L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Holidays

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Whew!  With National Penguin Awareness Day behind us, we can finally turn all our energies toward celebrating today's made-up animal-related holiday: Squirrel Appreciation Day.  You know, the day when all Americans take time out to remember those feisty, funny, athletic little guys with a penchant for obstacle courses and an unfortunate tendency to overdo it with the fermented pumpkins.

Christy Hargrove, a certified wildlife rehabilitator from North Carolina, started Squirrel Appreciation Day back in 2001.  Although it's the most unofficial of unofficial holidays and no events are scheduled to commemorate it, "you can help celebrate by putting out extra food for the squirrels," Hargrove writes on her website.

Your morning adorable: Enterprising squirrel tries to eat a coconut
Hosing down the squirrels

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: A squirrel makes use of a Squngee, which is pretty much just what it sounds like.  Credit: nrolls74 via YouTube

Happy National Penguin Awareness Day!


It's time once again to celebrate everyone's favorite holiday: National Penguin Awareness Day. (All right, so we didn't know this "holiday" existed until today, and we suspect you probably didn't, either. But we love to celebrate, and we love penguins, so what's not to love about this made-up penguin-related holiday?)

In honor of the humble flightless (or are they?) birds, we'll be taking some time out today to reflect on our favorite penguins past and present.  Among them: Nils Olav, a king penguin resident of the Edinburgh Zoo who's an honorary member of the Norwegian King's Guard and received Norwegian knighthood in 2008; Lala, the king penguin who goes shopping for his family at a Japanese fish market, all the while wearing a tiny penguin-shaped backpack; and the talented cartoon penguins who dance right along with Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins." When we're done with all that reminiscing, of course we'll have to watch "March of the Penguins."

But we'll have to make sure not to wear ourselves out with all of this penguin-related tomfoolery; after all, we have to conserve our strength for Squirrel Appreciation Day tomorrow!

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A penguin swims at the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium in Tokyo.  Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP/Getty Images

Surprising spot for a holiday wonderland: Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas

Pets' tombstones and headstones are decorated for Christmas and Hanukkah season 
at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, Calif.

The messages of love aren't just carved in stone at Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park. This time of year, they're embellished in bold splashes of red and green.

For nearly five weeks every Christmas and Hanukkah season, this final resting place for the four-legged and famous suspends lawn mowing and weed-whacking so people can decorate. Up pop miniature Christmas trees, poinsettias, flowered garlands, photographs of beloved pets and tiny pet-shaped statuettes in even tinier Santa hats.

"We decorate the graves because they are in our hearts. It feels like they are still with us," said Marvin Rouillard, 69, of Winnetka.

The character actor and his partner have visited the park, nestled on 10 hillside acres 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, every Sunday since their 14-year-old golden retriever, Baron, died in 1986. As they added cats Missy, Snow and Runt, the decorations became more elaborate. This year, he has a garland around the grave sites, several small trees and wreaths made out of bells.

"We used to put up 7-foot trees with all the ornaments," he said, "but no matter how we tried to anchor it all down, the winds would blow them away."

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Donkeys bolt before they can join the baby Jesus -- but Nativity story has happy ending

A donkey that escaped from a nativity scene near Vail, Colo.

A living Nativity scene near the Colorado ski resort of Vail almost had to go without two crucial actors when two donkeys escaped.

The Nativity is an annual tradition for Eagle River Presbyterian Church in the Vail Valley. Pastor Rob Wilson says two borrowed donkeys were being held in a fenced-in pen for the event Wednesday night, but the animals pushed their way through it.

A parishioner who stopped by the church Wednesday morning noticed the donkeys were gone. He and a sheriff's deputy followed footprints in the snow and eventually caught up with them.

The donkeys had wandered near some railroad tracks but were OK.

-- Associated Press

Photo: One of the escapees is shown with Pastor Rob Wilson (left), Chip Howard and Lukey Wilson on Dec. 24, 2009.  Credit: Barbara Wilson / Associated Press

Reader photo of the day: Rhodesian Ridgebacks wait for Santa


Though the holidays have nearly come to an end, we couldn't ignore the comfort and joy of these three Rhodesian Ridgebacks in this cleverly doctored photo from submitter Maura. She spruced up the animals by adding hats and a Christmas tree-snowman combo on the porch for good measure. It makes the dogs, who seem very down to business in their search "for the man in red," so perfectly cheery and decked out for the season. (We especially love the middle Ridgeback's adorable brown nose,  which, appropriately, reminds us of Rudolph's unique-colored reindeer snout.)

