I leave these powerful words of wisdom with you today:
Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach.
When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity.
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion.
We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man.
In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.
They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
The other day I was taking a break from writing ourbook trilogy by tweetering around on twitter (another one of my bestdisplacement behaviors). 😉 While I was out there I came across a very cool post from Panthera, so I was inspired to learn more. I’ve been following their great work ever since a dear friend became their C.O.O., but this particular project really got my attention. It was not only about who cougars are choosing to cuddle with, but where and why.
If you are not yet aware, Panthera is not only the name of the genus within the Felidae family; Panthera is also the only organization in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their landscapes! Seriously. How amazing is that!? You will be stunned at the incredible conservation work they are doing around the globe, so be sure to check them out! Below is their mission statement.
Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. We have brought together the world’s leading wild cat experts to direct and implement effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats: tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards. Our approach to wild cat conservation is rooted in science and based upon decades of first hand field experience. We seek a future in which the world’s 37 wild cat species have the necessary and ongoing protection from human and environmental threats to persist and thrive in the wild. Our vision sees endangered wild cat populations rebounded, critical habitats and core populations connected by genetic and biological corridors, and a global commitment to protect these iconic species through near and distant futures.
Ever since I began working around and managing captive groups of exotic cats back in the day, I have been head over heels in love with every species of wild feline. They never cease to teach me something new and incredible. And since I happen to adore house cats and appreciate the powerful genetic link, I thought this would be a fun post to share!
Now, if you are not familiar with the word Felidae, I can explain. Think of your family. You may not be close, but you are of the same lineage. Felidae is a lineage of carnivorans colloquially referred to as “cats.” Members of this family are called “felids.” So the term “cat” refers both to felids in general and domestic cats. Your house cat belongs to the Felidae family, just like Garth, the African lion, pictured above! Pretty cool, huh?
Felids are separated into two distinct subgroups: large cats and small cats. Some of these small cats, due to a hardening of the hyoid bone, have an inability to roar. But many of them purr (as you might have read about before). Felidae consists of 2 subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae. We humans don’t have subfamilies, (although I am sure some people view their younger, annoying siblings this way 😉 There are a number of genus within the Felidae family. Some feline biologists only acknowledge a few genera of felids, but most agree there are 18 genera (genus) and 36 species of Felidae.
Note: A “genus” is a rank in the biological classification/taxonomy. It stands above species, and below families. A genus can include more than one species. When biologists talk about a genus, they mean one or more species of animals or plants that are closely related to each other. Below is an easy rundown of the classification of the cougar which includes genus and family.
Beyond Cool Cats
But as cool as these wild cats are, it’s important to note that if we want to understand how to provide proper conditions for house cats, we need to look at the species as a whole. And if we want to support conservation efforts, it helps to understand and appreciate the species as a whole. This post serves to do just that. So grab your coffee, tea, water, or wine, and get comfy with your cuddle-bug! We are going to take a peek at one of the house cat’s kin: The Cougar!
The puma (Puma concolor) is also commonly known as the mountain lion, cougar, panther, or catamount. This species is the most widely distributed free-ranging land mammal in the Americas. They are currently found from Northern Canada to the Southern Andes. At the time of European contact, this species occurred through most of North, Central, and South America. Today, the cougar has the greatest natural distribution of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere except for man.
The cougar is the largest cat in the genus Felis. The cougar is comparable in size to the leopard. Length varies from 59 – 108 inches with a tail length of 21 – 36 inches (I am squealing as I am thinking of such a delightful tail!). Their height ranges from 23 – 28 inches at the shoulder. Weight can vary greatly: between 75 and 250 pounds.
Felis Concolor at a Glance:
Habitat: The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.
Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia and south Alberta south through west Wyoming to California and west Texas. Also south Texas, Louisiana, south Alabama, Tennessee, and peninsular Florida.
Eastern Texas to Florida – P.c.coryi –IUCN: Endangered, CITES:Appendix I
Northeastern US and southeastern Canada Cougar – P.c. couguar – IUCN: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I
Central American Cougar – P.c. costaricensis – CITES: Appendix I
Misc: The International Species Information Service lists the current estimated number at 334 in zoos worldwide, with 119 located in the U.S.
Common Ancestry of Cats
One of the major lessons I learned from working with wild cats during the day and then coming home at night to my house cats was life changing for us all: I realized was living alongside tiny tigers, wee wildcats, and house panthers. My feral cat was amazingly similar to the African wildcat. My playful black cat was not that different from the Black Panther. My sweet orange tabby was much like a tiny tiger. My grey cat was incredibly similar to the fearless cougar.
Everything from how they hunted, where they preferred to sleep, how they groomed, how they interacted with their species, other species, their prey, and even people were eerily similar. My house cats’ bodies, needs, behavior, choices, and personalities were not worlds away from these wild cats; they were living parallel lives in many ways.
