Pupcakes and Thanks


She called herself an angel.  She lived every kind of life and dreamt every kind of dream.  She was wild in her wandering, a drop of free water.  She believed in her life and in her dreams.  She called herself an angel, and her god was Beauty. ― Roman Payne


Sunshine Hocus

Four years ago, just before Thanksgiving our beloved canine companion, Hocus Pocus, and her siblings were born to a gentle homeless dog in the poorest county of the United States.  Below is the adoption ad that we responded to:


• 3 week old puppy
• Female
• Large breed
• Primary color: Tricolor (Brown, Black & White)
• Coat length: Medium
• Shepherd/Cattle Dog Mix
Cinnamon Hocus

Our Hocus Pocus (A.K.A. Cinnamon) as a wee pup


This was Hocus Pocus’ Rescue Story:

Cinnamon and her brothers and sisters were saved just in time.  Their mom, Lola, was found very pregnant just rolling around in the middle of the street.  Lola only had a couple more weeks before she was due, and lucky for her she and her babies were saved by one of our volunteers. – Robeson County Humane Society No-Kill Animal Shelter, Lumberton, NC 

cinnamon lola

Why are you outside the Puppy Pile, Hocus Pocus?

Birth Dates

Fast forward to four amazing years later:  A few weeks ago someone reminded me that Hocus’ birthday was coming up, but as the day got closer we kept forgetting.  It wasn’t until just before bed last night that I realized we had missed her “official” birth date.   So of course we felt bad, then we laughed at ourselves, gave her a bunch of late-birthday-love and went to bed.

When I woke up this morning I was reminded that Hocus Pocus has the kind of life in which she’s celebrated as if it was her birthday every day, so missing her birthday doesn’t matter.  I know that she feels the love and gratitude that we have for her 356 days a year.  Plus, she doesn’t use a calendar.  Dates don’t matter to dogs.  Unconditional Love does.
dog birthday


Daily Adventures

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

forest adventures

Hocus Pocus lives a very enriched life. She has ever since she was a wee puppy.  Now at four years of age (She’s in her mid-30s!) Hocus hasn’t slowed down a bit, and her life continues to be enriched in innumerable ways.

The inspiration behind why I teach others how to have this kind of healthy and happy lifestyle with your animal companion in my workshops and with my clients is because this the kind of life I lead with my animal companions – 365 days a year.

We don’t wait for “special occasions” to have special adventures and games.  We do it daily.

squirrel hunting

Searching for squirrels!

dog birthday

Promises Kept

A while ago I made a promise to Hocus (and myself) that I will always make time for her.   I promised to never make excuses for why we can’t spend time together.  I promised to live every day like it was our last together.  We have daily adventures. We live life to the fullest.   Even if physical challenges creep up on me, I don’t make excuses; I find compromise.  I know that one day she may have physical challenges but that won’t stop her from wanting to explore and have adventures.
Dirty Ditty

Yes, she is actually blowing bubbles in the mud.


Every Day is an Adventure for Hocus.

dog birthday


I am honestly the worst at getting presents for people. And when it comes to pet-prezzies, I am not much better.  When the animals need something, we get it at that time, so when their birthdays come around (and I actually remember) I am out of gift ideas.  So I asked myself this question last night:
What kind of present do you give to a dog who:

– loves to eat

– goes bonkers for tasty treats

– rarely gets “people” food

– gets pig ears, trachea, cow ears, and frozen meat kongs on-the-reg

– has daily outdoor adventures

– could care less about most toys

Answer: PUPcakes

Then I thought, “Wait. But you don’t know how to make pupcakes.”

My next thought was, “How hard could it be??”

Turns out, it’s crazy fun and super easy.

And apparently irresistible.

Here’s the lowdown:

  1. Gather meats of choice. (Use only meats that you KNOW your dog is not sensitive to!)
  2. Mix in food processor/blender.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees in a muffin/cupcake pan for about 20 min.
  4. Cool. Then serve to the salivating birthday pup!
These were fun and easy to make, and Hocus went NUTS for them! (Well, she has only had one so far …. I am making them last all day!)
I don’t eat meat or know how to prepare it very well, so if I can make these, you can too!  If you forget about your pup’s birthday, don’t fret or feel bad.  You can make your pup a pupcake at the last minute and your pup will enjoy his/her birthday thanks to your baking!
dog birthday

Let Go of Guilt.

