The jackals and the cheetah and a glimpse of how dog domestication may have happened

kenya black-backed jackal

We think of interactions between predators as always antagonistic.  Meat is hard to come by, and if one comes by meat on the hoof, it is unlikely that the owner-operator of said flesh will give it up willingly.   Meat is a prized food source, and it is little wonder that most predators spend quite a bit of energy driving out competitors from hunting grounds.

Because of this antagonism, the domestication of wolves by ancient hunter-gatherers is difficult to explain. Indeed, the general way of getting wolves associated with people is see them as scavengers that gradually evolved to fear our species less.

This idea is pretty heavily promoted in the dog domestication literature, for it is difficult for experts to see how wolves could have been brought into the human fold any other way.

But there are still writers out there who posit a somewhat different course for dog domestication.  Their main contentions are that scavengers don’t typically endear themselves to those from which they are robbing, and further, the hunter-gatherers of the Pleistocene did not produce enough waste to maintain a scavenging population of wolves.

It is virtually impossible to recreate the conditions in which some wolves hooked up with people. With the exception of those living on the some the Queen Elizabeth Islands, every extant wolf population has been persecuted heavily by man. Wolves generally avoid people, and there has been a selection pressure through our centuries of heavy hunting for wolves to have extreme fear and reactivity. It is unlikely that the wolves that were first encountered on the Mammoth Steppe were shy and retiring creatures. They would have been like the unpersecuted wolves of Ellesmere, often approaching humans with bold curiosity.

As I have noted in an earlier post, those Ellesmere wolves are an important population that have important clues to how dog domestication might have happened, but the truth of the matter is that no analogous population of wolves or other wild canids exists in which cooperation with humans is a major part of the survival strategy. The wolves on Ellesmere are not fed by anyone, but they don’t rely upon people for anything.

But they are still curious about our species, and their behavior is so tantalizing. Yet it is missing that cooperative analogy that might help us understand more.

I’ve searched the literature for this analogy. I’ve come up short every time. The much-celebrated cooperation between American badgers and coyotes is still quite controversial, and most experts now don’t believe the two species cooperate.  Instead, they think the badger goes digging for ground squirrels, and the coyote stand outside the burrow entrance waiting for the prey to bolt out as the badger’s digging approaches its innermost hiding place in the den. The coyote gets the squirrel, and the badger wastes energy on its digging.

But there is a story that is hard to dispute. It has only been recorded once, but it is so tantalizing that I cannot ignore it.

Randall Eaton observed some rather unusual behavior between black-backed jackals and cheetahs in Nairobi National Park in 1966.

Both of these species do engage in cooperative hunting behavior. Black-backed jackals often work together to hunt gazelles and other small antelope, and they are well-known to work together to kill Cape fur seal pups on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. Male cheetahs form coalitions that work together to defend territory and to hunt cooperatively.

However, the two species generally have a hostile relationship. Cheetahs do occasionally prey upon black-backed jackals, and black-backed jackals will often mob a cheetah after it has made a kill, in hopes of forcing the cat to abandon all that meat.

So these animals usually cannot stand each other, and their interactions are not roseate in the least. Eaton described the “normal interaction” as follows:

The normal interaction between these two predators occurs when the jackals hunt in the late afternoon and come into a group of cheetahs. The jackals, often four or five, are normally spread out over several hundred yards and maintain contact by barking as they move. When cheetahs are encountered by one of the jackals, it barks to the others and they all come to the cheetahs, sniffing the air as they approach apparently looking for a kill. If the cheetahs are not on a kill, the jackals search the immediate area looking for a carcass that might have just been left by the cheetahs. If nothing is found, they remain near the cheetahs for some time, following them as they move ; and when a kill is made the jackals feed on the leftover carcass. If the cheetahs have already fed and are inactive and if a carcass is not found nearby, the jackals move on.

