Shiloh is a prairie dog. He is, more specifically, a black-tailed prairie dog, which is (I believe) the species often kept as pets. He came to the rescue when he was two years old.
I lived in Indy at the time, and I was supposed to be meeting with a woman who had two chins to drop off. She came to my place with two carriers -- I was thinking one chin in each, though we hadn't talked about caged together/separate. Turns out, the one carrier had the chins, and the other one -- she asked me, "do you take in other exotics?" I remember telling her I took in furry exotics that I knew how to care for (i.e. no snakes, reptiles, tarantulas, etc.) and she said she had a prairie dog. I told her, I'd never had one, I had no idea how to care for one. Well, she gave me the link to a website that was for the Midwest Prairie Dog Rescue -- which had a care packet on it. She was asking if I could take him, and me, being, well, me, couldn't say no.
She had him in a cat carrier, and I remember her offering him a saltine cracker, which he held and chomped on a few times. She then took the carrier, unceremoniously flipped it so that the entrance was facing the ground and started vigorously shaking the carrier. Enough shaking and she'd probably rattled his brain and joints loose, he fell out of the carrier.
My first thought was "what the hell did I get myself into???" He had no fur on his back from his shoulders down. He had numerous puncture wounds (we're talking 30s? 40s?) and his back was a nice mad purplish red color and I was guessing highly infected. I asked what had happened to his back. The lady told me that she would let him out and he would play "tag" with her dogs. As it was explained to me, the dogs would "tag" (bite) him, Shiloh would turn around (to defend himself) and "tag" (bite) the dogs back, then the dogs would run after him and "tag" (bite) him.... over and over and over. And she saw nothing wrong with this!!
So, apparently, he was aggressive. So I was told. It was recommended that I have him neutered (which I never did), to calm down the aggression. I was told he was un-handleable from about October to April, as that was the breeding season. I believe they go into what's called "rut." But even during the other months, he'd bite and her kids had needed stitches. Wonderful. Looking back, I can see where that aggression came from.
She said they would give him a bath every so often. I asked how they did that, when she said he would bite them and they couldn't really handle him. Their answer was that they'd somehow get him in the carrier, and then shake the carrier (as mentioned above) until he fell into a tub of water. I guess somehow this would get him clean? No idea.
I have no idea (or recollection) as to how I got him into his cage.
So, they left, I contacted a friend with welding gloves, and he went to the vet asap. I housed him in a chinchilla breeding run for quite a few months, as I didn't have a cage that would work for him. I slowly started trying to touch him. I had to give him his meds, but he was pretty good about taking them, as the doctor had flavored them. But he didn't want to be touched. I would reach for him and he would lift his head so he could see where my hand was going. So I could never get it far enough back to actually touch him.
At that time, he could eat lab blocks (now, because of his current teeth issues, he really can't). I tried offering him some one day in my hand, and he came over and picked one up. I remember thinking he was going to take a chunk of finger off, but he never did. Over time, we built up trust, and I could touch his head without him completely having a heart attack that I was going to eat him or hurt him. Eventually, I touched him without the gloves. I remember thinking that he was surprisingly soft for a non-domesticated animal. It probably wasn't until at least 6 months after I got him that he'd let me touch him.
Eventually he finished up his meds and his fur grew back. The vet said he had a decent chance for at least some to grow back, but because of scarring was unsure -- but his back looks relatively normal, just some odd patterns in his fur where you can tell the scarring is. The fur grew back about 9 months into his time here.
I don't have any pictures of him when he came in. If this happened again tomorrow, I would take pictures, but at the time, I remember thinking that if he didn't make it, I didn't want to remember him as having the disgusting looking back. When he was in his cage, either on all fours or standing up, you couldn't see his back and he looked normal and healthy, and that was how I wanted to remember him.
But I have pictures now. Despite the efforts I make for chinchilla cages, it would be ridiculously hard to make a prairie dog cage, as they tend to poo/pee everywhere (not unlike chins), but they also need full floors and ramps to all the floors. They don't jump. Well... we'll come back to that. So, I had to get a cage. I paid someone $25 for this cage:
You can see him in there, so it's not a ton bigger than he is. But at the time, it was what I could find on short notice that was all wire and had ramps. I've since sold that cage, but he probably lived in it for a year while he continued to improve and the trust continued to get better.
Time heals all wounds, and with more time and patience, I could pet him and he'd climb up on my lap, but he was never big on actually being carried around or physically held. He is a small animal, only weighing 3-5 pounds, but he is very solid and very strong. There's no forcing a prairie dog into anything, they are, as my current vet put it, very stubborn creatures.
At some point, it became clear that he wasn't going anywhere. That came around the time that he really started coming around and enjoying people. It took a long time before he's come up to the door of his cage wanting scritches. A LONG time. But when he did, then everyone would notice him and asked about adopting him, and I had that knee-jerk reaction of "he's mine." That was kind of a surprise in itself, as we'd never kept a rescue animal, except for not even a handful of sanctuary cases. But that'd settled it, he was staying.
I don't know if somehow he knew that he was staying, but at some point I'd made a comment about buying him an actual cage and getting him some better accessories, and he continued to improve. He would start closing his eyes and lifting up a leg to be scratched, he'd come to the door of his cage, he would even roll onto his back for a belly rub. It was like he knew.
