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Pint-size pets.

Sami Scheuring takes the halter off of Top Banana, her prized eight-year-old stallion, and playfully swats him on the rump. "Look at those lines," Scheuring says as the horse gallops off with the grace of a fleet quarter horse, his head erect, legs flying, tail held aloft like a pennant.

Top Banana isn't technically a quarter horse. But, standing roughly 29 inches high at the shoulder, he is about a quarter the size of his racehorse cousin. Banana, in fact, can claim only a small height advantage on a Doberman pinscher loping along beside him.

Banana is no accident of nature. Rather, the miniature horse is one of a growing number of down-sized denizens of the barnyard, field, or jungle that are marching into suburbs and cities as pets. In variety, miniatures compose a veritable Noah's Ark: horses, donkeys, rabbits, pigs, and even goats.

Big Bunnies Are Out

From a few hundred in 1978, miniature horses now number 28,000 in the United States. The horses, technically no taller than 34 inches from the ground to the bottom of the mane, have their own registry kept by the American Miniature Horse Association. Pedigreed miniature donkeys are kicking up most of the growth these days in the American Donkey and Mule Society. Some 7,500 of them are listed with the Miniature Donkey Registry of the U.S., probably double the number ten years ago.

Knee-high pygmy goats have become so popular as pets that owners formed the National Pygmy Goat Association, which has grown from a dozen members to 1,500 in the past ten years. The goat folks also maintain a registry of pedigreed animals, now numbering about 10,000.

The American Rabbit Breeders Association, the American Kennel Club of the bunny set, says interest in miniature rabbits is so keen that some breeds of larger bunnies have begun to decline sharply in numbers. The hottest rabbit around these days, in fact, is the pocket-size Netherlands dwarf, which weighs only 2.5 pounds fully grown.

Miniature animals, and man's interest in them, are nothing new, though the current mania seems unprecedented. Miniature horses once were the playthings of European monarchs and were used to pull coal cars in the mines of 19th century England. Chinese potbelly pigs, full-grown at 60 pounds, roamed the pig lots of Asian peasants for hundreds of years before recently finding themselves in the carpeted dens of American pet fanciers. The American Kennel Club recognizes 17 breeds of ultrasmall dogs, most of them dating to the turn of the century.

Some people see the current mini-pet craze as a public fascination with ever more exotic animals, combined with a kind of pragmatism of scale. Because they are smaller, miniatures eat less, require less space, and are generally easier to care for than their full-sized counterparts. Many airlines, for example, allow owners to fly their miniature horses as excess baggage.

"My miniature horses eat a bale of hay every six weeks," a tenth of what a large horse eats, Sami Scheuring observes. She bought Banana while living in the suburbs of Marin County, California, and was able to accommodate him, and eventually six other miniatures, on a mere 1.5 acres of land. Now, she presides over a 45-acre ranch roamed by 60 miniatures.

Pam Ames manages to support a herd of five pygmy goats in the backyard of her Tucson, Arizona, home. She got interested in goats because she finds them more interesting than dogs or cats: "They'll walk on their hind legs down the driveway. They'll climb trees. I'd have 20 if I could. "

Rlyoko Hancock of Pescaderu, California, decided to buy a Chinese potbelly pig after seeing a picture of one: "I said, I've got to have one of those little piggies. They look adorable.' " Hancock, who now has six little pigs, has begun to breed them for selling purposes.

Lines of a Thoroughbred Nature for thousands of years has produced small versions of typically large animals. The potbelly pig is an example, as is the pygmy goat, a domesticated version of a tiny wild goat that once roamed the hills of Africa. In other cases, breeds of miniatures-such as horses and donkeysare created by selectively breeding the midget offspring of normal-size animals. Because size is genetic, little horses and donkeys tend to produce other little horses and donkeys.

"We're just the opposite of the big-horse people," says Barbara Ashby, the registrar of the American Miniature Horse Association in Burleson, Texas. "They want big studs; we want little studs, smaller than the mares.