However, Eaton discovered that one particular group of jackals and one female cheetah had developed a different strategy:

At the time I was there in November, 1966, one area of the park was often frequented by a female cheetah with four cubs and was also the territory of a pair of jackals with three pups. The jackal young remained at the den while the adults hunted either singly or together. Upon encountering the cheetah family, the jackals approached to about 20 yards and barked but were ignored except for an occasional chase by the cubs. The jackals ran back and forth barking between the cheetahs and a herd of Grant’s gazelles (Gazella granti) feeding nearby. The two jackals had gone on to hunt and were almost out of sight by the time the adult cheetah attacked two male Grant’s gazelles that had grazed away from the herd. The hunt was not successful. The jackals took notice of the chase and returned to look for a kill ; it appeared that they associated food with the presence of the cheetahs and perhaps with the chase.

One month later, while observing the same cheetah family, I noticed that the entire jackal family was hunting as a group. The cheetah and her cubs were about 300 yards from a herd of mixed species. This same herd had earlier spotted the cheetahs and given alarm calls. The adult cheetah was too far away for an attack,there was little or no stalking cover and the herd was aware of her presence. The cheetahs had been lying in the shade for about one-half an hour since the herd spotted them when the jackals arrived. Upon discovering the cheetahs lying under an Acacia tree, one of the adult jackals barked until the others were congregated around the cheetah family. The jackal that had found the cheetahs crawled to within ten feet of the adult cheetah which did not respond. The jackal then stood up and made a very pneumatic sound by forcing air out of the lungs in short staccato bursts. This same jackal turned towards the game herd, ran to it and, upon reaching it, ran back and forth barking. The individuals of the herd watched the jackal intently. The cheetah sat up and watched the herd as soon as it became preoccupied with the activity of the jackal. Then the cheetah quickly got up and ran at half-speed toward the herd, getting to within 100 yards before being seen by the herd. The prey animals then took flight while the cheetah pursued an impala at full speed.

Upon catching the impala and making the kill, the cheetah called to its cubs to come and eat. After the cheetahs had eaten their fill and moved away from the carcass, the waiting jackals then fed on the remains.

Eaton made several observations of this jackal family working with this female cheetah, and by his calculations, the cheetah was twice as successful when the jackals harassed the herds to aid her stalk.

Eaton made note of this behavior and speculated that this sort of cooperative hunting could have been what facilitated dog domestication:

If cheetah and jackal can learn to hunt mutually then it is to be expected that man’s presence for hundreds, of thousands of years in areas with scavenging canines would have led to cooperative hunting between the two. In fact, it is hard to believe otherwise. It is equally possible that it was man who scavenged the canid and thereby established a symbiosis. Perhaps this symbiosis facilitated the learning of effective social hunting by hominids. Selection may have favored just such an inter-specific cooperation.

Agriculture probably ended the importance of hunting as the binding force between man and dog and sponsored the more intensive artificial selection of breeds for various uses. It is possible that until this period men lived closely with canids that in fossil form are indistinguishable from wild stock (Zeuner, 1954).

Domestication may have occurred through both hunting symbiosis and agricultural life; however, a hunting relationship probably led to the first domestication. Fossil evidence may eventually reconstruct behavioral associations between early man and canids.

Wolves are much more social and much more skilled as cooperative hunters than black-backed jackals are. Humans have a complex language and a culture through which techniques and technology can be passed from generation to generation.

So it is possible that a hunting relationship between man and wolf in the Paleolithic could have been maintained over many generations.

The cheetah had no way of teaching her cubs to let the jackals aid their stalks, and one family of jackals is just not enough to create a population of cheetah assistants.

But humans and these unpersecuted Eurasian wolves of the Pleistocene certainly could create these conditions.

I imagine that the earliest wolf-assisted hunts went much like these jackal-cheetah hunts. Wolves are always testing prey to assess weakness. If a large deer species or wild horse is not weak, it will stand and confront the wolves, and in doing so, it would be exposing itself to a spear being thrown in its direction.