I mention the guilt idea because we all have busy lives and it’s easy to let things slip by us.  If you have ever forgotten a loved one’s birthday, you know how silly or even guilty you feel, but we don’t have to feel like that.  I have learned that when we are celebrating the ones we love every day their birth date kind of seems like just another day on the calendar.   If  we forget a birthday (or “hatch” day) we aren’t missing out on celebrating our friend, family member, or animal companion if we are honoring and celebrating their life every day of the year.

2 years ago, Beach Day was nearly every day because we took advantage of it while we could! Never miss an opportunity to enjoy life!

Celebrate Your Loved Ones Every Day

The fact that Hocus came into the world on Thanksgiving is no coincidence to us.  “Thanks” and “giving” are what I think of when I see her sweet face, or think about her huge heart.  Every time I look at her my heart swells and fills with endless gratitude and love.  Her presence in our lives has made life exponentially more fun, more challenging, and more rewarding, and more alive.  Hocus Pocus has given us endless love, joy, and laughter.  She has also given these gifts to the lives of countless others. As I have written about before, it’s so important to honor and celebrate our loved ones every day.  Today and every day we give thanks to the life that she has chosen to share with us.


Birthday Blessings to your huge heart, Hocus! Now let’s GO PLAY!


Get IT! Stick play
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!  ― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

Creating Calm After the Chaos

Martin Family Halloween 2015

Scary Scarecrow and his friendly Crow

Now that the tricks and treats of Halloween and Samhain are coming to a close, it’s easy to become complacent as we wind down, but be aware: Your animal companions might still be wound up!  The endless sights, sounds, and stressors of Halloween might have deeply affected your animal companions.
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“Oh the crazy things my humans do …” – King Albert the Grey could do without the shenanigans of Halloween

Hocus Pocus and the Kitty Boyz did quite well during the pre and post Halloween festivities because we set everyone up for success, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is Cool and The Gang afterward.  The day after a cacophony of commotion is often when families observe their pets becoming irritable and reactive.  We refer to this as trigger stacking.

Trigger stacking is how stress hormones can create a cluster effect of reactive behavior.  This kind of behavior is also seen in humans; think about when you have lost your temper after one stressful thing after another happens.  When an individual is pushed over their threshold, we see reactivity.  A ‘threshold’ is the point at which one reacts.  They quickly switch from an operant-thinking-mode to a non-thinking-survival-mode.

When the non-thinking-survival-mode kicks in the individual will either fight, flight (flee), fiddle, or freeze.  Below are The 4 F’s –  4 common behavior patterns that animals (and people) will do when afraid or feeling threatened:

  1. Flight
  2. Fight
  3. Freeze
  4. Fiddle About

Stress is both a physical and mental problem.

Stressful events affect all living beings, even on the cellular level.  And be aware: these stress hormones don’t just disappear once the stressful event is over.  The stress hormones can last for days, and even weeks with some individuals.

When conditions in the environment continue to stack up, and when multiple triggers (stressors unique to the individual animal) happen close together, or at the same time, they can have a cumulative harmful effect on the animal.  These stress hormones cause the animal to behave in a way that he/she normally would not.

Over the years we have observed each animal in our home respond with a different type of reactivity to their individual perceived threats.  The dog has been known to lunge and bark, freeze and growl, or retreat.  Her response depended on what she felt threatened by, and by her individual stress/hormone levels at that moment.  Each of the cats has their own individual response, depending on the trigger at the time, and their individual stress hormone levels. You might recall one of your animals behaving this way when they are stressed. You might even recall doing this yourself!

Cortisol is an adrenal hormone with a great number of effects on the body.  The level goes up or down quickly in response to stress.