It turns out, feline science shows they are more alike that most people realize. In fact, results of mitochondrial analysis indicates that all Felidae descended from a common ancestor. And genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from 9,000 – 10,000 years ago! Cats are considered only a semi-domesticated species, because many populations are not isolated from wildcats.
“We don’t think house cats are truly domesticated. We refer to them as “semi-domesticated. They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives. We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations.” – Wes Warren, professor of genomics at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis
What You Don’t Know
Now before you get all judgey about exotic cats being kept in captivity, there are facts that most folks don’t know about these felines. Many are captive born. Many are rescued. Some are confiscations from the illegal animal trade, (just like this tiger recently confiscated here in California) and they are now living in zoos. Some are clones! Some are on loan from other zoos for very specific breeding purposes to preserve their species.
Some were pets, like Chloe pictured below. She was horribly mutilated through a declawing procedure. She was unable to walk, stand upright, or put any pressure on her paw pads after the horrible procedure of declawing. Thankfully, she gained a new life at Audubon after my dear friend and talented veterinarian went to great lengths to reattach her tendons. Now she is thriving.
Animal care facilities, such as zoos are not out there capturing wild cats and bringing them into captivity. Most are assisting, breeding, and caring for these cats. They are being cared for in the best way possible in captive conditions. There is more going on behind the scenes at zoos than most people realize. 100% of these efforts (at AZA accredited zoos) are dedication towards education and conservation.
Then and Now
Back in the day, we were managing big cat species with the most recent data and research available. Today, nearly twenty years later, we have learned so much more! Thanks to advances in technology we are dispelling myths, finding new facts, and using field data to better understand these covert creatures (including what happens when a Male Puma Visits a Female & Her Kitten at their recent Kill)! 😮
These tremendous advances in conservation efforts, both in and out of zoos, are contributing to the success of these species in the wild. Much of these advances are due to the technology that’s now available to capture these elusive cats on camera.
When I look back to when I was a kid in the 70’s and remember that my go-to handheld device was the Etch A Sketch , I have to laugh. Now look at what we have available in 2018! It’s amazing. As technology has improved, not only have we enabled our society to stay more connected virtually, but our ability to study mysterious and obscure animal behavior has increased.
So this brings us to our focus today: Covert Cougars & Puma’s Preferred Beds!
Strange Feline Bed Fellows
Would it surprise you to learn that house cats choose to sleep in strange places for similar reasons that big cats in the wild choose to sleep in strange places? If you think about how closely related house cats are to their wild kin, it makes purrrfect sense!
Ever wonder why your cat wants to hide in a box, or why she chooses to snooze with a cuddle buddy? Thanks to folks who are studying wild felines in the field, we know why. It turns out, there is safety in numbers even with more solitary species, and bed selection sites are not random. Where wild cats and house cats choose to snooze is based on very particular preferences and the need to stay safe and survive! And pumas, like our house cats, are more social than previously thought!
An Extinct Subspecies
As much as I am excited about this post, I am deeply saddened. Before we go on, there is some sad news to report. Effective January, 22, 2018, the eastern puma (Felis concolor couguar) is extinct. My heart sank when I learned this. Eight decades after the last confirmed sighting, wildlife biologists have concluded that the eastern puma is no more.
To help you better understand how this came to be, it’s helpful to know this subspecies’ (known) history. This now extinct cat is a subspecies of puma. The eastern puma (cougar) was originally listed as an endangered species on June 4, 1973. Historical literature indicates puma populations were mostly in Eastern North America (except for Florida and perhaps the Smoky Mountains) by the 1870s, and in the Midwest by 1900. Puma records from New Brunswick in 1932 and Maine in 1938 suggest that a population may have persisted in northernmost New England and eastern Canada. By 1900 they had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping. The last one on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.
Although habitat conditions now appear to be suitable for puma presence in various portions of the historical range described for the eastern puma, the many decades of both habitat and prey losses belie the sustained survival and reproduction of this subspecies over that time.
Their disappearance was attributed primarily to persecution stemming from fear of large predators, competition with game species, and occasional depredation of livestock. Other causes of eastern puma losses during the late 1800s included declining habitat. The most recent confirmed eastern puma sightings date from the mid-1800s to around 1930. Confirmed reports of pumas in Eastern North America (outside Florida) since then have been shown to be either western puma dispersers, as in Missouri, or released or escaped animals, as in Newfoundland.
The agency opened an extensive review in 2011 into the status of the eastern cougar, a genetic cousin of the mountain lions that still inhabit much of the Western United States and of a small, imperiled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades. In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded that pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery. States now have juridiction to determine the best way to reintroduce the other subspecies of cougars into society.
