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I’ve interviewed with survival groups who told me I couldn’t join them because I will bring the critters with me.

Along with assorted other detritus, when my children grew up and moved out (or joined the military and got deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan), they left me with their critters: hedgehogs, turtles, rats, hamsters, ferrets, dogs, and cats. I put them all to use, in one way or another. Critters in my house aren't pets, they're partners and responsible for providing their share of the household upkeep. Most of the animals left in my care have died of very old age and all the critters I have now are Itzl and Xoco.

Because all my kids left me their critters, I was responsible for them -and they were responsible for keeping everything running smoothly.

If a disaster happened or an apocalypse came along and smacked us, I’d do my best to provide for any critters residing with me - and that includes training them to be an active and contributing member of the family.

Itzl and Xoco belong to me. They've been trained as service dogs and it’s their job to alert me to sounds I can’t hear. I’m not totally deaf, but there are sounds I can’t hear. Important sounds like sirens, alarms, gun safeties clicking off, pipes whistling, and so on. They've been trained to alert me to these different sounds. They have proven themselves useful in numerous survival situations - brief ones like the forklift in the grocery store, or the SUVs that back out of parking places without checking for pedestrians or obstacles, and longer term ones like hailstorms and tornadoes, and social ones like alerting on screaming children.

My son's dogs were trained hunting dogs, also useful in the event of a disaster or an apocalypse. Mind, Beaners’ dogs weren’t housebroken, and had no indoor manners, but they were excellent hunters. They were more than capable of running down rabbits, possum, squirrels, and can snatch birds right out of the air. They’ve brought me dove, pigeon, duck, geese, mockingbirds, blue jays, a parrot, once, and a cardinal, once. Even if they were to be kept crated indoors, they’d be useful to have. Mighty hunters that they were, they were terribly gun-shy – they’d been taught to hunt with people who use crossbows and bow and arrow and spears or to hunt on their own and bring their kill back. I’d be glad to have dogs like them to help my survive in a widespread disaster situation, and especially in an apocalyptic one.

The cats and the ferrets were outstanding mousers.They can find and kill intruding rodents faster than I can blink, put their kill in a designated place and walk away from it. In the event of a pandemic, particularly one with a flea or tick vector, this is an excellent skill to have around. They were trained to put their kills in a box set in a corner with pennyroyal and peppermint leaves in it. They associated the smell of pennyroyal and peppermint with the stash place for their kills. The pennyroyal stuns the fleas, so they don’t leap off the dead rodent and onto the critters living with me. They would then come tell me they killed something, they got their treat and I disposed of it so the fleas don’t get out, and set a fresh pennyroyal lined box down for the next kill.

Ferrets were once trained (and still are, in some countries) to hunt rabbits and other underground dwelling animals, their long slinky bodies allowing them to fit into incredibly tiny spaces. They can also be trained to run wires and cables through walls.

The rats were useful for cleaning in the small spaces and clearing out dust bunnies.  They were also smart enough to carry messages to other parts of the house, and could probably be trained to run messages within a campground or survivalist's compound.  They were once used to run cables and wires and could be trained for that again. Rats are also proving useful for sniffing out bombs, land mines, and other such things, which means they can be scent trained for hunting for food like truffles, potatoes, sunflower roots, and other edible roots and shoots, can  hunt for people, especially people trapped in the debris of disasters, and to hunt spoor for prey animals. Rats are amazingly useful survivor helpers.

Turtles aren't quite as actively useful, but they are excellent at helping keep insect populations under control, along with mosquito fish, toads, and bats.

If you also have pets you want to keep after a disaster, an apocalypse, or in the event of a depression, start training your pet to be useful now. Not just tricks, but actual work. Then, let them work alongside you.  Both of you will benefit - the critter will be happy to be part of your team, and you'll have reliable help. It's a win-win situation.

Dogs were domesticated as helpers for people. They were bred to specialties in helping people and you should tap into that instinct and experience and give your dog a chance to be more than a pampered pet, because you can’t afford free-loaders when there’s no money, no food, and you have to rely on your wits.

Itzl is a good example. People are constantly amazed at his behavior, and he loves being useful. He’s alert and always wanting to please me by letting me know there’s a sound I need to investigate. He’s even started training himself now that he knows what’s expected of him. If he hears a sound and I don’t react to it and he doesn’t know what that sound is, he will agitate and insist that I investigate the sound and teach him about it.

At Halloween, there were teens wandering the neighborhood with those light sabers that make sounds and he didn’t know what they were. He led me to the teens and looked at me to teach him. I asked the teens if they’d help, and told them what to do, since I couldn’t hear the light sabers. So they turned the sounds on and off, and demonstrated them for Itzl. I reinforced the lesson with his code words. By the time we were done, he had a new sound to alert on, and he decided on his own that since it was a toy that made the sound, his signal would be to chuff and point, waving one paw as if he were wielding a saber himself. Now I know when he chuffs and mimics a swordfight, he’s telling me there are light saber noises nearby.