Pet owners will often see this kind of reactivity when multiple stimuli occur in a short period of time (example: Halloween!)    It’s important to know that we don’t get to decide what’s stressful for the animal; these stimuli are anything that the individual animal is sensitive to.  A reactive animal can be sensitive to dogs, cats, people, sounds, objects, and/or their environment.  This sensitivity can be displayed by various types of reactive behavior such as running, hiding, freezing, growling, hissing, air snapping, biting, and guarding resources such as food, bedding, spaces, people, etc.

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Often during holidays and festive times pets can be under rested. Be sure to give them ample down time for rest. This can reduce their stress levels and reduce reactivity.

365 days a year we do our best to help every animal in our home to feel safe and secure. We continue to counter condition each animal to their individual perceived threats, and we strive to set them all up for success.  We use tools and techniques to ensure their perceived threat level is at zero.  But these are only pieces of the peaceful puzzle.

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King Albert and Beaux are sharing warm sunny spot, enjoying the peace

Reducing Stress Levels by Creating “Down Time”

How do you feel when you are tired and irritable after a long stressful day?  Our animal companions feel this and more when they are forced to participate, or even observe our human shenanigans.  Just watching and listening to so many strange sights and sounds can greatly increase their stress hormone levels!  But we can help them recover by giving them a “cortisol vacation.”   One of the most loving and helpful things we can do as animal guardians is offer all of the animals in our home plenty of safe, quiet places of refuge, especially after busy weekends such as this one.  We can create plenty of “pet down time.”  We can do this by encouraging them to take naps, get plenty of deep sleep, and lots of rest.  We can create a peaceful, calm environment.  Think of ways that you can create peaceful personal retreats for every living being in your home, including yourself!

Knox and I are good at encouraging one another to chillax.

Knox and I are good at encouraging one another to chillax.

Boundaries, Please. 

Creating safe boundaries is an essential key to creating peace and harmony in your home, especially after stressful festivities.  If you have children, guide them by showing them how to to respect the animal’s space or enclosure.  Teach them to be mindful and respectful of each individual animal’s tolerance for noise and commotion.  Ensure that the pets have their own safe bubble where they are free from being “loved on” (AKA being pestered).  If you have family or friends visiting, remind them to give the animals space.  If the animals choose to be around your guests, remember that the dog or cat may be excited to see newcomers, but in the next instant they very well could be more protective of things they consider “high value” such as bedding, treats, their people, and their food. Remember those stress hormones are in their system!  Also, if the animals in your home are not the best of buds, and they’re merely coexisting with one another, creating safe spaces for each animal and managing your home environment carefully is imperative.  Give everyone ample safe space!

Being aware of each animal’s individual threshold, and their need for safe, quiet refuge after any kind of commotion is how we become conscious companions for the animals with which we share a home.

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Hocus Pocus tucked in and sleeping soundly after the Halloween festivities.

Was your family prepared for the festivities this year? How did your animal companions do during the commotion? Are you all having a relaxed Sunday together? How do you help your animals and yourself decompress after big events?

Blessings of peace to you and yours!

Rebirth and Compassion Starts with Ourselves.

With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose. ― Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
full moon

Reflecting about what happened under the Full Moon this weekend

Katrina. 10 years later.

As I reflect back on what happened a decade ago my feeble words cannot come close to describing what thousands of souls experienced that fateful day and the following long months.   And honestly, no one wants to hear all of that.  It’s too much.  But I can share a tiny glimpse into what my animal companions and I endured, in hopes of bringing awareness and opening hearts.  I hope that by sharing part of my story others can heal, too.


“You cannot un-hear what you have heard. You cannot un-see what you have seen. What you can do, however, is stop wishing that whatever happened in the past hadn’t happened.”

A decade ago the world watched the city, people, and animals of New Orleans suffer unimaginable terror, pain, and destruction.  It was one of the biggest national disasters, and total lack of national and local response on record.   What did we learn from it all?

Countless lessons.

One poignant lesson that pet guardians learned the hard way during and after this tragedy was simple but vital:  If it isn’t safe for you to stay, it isn’t safe for your animals.  They are family members.  Do not leave them behind!

I left someone behind.

