Happy news about animals

Research has shown that dogs can help people recover from illness or injury.

That’s why therapy dogs are being used more and more, but one special dog is helping in a different way.

An accident more than a year ago left Hans the dachshund paralyzed, but don’t tell him that.

Lynn Mell is recuperating from a stroke, a long process involving painful physical therapy.

Hans helps her stretch, the most painful part of her therapy. People have to control their movements when they pet animals so they don’t hurt them. Petting Hans helps to stretch Mell’s hands.

“It makes them really concentrate on their hand movement,” a therapist said.

Research shows animal-assisted therapy can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, lessen anxiety during medical procedures, increase long- and short-term memory and motivate patients.

But Hans is a special case.

Although he’s not a certified therapy dog, his disability reminds patients of everything they can do.

“I feel so bad for him, but he manages. He gets around,” a patient said.

Hans faces obstacles, such as getting the wheels of his wheelchair-like device stuck on furniture, but he overcomes them.

He depends on the device and never lets it slow him down.

Hans got hurt jumping off a sofa.

Michael Lariviere rattles off a long list of places he has traveled hoping to see bald eagles.

“Yellowstone, all over the Washington State area, Mount Rainier, all through Montana, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yosemite. My wife and I travel all over the country. We’ve got pictures of elk, moose, grizzly bears, all kinds of hawks.”

But they never managed to see a bald eagle.

At Yosemite National Park, rangers directed them to a sure-fire spot where, the rangers insisted, an eagle always sat in a tree. They watched for two days. No eagle.

Then Lariviere read a newspaper account of the Merrimack River Eagle Festival, so he came to Amesbury and Newburyport, and found what he was looking for.

Yesterday, standing on Amesbury’s tiny Deer Island, just a short drive from his Haverhill home, he stood in awe of the spectacle in the grey skies above. Eagles were everywhere, gliding, playing, and occasionally snatching an unsuspecting fish from the river. Lariviere recalls his first visit to this spot, during the festival last month.

“In five minutes, we saw 15 bald eagles,” said Lariviere. “You step out of your car and they’re flying overhead.”

Lariviere represents a fast-growing interest in eagles, and growing numbers of people traveling to the region to see them. Fueled by the publicity surrounding the Eagle Festival, Internet sites, e-mail lists, good old-fashioned word of mouth, and most importantly, an influx of eagles, people are flocking to viewing spots along the Merrimack River hoping to catch a close-up glimpse of the nation’s signature bird.

In recent weeks the Hynes and Chain bridges, and particularly the parking lot on Deer Island between them, have teemed with eager eagle-watchers, virtually all of whom are rewarded for their visit. Several knowledgeable observers estimate between 20 and 28 eagles have migrated southward this year to find open water where they can take fish. Last year, they estimated there were about 12 eagles here.

Shock and awe

Many visitors come expecting to peer through binoculars at a tiny speck in a distant tree. They are shocked to see as many as a dozen eagles in the air at the same time.

When Sandy McMillan got out of her car after driving down from Farmington, N.H., she said she and fellow photographer Russ Bunting from Kittery, Maine, started “chimping.”

Famous Moncton tiger still hanging on

Author: Dora | Filed under: Tiger

Moncton’s most famous animal resident seems to be rallying back from a terminal illness. Tomar, a Siberian tiger, was diagnosed earlier this year with kidney failure and given only weeks to live.

Veterinarian Dr. Andre Saindon said Wednesday the big cat at the Magnetic Hill Zoo is showing an unexpected improvement.

“Well, he has surprised us,” Saindon said. “In January he had lost a significant amount of weight, and we expected him to go downhill because of his symptoms, but his symptoms have improved.”

Two months ago Tomar was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure after zoo workers noticed he was urinating a lot more frequently, and not eating enough, losing about 45 kilograms.

It was feared the tiger would be dead in weeks, and even those who know Tomar well, like his faithful keeper Bernie Gallant, were surprised at the tiger’s ability to bounce back.

“We’ve been giving him medication, and he eats that out of our hands,” Gallant said. “So we give him a little piece of meat with medication in it, and we make sure he gets it every day. Another thing we’re making sure is his meat is varied.”