The puma was documented historically in a variety of eastern habitats from the Everglades in the Southeast to temperate forests in the Northeast. Aside from presence reports, few historical records exist regarding the natural history of the eastern puma subspecies. Thankfully, in North America, breeding populations of the Puma species still occupy approximately one-third of their historical range but are now absent from eastern regions outside of Florida.
Below are quotes from the Fish and Wildlife Service explaining their ruling.
We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine the eastern puma (=cougar) (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) to be extinct, based on the best available scientific and commercial information. This information shows no evidence of the existence of either an extant reproducing population or any individuals of the eastern puma subspecies; it also is highly unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected since the last confirmed sighting in 1938. Therefore, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended, we remove this subspecies from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
Our decision to remove the eastern puma from the List due to extinction is based on information and analysis showing that the eastern puma likely has been extinct for many decades, long before its listing under the Act. Eastern puma sightings have not been confirmed since the 1930s, and genetic and forensic testing has confirmed that recent validated puma sightings in the East, outside Florida, were animals released or escaped from captivity, or wild pumas dispersing eastward from western North America.
Monitoring Covert Cougars
Like other cryptic, covert carnivores with large territories, puma populations are notoriously difficult to study. These large Felids are typically solitary, elusive, and nocturnal, making spotting them very challenging. But it’s a necessity. Being able to gather reliable data on large Felid populations is crucial for effective conservation and management of this species. Tagging and following cougars with GPS technology is the standard approach, but these methods are expensive and can compromise the animal’s welfare. So scientists are also using indirect signs for monitoring this covert creature.
Indirect signs are footprints, scat, nests. Often these can be the most effective and least expensive way to detect many animals. Animal footprints are much more frequently encountered in the field than the animals themselves, and have served as the basis for population indices and estimators. Footprint surveys are also non-invasive; the animal need not be seen, captured, or handled.
Researchers are using at least three non-invasive methods to study puma populations:
camera traps (used to identify individual animals by analysis of spots and stripes
genetic analysis of hair and scat (puma poop!)
But they have learned that camera traps may underestimate accurate numbers because pumas lack distinguishing marks. The genetic analysis is accurate, but apparently finding puma poop isn’t that easy. But, thanks to scat detection dogs, biologists are now locating more scat!
Another non-invasive method being used to track these covert cougars is identifying puma prints! This can be done through tracking three signs a puma has left behind after being in an area: a Trail, Footprint, or Track
Trail = an unbroken series of footprints made by one animal
Footprint = a single impression made by a foot
Track = commonly used to describe both an individual footprint and a trail
Below is a perfect photo of a puma footprint and a puma footprint showing the placement of 25 landmark points (red circles) and 15 points derived from them and generated by the FIT script (yellow circles). These provide 40 points to enable the scientists to measure each puma’s footprint precisely.
Photos from S.Alibhai, Z.Jewell, J.Evans
A puma footprint showing the placement of 25 landmark points (red circles) and 15 points derived from them and generated by the FIT script (yellow circles). The landmark points and derived points are numbered in one sequence, providing 40 total points from which measurements (variables) of the footprint are made.
Recent Science Reveals Secrets
A relatively recent study that was part of Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project (TCP), which had already shed invaluable light on other puzzling puma behaviors, enabled conservationists to learn more about this secretive species – everything from their ecological effects to their secret social lives. The study published on Nov 14, 2017 showed the results of research conducted on cougars in Yellowstone. Their goal was to determine whether a subordinate carnivore (cougar) chose bedding areas with similar characteristics in an ecosystem that supports a multi-species guild of competing predators. Basically, they wanted to learn about bed site selection among Pumas!
The video below shows curious cougars (a mother and her kittens) investigating a camera trap in the Teton mountains. In this region, Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project has discovered a great deal about the behavior and ecology of this misunderstood and charismatic cat.
I should note: In the world of Ecology, a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community. They exploit the same kinds of resources in comparable ways. Members of a guild within a given ecosystem could be competing for resources (space, shade, or light), while also cooperating in resisting wind stresses, attracting pollinators, or detecting predators. One example of this kind of guild is the Savannah-dwelling antelope and zebra.
The name “guild” emphasizes the fact that these groups are like associations of craftsmen who employ similar techniques in plying their trade. They often are composed of groups of closely related species that all arose from a common ancestor, and they exploit resources in similar ways as a result of their shared ancestry. Several species within a single genus may constitute a guild within a community.
Other examples of guilds in nature are different insect species that collect nectar in similar ways, various bird species that employ corresponding insect-foraging techniques, or diverse plant species that have evolved comparable floral shapes with which they attract the same group of pollinators.