Lots of time passed between when I said I'd get him a cage and when I actually did, but I finally settled on a modified chinchilla townhome from Martins Cages. Never having had a Martins cage, I had asked if it could hold up to a prairie dog's weight (as those of you with chins know, chins are light, prairie dogs are not). They said it could, and something like $250 later, we had our cage:
....that I had to c-ring together. After that experience and one other time when I put together a Martins cage for a customer -- I now offer the service of putting together a Martins' cage.... for a minimum donation of $15 to the rescue. Awesome cage, but absolute PITA to put together, I mean it took hours to clip it all together.
As you can see, the cage is more than adequate for him. Heck, it's bigger than the fridge I had at my apartment. In all reality, I'm not sure he needs that big of a cage, as his love is his beds. I feel like I could get him a new bed every time he destroys one and he'd be happy if he only had his bed. That's how much this boy loves his beds. Oh and he sometimes sleeps curled up in a ball with his head tucked under (that's the second picture). So, his new cage got all decked out with things for him to do. He even had a wheel for quite some time, but uh.. let's say Mr. Overweight decided he likes being overweight. That wheel is now in a chin cage. I suppose when the day comes when Shiloh passes and I get another prairie dog, now I have an adequate wheel.
He really loves those beds. That first pink, yellow, & green one was one I think I ordered from Martins (no color choice, so of course I get girly colors) but he loved it anyway. He's moved onto a different colored one now.
So he was doing good for awhile, until I noticed that his one tooth was growing abnormally long and he was having problems breathing. And he'd stopped eating. With Shiloh, he always made a mess out of his food, taking it out of his bowls and strewing it all over the cage. After 3 days of not-one-piece-of-food-out-of-place, I called the vet. Without repeating the entire story (which is typed somewhere in here with the post likely having the word Shiloh in it), it turned out he'd suffered some sort of tooth trauma, causing an odontoma (bony growth) to form on the roots of both upper incisors, basically blocking his airway. The vet wanted to try anti-inflammatories for about a week, that lasted about 2 days before I called the vet to make an emergency appointment to bring him back in. They said his breathing wasn't as bad as others they'd seen, but to me, he was gasping for air and his breathing was very labored, so he was put on oxygen. He stayed at the vet for the next 7 days, and underwent an incisor removal for one of his top teeth.
Before I was able to leave with him, they wanted to see that I could adequately handfeed a prairie dog. So, for awhile I was chasing him around the room with a syringe full of canned pumpkin, which wasn't getting me anywhere, so I reached down with both hands towards him and Shiloh literally leaped up into my arms. So much for "they can't jump." Apparently he wasn't so fond of the vet, but thought I was "safe," good to know. So I fed him, we went home, and for the next few weeks he lived on the first floor (versus the basement, where the rescues are and where his normal cage is) while I'd handfeed him several times a day. This was not unlike my first experiences trying to pet him. He was very unhappy, not wanting to eat, and very bite-y. But, we progressed to him taking the food willingly, over time.
(the pics are of him lazing around in the lap of luxury in his smaller cage upstairs)
He did eventually start eating on his own, and now is sustaining his weight on his own.
At our one-week checkup, the vet noticed that his other top incisor was no longer visible. She said that it's possible that with all the trauma during surgery, the body may have reabsorbed it. Which would be wonderful. On the other hand, with no top incisors, he would need the bottom ones removed as well. The vet said we need to wait four months to see what happens with those top ones, so that's what we're doing. In all reality, I have no idea when four months is, I need to look it up and put it in my planner, but it's not yet.
We've had to trim his teeth once so far, but still no sign of that other top incisor, so it's looking like *fingers crossed* we will only have to have the vet remove the bottom two, rather than have two separate surgeries -- one for the bottom two and one for the top one. So if things continue as they are, he will be incisor-less eventually, but he'll still have his back molars for chewing.
And that's pretty much where we're at now. He was hovering around 1434 grams after surgery, and I just weighed him earlier today, he was over 1500, though I don't remember the exact weight. He could use losing a tad, but he's not obese or anything, so I'm happy with my pudgy boy as he is.
He's somewhat become the poster-boy er, poster-prairie-dog for the rescue, and he came with us to several expos this past year. Assuming all goes well with his continued health and treatment, he will be coming again.
He's actually helping us out, because the chins tend to hide, versus Shiloh, who wants attention and loves being petted, so we end up with a crowd of people around the booth wanting to pet him. Never would have thought to bring him to an expo, until one of the people who run the expo suggested that we weren't getting donations because, unlike the dog rescues, we don't have an animal that really interacts with people or wants to be petted. Nothing that tugs at the heartstrings. Not like we ever get a ton in expo donations, but even a few bucks is great. And not like it's all about money, but we weren't getting much attention in general at our booth, so suggestions were welcome. He came with us to the next expo, a smaller event, just to see how he'd do. He did wonderfully, and came with to several other expos. And to think.... this is the prairie dog that I couldn't even touch for the first 6 months he was with us, now loves being petted by strangers he's never met. He's really come around full circle.