Home-buyers of tomorrow could find themselves walking across floors made from manure.

That’s no cow pie-in-the-sky dream, according to researchers at Michigan State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They say fiber from processed and sterilized cow manure could take the place of sawdust in fiberboard, which is used to make everything from furniture to flooring to store shelves.

And the resulting product smells just fine.

The researchers hope it could be part of the solution to disposing of the 1.5 trillion to 2 trillion pounds of manure produced annually in the United States.

The concept has its skeptics.

“Is this something you’re going to bring into the house?” asked Steve Fowler, an economist with the Composite Panel Association, a fiberboard-makers trade group based in Gaithersburg, Md.

Farmers traditionally use manure to fertilize their fields. But as the scale of farms has grown — with more and more animals densely concentrated in a single location — they can find themselves with too little land for the manure they produce.

“Farmers are having to put more and more money into dealing with manure,” said Tim Zauche, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville who is working on the USDA research project.

A dairy farm can spend $200 per cow per year to handle its manure, Zauche said. Those costs include onsite processing and spreading, as well as transportation for offsite disposal.

Environmental activists and regulators are paying increased attention to the contamination of streams and underground water sources from manure runoff. And people who move into what used to be rural areas often complain about manure’s odor.

Under pressure from regulators and the public, more large livestock operations are installing expensive manure treatment systems known as anaerobic digesters.

The digesters use heat to deodorize and sterilize manure, while capturing and using the methane gas it produces to generate electricity. The systems also separate phosphorus-laden liquid fertilizer from semisolid plant residue.

The solids have some known uses, including animal bedding and potting soil, and agricultural scientists would like to find more.

“We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are,” said Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University.

Scientists at Michigan State in East Lansing and at the USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., are conducting tests on various types of fiberboard made with the “digester solids.”

As with the wood-based original, the manure-based product is made by combining fibers with a chemical resin, then subjecting the mixture to heat and pressure.

So far, fiberboard made with digester solids seems to match or beat the quality of wood-based products.

“It appears that the fibers interlock with each other better than wood,” said Charles Gould at Michigan State’s College of Ag. and Natural Resources.

Gould and Laurent Matuana, a forestry professor at Michigan State, recently finished a pilot study of manure-based fiberboard, funded by a $5,000 grant from the Michigan Biomass Energy Program.

A draft of the report concluded that fiberboard panels made with processed manure “performed very well in mechanical tests, in many cases meeting or exceeding the standard requirements for particleboard.”

The USDA lab in Wisconsin recently began an 18-month, $30,000 study to test the strength and endurance of the manure-based fiberboard and examine the economic practicality of using digested fiber to make building products.

One good thing about the manure-based fiber is cost, said Zauche. Farmers who currently pay to dispose of manure could soon be selling it.

Whether that’s enough to overcome the public’s squeamishness about using a manure byproduct as a building product remains to be seen, a plywood trade group representative said.

Thanks to a quick-thinking motorist, more than three-dozen volunteer firefighters and a backhoe, Santana, an 8-year-old horse, is back on his feet after a rescue from being trapped under thick ice in a small pond in Rutland Town.

“He’s pretty nervous,” Amy Webster, Santana’s owner, said as she petted her horse’s mane moments after he stood up for the first time after being freed late Tuesday afternoon from the icy pond on the grounds of a stable on Dorr Drive. “He’s really cold. I’m just relieved.”

The horse appeared quite cold, but healthy, Rutland Town Fire Constable John Sly said after the 90-minute rescue was complete.

“It looks like it’s going to have a happy end,” Sly said. “You can see some scrapes on the inside of his legs, but nothing is broken. He wouldn’t be standing if there was.”

No one quite knows for sure how long Santana was caught under the ice.

It was a motorist driving on Route 4 overlooking the stables who first spotted the horse in the water.

“I was driving by and looked out and saw the horse in the pond,” said Craig DeCato of Clarendon. DeCato said he turned around, went to the scene and then called police.

“I have no idea how long he was in there,” DeCato said of the horse. “I’m just glad I could help.”