He also trained the cats to fetch for him using the same training techniques I use on him. The cats will now fetch for me as well as him. And they hunt rodents and put them in their kill box.

Dogs and cats can be trained to alert on gaseous smells, smoke alarms, to fetch, hunt, and guard. Dogs can also be trained to dig, pull loads, carry packs, herd children or chickens or sheep or other flocking animals, carry messages, find lost objects, and perform a myriad of other tasks.

Teamwork and Teamwork II and the video are good training resources to teach your animal useful survival skills. Connecting with people who own similar breeds and animals that are interested in training them to do jobs is also useful. One such website, Working Dog Web, has a lot of information on it. While we see dogs as the most useful, cats, ferrets, parrots, falcons, horses, pigs, homing pigeons, and, yes, even rats can be trained to do jobs we need for survival and their trained presence can increase our odds of surviving.

When we make our survival plans, instead of just planning to save our pets, we ought to start preparing them to be partners in our survival.

Originally posted to Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 08:13 AM PST.

Also republished by PWB Peeps.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You "interviewed" with survival groups? (0+ / 0-)

    Where do you see yourself surviving in 5 years?

    Tell me about a time when you found yourself not survivng and how did you overcome that?

    Have you survived anything high tech?

  •  Domesticated dogs may date back as far as 33,000 (6+ / 0-)

    years ago, and are believed to be the first domesticated animal. Probably used for hunting, as they were already natural pack-hunters, later for herding, as that was their natural pack-hunting method. The bond between humans and dogs can only, I think, be understood by people who experience it. For those who don't, they're missing something primal and excellent.

  •  I dunno about training ferrets to give up (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, Wee Mama, Lilith, bumbi, martini

    their kills.

    The ferrets I've had, that would hunt (since the cats would bring in their 'toys' to share), were bound and determined to have that meal NOW. Mouse was the treat! I'm as happy they eat it since it's perfect, ancestral food for them. Better than anything I could buy. Not that I wouldn't supplement, but it means the food for them will last that much longer.

    Training my cats to stash, now that sounds like a good idea. More than once my "OOoo! I'm awake now!" is due to the early morning barefoot discovery of a pootie attempt to feed me properly.

    I think it might be good to note the rising popularity of backyard chickens. In survival situations, having a supply of eggs is very handy and chickens, given water and shelter, can often feed themselves if allowed to roam a little. They also are great at eating up scraps and leftovers.  

    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 08:38:07 AM PST

    •  Yeah, I'm thinking of an entire (7+ / 0-)

      Backyard Barnyard diary...rabbits, chickens, geese, mini cows, goats, mini and county regulations, and how many and how to care for them and how to milk them and gather eggs and deal with diseases and where and how to slaughter them and as much as I can pack into a single diary - I'll leave lots out, of course, but there should be enough to assist anyone in getting details and doing it themselves if they want

      All knowledge is worth having.

      by Noddy on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 08:45:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Speaking from experience (6+ / 0-)

        The milking of small goats (pygmy and pygmy mixes) is somewhat a mixed bag. . . a rather small bag. With small teats.
        And a goat able to leap on your head when you yank hair along with the teat (because it's small). I think it took about a month before we got the hang of each other. It's so exasperating that I rescued a larger milk goat. Being able to wrap your whole hand around the teat really makes a difference.

        Geese- very good to have. Big and noisy and watchful, they will warn or scare off predators.

        I think a Backyard Barnyard is more of a series. I would be happy to contribute to a series like that. I've gone thru the 'what kind of goats do I want?' so I can offer advice on them. I'm experimenting with poultry this year.

        I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

        by WiseFerret on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 09:12:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I adore the image of little Itzl waving his light (10+ / 0-)

    saber! Smooches to Itzl, please.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 08:43:11 AM PST

  •  Dogs love having a job... (7+ / 0-)

    My parrot sits on her tree in my office by the sliding glass door. She alerts me to what's going on in front of the house. One greeting whistle for friends and neighbors, another one for strangers.

    "Who is John Galt?" A two dimensional character in a third rate novel.

    by Inventor on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 08:52:08 AM PST

  •  I thought when the Apocalypse came that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bumbi, martini

    pets were considered "lunch" but then I thought such an event would mean the neighbors were "dinner"

  •  even without any training (7+ / 0-)

    one of my cats (Peekay) serves as watchdog. She can hear a vehicle pulling up in the driveway and interprets that as danger--she runs to the top of the stairs and watches anxiously. When I see her suddenly dash for the stairs I know someone's coming, long before I can hear it myself (even though I don't have hearing loss particularly).

