Blueberry Lane: Good Will Ambassadors

blueberry lane rabbit chinchilla guinea pig and bird

(Don’t miss coloring page downloads at the end of chapter two!)

Chapter One

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock sweeps the minute hand on the clock.

Rasmus rabbit nibbles the paper corner off his writing assignment.

Guinevere twirls a pencil in her long white fur.  She dreams about being a shorthaired guinea pig.  She would spend less time fixing her fur and more time playing.

Pedro taps his paw.  He is anxiously waiting to get his English report card.  He sneaks a snack of Small Pet Select Timothy hay to calm his nerves.   It tastes like the hay he had when he was a baby chinchilla in Peru.

The teacher said, “Rasmus, please read your last poetry assignment to the class.”   Rasmus lifted his head up.  He turned one tall ear to the side then quickly obeyed the teacher.   With a hop to the front of the classroom he proudly read:

One, two, three, four

 The number of bags we pack 

Small enough to fit on our back

Five, six, seven, eight, 

Steps to the train on the iron track 

See the coal smoke from the stack

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve

Ambassadors for pets who have no home

Everyone please adopt so they are not alone.

Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong rings the dismissal bell.  Cheers roar!!  All students, small to tall, rush to wish their friends a happy summer vacation!

Tilly parrot flutters around Blueberry Lane Farm.  She is waiting for Guinevere, Pedro, and Rasmus to arrive home with report cards.   Coral Bell waits by the garden gate to greet them.  She has a surprise for them.  It is a basket of fresh picked parsley and romaine.  Rasmus hops down the lane with Pedro right beside him.  They race to the door excited to eat their afterschool snack.  Meanwhile, Guinevere dilly dallies along picking wild blueberries.   Then she dilly dallies stuffing blueberries in her pack.  Then she dilly dallies to untangle her fur from off the brambles.  Then she gets home late.  She’s always late!

Using her beak, Tilly snatches everyone’s report cards from their back packs.  She flutters upstairs to the library.  Proudly she pins them on Coral Bell’s bulletin board.  Coral Bell has lots of interesting things on her bulletin board.  Tilly sees seed packets, garden notes, and pictures of herbs.

Tilly saw gold star stickers on Rasmus’s report card.  Then she saw the grades on Guinevere’s report card were scribbled out.   The scribbled ink was a different color than the teacher’s ink.   Hmm, Tilly wondered, this was odd.  Why was there scribbling?

Tilly perched on her favorite desk chair.  It has wheels on it.  When she flaps her wings, the chair spins around.  Tilly likes to wonder and think about things while the chair spins.  She remembered Rasmus won a geography contest in school.   That would explain the gold stars, she thought.   Then she remembered Guinevere got in trouble for fussing with her long fur in school.   Her fur always distracts her. Maybe she turns her work in late. Coral Bell always said “Guinevere, stop playing with your fur, you will make us late again!”   Then Tilly would sing “we’re late, we’re late, we’re late for a very important date.”

Now that it’s summer vacation, Tilly wondered if they were going on a trip.  She flapped her wings and flew from one end of the bulletin board to the other.  Yes!  There were travel plans.  Four train tickets, a list of addresses, and a schedule were pinned to the board.  Coral Bell scheduled the group to visit shelters and be ambassadors for pet adoption.   After all, Rasmus, Pedro, Guinevere, and Tilly knew what it was like to be abandoned or lost.  They all remembered a lonely life in a shelter.   They wanted to give back to the community.

Rasmus is an organized bunny.  He planned the first ambassador trip.  They had train tickets to go from Peapack to Philadelphia.  Rasmus told the others they could travel by boat or hot air balloon on the next trip.  It would be more fun that way.  And besides, there would be less traffic.

Thump.  Thump, thump.  Thump, thump, thump.  Rasmus called a group meeting.  He demanded everyone pay attention.  Everyone needs to know the important details.  Everyone needs to have their assignments.   Rasmus reminded the group he got an “A” in geography, so he assigned himself to handle maps and directions.

“Pedro, you are in charge of packing snacks and hay.  Take your time packing.  Don’t get nervous.  When you get nervous you eat too much.   Make sure you pack extra for nervous days.”

