Q: My daughter just got a baby hedgehog. It's a cute little animal, but it does not seem to recognize us at all like our guinea pig does. Even our bearded dragon bobs his head when we come into the room. So how does the hedgehog rank in intelligence compared with our other pets? --Emily Hoffman, Riverhead
A: It is never fair to compare animals in that manner. All animals are as smart as they need to be to survive in the ecological niche in which they evolved.
Take the little hedgehog for instance. It lives in Africa and eats small insects. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to find insects to eat in Africa. The hedgehog is also covered in sharp spines that prevent most animals from eating it so it does not have to worry about or be alert to predators as a guinea pig or a bearded dragon does.
Since hedgehogs don't need great eyesight they cannot visualize you across the room as the dragon does and that is why they do not acknowledge you in this manner. The dragon needs to see far in the distance to spot its many predators that live with it in Australia. Hedgies do have a keen sense of smell, so as you handle yours it will familiarize itself with the scent of your hands. They can tell the difference when a stranger is handling them and some will curl up into a ball when a stranger picks them up. So your hedgie is doing the best it can as nature intended for it. And they have been around for a long time, so, however smart they are, it is obviously smart enough.
Q: We have a very friendly 14-month-old neutered pit bull. You can take a bone out of his mouth, pull his food dish away from him while he is eating . . . there is nothing that we can do that will ever make him stop wagging his tail and looking at us adoringly. However we cannot stop him from running around the house like crazy and knocking everything over. He has sent lamps crashing against the wall into pieces. Outside he goes running after the kids and knocks them down like bowling pins and then runs over to lick their faces. We just cannot seem to get his attention to get him to stop when he is charging around. One trainer we consulted said to use a shock collar, but another trainer said that would make the dog aggressive and we do not want that. What is your opinion? --Fred Somers, Port Jefferson
A: A lot of the problem with shock collars is the name. "Shock collar" implies an electric current around a dog's neck that makes smoke come out of its ears. The idea of hurting a dog on purpose is never a good one. However, such collars do not shock a dog in the manner described. I have put them on myself many times and I have gotten worse electric shocks from rubbing my feet on carpet and then touching a piece of metal. So a more apt name is "training collar" because we are using it just to get the dog's attention and give it a quick and instant correction -- something every dog can understand.
When used correctly, the collar is merely a tool to give a long-distance correction to a dog that is so involved in what it is doing that it is not paying attention to you or is not able to hear you very well. If the collar is used to punish a dog rather then to give it a quick correction then the dog will become confused and upset and the training collar will do more harm then good.
I have used them many times on high energy dogs with very good results. None of the dogs I used it on ever "stopped wagging its tail" or stopped "looking upon me adoringly" -- to borrow your descriptions.
Q: We had a robin's nest on our front lamppost and watched the mother hatching the eggs and feeding the two babies. However the babies are only 2 weeks old now and the nest is empty. We did hear one of the babies calling and saw it hiding under a bush in front of our house, but night is coming and there is a cat lady that lives down the block who feeds every stray in creation. We do not know what to do to help the baby. --Sandy Jones, Uniondale
A: I go through this scenario every hour this time of the year, and the answer is always, "If you care, then just leave it there." When baby birds are in the nest they are very vulnerable. All the babies are together in one place and they are calling for food, and the same way that you found the nest is the same way a cat will find it. The problem is that if one of the cat lady's charges does find the nest then the cat kills all the babies and the parent birds have nothing to show for their hard work. So what happens is that the minute that the babies can walk and hop they all bail out of the nest even though they cannot fly yet. They scatter about hiding in the best manner that they can. The parents will visit each one in turn and feed it periodically through the day, but basically they are left to take their chances.
If a cat finds one and kills it then at least only one died instead of all. As the days go by, those that survive learn how to fly and feed themselves. So any interference or help from you will only disrupt this order. If the baby bird is out in the open then you can gently pick it up and place it under a shrub so that it is out of sight. The parents will still find it to feed it: The old wives tale that a mother bird will abandon her babies if they have human smell on them is just that. The only time a baby will need human help is if it falls out of a nest before it has any feathers or can hop about. In that case, you should contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who has the education and proper permits to handle such a job.