Q. We have had a 5-inch-long Russian tortoise for the past six months now, and he is very active. I was wondering if we could put him in a pen outdoors for the summer months as he would have a lot more room than he does in the fish tank that we currently have him in. If you think this is a good idea, what should we make the pen out of?
Billy Taylor, East Islip
A. Your tortoise should not be kept outside night and day unless you can build a very strong pen that is totally raccoon-proof. These animals love to eat turtles and tortoises. This means that the pen needs a secure cover and you need to extend the edges of the pen under the ground for quite a ways to be sure that a raccoon cannot dig underneath it.See alsoMarc Morrone columns
Tortoises can dig as well, and it seems that when they are in such a pen, all they try to do is escape from it. The sides of the pen need to be solid or of a very small wire mesh
so he will not get his head or a leg stuck in it. Unless you are very handy, such a pen is very hard to build from scratch. It is a much better idea to just put the tortoise outside to get some exercise and be able to eat some pesticide-free grass and weeds in a temporary pen for a few hours under your watchful eye.
I use a cheap child’s wading pool, and I just cut out the bottom with a pair of tin snips so all I am left with is a round circle of the plastic sides about 14 inches high. Then I just place that on the lawn in a shady spot on a nice warm day and allow my tortoises to enjoy themselves in it when we are outside. Since the sides are solid, they do not try to get out of it as they cannot see through it. The round shape allows them to walk round and round in uninterrupted circles getting plenty of exercise. When we go back in the house, we bring in the tortoises and all is well.
Q. How hot is too hot for my house to stay during the summer months when nobody is home? We have a dog and a cat and an African grey parrot. With the price of electricity now I would like to know how cool I need to keep my house for the summer so that they feel comfortable.
Felix Garcia, Brentwood
A. Cats have it the easiest during the day all alone in the summer as they are clever enough and have enough mobility in the house to find cool areas such as the bathtub or on a tile floor. Caged pets such as birds have it the hardest as they cannot escape from the situation they are in if it is too hot. However, you do not have to keep the house at 70 degrees for them. I have the air-conditioning in my house set at 80 degrees, and all my pets do fine. My fish aquariums usually register 83 degrees when we get home as the motors from the pumps raise the temperature a bit, but this is fine for the fish. Needless to say though, all your dogs, cats, birds or whatever pets you have need constant access to clean, fresh water served in sparkling clean dishes.
Q. My 2-year-old longhair Chihuahua has one ear that is upright and one ear that flops over. It has been this way since she was a puppy. When I got her the breeder said the other ear would stand up as she grew, but it never did. I read on the Internet that if I have my groomer trim the hair off the back and edge ear and then tape moleskin on the inside of the ear it may end up standing up straight like the other one. Do you think that it will work?
Catherine Peters, Orient
A. Chihuahuas are a breed that has ears that do stand up naturally, and if the ears flop as puppies they should prick up as the dog gets older, just as the breeder said. However, if your dog’s ears are unusually large or the fur on the ear is very long, then the weight of all this will keep pulling the ear down and eventually the cartilage will harden and the ear will stay like this.
If the fur on the ears was trimmed when the dog was a puppy, then they would not weigh so much and most likely they would have pricked up naturally and the cartilage would have been strong enough to keep the ears up even when the fur grew back. However your dog is now 2, and I think the ear is not going to stand up no matter what you do at this point. But you will never know unless you try.
To trim the fur on the outside of the ear and put a bit of moleskin inside it to hold it up is not a surgical procedure like cropping and will not hurt the dog at all. If your groomer can do it, then you have nothing to lose. I had for many years a little mixed-breed dog named Murphy who appeared on TV with me all the time, and he had one ear up and one ear down and he got fan mail from viewers all over the country who said that he looked very cute that way.