Fate Took Over

That fateful day, I was at work with my Audubon Zoo colleagues, preparing to welcome hundreds of conference attendees and speakers.  We were hosting the annual American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) conference that weekend; an event we had been planning for years.  Our guests were arriving that day.

Hurricane Katrina was arriving, too.

Hurricane Katrina

As the dismal weather reports continued to flood in, we knew that instead of welcoming our guests with New Orleans sunshine and celebration, they would be welcomed with a category 4 or 5 storm.  As we prepared for our guests while listening to the news reports, we soon learned that Katrina was quickly changing course and headed right toward us. We were going to have to relocate ourselves and our pets to the hotel downtown where our conference guests were scheduled to stay.

But as Katrina changed course and complications came up, I was forced to leave home, like so many souls.

I use the word forced, but that’s only how it felt.  No one kidnapped me and drove me away from my beloved city.   I did what I had to do, and I acted on the best interest of many people and pets.  The conference delegates were now stranded in a city that was about to be ravaged by the storm of the century, so we had to get them, and ourselves to safety.  On top of that pressure, a dearly beloved canine and her people – my very good friends – needed my help.

The General Curator of the zoo was the leader of our Hurricane Team, and his wife was the director and CEO of the Louisiana SPCA, so they were both staying behind to lead their teams.  One of their dogs had recently been severely injured in a dog fight with another dog in their household.  Since Dan and Laura were staying behind with their teams, and the combative dogs couldn’t be evacuated together, the canines needed to be split up for their safety.  One of the dogs was in really bad shape and needed constant medical care, but it was not an option to leave her with our zoo’s veterinary staff; the Hurricane Team would have their hands full after the storm hit, and they had finite resources.

I adored and greatly respected both Dan and Laura.  And when I was needed, I cared for their dogs.  File’ (pronounced Feelay), the dog in need, had my whole heart.   As if that wasn’t motivation enough to do the right thing, I was also written into their will to take care of their house and dogs, in the event anything happened to them. So of course I would evacuate with File’.  Dan and Laura and the dogs were family.  I loved them all.  I would just add sweet File’ to the overgrowing caravan of people and pets. We would be fine!

Dog fight scars

File’ was badly injured and needed to be evacuated.

Now that a severely injured File’ was in the picture, relocating myself and my animal companions to the hotel downtown with my zoo colleagues and the conference attendees was not an option for me.  I had to leave. And we had to leave quickly.  From what we were told, we had hours to get out.

I remember very little about how things went down.  (Fear creates a muddy memory.)  But I vaguely remember being more afraid than I had ever felt before.  I remember feeling a panic steadily creeping into my chest.   Hell, everyone was scare and on edge.  Even my tough, always-oh-so-professional boyfriend and colleagues who were staying behind to “ride it out” as the Zoo Hurricane Team were nervous.   And frankly, none of us wanted to leave.  That was the last damn thing I wanted to do.  This was my home.  We were New Orleanians.  We don’t run.  We deal.  We can handle anything.

Katrina, and the epic failure of the city’s levee system, were not something that could be handled.

Eventually I accepted my fate of having to evacuate with strangers, a severely injured dog (who hated cats), three cats; one of whom recently adopted us (and who I wasn’t fond of), and a turtle.  I said goodbye to the Hurricane Team and my colleagues, invited strangers into my car, picked up File’ and her medical gear, and left the zoo.  We drove to my house a few miles away and started the oh-so-dramatic, pressured-filled process of evacuating; something I had never done (or considered doing) before.

I felt like we were running for our lives.

Moving quotes_relocation

The curator of mammals was a good friend of mine, so she offered to evacuate her animal menagerie in a caravan behind me so we could be there to support one another.  She met us at my house after she gathered her critter crew (and as many conference delegates as she could cram into her car).   She arrived at my house to find me wandering around aimlessly with nothing accomplished.   None of the cats or turtle were packed up. I was spinning my wheels with nothing to show for it.   In hindsight I can see that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was acting out of pure fear and panic.  I couldn’t process what was happening, and I was scared.

As if a category 4 hurricane barreling towards us wasn’t enough, one week earlier I had returned from a nightmare of a trip.  My family and I had been at the nationally televised trial of a serial killer.  This monster, who had tortured and murdered one of our family members, was finally brought to justice.  I hadn’t even had time to process all that my family witnessed and learned during the trial.