Guilds in Nature:
Browsers and terrestrial folivores
Forest canopy folivores
Forest floor scavengers
Forbs ( or “phorb” – an herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid)
Graminoids (grasses, rushes and sedges)
Saprophytes (plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on decaying organic matter)
Piscivores (carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish)
Because members of a guild engage in similar activities, they are often competitors for the resources they share, especially when those resources are scarce. So, when it comes to safe bedding sites, and sharing resources in a guild, researches wanted to know more about cougars! Between 2012-2016 the researchers investigated nearly 600 cougar bed sites in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They carefully examined both the landscape and the microsite. These TCP researchers used GPS collars to identify the puma bedding sites, then carefully studied each one.
If we are going to learn why and what they are studying exactly, we need to cover the terms. A “microsite” is a term used in ecology to describe a pocket within an environment with unique features or conditions. Ecologists and scientists classifying different microsites based on temperature, humidity, sunlight, nutrient availability, soil characteristics, substrate, vegetation cover, etc. A microsite is basically a sub environment within an environment.
It’s important to also note that many microsites exist in an environment. This leads to organisms (plants, insects, animals) basing their selection of habit on the features of the microsite itself. Being able to choose the best microsite will positively influence the species’ survival, growth and reproduction. Basically, a good choice of a microsite has a direct relationship to the future generation of that particular species.
Their research discovered that among prey species, bed site selection provides:
mitigates predation risk
may directly influence survival
They discovered that pumas gravitate to hidden bed sites where it would be hard for a competitor to see them. Warmth is also an important factor in bed-site selection, especially during winter. Their studies also shed light on the fact that these felines face more danger in their natural habitats than most of us realize.
1. Landscape Choices
Research concerning the landscape, discovered that in the winter, cougars selected bed sites that were in alignment with the hypotheses of both thermoregulatory AND predator avoidance.
In the winter, cougar “beds” / communal sleeping areas were located:
on steeper slopes, but at lower elevations
closer to the forest edge
on southern, eastern, and western-facing slopes
Research concerning the landscape in the summer, showed that bedding areas were a bit different. They found that cougars chose predator avoidance over thermoregulation.
Summer Bedding was found to be:
closer to forest edges
away from sagebrush and meadow habitat classes
on steeper slopes.
2. Microsite Choices
At the micrositescale, cougar bed characteristic in BOTH the winter and summer supported BOTH of their hypotheses of predator avoidance and thermoregulatory.
Cougars chose bed sites that included:
high canopy cover
high vegetative concealment
in a rugged habitat class (characterized by cliff bands and talus fields)
Note: Talus is steep, loose piles of rock, formed by the constant process of erosion, and ubiquitous to the mountains. Talus deposits typically have a concave upwards form. To mountain climbers, Talus areas are not technical challenging areas to hike, but climbing Talus can be exhausting—and dangerous as well, due to the possibility of landslides consider this an area. Cliff bands consist of steep, narrow passages.
Hikers trekking through a talus field on the Fern Lake Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
A kid climbing a cliff band
Puuurfectly Suited for the Terrain
Looking at the two terrains pictured above, most people wonder how and why a mountain lion would choose to navigate those kinds of steep terrains, but these wild cats are designed for this habitat. Pumas have incredible paws! Their feet have a unique bone structure that enables them to grip rocks, logs, and slippery substrates. They are even better at this kind of “hiking” than bears or wolves!
….So a precarious bed site can offer an escape advantage if a competitor tries to sneak up mid-nap. You’ll probably never see a puma sleep in an open field, as they typically bed down where trees or other landscape features provide a quick escape. –-TCP member Anna Kusler
Researchers found that a subordinate predator (pumas) selected bed sites that allowed for both thermoregulatory and anti-predator functions. Brilliant, eh?? These choices are very similar to what we see occurring in many prey species! Remember: Cats of all shapes, sizes, and species can be both predator and prey.
It’s also important to recognize that across their range, pumas overlap with six apex predators, including the gray wolf, grizzly bear, American black bear, jaguar, coyote, and maned wolf. How’s that for competition for resources and the possibility of become prey?!
“Even though most of us probably think of pumas as top predators with little to fear, that’s not always the case. In North America, much larger grizzly and black bears steal their hard-earned kills. Wolves, as pack animals, steal their kills AND kill them and their kittens.” -TCP A.Kusler
The biologists now believe that studying bed site characteristics of subordinate predators could provide a new way to measure the use of refugia (an area where a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions). This would ultimately provide new insights into the habitat requirements and energetics of subordinate carnivores. Their research highlights some nuances of habitat loss that are easy to overlook. When trying to protect large predators like pumas, many people — including researchers — focus on the availability of prey. But this is only part of the puma picture.
“Because the best hunting habitats are not necessarily the safest places to sleep, a puma must find a home range that can provide both types of environment.”