“Tilly, you are in charge of our paper stuff:  tickets and travel schedules.  You are the only one who won’t be tempted to shred them.  Don’t worry, I folded the paper stuff very small so it will fit neatly in your little pack.”   Tilly flapped in excitement.  She loved to have a purpose because it gave her confidence.

Tilly could see further than Rasmus, and she secretly wanted to fight him for the map keeper job.   After thinking it over, she decided it was more important to be a team player.

Snoring sounds came from the corner.  Oh dear, Guinevere!  She fell asleep during the important meeting!  Rasmus loudly THUMPED his foot with force.  Guinevere awoke in a startle.  Sleepy and yawning, she rubbed her dark little eyes and rolled over.  She had bed head fur.  That’s when chaos broke out.

Tilly cackled in laughter.  She flapped her green wings, and flew to her perch to get a better view.

Pedro exclaimed, “oh, señorita, your fur is el messo!  eres azul!”

Rasmus ran the bunny-500 around the library then stopped with a quick halt.   “Guinevere, your fur is blue.  There is a blueberry in your ear!   You cannot go on the train with blue fur!  Now you will have to stay home.   Instead, you can weed the garden for Coral Bell when we go to Philadelphia.”

Tears rolled down Guinevere’s cheeks.  She saw her reflection in the window glass.  Her long white fur really was blue.  There really was a plump blueberry in her ear.   Pedro was so nervous, he plucked the blueberry from Guinevere’s ear and ate it.

Tilly flew to the desk chair.  She flapped extra hard so the chair would spin for an extra-long time.  She needed extra thinking time.   All this flapping was hard work for a parrot.  Tilly was in a tizzy.

Rasmus thumped again.   “Calm down everyone.  No need for all the fuss.  It’s settled.  Guinevere can stay home.  Or maybe she can get a wig.   Never mind all that, now it’s time for a nap.”

Chapter Two

Tilly knew she must help Guinevere.  It was too hot to wear a wig.  Besides, where would they get a wig for a guinea pig?  And who would carry Guinevere’s pack?

While the boys napped, Tilly got busy.  She collected a towel, lavender soap, a tea cup of warm water, and a comb.   Then she went to work on Guinevere.   Tilly used her beak to gently scrub away the blueberry stains.  Soap bubbles floated through the air until the blue faded to gray.  Guinevere’s fur smelled fresh and clean, but it had to be combed.  This was the real work.  Tilly used her beak to untangle the knots and pick out some brambles.   Her wet, messy fur looked like a spaghetti factory.  Tilly combed until they both fell asleep for the night.

Thump.  Thump, thump.  Rasmus called an early morning meeting.  This one was urgent.  No time to prepare.  Guinevere stumbled in with her fur still a mess.  Tilly explained it was work in progress.  She stood up for Guinevere and said, “We were up all night washing and grooming her fur.  We’re almost done.   If she can’t go on the trip, then I won’t go either.”

Rasmus turned his tall ears left and right, then toward each other.   His nose twitched.   Tilly hollered, “Rasmus, stop turning your ears.  You are not getting any radio signals doing that.”   Rasmus thumped in denial.

Pedro was feeling nervous.  He ate some basil.  Pedro wanted to speak up. Then he ate some thyme.  He had to be brave.  “Señor, the guinea pig should come.  Her fur es mucho better.”

With all this pressure, Rasmus decided Guinevere could go.  He made her promise to be on time.  He made her promise not to cause a fuss.  He made her promise to have her fur ready early.   Otherwise, Tilly would sing, “we’re late, we’re late, we’re late for a very important date.”

Pedro wanted to help the petite guinea pig.  He gave her wise advice.  “Guinevere, it’s time to put others first.  You cannot just think about your fur and how pretty you look.   It is best not to worry about what others think.   Look at me Senorita.  My English and Spanish get mixed up all the time.  I make mucho grande mistakes, but what matters is that I try.  I don’t worry about what others say about my English.”

Guinevere tried to understand Pedro.  Her fur is too beautiful not to fuss over she thought.  She wondered if it would be better to concentrate on her eyelashes instead.  After all, they were much easier to take care of.

