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Weird, cute big-eyed sugar gliders: the new pet craze

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Giant, wide-set eyes. Twitchy little noses. Long fluffy tails.

Sugar gliders — named for their love of sweet food and flying-squirrel-like gliding abilities — have a cartoonish cute factor.

Introduced to the North American pet trade in 1994, they’ve recently been gaining popularity on the East Coast. Unlike other marsupials, they’re legal to keep in all Atlantic provinces, including New Brunswick under the Fish and Wildlife Act.  

Dr. Frank Cook, a veterinarian at the Moncton Animal Hospital, has noticed an uptick in sugar gliders in his office — several in the past few months. He likened the current vogue for sugar gliders to the ferret craze of the 1990s.

A sugar glider, nicknamed Bailey, nestles into the clothing of breeder Gwynn Boyé. But don’t be suckered in by that sweet face: for such a small animal, the marsupials are a huge commitment. (Julia Wright/CBC)

“They certainly are an up-and-coming exotic pet,” he said. “They have the potential to become more popular here. Those big eyes looking at you, with the big space between them — it’s pretty hard to resist that.”

But sugar gliders are sweet by name, not necessarily by nature.

As the animals become more popular as pets, breeders, vets, and owners want to get the message out: while they can be rewarding pets, they’re not for the faint of heart.

‘She called him Demon’

Gwynn Boyé runs Fundy Sugar Gliders, one of the few breeders in Atlantic Canada.

A lifelong fan of exotic pets, she got her first sugar glider from an owner advertising him on Kijiji for re-homing.

The owner “called him Demon, because she thought he was possessed,” Boyé said. The species’s more unique traits include loud nocturnal barking and “crabbing” (a weird sound, like metal caught in a paper shredder) when annoyed.

Did we mention that they have sharp teeth and claws and can’t be house-trained?

Bigger is better when it comes to sugar glider cages. Boyé keeps her sugar gliders in custom-built, floor-to-ceiling mesh reptariums, which can be dismantled and cleaned in the washing machine. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Boyé, on the other hand, was charmed. Demon’s soft, grey fur reminded her of the pussy willows she used to collect as a kid.

“I like little, tiny fuzzy things,” she said.

A decade later, she owns 10 sugar gliders: three breeding pairs, and a pet colony of four. One of the females recently gave birth to two joeys that Boyé nicknamed Barnum and Bailey.

She keeps them in a towering complex of mesh cages, which reaches to the ceiling of a spare room. They’re filled with toys, snuggly fleece pouches, and hand-sewn accessories. During the day, the gliders tend to hang out nestled in a big ball inside their enclosures.

Fluffer, a two-year-old sugar glider, waits expectantly for a tasty mealworm treat. One thing would-be owners might want to consider is ‘what [sugar gliders] might do to the smell of your home.’ (Julia Wright/CBC)

Her two big dogs — a Saint Bernard named Dazey, and Tesla, a Bernese-lab cross — tend to steer clear. They’re freaked out by the noises the sugar gliders make.

Since she started breeding them four years ago, Boyé has adopted out more than 100 sugar gliders to homes across Canada, from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia. Depending on their markings and whether or they’ve been fixed, the price tag ranges from $300 to $500.

Boyé has also helped re-home some 30 gliders that were surrendered by their owners when the demands of the little animals became too much.

Boyé is sympathetic. While she adores the little guys, she said, they’re definitely “not for everybody.”

OK, why not?

Sugar gliders are peculiar little creatures.

To start, there’s their diet: a special goulash of yogurt, eggs or chicken, applesauce, calcium and other vitamins, fresh fruit and veggies. As special treats, they get mealworms, hornworms, and beetles. Boyé keeps plastic trays full of live bugs for this purpose. But not too many. “They go straight to their hips,” she said. 

They can’t be kept by themselves — they need the company of at least one other sugar glider “or they lose their little minds,” Boyé said. They can’t swim, which means they can drown easily in, say, a toilet bowl if the seat is left up. They have a gremlin-like aversion to bright lights.

Mealworms and bugs are a favourite snack of sugar gliders. (Julia Wright/CBC)

What Cook, the vet, calls a “musky odour” emanates from from scent glands “on their forehead, near their front legs, and around the hind end.