The pond, which measures about 30 feet by 70 feet, is located on the grounds of the expansive fenced-in pasture.

Sly said about 90 minutes passed from the time DeCato first spotted the horse until the animal was finally free and back on his feet around 6 p.m. Tuesday. The horse was on its side with only its head above water.

“He got in from the western edge of the pond and in trying to struggle, he got wedged halfway under the ice,” Sly said. “He had his right-side legs underneath the ice and his left-side legs on top of the ice. He just couldn’t get his footing.”

The firefighters and rescue workers placed straps around the horse and tried to pull the roughly 1,200-pound animal from the 3-foot-deep water to no avail.

“Don’t give up on him yet, he’s a fighter,” a woman told Webster, the horse’s owner, who was in tears as she watched.

In addition to the group of rescuers, about a dozen other onlookers gathered near the pond. Several other horses boarded at the stable kept a safe distance.

A neighbor then arrived at the scene with a backhoe. The straps around the horse were attached to the backhoe, which then slowly pulled the horse up out of the water.

Once free from the pond, the horse did not rise to its feet. Several blankets were placed over the horse and for about 20 minutes, the group of rescuers tugged and pulled to try to get the horse to stand.

At one point, firefighters considered filling airbags under the horse to get him up.

However, that didn’t prove necessary.

After getting hot water splashed over his legs, Santana finally rose to his hooves.

“Good job, Santana,” one woman onlooker shouted.

“As soon as he found out he was going to be put on top of airbags, he decided to move,” one firefighter said.

About 40 people helped in the rescue effort, including members of the Rutland Town Fire Department as well as firefighters from Clarendon and Ira.

Rutland City Police officers also pitched in at the scene, as did several other people with horses at the stable.

Following the rescue, several of the firefighters went up and petted the horse.

“He hates water,” Webster said of Santana.

“He’s probably going to hate it even worse now,” replied David Schauwecker, one of the volunteers who helped rescue the horse.

Ultra rare bird spotted

Author: Dora | Filed under: Bird

HE should have been in India or the Ivory Coast – but this chirpy little chap landed in deepest Irlam.

Birdwatchers flocked to rural Salford to catch a glimpse of the first ever desert wheatear to appear in Greater Manchester.

The species is spotted in Britain in spring – but only once or twice a year and never before in this region.

A member of the thrush family, it breeds in North Africa and Asia, usually migrating deeper into Africa or further east to India.

County bird recorder Judith Smith said: “This bird is very rare in this country. It is the first time one has ever been recorded in Greater Manchester.

“It is a young male and males are more adventurous, which might explain why he is here. But birds sometimes develop what is called reverse migration, due to a genetic fault in the brain.

“Instead of flying further south into middle and southern Africa or to India it has gone north and ended up here.”

She added: “It was first seen by local farmer John Hamer on Irlam Moss. He thought it was a black-eared wheatear.

“But he alerted David Steele, a bird expert based in Irlam, who checked it out, and correctly identified the visitor as a desert wheatear.”

Lizards and seeds

About 50 people saw the bird, which was first spotted on Thursday last week, before it flew off on Friday.

His diet would normally include small lizards, insects, and seeds.

Mrs Smith said: “Due to the mild weather he had a good feed while he was here – there is an abundance of grubs and caterpillars.

“Also due to the mild weather we have had a number of very early sightings of birds which would not normally be here until later in the month.

“Little ringed plover have been seen at Astley Moss, and one as early as February 28 in Woodford.

“A sand martin was seen in Timperley and a swallow at Pennington Flash, near Leigh.”

The desert wheatear is a cousin of the common northern wheatear, which breeds in this country.

This picture was taken by Adrian Clancy of Salford. He said: “The bird was seen on Thursday and was identified as a very rare vagrant.

“News got out and some local birders were lucky enough to see the bird on the same day.

“Others hoped that the bird would roost for the night and that they could watch it the next morning. The bird obliged, and birders who were up at the crack of dawn were not disappointed.

“Judith Smith alerted me on Friday and I got out to the site and took some shots.”

The first record of the species being seen in Britain was in Humberside in 1885. Between 1958 and 2004 there were only 76 recorded sightings nationally.

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