The next day when the group met, Guinevere kept her promise.  She arrived on time.   a pink bow hid her gray fur.   Rasmus took attendance and checked back packs.  Then they waved good bye to Coral Bell.   From Blueberry Lane, they scurried with excitement to the Peapack train station.

Toot.  Toot, toot.  “All aboard,” the conductor bellowed.   The boys hopped up into the train.   Guinevere was next.  Her little legs were short.  She took a running leap on the step.  Oops.  Ouch.  Ow.  Her pink bow unfurled and got caught on the train track.   “Tilly, Tilly please help me.  I cannot get on to the train, and Rasmus will be so mad.”

Toot.  Toot, toot.  The train signaled for departure.  It started to chug forward.

Rasmus thumped, “Guinevere, what are you doing?  Where are you?  What’s taking so long?”

Guinevere was in a panic.  Tilly quickly untied the tangled ribbon with her beak and helped little Guinevere up into the train.   “Oh Tilly, how does my fur look?   Is there dust on my eyelashes?”   Tilly does not like to tell a lie, but it was a mess again.   She promised to comb her fur on the long train ride to Philadelphia.   There would be plenty of time to fix a pretty pink bow too.

The ambassadors enjoyed a scenic train ride from Peapack.  The train rolled over hill and dale until they reached Philadelphia.   It was a busy city.  No sign of wild blueberries or fresh hay here.   Since they were guests of honor, they stayed overnight at each shelter they visited.  They had plenty to eat, and shared their Small Pet Select snacks with new friends.

They met bunnies, chinchillas, ferrets, birds, guinea pigs, and other pocket pets in need of homes.   They worked hard to promote adoption from shelters. They talked of the importance of adopting old and sick animals.  They championed for all who needed a home, a warm bed or bird cage to call their own.  They told stories of how it makes a difference to be loved and feel secure.  Guinevere even gave lessons on grooming and fur styling.

When they returned to Blueberry Lane Farm, Coral Bell was eager to hear about their trip.   As they shared their stories with Coral Bell, they realized they learned new lessons in Philadelphia.

Pedro learned confidence.  He could speak in front of strangers and not be nervous.

Rasmus learned to appreciate passion for being brave and speaking up for what is right.

Tilly learned the importance of helping a friend in need and how it made her feel good about herself.

Guinevere learned she is loved for who she is, even if her fur is a mess or her eyelashes are dusty.

They all learned that together they made a difference.  They learned that their messages made a difference, and many animals in need will receive the gift of a home to call their own.

The foursome agreed they will have the best summer vacation stories to tell when they return to school.

They were happy to be back home at Blueberry Lane Herb Farm, a place they could call home, happy to be a family, and grateful to enjoy their Small Pet Select meals together.

The end.


Be on the lookout for our next quarterly installment… coming this fall!

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Traveling with Small Pets

how to travel with small animals

Guinea pigs and rabbits aren’t known for their adventurous spirits. Small animals are easily stressed by a change in scenery. If you’re taking a brief vacation, they’d probably prefer to sit this one out. If possible, let them enjoy a staycation with a trusted friend, family member, or pet sitter. There are times, however, when traveling with small pets is unavoidable. Short trips, such as a journey to the vet, are manageable for most small animals. This is even good practice for longer car rides. Major travel, like a cross country move, requires extra precautions to make for a smooth transition.

Practice makes perfect

Small animals can find changes to their surroundings upsetting. Car rides can be scary, especially if they aren’t used to traveling. Start with short trips, even just 10 minutes, to help train your pet for the big event. If the cage or carrier is going directly on the floor of the vehicle, putting down some towels underneath can help to minimize vibrations. Making the adventure enjoyable, perhaps with some treats, certainly won’t hurt.

Safety first

For shorter trips, a few hours or less, the safest transportation option is a hard-sided pet carrier. This is one of the only times when smaller is better! You want your rabbit to be able to comfortably stand and turn around, of course, but the less room there is to slide about in the event of a sudden stop or accident will minimize the chances of injury. Bonus points if you can strap it down for extra security. For longer trips, a cage may be a better choice to accommodate a litter pan. This can also give your rabbit a comfortable place to call her own if stopping overnight at a hotel with unfamiliar smells and sounds.