Now this.

Being true to my procrastinating nature, I still hadn’t unpacked my suitcase from that difficult trip.  As I continued to wander in circles, my friend zipped up my unpacked suitcase, grabbed the cat carriers, and started filling up the bathtub with water (apparently we weren’t taking Little David, the turtle with us).   I had no idea what was happening.   I was still trying to process what was unfolding at what felt like warp speed.

But I did notice that Samantha, my beloved semi-feral black cat was no where to be found.

Samantha felt and heard the stress of the scene and left the house. This couldn’t have been worse timing.

I didn’t have hours to look for her.  I had minutes.

I honestly don’t remember a lot about that day, but I do remember searching for her everywhere inside and outside of the house.  I remember yelling for her over and over.  I remember hearing panic in my voice.  Standing outside shaking her “kitty crack” treats, (the one thing she could never resist) I prayed desperately that she would come running to me.

I finally realized that she had no intention of coming to me with all of the commotion that was happening in the house, in the driveway, and everywhere else around her home.   I decided I would wait for her to come to me.  I would just sit and wait and she would come eventually, and I would get her into her cat carrier.   Then we could leave.

She never came.

Leaving My Beloved Behind

I remember driving away sobbing uncontrollably.  I could barely breathe, let alone drive.  But I cannot remember why I left without her.  I honestly cannot remember the thoughts I had. I have no idea how I was able to justify it in my mind.  I don’t know exactly why I felt I had no other choice.  (Fear and panic tends to muddy the waters in your mind and you forget these kinds of things.)   Maybe I had to make that heartbreaking decision because we had such a small window to evacuate before the storm was on top of us; we would be stuck on the highway and bridges as Katrina came ashore.  Maybe it was because of a severely injured dog that needed help.  Maybe it was because of the two other cats, the strangers, colleagues, the pressure, and the feeling of having no other choice.

Regardless of why, leaving Samantha was the choice I made that day.

rescue misc 220

Looking Back

Leaving my dearly beloved Samantha behind is a decision that has haunted me, and pained my heart to this day.

Although she and I were eventually reunited during the third time I came back into the city to look for her, she paid the price of my decision to evacuate without her.  The terror and emotional and physical trauma she endured during that month alone eventually took her life a decade later. (One day I will write a fascinating post on how we know this.)   Despite our long separation and what she endured, the bright side of it all was that we were reunited. We were both done running, and doing our best to survive.  We had to relocated to a new home, but we were finally safe.

Finally back together again.

To this day, all of these events are something that I still cannot recall.  I don’t remember any details. In fact, I don’t remember much; my mind won’t let me remember.  For years I still had to remind myself that I did find her.  I found her.  I went to unimaginable lengths to search for her, and I found her.  She was found.   Alive.


Lessons Learned

Katrina Rescue Pets

As an educator and behavior consultant, I now passionately teach others that proper planning before disaster strikes can help you remain calm and panic free in an otherwise overwhelming and stressful situation.  It will ensure your animal companions’ safety.  It will give you peace of mind.  I teach this to others now because I had none of that a decade ago.  I didn’t know what to expect, and I had no clue what it meant to “be prepared with pets”.

There were very few in our city (and nation) who were prepared.

But the few that were prepared, saved the lives of many, and brought peace and hope to countless souls.  These people learned from those who came before them; they learned from the mistakes and success of other who weathered previous storms. They learned how to be ready for the worst.  They were ready and they did what no one had ever done before.   Those who were prepared, and who responded to the chaos shined like diamonds.  These people were some of the greatest heroes our city had ever seen.  The Audubon Zoo’s Hurricane Team and the Louisiana SPCA were two of these bright diamonds.

Laura Maloney_SPCA_louisiana_new Orleans _Katrina

As I reflect back on that life-changing event, I realize that my decisions at the time, and that of our team’s, would indeed be those of the life and death kind and our leadership skills were tested in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined. – Laura Maloney, former director of the Louisiana SPCA

(You can read more about Laura’s lessons in leadership during a crisis here. )

Katrina Audubon Zoo Hurricane Team A and B

Great people doing great things during great challenges: Our Zoo’s Hurricane Teams (A and B) -Team A stayed through the storm. The rest of us came back later into our city as their relief team.