If you’ve ever tried a low-carbohydrate diet, you will know that your body will crave fat. Our brains require quite a bit of caloric intake from fat to keep us going, which is one of those very real costs of having such a large brain. Killing ungulates that stood to fight off wolves meant that would target healthy animals in the herds, and healthy animals have more fat for our big brains.

Thus, working together with wolves would give those humans an advantage, and the wolves would be able to get meat with less effort.

So maybe working together with these Ellesmere-like wolves that lived in Eurasia during the Paleolithic made us both more effective predators, and unlike with the cheetah and the black-backed jackals, human intelligence, language, and cultural transmission allowed this cooperation to go on over generations.

Eaton may have stumbled onto the secret of dog domestication. It takes more than the odd population of scavenging canids to lay the foundations for this unusual domestication. Human agency and foresight joined with the simple cooperative nature of the beasts to make it happen.

 

 

 

Natural History

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Olympian Gus Kenworthy Rescues Almost 100 Dogs

Gus Kenworthy and Dog Beemo

Photo Credit: Instagram/GusKenworthy

 

Gus Kenworthy is known for being an incredibly skilled skier. However, he has won the hearts of many for his love of animals and dedication to using his fame to help animals in need. According to the Humane Society International, while Gus was in PeyongChang for the Olympics, he also took the time to visit a dog meat farm in South Korea where he helped rescue almost 100 dogs!

The HSI reports that eating dogs “is unpopular with young Koreans” but there are still an estimated 2.5 million dogs living in awful conditions on roughly 17,000 dog meat farms in South Korea. Gus wrote on Instagram that “it’s not my place to impose western ideals on the people here,” but that the “way these animals are being treated, however, is completely inhumane and culture should never be a scapegoat for cruelty.” He and HSI also understand that you can’t simply tell people to stop engaging in a problematic economic practice, without introducing something more sustainable.

In this case, the farmer of this farm has worked with HSI and will now grow mushrooms for food, rather than breeding dogs. It’s a win-win for the dogs and for the farmer. The more than 1,200 dogs HSI has rescued over the past three years have better lives with families in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. The farmers have new livelihoods that are not only more sustainable, but more humane. Gus shared that he thinks “it’s a very practical solution to a highly emotive problem” and helping the farmers as well as the dogs.

Gus Kenworthy and Humane Society International

Photo Credit: Instagram/Humane Society International

 

One particular dog from Gus’s visit is especially lucky. He’s a little pup that Gus named Beemo. Gus and his boyfriend, actor Matt Wilkas, fell in love with Beemo while they were helping HSI on the farm. Because of that, Beemo will be joining them as the newest member of their family! Beemo might not be gold, or even silver, but we bet that Gus prefers him to anything else he could have brought back from PeyongChang. In return, we’re sure that Beemo is grateful to his new dads. We hope Gus and Matt are continuing to stand up for the humane treatment of animals by giving Beemo Halo dog food and treats. Halo proudly displays the logo of the Humane Society of the United States (sister organization to HSI) on our packaging. In addition to supporting the HSUS Animal Rescue Team, we also support the All Animals mission of HSUS by working to make sure all animals are treated humanely. If we gave gold medals, we’d definitely give one to Gus for being a true hero for animals.

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Once an abused puppy, new police dog finds important job on UC Berkeley campus

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Friday Funny: United Nations of Dogs

Have a great weekend! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!


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Target’s New Travel Inspired Home Line is Everything

Target Opalhouse Collection

I feel like such a basic suburban soccer mom (which I guess I kind of am these days, despite telling myself I’m still the hip urban 25 year old I’ve been in my head for more years than I care to admit) constantly professing my love for Target, but hey – I love it. In terms of errand running, they’ve usually got everything I need. But they also have great style, and they continue to outdo themselves. My jaw may have even dropped a little when I was first introduced to their new furniture and home decor collection, Opalhouse. It’s a bohemian traveler’s dream, and I am so excited for it to drop (this Sunday, April 8th). Apparently Target’s design team traveled to Paris, Lisbon, and Mallorca for inspiration, and I believe it. I thought I’d share some glimpses of it with you guys today, since I’m having trouble containing my excitement.