Below is one of the videos they shared with the public, and used in their studies that shed light on where and why pumas chose to bed with other pumas:
We often found puma beds tucked underneath the low-lying boughs of a tree, or against the rugged face of an inaccessible cliff. They seem to prefer steep, rugged terrain, like cliff bands and boulder fields. – A. Kusler
Cats can snooze like no other. A pussycat can pass out while purring, and some even doze off when bird watching out a window! Cats never seem to venture far from a nap. The house cat’s pendulum swings between sleeping and stalking so well, we’ve named a version of napping after them! A cat could be fully aroused one moment, engaging in passionate play or serious stalking, then fall effortlessly back into a catnap. These cat nappers know what they are doing. Feline veterinarians agree that if a cat is awake most of 24 hour period of the day, there could be something wrong. Like their wild ancestors, house cats are programmed for proper sleep; it’s in their DNA. This instinctual need lets the cat that know that when he/she is not chasing, hunting, eating, or grooming, h/she should be sleeping — or at least searching for a place to sleep.
The family of Felidae is made up of solitary predators. Lions are the exception; they cooperatively hunt. But new research has shown that female cougars may benefit from tolerating males during feeding, through the maintenance of social niches that support breeding opportunities. – Who says females don’t have ulterior motives when it comes to survival of their species? 😉 And when it comes to sleeping, not only could all cats in the Felida family compete in sleeping as an Olympic trial, but where they snooze, and with whom they choose to catnap, is quite particular for these felines.
Cat guardians have seen the amusing and strange ways cats sleep. We have noticed how often they sleep, and where they sleep. But why they are choosing these places, spaces, and bedfellows is linked to their ancestors. So is the fact that house cats are crepuscular: They are biologically programmed to be most active/ awake in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.
Pumas may not have the option of passing out on an enclosed patio, but they do have comparable choices about where they sleep in their native, wild habitats. Pumas, like our house cats, need to find safe sleeping spots. These places must be located where it’s unlikely other predators / potential threats can harm them or disturb them.
“So, like your housecat loves to sleep in the sunny warmth of a windowsill, pumas like to maximize their exposure to the sun’s rays That meant many bed sites were on south-facing slopes, where the warmth from the sun is strongest.” – Anna Kusler
Considering Cats and Cougars
As we wrap this cougar chat up, I’d like for you to consider something about your cat at home. The next time you spot your house cat snoozing in a sack, inside an empty box, on a shelf, or any other safe cozy place, consider how this behavior is inextricably linked to their wild ancestors. Your feline family member has the same innate desire and need to remain silent and hidden, just like the puma napping under the boughs of a tree or the crags of a cliff, perched high above the world. Once we know this, and recognize the importance of this, we can properly provide our house cats with the safe spaces, and cozy places they need … just like their wild feline ancestors.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”― Anaïs Nin
I hope this finds you and yours well and at peace in all ways. Today will be a relatively short post because I have a beach date with my fur babe. We are going to get down and dirty in the sand, salt, and sun! Thanks to Hocus calling me out on my “stuff” a few months ago, I made a promise to spend my energy more wisely and to be fully present with my beloveds. (Btw, if you are driving, or prefer to listen instead of reading, you can listen to this blog post by clicking on the link below.)
Let’s get to it.
Do you know that song from Moby? It’s one of my faves. Click on the link in the above quote; take a listen and see what you feel. That is how I am feeling today. But I haven’t been feeling like that lately. In fact, I have been going through a helluva a challenge for the past few weeks. It’s kind of sucked honestly. Thankfully, regardless of where I am walking, stumbling, or running on this life path, our furry family always has a way of pulling me out of my over-thinking, fear-based brain and back into my heart.
Real Love. The kind that creeps up on you. The kind of love you didn’t see coming. The kind that hits ya upside the head and eventually rattles you to your core. I am talking about the kind of love that is not of this world. The kind of love that allows you to open your closed, hurt crumbled heart. The kind of love that heals. I am talking about the kind of love that literally heals parts of ourselves that we thought could never heal. The love that I am talking about is a love that flows through nature, and through our feathered, furry, and scaly earth angels every moment; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
A Constant Love.
It is a love that never leaves. This love is constant, even when the body is ready to be laid aside. It is a love that is seamless, ceaseless, and everlasting. It is a love that walks with us, even when we cannot see our companion. It is a love that is never-ending. A love that grows. A love that only knows expansion. A love that is eternal. This love never ends.
An Unconditional love.
It is a love that breaks us into pieces when it appears to leave us. It is a love that only a true angel can offer us. It is a love that an ascended master has mastered. It is a love that we humans wish for, long for, and pray for ever since we are born. It’s a love that cracks our hearts open and allows us to really FEEL. It’s a love that teaches us how to accept; a love that allows us to receive. It is a love that shows us we are supported. It is a love that that moves us into new chapters of life, even when we think we are not ready.