 If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Dr. Wayne Dyer

As life unfolds, we are bound to have heartache.  We find ourselves in situations we would never consciously choose.  But if we are wise enough, we learn from our mistakes, and misjudgments.  We live and we learn.  We make better choices for ourselves and others.   We see things in a new light.  We have another perspective.  We grow.  We forgive.

That fateful life chapter changed my life, Samantha’s life, and countless others in innumerable ways – some for the better; some we would gladly give back.   Looking back a decade later, I know I would have done so many things differently.  I would have never left her.  I would have waited for her.  But those choices aren’t an option now.   All I can do today is ask her for forgiveness.  I know she hears me from beyond this world. I know she holds no grievances. I know she has forgiven me.

More importantly, I have forgiven myself.

Two nights ago I laid in bed unable to sleep, thinking about everything my friends, colleagues, and myself witnessed and endured pre and post Katrina.  Until the decade “anniversary”, I never allowed myself to dwell on the past.  Not until now.   As my dear friend Laura so eloquently explains, Like many New Orleanians, I haven’t dug up Katrina memories; we tend to move on rather than look back.

I don’t believe in looking back, but this weekend my past caught up with me.  It was time for me to face it.

Laying in bed, sitting there with all of it, I couldn’t look away.  I felt panic setting in again.  I felt the overwhelming grief, sadness, pain, and judgement of my decision.   I needed to understand the “whys?” of leaving Samantha behind.  How could I make that choice?!?  Why?!  How could I?! How did I??

And why was this coming up for me to remember now?

I tried to push it away.  It was too difficult.  Overwhelming.  I asked and asked why, but I never heard the answers I wanted so desperately to hear.   So instead, I prayed for the strength to endure the heartache and pain.  Suddenly a deep and comforting presence of calm came over me and I clearly heard:  Have compassion for yourself.  

Compassion for myself was the last thing I thought I deserved.

Then I remembered that compassion is what I freely give to animals, children, nature, my family,friends, clients, and strangers.  Compassion heals.  Compassion opens hearts.  Compassion is how we forgive.   After everything I had gone through I needed to give compassion to myself.


As I continued to contemplate the idea of compassion, I  remembered that compassion was what helped New Orleans to heal after the storm.  Compassion was what we New Orleanians gave to strangers, and what strangers gave to us when we were rebuilding.   Compassion was our glue.  Compassion was part of our Rebirth.

New orleans Second line Katrina

As I thought about how much love and compassion we felt during the darkest days, I was reminded that no matter what we experienced as individuals in that challenging chapter of life, we overcame it.   We made the best of it.  We grew stronger within ourselves and with each other.

We cried.
We laughed.
We loved hard.
We danced.
We rebuilt.
We. Were. Rebirth.

New orleans Katrina Halloween

One month after Katrina ravaged our city, we celebrated Halloween and made the best out of challenges we endured.


Most importantly, this weekend I finally realized that the only thing we “need to do” is have total and complete compassion for ourselves, in all of life’s challenges.  We need to have compassion for what we endured and overcame – and what we are still enduring.   No matter what choices we made, we made the best ones we could at the time.  We did the best we could do at that time.   And that is O.K.  There’s no one to blame.  No judgement.  Only compassion.

Full Moon_compassion_self Love Quotes_conscious Companion

As you walk your path in life, my prayer for you is this:

May your soul heal from the challenges in life.

May the heartbreaks and setbacks be brief.

May your heart and mind only know peace.

May you never be afraid to live your life with a full and open heart.

May your heart always be able to love more, give more, and accept more.

May the trials and tribulations in your life be transmuted by the healing fires of forgiveness and love.

May you have an endless supply of compassion for yourself, and remember that you are doing the best you can.


Don’t dwell on the past; Live and love for today.   

And in case you were wondering what’s happened to our beloved city Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans is back – as loud and flamboyant as ever !!!