Target Opalhouse Collection
Target Opalhouse Collection
Target Opalhouse Collection
Target Opalhouse Collection

I am especially smitten with the Canyon Sunrise collection because it is freaking gorgeous. My shopping list includes this macrame table runner ($ 24.99), this colorful pom pom lumbar pillow ($ 19.99), this gorgeous rattan ceiling light ($ 59.99), this carved wood tray ($ 24.99), this super affordable cotton macrame wall hanging ($ 29.99), this super cute and practical pom basket ($ 19.99), this tasseled bath mat ($ 24.99) which is genuinely the most beautiful bath mat I’ve ever seen, and this stunning rattan chair ($ 139.99).

Target Opalhouse Collection
Target Opalhouse Collection
Target Opalhouse Collection
Target Opalhouse Collection

And if the design alone wasn’t enough to make me want to reach for my wallet the second these items become available on Sunday, most pieces in the collection are under $ 30. I am IN.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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A dog dead for 18 years receives voter registration form

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Halo Partner, Jeanie the 3-Legged Dog, Is Up for a 2018 American Humane Hero Award

On September 29, 2018 the American Humane is hosting the eighth annual Hero Dog Awards gala at The Beverly Hilton, where they will be honoring the Hero Dog Awards winners in seven different categories and the 2018 American Hero Dog will be named.

The Halo Pet Foundation has previously sponsored the American Humane’s veteran program and we’re happy to hear that Halo partner, Jeanie the 3-Legged Dog, is competing in the Therapy Dog category where she and her mom volunteer at veterans’ homes and bond with fellow amputees. In addition, Jeanie works for a Children’s Advocacy Center where she comforts children who are questioned by forensic investigators in physical and sexual abuse cases, violent crimes, and even homicides. She also volunteers at hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

Jeanie was rescued in south Louisiana when she was five months old & was adopted after a deformed front leg was removed by a local vet. Jeanie spent a day with traumatized elementary students who witnessed a shooting in their classroom. She helped an apprehensive child speak to officers after witnessing a murder/suicide. In both cases (and others), she provided a diversion from the horrors of those events.

She attends counseling w/amputees, attends children’s grief therapy, comforts students during finals week, & visits schools’ special ed classes. A veterans’ home resident w/dementia, who had been crying for two weeks, was calm & content, even joyful, during a visit w/Jeanie. A video of the pair went viral on social media.

Local dog lovers and those across the country are invited to visit http://herodogawards.org and vote once per day for their favorite dogs in each of seven categories.

Following the first round of voting, which ends April 25 with the selection of 21 semifinalists (the top three in each category), a second round, featuring a combination of public and celebrity voting, will narrow the field to the seven category finalists. The winning dog in each category will be flown to Los Angeles and celebrated at a red carpet, star-studded awards gala on September 29, when this year’s American Hero Dog will be revealed.

Good luck Jeanie and thank you for making a difference in your community!

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200-pound pig thinks he’s a dog

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Controlling red fox numbers to save piping plovers and red knot

red fox new jersey

New Jersey is a place I think of when I think of a place where animal rights ideology has become quite pernicious.  It is a densely-populated state that still has a lot of wild areas still left within its borders, but wildlife management decisions that include lethal control are quite controversial in that state.

For example, in my state of West Virginia, we have plenty of black bears. Black bears are state symbol, and if you go to any gift shop in the state, there will be black bears featured on so many different object. We love our bears, but we also manage them with hunting season.