Activists Fret

The miniature horse looks more and more like a thoroughbred. A miniature stallion that emerged as a recent grand national champion from an elaborate minature horse show circuit was so Arabianesque that he fetched $100,000 from a miniature horse breeder.

Such prices are rare, though. Run-of-the-mill registered mini-horses and mini-donkeys sell for about 1,500. Chinese potbelly pigs cost about the same. Registered mini-goats are a comparative bargain at $160; dwarf rabbits can be had for as little as $20.

Not everyone favors the trend toward pint-size pets. Some animal-rights activists say selective breeding programs whose goals are solely to produce tiny eye-pleasing critters are cruel and needlessly trivialize animals. "I find it shocking," says Libby Schenkman, of the Animal Rights Connection, a Berkeley, California, group. "It's human selfishness ... to take an animal and turn it into the latest toy on the block."

Though beloved by their owners, mini-pets often run afoul of laws, adopted by most cities, that prohibit keeping barnyard animals in their urban arena, regardless of size.

The case of B.J., a Costa Mesa, California, pygmy goat, proves that cities sometimes can be bighearted about little animals, however. B.J. belongs to Angela Raj Kumar, who last fall was served with a notice from city inspectors that the goat's presence was technically a violation of city codes. Raj Kumar, noting that B.J. was housebroken, smaller, and better behaved than some dogs roaming the neighborhood, got supportive neighbors to sign a pro B.J. petition. She then took B.J. to a town council meeting, where he exhibited impeccable pygmy-goat behavior.

The council voted to let B.J. stay. Raj Kumar sighs with relief: "I was worried about what would happen to B.J. He was raised as a house pet. What else could you do with a goat that was fed a bottle and slept in a bed for the first year of his life?"

What's Bugging Your Pet?

Will fleas be thick or thin this year? It's something all pet lovers would like to know as summer heats up and the perennial pests awaken to a long, hot summer of feeding on household pets. Actually, the fleas aren't asleep; they're waiting in pupal form deep in your carpet and furniture for the right conditions to hatch and mature.

Rumors that last year's drought dealt a death blow to large populations of fleas unfortunately are unfounded, according to Dr. Richard Traub, an expert on fleas and a consultant to the National Institutes of Health. "You cannot forecast fleas based upon the weather," Dr. Traub says. Precisely, because cat fleas (or Ctenocephalides felis, the most common flea that attacks pets) live indoors. Nevertheless, Dr. Traub has made a pre- diction. "There will be plenty of fleas to go around this year," he says, "I can assure you."

Giving fleas the brush-off is not easy, Dr. Traub says. Most people forget that fleas have a caterpillar stage. You can't just spray with an insecticide once and be done with it.

A pet owner's best method of attack is to spray with an insecticide to do away with adult fleas and also with an insect growth regulator. The latter sprays now on the market are nontoxic, even to fleas. They contain a hormone imitator that prevents juvenile fleas from becoming blood-sucking adults. Steam cleaning carpets and furniture may also help by killing insect larvae, but such cleaning isn't likely to reach every crack or crevice where fleas may be hiding.

Cat fleas, at home on a variety of host animals, proliferate best among litters of kittens or puppies that haven't learned how to groom. Infested litter sites can transfer fleas to any pet that happens by.

Because fleas multiply quickly, minor infestations are certain to become worse, and fleas should be taken seriously. They can cause flea-bite-allergy dermatitis, a severe reaction in flea-sensitive pets that leads to open sores and infections. Cat fleas also carry tapeworms and murine typhus and have been implicated in some outbreaks of bubonic plague. Recently, cat fleas have also been suspected of transferring Lyme disease, which previously was thought to be carried only by ticks.

The one good thing about cat fleas is they recede during cold weather, but don't bother trying to get rid of them simply by turning up the air conditioner. Dr. Tumer says, "That would probably just make them more comfortable."
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Title Annotation:miniature animal breeds
Author:Wells, Ken
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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