A True Love.
This is a love that dives deep. A love that reflects back to us; reflections at times, we would rather not see. It’s a love that challenges us, triggers us, and reveals to us. It’s a love that swims through our soul and stirs up what we would rather keep hidden in the depths.
A Love without limits.
This is a love that not even a parent is capable of giving to their child at every moment. This is a love that we, as animal guardians, are often incapable of showing to our loved ones at all times. It is a love without judgement. It’s a love that lacks expectations or rules. This love is incapable of asking for anything. This is a love without limits; a love without conditions.
A Love not of this world.
This fire that we call loving is too strong for human minds, but just right for souls. ― Aberjhani, Elemental: The Power of Illuminated Love
The love that I am talking about seems rare, but it really isn’t. Every one of the Great Lovesin my life has shown me this kind of love. They lived/live their lives with this kind of love. They taught me this love. They gave me this kind of love. They ARE this kind of love.
Nature has also given me this love. Whether it was a Humpback whale who came close enough for me to truly feel him and learn his wisdom, or a tree who gave me shelter and insights, this love was real. It was fully present. It was without judgement. It was freely given.
This love is here, around you now.
“Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself which you have built against it.” – A Course In Miracles
Recently I was forgetting what’s Real and I momentarily slipped into ego-fear-based thinking. I had moved out of my heart and into my head. I was feeling guilty about not doing this, or having said this and that. I was wishing I had been a better guardian years ago. I was regretting. I was wanting to have done things differently over the 18+ years that Mr. Beaux and I have been together.
I wanted to go back and be a better human to him.
I began to cry so hard as I held him.💙 When I found a moment to catch my breath, I looked into his gold eyes and Mr. Beaux very calmly shared, “There is nothing to forgive. I see past it all. I know who you really are.”
This is a love not of this world.
That is who he is.
That is what he freely gives.
“Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.”― Alan Cohen
My beloved, Mr. Beaux, is not unlike your animal companions. The ones who walk with you while they live their new life in spirit, and the ones who walk with you here on the earth plane. Their love is truly unconditional. It is without limits; without borders and expectations. They see beyond the illusion. They see who we really are without our fears, stories, guilt, judgement, and mistakes. They view through the lenses of Love.
The ARE Love.
So they are able to see us who we really are. We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. As a man sees in his heart, so he sees. Through unclean windows, lenses, senses, we see things not as they are but as we are. — H. M. Tomlinson.
Every Day Can Be The 14th!
As heartwarming and humbling as that story about Mr. Beaux is, I have to switch gears a bit. Most of you know that I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Starting 20 years ago, this fateful date took on a whole new horrible meaning for me when I had to suddenly say goodbye to three of my beloveds on Valentine’s weekend (on three separate occasions!). You can’t make this stuff up, folks. I was single each time, so each of their transitions broke my heart in unimaginable ways.
At the risk of sounding negative, I’ve noticed that Valentine’s Day has become a day for people to celebrate their “special love” and thereby exclude love from others, whether they mean to or not; it’s almost inevitable. Valentine’s Day, to many, is a contrived Hallmark holiday, whose Dark Origins are unknown to many folks.
But does it have to be?
Maybe we can create something new out of it. Maybe we can live every day as if it’s the 14th. I truly believe that every day should be centered around extending love; strangers, family, foes, friends. Love should be the epicenter of our lives. Not just one day out of the year, but every moment. Love is the Light that leads our path, and that lights the path of others.
Our animal companions walk this path. They are such incredibly beautiful and powerful examples of love! They are always reflecting a love not of this world. They are the bridge to the kind of love we have always been looking for. We just have to recognize it and accept it. Let that love in. And then spread it around.
Love is intended to be a circle. Love is intended to be endless. Infinite. Unconditional. Love is not a one way flow. Love gives, and love receives. Love allows us to be raw and open. Love allows us to be exactly who we are, flaws and all. Love heals the broken. Love heals the heart. Love allows us to grow and heal each other. Love Gives Unconditionally.
Our animal family members teach us what it really means to love others (and ourselves) unconditionally. They teach us how to love and appreciate ourselves (and others) every day. Love is right there, waiting for us to see it. But are we loving ourselves the way they love us? Many of us are so willing to give love, but we have not allowed ourselves to receive.
Here’s the secret: Self love is loving!
I used to be the last person on the planet who practiced self love. I felt selfish if I wasn’t giving all of my time and energy to the species I was caring for at both work and at home. For over a decade during my zoologist days, I was just plowing through the pain and stress, never creating time for myself, and for self care. But when I moved out of New Orleans and left Audubon, I began to study Energy Medicine and learned a new way of living in the world.