New Jersey has the same species of bear, and this bear species is one of the few large carnivorans that is experiencing a population increase. Biologists know that hunting a few black bears every year doesn’t harm their populations at all, and in my state, bear tags go to promote bear conservation and to mitigate any issues between people and bears. Hunting these bears also gives the bears a healthy fear of humans, and it is virtually unknown for a bear to attack someone here. New Jersey has had a bear hunt for the past few years, but it has been met with far more controversy there than it ever would be here. Checking stations get protesters, as do wildlife management areas that are open to bear hunting.

Since the bear hunt began, human and bear conflicts have gone down dramatically. The population is thinned out a bit, and the bears learn that people aren’t to be approached.  But those potential conservation gains are likely to be erased sooner rather than later.

The animal rights people have become powerful enough in that state that no Democrat can make it through the primaries without pledging to end the bear hunt. The new Democratic governor wants to do away with the bear hunt.

But the bear hunt isn’t the only place where the animal rights people are forcing misguided policy.

A few days ago, I posted a piece about the inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and conservation, and it didn’t take me long to find an article about red foxes in Brigantine, New Jersey. Brigantine is an island off the New Jersey coast.

Like most places in the Mid-Atlantic, it has a healthy population of red foxes, but it also has a nesting shorebird population, which the foxes do endanger. One of the shorebirds that nests on the island is the piping plover, a species that is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN.  Red knot also use the island on their migrations between South America and their Canadian arctic nesting ground. This species is also listed as near threatened, and both New Jersey and Delaware have enacted regulations and programs to protect them.

At Brigantine, people began to discover dead red foxes in the sand dunes, and because red foxes are canids and canids are charismatic. It was speculated that the foxes were poisoned, and the state DEP was asked if the agency had been poisoning foxes there.

The state apparently answered that it had no been poisoning foxes on Brigantine’s beaches. It has been trapping and shooting red foxes.

To me, the state’s management policy makes perfect sense. North American red foxes are in no way endangered or threatened. Their numbers and range have only increased since European settlement, and they are classic mesopredators.  Mesopredators are those species of predator whose numbers would normally be checked by larger ones, but when those larger ones are removed, the smaller predators have population increases. These increased numbers of smaller predators wind up harming their own prey populations.

This phenomenon is called “mesopredator release.” It is an important hypothesis that is only now starting to gain traction in wildlife management science. What it essentially means is that without larger predators to check the population of the smaller ones, it is important to have some level of controls on these mesopredators to protect biodiversity.

Animal rights ideology refuses to consider these issues. In fact, the article I found about these Brigantine foxes is entitled “These adorable foxes are being shot to death by the state.”   The article title is clickbaitish, because the journalist interviewed a spokesperson at the DEP, who clearly explained why the fox controls were implemented.

The trappers who took the foxes probably should have come up with a better way of disposing of the bodies. One should also keep in mind that New Jersey is one of the few states that has totally banned foot-hold traps for private use, so any kind of trapping is going to be controversial in that state. So the state trappers should have been much more careful.

But I doubt that this will be the end of the story. The foxes have been named “unofficial mascots” of Brigantine, and it won’t be long before politicians hear about the complaints. The fox trapping program will probably be be pared back or abandoned altogether.

And the piping plover and red knot will not find Brigantine such a nice place to be.

And so the fox lovers force their ideology onto wildlife managers, and the protection of these near threatened species becomes so much harder.

This sign was posted in 2016 after the first dead foxes were found:

save our foxes

But I don’t think many people will be posting “Save Our Piping Plovers.” Most people don’t know what a piping plover is, but red foxes are well-known.

They get their special status because they are closely related to dogs, and people find it easy to transfer feelings about their own dogs onto these animals.

This makes sense from a human perspective, but it makes very little sense in terms of ecological understanding.

And it makes little sense for the foxes, which often die by car strikes and sarcoptic mange, especially when their population densities become too high.