Think your animal photo should be our reader photo of the day? We'd love to see it, and showing us is easy. Just head to the Pets & Animals category of Your Scene, The Times' photo-sharing site, and select the appropriate album (we found Maura's photo in the Holiday Pets album). Once you've chosen your album,  click the "submit" link at the top of the page, pick your photo (.jpg format) and include a caption that tells us a little about the animal or animals you've photographed.

Reader photo of the day: Kitteh says 'I can haz my morning coffee?'
Reader photo of the day: Tayah the Rhodesian ridgeback gets a hug from a young friend

-- Kelsey Ramos

Photo: Maura / Your Scene

Your morning adorable: Merry Christmas to zoo animals

Two African penguins take a look at their christmas presents in the zoo in Hanover, Germany

Merry Christmas!  Today, our own dogs will be unwrapping (with some help) their holiday gifts -- including some neat Three Dog Bakery treats that look good enough for us to eat -- and we suspect that many of your own pets have similar under-the-tree discoveries awaiting them.  (A recent poll showed that more than half of dog and cat owners planned to buy holiday gifts for their pets, and even First Dog Bo Obama got his own Christmas stocking at the White House.)

But, as zoos around the world have demonstrated in recent days, companion animals aren't the only ones who like to celebrate in style.  Take these two African penguins (a species once referred to as 'jackass penguins' for the unusual braying noise they make), who receive Christmas presents each year courtesy of their keepers at Australia's Taronga Zoo

The penguins aren't alone -- after the jump, take a gander at the wide variety of animals enjoying the holidays right along with us this year.

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Get rich quick: Make ornaments, jewelry from reindeer droppings. Hey, it worked for an Illinois zoo

Reindeer Necklaces and Christmas ornaments made from dime-sized pieces of reindeer droppings have earned a Bloomington, Ill., zoo nearly $21,000 this holiday season.

The Miller Park Zoological Society made about $5,000 selling reindeer-dropping ornaments last year. It added necklaces this year when customers asked if jewelry was available.

The reindeer droppings are dehydrated, sterilized and spray-painted with glitter. They're called "Magical Reindeer Gems."

The ornaments cost $7.50 at the zoo's gift shop or $10 by mail. The necklaces sell for $15 at the gift shop, or $20 by mail.

The zoological society says the ornaments and necklaces sold nationwide. Requests also came in from other countries, but federal regulations don't allow reindeer droppings to be exported.

-- Associated Press

Photo: A reindeer at the Los Angeles Zoo in 2005.  Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Your morning adorable: London Zoo's meerkats celebrate Christmas early (with mealworms!)


Christmas came early for the meerkat residents of the London Zoo, who received the best gift ever (if you're a meerkat) from their keepers Wednesday. That gift? Christmas crackers stuffed with delicacies: mealworms and locusts. That's like winning the meerkat lottery!

"The meerkats love to explore new things, so we thought we'd surprise them with a gift that they can get they paws into," keeper Mark Habben explained. The gifts also served as an enrichment activity for the meerkats as well as the zoo's South American coati residents, who also received Christmas crackers stuffed with treats.

More meerkat photos after the jump!

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Not what these holiday decorators had in mind: Colorado deer with Christmas lights tangled in its antlers evades capture

Santa may not need Rudolph's red nose this year.

Residents in Colorado Springs have been reporting a deer with a tangle of Christmas lights wrapped in its antlers. Neighbors have tried to chase the buck to remove the lights, with no success.

State wildlife officials say it's not unusual for deer to get tangled in outdoor decorations.

Wildlife authorities say they had reports two weeks ago of another deer in Colorado Springs with lights caught in its antlers. Wildlife managers say they simply leave decorated deer alone unless they have cords caught around their necks or mouths.

Residents have been asked to use shorter strings of lights and to keep lights off trees and bushes.

-- Associated Press

First dog Bo won't be left out this holiday season: He's got his own Christmas stocking


Bo, the White House dog, has his very own Christmas stocking.

First Lady Michelle Obama made the revelation in an interview with Oprah Winfrey for her "Christmas at the White House" special, scheduled to air Sunday night on ABC. Winfrey's company, Harpo Productions, released excerpts of the interview today.

Asked which members of the Obama family have a stocking, the first lady named President Obama, herself, daughters Malia and Sasha and said "of course" the family's Portuguese water dog has one too. This will be the first Christmas for the puppy, which the Obamas got in April.

She did not give any details about what might be going into Bo's stocking, but said Santa loves Bo.

Winfrey also asked the couple about their favorite childhood Christmas gifts.

Michelle Obama said her favorite was a metal dollhouse with plastic furniture that she wasn't sure what to do with.

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