] to safeguard the health and well-being of prairie dogs and other animals as pets, because they often end up in the wrong hands when sold through pet stores.
The pet trade is not a viable solution to managing prairie dog colonies because every year, thousands of prairie dogs entered the pet trade. and many ended up abused, mistreated, neglected and abandoned or set free throughout the United States and in other countries as well. It is critical that we all get involved with the dedicated environmental groups to save the species in their natural setting. Prairie dog numbers have greatly diminished over the years, due to natural predators, poisoning, shooting for sport, disease and urban sprawl, and there are some humans who still refer to them as "pests" and want them to disappear completely. This would be catastrophic to our western ecosystem.
For those interested in either learning how to help prairie dogs in their natural habitat, or contributing to those groups that are dedicated to saving the prairie dog, please see my 'Links' page for contact information. Some of those organizations are Prairie Dog Pals in New Mexico, Citizens For Prairie Dogs in Texas, Prairie Dog Coalition of the Humane Society of the United States, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Wyoming, WildEarth Guardians in NM, UT, AZ and CO, and the Great Plains Restoration Council in Arizona. These organizations are comprised of dedicated, hard-working individuals who take an active role in the education of the prairie dog's important role in our prairie ecosystem, while working fervently within a society that often condemns them.
Researchers and biologists reiterate that prairie dogs are the keystone species of the prairie ecosystem, suggesting that approximately 200 other prairie wildlife species (plants and animals) depend on them in some way. There continues to be tremendous political opposition to listing the prairie dog as a threatened species by farmers, ranchers, developers, and some state and government officials. Listing them as a candidate for the ESA helped to save this species in the past, and we need to join forces with the groups that are working diligently to get them back to that status. Unfortunately, many landowners and ranchers believe they must compete with the prairie dog for land, due to the myths and fallacies that are handed down from generation to generation, with no evidence to back up their false beliefs. On the contrary, scientific evidence has proven that cattle and prairie dogs have a mutually beneficial relationship, because prairie dogs improve the forage for cattle, while cattle grazing allows prairie dog colonies to expand in mid-grass prairie. This observation demonstrates a natural preference for grazing together.
What prairie dogs desperately need, is land set aside for their preservation. A healthy ecosystem requires a prairie dog town to expand naturally. Due to urban sprawl, nature is stifled and thrown completely off balance, resulting in an unhealthy environment and the eradication of prairie dogs and other wildlife that depend on them for survival. An ideal resolution to the prairie dog issue, as I see it, would be for our government to designate land in our western states that will support prairie dog towns and the many animals and plants that depend on them, while providing support to ranchers and farmers that are willing to control prairie dogs using non-lethal methods. The implementation of programs to manage the environment would promote a harmonious co-existence between prairie dogs and man, and a healthier ecosystem would evolve. I believe that education and support to landowners would discourage poisoning, bulldozing, shooting for sport, or moving prairie dogs from one location to another, and encourage and inspire our society as a whole to appreciate their unique character and value, and the very important role they play in our western ecosystem. Another viable alternative of managing prairie dog populations might include a program that would fund qualified Veterinarians who are willing to spay/neuter prairie dogs in overpopulated and condensed areas.
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