Death by a trapper’s gun is far more humane than mange. The traps used are mostly off-set jawed ones, ones that cannot cut the fox as it is held. The trap is little more than a handcuff that grabs it by the foot and holds it. The traps are checked at least once a day, and the fox dies with a simple shot to the head, which kills it instantly.

And the fox numbers are reduced, and the island can hold rare shorebirds better than it could before.

In trying to make a better world for wildlife, we sometimes have to kill. This is an unpleasant truth.

And this truth becomes more unpleasant when we start conflating animal rights issues with conservation issues. Yes, we should make sure that animals are treated humanely, but we cannot make the world safe for wildlife without controlling mesopredators and invasive species.

I think that most of the fox lovers do care about wildlife, but they are so removed from wildlife issues on a grand scale that it becomes harder to understand why lethal methods sometimes must be used.

My guess is these people like seeing foxes when they are at the beach and don’t really think about these issues any more than that.

It is not just the wildlife exploiters and polluters that conservationists have to worry about. The animal lovers who extend too much animal rights ideology into conservation issues are a major problem as well.

And sadly, they are often the people that are the hardest to convince that something must be changed.

I don’t have a good answer for this problem, but it is one that conservationists must consider carefully as the future turns more and more in the favor of animal rights ideology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural History

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Should You Muzzle Your Dog for Your Cat’s Safety?

Muzzle for dogs

I got this email from a listener:

“I need a muzzle for my pitbull.  She is great with me, but I don’t trust her with cats in the house, so when she is in the house she is crated.  I want to transition her to give her more freedom without risking harm to my cats. I planned to let her hang with me on the couch with the muzzle on. What type do you recommend?”


My answer was:

“A muzzle is an excellent idea on your part instead of crating! My recommendation would be a Baskerville Ultra Muzzle designed by British dog trainer and guru Roger Mugford, whose Company of Animals has many innovative products for dog wellness. This muzzle has a flexible fit for dogs with wider noses and also allows the dog to eat, drink and pant while wearing it. The ergonomically designed safety strapping ensures the muzzle remains securely in place and features two additional points of secure attachment. It is made from strong but maleable thermo plastic rubber (TPR), so that the muzzle can even be molded to best fit a dog’s muzzle by warming in hot water then cooling in cold to create a broad muzzle for a boxer (or possibly your pittie if he has a broad head) or a narrow muzzle for a Borzoi.

However, you need to introduce a dog slowly and gently to a muzzle, by using positive reinforcement and high value treats. Offer your dog some pieces of cheese, hot dog, or Halo-Liv-a-Little freeze dried cubes of salmon or chicken while adjusting the muzzle on your dog’s face the first time. Let him wear the muzzle while you are around for increasing amounts of time until he doesn’t fuss with it and looks to you for those treats,which he will associate with wearing the muzzle. Periodically give him more treats through the openings in the front while he’s wearing it the first few times, until he can even lie comfortably on his bed (or on the couch with you!) while wearing it.”

After getting this email I wanted to raise the question of whether a cat is ever truly safe in a dog household with Gayle Watkins, a renowned Golden Retriever breeder and one of my Avidog International co-hosts on my dog training show GOOD DOGS!  Our recent podcast on the topic makes it clear that jeopardy for the cat always theoretically exists, especially when the humans are out of the house. On the show I talk about how a cat can quickly become prey, even to a dog she has lived and played with – but when the cat takes off, the prey-drive instinct takes over in many dogs and tragedy can happen. Especially when adopting or rehoming a dog – even one that you’ve been told is “good with cats” – please be aware that this possibility exists. I have heard of newly-adopted dogs who went after a family cat and then the people couldn’t bear to live with the dog anymore and discarded him.

So our recommendation is to always separate dogs and cats in different parts of the house when you leave them alone – or muzzle the dog so that the kitties stay safe.

Tracie HotchnerTracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK®  (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.

Dog Film Festival - Tracie HotchnerTracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.

Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.

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