“Choosing self-love challenges the collective paradigm of guilt and shame that has controlled us for thousands of years. If we go the route of the ego, we’ll never feel worthy of self-love. If we choose to live our Spirit, we’ll be instantly liberated.” — Sonia Choquette, The Answer is Simple…Love Yourself, Live Your Spirit!
Clearing and managing my energy was an integral part of this program. Not only did meditation become a replacement for medicating myself with Advil, alcohol, food, and sugar, but I learned that self care must be a priority if I wanted to help anyone.
I learned that self care IS self love, and that self love is quite easy to do every day. I then started to notice that the animals I cared for at home were practicing self love 24 hours a day! They were teaching me! One easy way to start a practice of self love is to give yourself the gift of a clearing bath. You can view this simple recipe here.
Our lovability and worth doesn’t come from others. It comes from within!”
I will admit that I have spent most of my life caring for others, yet I never gave this same level of care to myself. But now I do. Rather than forgetting to do something loving for myself or justifying why I don’t have time, I now create the time and space to receive. I allow this kind of love.
When we cultivate a daily practice self-care, we are being loving. We are becoming the embodiment of our animal companions and how they live their lives! When we love and care for ourselves deeply, we can see the divine within ourselves and all other forms of life. We see that we are all connected; that we are one.
When our body and mind are at peace and relaxed we create a ripple effect to every living being in our lives. We are better prepared for what life has around the corner. We can better care for others. We can come from a more loving space; a place where our animal companions are always.
We seek the comfort of another. Someone to share the life we choose. Someone to help us through the never-ending attempt to understand ourselves. And in the end, someone to comfort us along the way. ~ Marlin Finch Lupus
What About You?
I am really curious about you, so I want to know: Have you felt this kind of love? Do you recognize this kind of love when you see, hear, or feel it? Are you in your head all the time, or are you up in your heart? Where are you living? What are you allowing? Do your animal companions help you to totally accept this kind of love? Have you experienced this kind of love in nature? What was it like for you?
As we continue to move through the month of February, and we experiences these really uncomfortable energies, know that you are always surrounded by love. We just have to be willing to see, feel, and notice it in all of the many forms … that are not of this world.
But as you start to notice this love, don’t be fooled into the ego-trap that you are not willing or deserving of a love not of this world. You are. I am. We all are. Nature and our animal companions are always here to offer this love to us, to see us beyond our faults, and to love us always in all ways.
Allow this love.
In my last post I shared how and why The Wheels of Light Keep Turning. If this topic peaked your interest and you desire to dive deeper into the relationship with your canine companion, check out my dear friend and colleague’s online class that starts February 22nd! It will be an eye and mind opener to how we can grow, heal, and thrive together as One! But most importantly, you will learn why True Love Dives Deep.
Be well friend, and go in love. Remember that Love walks with you always.
P.S This blog post is available as an audio. You can listen here:
I hope this finds you well at at peace in all ways. Wow, we are nearly midway through the first month of the New Year! Incredible. So far, 2018 has not disappointed! The energy has been incredibly expansive and focused, and our animal companions continue to teach me, and challenge me with love and humor 😉 More on that later.
Today I would like to share something really fun and enlightening with you! Please get comfy. Grab your coffee or tea. Open your mind and heart. And try a little willingness to learn something new for the New Year.
If you were not yet aware, I would like to share a bit about the energy of this New Year, and how you can bring this energy into your home, your shelter, and to those with whom you live, work, and care for. Then this topic will quickly flow into a bit about animals’ energy centers, how you can learn from them, and grow together!
2018 is a Year of Mastery!
In numerology (which I am a total novice at), 2018 translates into 11, which is what they refer to as a Master Number. Master numbers possess great potential for learning and growth and can bring major transformations in our lives. This is a powerful year for everyone and all beings on Earth.
The Universal Energy for 2018: 2 + 0 + 1 + 8 = 11
Master Number 11 symbolizes high energy, inspiration, intuition, self-expression and personal power. Master Number 11 is called ‘the Illuminator’, ‘the Messenger’ or ‘the Teacher’. Master Number 11 also tells us that by connecting with our higher selves is to know and live our soul’s mission and life purpose. 2018 is also about partnership, connections, balance, equality, and flexibility!
You might be wondering, What the heck does that mean for me on a practical level?
Great question. It basically means that we’re here to “master” the elements presented to us within the frequency, vibration, and “theme” of 2018. Our strengths will be supported, but we will also be faced with more significant challenges. However, if we are coming from an empowered place, these changes and challenges can be greeted not with fear, but with grace and ease. This includes challenges with our animal companions. Peace, joy, and expansion can be the epicenter of our lives.