Not too hot, not too cold

Goldihops is especially sensitive to changes in temperature, including drafts. Keeping the travel cage or carrier as close to you as possible will allow you to monitor the temperature best. You don’t want to expose them to too much direct sunlight or put them right in the blast from the cold air conditioning. Covering some of the cage with a blanket or towel will keep out drafts, as well as potentially spooky lights from oncoming traffic. Never, no matter what the temperature outside, leave your rabbit unattended in a vehicle. Traveling with small pets and sit-down meals just don’t mix.

Water woes

There is no way around this one. All water bottles WILL leak and all bowls WILL spill in the car. Traditional water containers are a no-go for traveling with small pets. Instead, offer water at every pit stop and keep unflavored Pedialyte® and syringes on hand in case of suspected dehydration. Guinea pigs that are too frightened to drink during potty breaks may be enticed into munching on some hydrating melon, celery, or cucumber slices. Keeping a small cooler full of water-rich veggies can keep your pet both hydrated and distracted during travel.

Take it slow

Your guinea pigs and rabbits probably won’t be game for an all-nighter. Stopping overnight will allow them to decompress a bit as well as eat and drink regularly – super important – to get ready for round two. Hay should be available 24/7 in the travel cage, but it isn’t unusual if they don’t eat much on the road. Small animals may refuse to chow down in the car, and going too long without high-fiber food moving through can be dangerous. Adding a few extra hours, or even days, to the journey is worthwhile to make sure your pet is given enough opportunity to eat as normally as possible.

Bentley NEVER forgets his hay when he travels.

Does My Chinchilla Need a Bond Mate?

do chinchillas need bond mates?
The simple answer? No, a chinchilla bond mate isn’t needed for your pet to be happy.
Chinchillas are, by nature, social. In the wild, they live in colonies because they’re prey animals, and it’s much safer to have lots of eyes looking to protect. However, not every chinchilla is social. In a domestic situation, your chinchilla should be kept safely in their cage; they won’t have as strong an urge to have so many other eyes watching out for them.
Regardless of this, is not necessarily to be a multi-chin owner… as long as you spend time with your pet. Chinchillas can be perfectly happy little animals when they get plenty of socialization and interaction from you, the owner.
What if I want to add another chinchilla?
If you’re thinking of adding a new chin to the family, it’s important that you go about it the right way.
Make sure you have enough space to quarantine the new pet for a 30 day period to ensure that they’re in good health. Even when you find an exotic vet and they go for their first check up, the vet can only diagnose what they see. And we all know how talented chins are with hiding illnesses.
Ask yourself if you’re prepared to have two chinchilla setups for the duration of their lives. Even with the best efforts, it’s possible that you may not ever be able to bond your chinchillas, and you will have to keep them housed separately. And then there’s the possibility that if you do successfully bond your pets, their bond could break in the future, and they may start fighting and attacking each other. Think long and hard… double work is a huge commitment (time for cage cleaning, expenses, etc.), so be sure you’re 100% about the decision to add a mate.
Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to add a mate. What next? 
  • You’ll need a neutral, empty, recently cleaned cage for introduction. No odors or items are recommended that belong to either chinchilla (this decreases chance of fighting over territory). The last thing we want is territorial fighting.
  • Do not hold one chinchilla to the other. The less dominant chin should always have the option to back down and away from the dominate animal.
  • If your chinchilla draws blood and/or causes physical harm, separate them, and do not attempt to house. They are not compatible and our number one concern for our pets is always safety.
  • Supply a dust bath to calm the nerves of your animals; they’re going through a serious environmental change and this is a stressful time.
  • If you notice fur slip, separate the chins and re-try bonding in a week or so.
  • Do not introduce in an open area. They will likely avoid contact with each other, and could possibly feel more defensive in a large area because they are prey animals.
  • Introduce during the day; chinchillas are crepuscular creatures, so they’ll be resting and less likely to fight.
Chinchillas do not need a bond mate when they have responsible owners who treat them as family and socialize with them on a daily basis… it’s important for every person and pet to have daily interaction with someone or something.
If you do want to add a bond mate for your chinchilla, make sure that you realize there’s the potential for the bonding not to work. But there’s also a possibility that your chins may develop a BFF friendship like none other. Be confident in your decision and confident that regardless of the outcome, you’ll love your chins just the same.

Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas need a special kind of pet sitter.

thank you sign

Your friend is special.  Different.  Not quite like the other “typical” house pets out there.  Your friend needs a special kind of pet sitter.  So when you go away, it can be a monumental effort to find a great in-home caregiver.  

Pay attention to how the potential caregiver greets your rabbit.  Does he or speak softly, and move slowly?  Do they try to touch or (EEEK!) pick your rabbit up?  Or do they get down on the floor and sit quietly, waiting for your friend to come and see if they are rabbit-worthy?  Do they stay still after the initial exploratory sniffs, or do they get “busy hands” and try to touch your rabbit?  Do they make little rabbit soothing, friendly noises?  Do they speak rabbit?

rabbit rescue, pet sitters, petsitter, house rabbit

photo credit: the Bunny Hut

There are some things ALL pet sitters should be able to tell you:

What happens if they are in a car accident, or get sick?  Hey it happens.  We all need to be realistic, and make sure there are strategies in place.  Who does the visits, how does all the information get transferred to the substitute, and how are the keys handed over to that substitute? 

What if the pet sitter accidentally locks themselves out, or drops the keys down an elevator shaft?  How will they get in to take care of your animal at the right time?

travelling, pet sitter, choosing pet sitter, finding a pet sitter

How does the pet sitter store and guard your security information (alarm codes, security company names)?  Putting this kind of info on paperwork that can be lost or left behind at another house is not a good plan.  Paper is not secure.  Look for someone who has a better system in place.  You don’t want your info left by mistake on someone else’s kitchen counter.

Will you get a journal of daily notes about what went on each day?

finding pet sitter for rabbit, finding pet sitter for guinea pig, finding pet sitter for chinchilla

photo credit: Marty Lefkoe

Is the pet sitter insured if anything is broken?

Will that pet sitter do all the visits, or will other employees be in and out of your home?  Who are these other people?  How are they screened, and trained?

Is there a guaranteed window of time for each visit, so that your animal gets dinner at the regular time? (This can be important to avoid GI upset!  Remember how important it is to make sure your rabbit never ever runs out of fresh hay.)

What will be done each and every time?  Are there things the pet sitter will only do every few days?

How long will the sitter stay with your animal?

In case of the need for veterinary care, is an authorization included in the paperwork? (Most hospitals won’t treat an animal brought in by anyone other than the owner.  A conscientious pet-sitter has a release form allowing them to act for you, and the payment arrangements for the vet, included already in paperwork you will sign.)

For our little friends, we have to ask some additional questions. Never worry about asking too much or getting too detailed.  A great pet sitter will be not only happy to talk to you about all of it, but proud to show you that they’ve thought of everything and have it all covered.  There are a lot of hobby pet sitters out there, and although this might be OK for a mid-day dog walk, it is not at all OK to care for a delicate small animal while you are out of town.  Don’t settle.

Make sure a potential care giver can answer these things:

What is EC and what are the signs? (Correct answer: muscle weakness in hind end, oddly turned neck, lethargy, not eating as much, and so on)

What are the signs of shock, and what would you do?  (Correct answer: fast, shallow breathing, pale gums, possibly head thrown back, ears and paws cool.)

What would the pet sitter do if your animal quit eating for one day?  (Correct answer: try to call you, but get animal to the vet right away.)

What are the two biggest signs of an EMERGENCY? (Correct answer: not eating, shock.)

Where would the pet sitter take your animal if an emergency occurs?  Is there a doctor there who specializes in exotics?

How much out-of-pen time will your animal get each day?

Is your pet sitter willing to pick up fresh greens every three days for your animal?  (Correct answer: SURE!  I’ll just add the time to your invoice.  I go by several stores in my travels every day and it won’t take long at all.  Do you want only organic produce?  Do you have a list of certain greens?)

Is your pet sitter able to do some extra things, like clip nails?

With answers to all of the above, you can now find the perfect caregiver for your friend, and that means you can relax while you are away.  We all need a break, and it isn’t any fun if you are not confident that your little one is doing fine. There are truly great pet sitters out there…take your time to find the right one.

pet sitter, pet-sitter, petsitter

 photo credit: The Rabbit Whisperer NYC

Big hint: some rescues do offer boarding care with volunteer fosters as a way of raising money for the rescue.  This is terrific for everyone: your animal is with someone who knows their stuff and is associated with a rescue, so has a good network of help should trouble arise.  Rabbit Wranglers, in the Pittsburgh PA area, is a really well-done example of such a program.  Look in your own area, and you may find something similar.