“Sometimes I’ve heard the smell likened to the smell of a puppy,” he said. (Boyé said neutering the males drastically reduces this.) They’re nocturnal, which means they sleep all day and run around, barking and literally climbing the walls, all night.

“So if you’re getting them for your five-year-old child, that’s not going to be so great,” Boyé said.

Gwynn Boyé, with Fluffer, started breeding sugar gliders as a hobby four years ago and hopes to collect one in every colour. (Julia Wright/CBC)

For a small animal, gliders have a remarkably long lifespan.

“Some live up to 16 years,”  said Boyé. “Eight to 12 is the average. It’s a commitment, like a dog or a cat. It’s not like a hamster that’s going to die in two or three years.”

Also like a dog, a glider needs a lot of human contact.

“If they aren’t properly socialized they can be mean,” Boyé said. “I’ve had some that were genuinely mean little buggers.”

‘My cat is terrified of them’

Katelyn Forbes of Fredericton knows some of the challenges firsthand.

She and her boyfriend own two sugar gliders: Julian, a 2 ½-year-old grey male, and Luna, a leucistic (all-white) one-year-old female.

Forbes’s boyfriend ordered Julian from an online breeder, not fully prepared for everything the pet would need. Pretty soon, it became evident that Julian wasn’t doing too well on his own.

“They have to be in pairs or they’re prone to self-mutilate,” said Forbes. “They will over-groom themselves and start biting themselves. Then they can get infections and eventually die. They can even stop eating. It’s not good.”

Once Forbes purchased Luna from Fundy Sugar Gliders, “it took two months to get them in the same cage together,” Forbes said.

Fredericton sugar glider owner Katelyn Forbes with her two sugar gliders, Julian, left, and Luna. (Submitted by Katelyn Forbes)

“Now, they just love each other and are always with each other.”

Forbes spends hours prepping fresh food for Julian and Luna, which she makes ahead of time and freezes in ice cube trays. Then there’s cleaning the cages every morning, and playing with them for an hour every evening.

“My cat is actually terrified of them,” said Forbes.

She has some advice for would-be owners.

“They are a lot to take on,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world and I love doing it, but a lot of people wouldn’t be able to devote that much time to them.”

Cook said they’d be great for someone who wants a needy, interactive pet they don’t have to take for walks.

Fluffer chows down on a worm. Sugar gliders, like flying squirrels, have a patagium: a fold of skin between the foreleg and hind leg, pictured. In the wild, glide up to 50 metres from treetop to treetop. (Julia Wright/CBC)

“They fill a niche for people that really want to interact [with their pets] but maybe can’t interact inside and out the way you would with a dog.”

Boyé, a medic at Ambulance New Brunswick, recalled a military member with post-traumatic stress disorder who adopted two of her sugar gliders.

“[He] wanted them for therapy animals,” she said. “Sugar gliders were his thing, and he absolutely adored them.”  

In the wild sugar gliders eat flowers, nectar, eucalyptus tree sap, acacia gum, and insects. In captivity, they need a varied hash of yogurt, protein, vitamins, fresh fruit and veggies. They get mealworms, pictured, as a special treat. (Julia Wright/CBC)

If their popularity in the United States is any indication, sugar gliders will continue to make their way into more homes in Atlantic Canada.

“Ten years ago there were three people in the Maritimes that had them — and I was one,” Boyé. said. “Now you’re looking at a couple of hundred people.”

They’re also showing up in pet stores — a trend that deeply troubles Boyé. At a now-closed big-box pet store in Saint John, she said, employees “had no idea” about the sex of two sugar gliders priced at $400 each. They were also “too young … probably four to five weeks when I saw them, and scared to death.”

A pair of five-week-old sugar glider joeys nicknamed Barnum and Bailey cuddle together. Sugar gliders must be kept in colonies of 2 or more or they ‘lose their little minds,’ said Boyé. (Julia Wright / CBC)

“They can’t be socialized in a pet store, because pet stores are open in the day and full of bright lights — everything that they hate.” 

People should never get a glider from the temporary kiosks some backyard breeders set up at fairs, or in shopping malls, where buyers have run into all kinds of serious problems.

“The advice I have for people who are thinking about getting them is to do a lot of research,” Forbes said.

“Make sure that you can take care of them properly before you actually get one.”

Sugar gliders need a lot of human contact. (Julia Wright/CBC)

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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