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Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs are marvelous pets, and their popularity is growing rapidly as pet owners all over the world discover this animal's endearing, devoted, and heroically loving nature. What's more, virtually every prairie dog acquired as a pet is an animal that otherwise would have been killed. Though prairie dogs once numbered in the billions, relentless extermination has reduced their numbers drastically. But prairie dogs have also been the focus of intense rescue efforts, and the lucky ones are finding new homes far from the prairie. It is no small plus to an animal lover that giving a prairie dog a home will save the little creature's life. But prairie dogs are definitely not for casual owners; despite their many wonderful qualities, their needs and demands can be almost as great as what they give.

The prairie dog's passionate personality is rooted in nature. Because of the social structures in which it lives (the "towns" one can see on the western plains), the prairie dog's existence depends on living harmoniously with others. Indeed, it is its highly gregarious social life that makes it unique among animals. A prairie dog will love you as if its life depends on it -- which, in fact, it does. This animal's survival depends on living in a community. In the wild, a prairie dog town is very much like human society: Each little family has its own few square feet of dirt, everybody has a job, and the animals are dependent on one another. So if you take a prairie dog from the wild and bring it into your home, the animal will become closer to you than a brother, because if it is alone, it will die. The prairie dog possesses great loyalty and courage, and will fight to defend its home, territory, and family. If a stranger enters the house, the prairie dog will rise to the occasion (and to its full eight or ten inches of height) and try to run the varmint off its territory.

Natural History: The scientific name for the black-tailed prairie dog "ludovicianus," is the Latin form of Ludwig or Louis, relating back to the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, when prairie dogs were first collected for science. The prairie dog is a burrowing member of the order Rodentia, the largest group of mammals in the world. An adult black-tailed prairie dog is between 12 and 16 inches long and generally weighs between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds. Its tail is covered with hair and is about one-fourth of the animal's total length. Its body is tan to pale brown in color, its under parts are white, and its tail is tipped with black. The prairie dog's legs are short, but its feet are large and have well-developed claws, especially on the forefeet. Its head is broad and rounded, and its eyes are fairly large.

Anatomy: Prairie dogs are to 12-15 inches (30-38 cm) long, plus a tail that is about 3 to 4 inches (8-10 cm) long. They weigh from 2 to 4 pounds (1-2 kg). Prairie dogs have a bulky body, big eyes, a short tail, and short limbs. The fur is brown-gray, and the large eyes are black. The hands and feet have sharp, thick, black claws that are used for burrowing. Like all rodents, their incisor teeth continue to grow throughout their entire life.