    She is extremely conscious of where everybody is. My cat Nuisance gets to go outside, and if he's ready to come in and looking through the glass, Peekay will come and get me and she will exhibit great anxiety until I finally do something. The other cat, Jellybean, gets to visit the Scary Garage every evening as her escape valve. If she's been gone for more than an hour, Peekay will again come and get me, running back and forth in an agitated way, squeaking, until we let Jellybean back in and the family is complete again.

    It's reassuring to me that she's watching out for things. I don't worry so much that I'll 'forget' about one of the cats.

    The other work she's very good at is killing bugs. The house is on a slab and we do get crickets which are very annoying. Much less so since Peekay has been here to patrol for them. In a survival situation, though, mostly I think my cats will provide friendly comfort.

    ~On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Raise her glowing flame!~ I am proud to say three generations of my family lived in WI. Though I live elsewhere, am with you in spirit!

    by sillia on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 09:10:58 AM PST

  •  I have 10 indoor cats (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bumbi, BlackSheep1, jfromga, chimene

    (And first of all, they and my two buns send their good wishes - along with mine - for Itzl's complete, and quick recovery.)

    But it's a rare year that even one hapless mouse falls prey to them so I'm not sure how effectively I could train them. OTOH, I never see any evidence of mouse activity within the house, even in food store rooms and pantries so they must be thorough in their constant suppression of any indoor rodents that appear.  

    I live on a farm in a rural area in the NE so I don't have much threat from rodent commensals - house mice or Norway rats, for instance.  I have various native critters such as  voles, white-footed and  deer mice, chipmunks and squirrels but I find it preferable to practice my own vigilance at keeping what I want to preserve safe from from their predations rather than pursuing a policy of extermination against them. Many local farms use rodenticides, I prefer well-kept-up fencing,  wire screening and metal containers for grains and seeds.

    Your opening sentence about interviewing with survivalist groups is startling. I can't imagine the circumstances and outlook that would make me consider doing that. I am very interested in self-sufficiency skills but not, primarily, to survive a social or natural catastrophe. (Tthough the same skills might come in handy under those circumstances.) But, rather, I like knowing how things are done and trying my hand at doing them.

    As a child I lived overseas in really dangerous, unstable parts of the world. Before I was a teen I'd lived through shooting revolutions and armed house-to-house combat, along with disease outbreaks, severe food and potable water shortages and other apocalyptic crises, and always as a foreigner, including sometimes a foreigner who was defined as an enemy of whatever state power was in charge. I find it very hard to take very seriously worries about that sort thing happening here in the US .  Sometimes it seems to me that we (I'm a native-born US citizen) have it so easy, with such a long, strong (despite the current crankiness) tradition of a shared social contract that the attraction of survalism scenarios is simlar to the attraction towards scary movies - an appealing frisson in a very secure, even boring, existence.

    Don't get me wrong - I'm all for every day preparedness.  I'm a former volunteer firefighter and EMT, after all.  I grow and preserve a sustantial portion of my own food, heat with wood from my woodlot, generate a lot of my own power from solar, etc.  But I don't do that for survivalistic reasons as much as for simplicity of living and because I live in a naturally extreme climate (northern NY) where it is commonly a pain to get out and about in the winter. (Not so much this weird year, of course.)  

    I'm not sure I'd want to be around in a situation where actual "survivalism" was required in any serious, or prolonged, way. It's all very well to go on about it while safely connected to the internet, in your temperature-controlled rooms, down the street from the supermarket. Real social or political disruptions (or natural disasters) are not so interesting. They are not theoretical possibilities to me - I've already lived through some.

    Sorry to get off on a tangent from the pet survivalism topic, but your first sentence really hit a nerve for me this morning.)

    And I'll add as an every-day pet care in a disaster scenario tip: It's important to have a pet carrier for every one of your critters. Without them you will have less success keeping your animals always with you.  Loose animals are the bane of most shelter managers and often barred.  Caged pets can usually be accomodated.   We have a shelf in the store room with all the carriers lined up and ready to go both for all the cats and the buns which live in the house. Never let yourself get low on pet food, either.


    •  There are many kinds of survivalist groups, (4+ / 0-)

      not just the TEOTWAWKI people.  

      I personally think having a group of like-minded people to help one another survive is essential - whether it's a tornado or a war-torn village or a crime-ridden neighborhood or a hostile HOA or a low-income housing.

      Don't diss people because they haven't had the experiences you had. If they don't know how to survive a blizzard, it's just as deadly as a stray bullet.

      All knowledge is worth having.

      by Noddy on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 11:10:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  living in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, or a host (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bumbi, chimene

        of other states, with tornado season about to open, suggests that one should be staying prepared as a habit, doesn't it?

        Best wishes for a full and complete recovery to Itzl. I've been out of town and just got caught up on the surgery and aftermath. Glad to hear he's home and coming along nicely.

        LBJ & Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees: Texas is No Bush League! -7.50,-5.59

        by BlackSheep1 on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 12:31:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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