Another Big Hint: if you think your animal may be stressed without you there, consider some Zen Tranquility while you are away.  It can help sooth nerves and calm anxiety.

You may also choose to board your rabbit.  Check out this post about how to choose a great boarding spot!

Benefits of Pets for Mental Health: They’re a lot… Trust Us. Here’s My Story.

mental health pet ownership
I don’t really open up about this. I’ve suffered from panic, anxiety, and most recently, some depression after my beloved dad (and BFF… seriously, my BFF), passed away in October of 2017, so almost 7 months ago.
I remember the last time I saw him. It was at the end of August, and my cousin called me at 11 PM on a Sunday night, and I either thought she was butt dialing me or something was wrong, so I answered. Something was wrong. I went home, dad had double pneumonia, and he was in the ICU. Hospital, hospice, home. Home, hospice, hospital. Pittsburgh to Illinois. And back again.
He died two months later.
I didn’t really want to get out of bed most days; I even left my big-time job that I’d worked so hard to climb the ladder with (and started writing for SPS, which was the best decision I’ve EVER made). But I was looking for a companion, something or someone to just help me through it. Not necessarily talk, but just be there. Really, just be. My family was an amazing support system, of course. They understood, kind of. But, my pet… he understood without saying anything. Not. One. Word. And he got it more than anyone else did. May 2 was his first heaven birthday, and Harold snuck into my bed and licked the tears off of my face at 2 AM when he heard me quietly sobbing, trying not to wake up my husband and my daughter. We went on the couch and binged Bunflix a few minutes later.
Life happens. And while we all go through trying times, I don’t really know if we’re ever really ready for them. I wasn’t. And that human-small pet bond is completely undeniable.
According to Desiree Wiercyski, a life coach in Fort Wayne, IN, “A pet can make you feel like you’re not alone. Pets offer unconditional love, which can be unconditionally soothing when you’re feeling isolated.” Touch helps increase oxytocin levels and reduces cortisol, the stress-related hormone. And trust me, I’ve lived it.
Sandra Barker, a professor of psychiatry and the director of the Center for Human and Animal interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University said, that after surveys, people with severe depression felt more relaxed, less lonely, and had less pain after visits with animals. I couldn’t believe all of the studies that have been done on this topic. And why we don’t talk about it more blows my mind. Animals can help you. They’re so much like us, and they need interaction, too. It actually helps them when they help us.
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is becoming more and more popular (for good reason). Care homes, prisons… any place that needs some sort of mental rehabilitation is taking advantage of this gift. It’s a gift. In 2013, a study in the journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry found that ten weeks of animal assisted therapy halted the progression of depression, agitation and aggression in dementia patients.
In Britain, SKUNKS are being used to calm schizophrenia patients, snakes help with bipolar and chins are prompting memories with those suffering from dementia. Many times, when we’re having mental health issues, we’re so, so concerned about if we’re being judged. Who’s talking about us? We can relate to animals because we know that they’re loving us, no matter what, unconditionally. They don’t care if we didn’t shower that day. Or if we didn’t change our socks. Or pants. Or we didn’t brush our teeth until 11 AM. Or 11 PM.
Physical activity helps us get through the hard days. Going for a ten minute walk on a sunny day. Social time – pets can open an entire new world to your grief. You’ll still be sad, but they are infamous for giving you a few little nose bumps or kind kisses when they know you’re feeling down.
When I feel sad, Harold (my little guy) feels sad. When I’m happy, he’s a hoot. When I need him, he’s there. He reads my body language, often times better than my husband. Ha. (Chris, get better at that!) But in all seriousness, it’s really just a bond that no one can take away from me. Or him. Actually, us.
As I began this post, I was a little teary eyed. And now I’m smiling because of the joy I see when I look at my fur baby. He helped me through the worst day. The worst week. And he’ll help me through the year of firsts, too.
 I love you, H.