More Insights Into the Energy of 2018:
The Master number brings with it an intensity that’s undeniable. It’s generally observed that the Master numbers bring a higher spiritual purpose, no matter how you might define that. The Master numbers carry a higher frequency and vibratory influence. Energetically speaking, they’re always pushing you. So in practical terms, the year 2018 is a year where the energy supporting and guiding all of us is rather intense. Everyone will be getting the internal call to step it up this year.
What better time than now to embrace these energies?!? That is part of why I am finally shedding my current (and past) fears of sharing the more spiritual side of things with the world. This is part of why I am stepping it up NOW. So, needless to say, not only is the Master Number Energy in the mix, but today is a very auspicious day indeed: 1/11/2018, which is probably why I am so inspired to share with you today! So let’s get to it!
The Year of the Earth Dog
The Chinese new year begins in February. This will be the The Year of the Earth Dog. Its keyword is ACTION. Of the five Taoist elements Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood, this is the year of the Earth. Stable, honest, practical, industrious, prudent, reliable, kind, and loyal are Earth qualities. The element Earth enriches Dog’s character and adds needed stability. The Earth Dog is endowed with some of the finest qualities of all the 12 astrology animals. Since 2018’s element is Earth, this year is also about security and feeling grounded and safe.
Which leads me to the main point of this post: Energy
Beyond The Borders of Animal Training
As someone who has been an animal professional for nearly 20 years, I understand the need for, and the importance of humane, science-based animal training, species-specific enrichment, and species-appropriate husbandry. I understand and the importance of animal care givers and companion animal guardians being fluent in specie-specific behaviors. Knowing how to accurately read and correctly interpret an animal’s body language, and vocalizations is essential. Knowing how animals learn and retain information is essential. Understanding how and why force-free methods work is vital; applying these humane methods should be priority. These science-based tools assist us in bridging the gap between species.
After decades of professional and personal experience, I am an expert in these areas. I have seen the far-reaching effects of these compassionate, science-based methods, which is why I am very passionate about these tools! I not only teach others how to use these tools, but I use them on a daily basis. These are all necessary for any species of animal who is living in a captive environment, whether the animal is in our home or a facility.
But there is much more that we can work with and carefully manage that extends far beyond the borders ofanimal training,enrichment, and husbandry. There are other elements at play that affect our animal family members, and the animals under our care at a shelter or facility. This can be summed up in one word: Energy.
How we manage energy is an integral part of being a Conscious Companion. Practicing personal energy management is important to the management and success of managing our animal companions. It is also connected to the health and well being of them as well. Assisting our animal companions with their energetic challenges is also an important part of being an empowering animal guardian! Recognizing our energetic challenges is also incredible important and empowering!
Science-based, force-free training is only one part of the “pet puzzle.” Knowing this and acting on it in an empowered way is vital. Although it is2018, we are light years away of where we could all be with regards to how we live with and care for animal companions. The world of animal behavior consulting and animal guardianship will eventually shift to a world that combines both science and spirituality; we will finally learn how to work with the metaphysical and the physical. These worlds are not separate. They are One. And if we want to have true success, true lasting bonds and true health and harmony in our homes, we will learn to utilize (and live in) both of these worlds.
One of the many ways that every animal guardian can come from a more empowered place and recognize potential pitfalls is by checking chakras! No, that word is not the sound of a cat hacking up a hairball. It’s totally legit. 😉 Hear me out …
All living beings have these. Dogs, cats, people, dolphins, parrots, horses, rats, frogs, you name it! If you’re alive, you have chakras!
Chakras are energy centers/vortexes. Chakras are conceived as an energy focal point, bodily functions, or psychic node in the subtle body. Although this concept is found particularly in the tantric traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, countless holistic veterinarians work with pets’ chakras every day. In yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda, chakras are often referred to for balance throughout.
The ancient Sanskrit word Chakra literally translates to wheel or disk. It is literally a wheel of LIGHT. And each chakra has its own color of light! In humans, there are seven main chakras (currently recognized –but there are many more!). These 7 chakras align the spine, starting from the base of the spine through to the crown of the head.
Most animals have 8 Major chakras, up to 21 Minor chakras, and 6 smaller energy points known as Bud chakras (paw pads & the bud of skin at the opening of the ears). Companion animals have an 8th chakra that we humans don’t have: a brachial chakra. The main Chakras govern responses to surrounding energy. The 3 chakras found in the lower part of the body (root, sacral & solar plexus) govern basic survival needs. The four chakras in the upper body (heart, throat, third eye & crown) govern mental processes and connection to higher realms.
Chakras expand or contract depending on a variety of circumstances (emotional AND physical health, environment, etc.). Animals receive and distribute energy through each chakra individually, which makes them sensitive to subtle vibrations & changes within the atmosphere & their environment. This invisible energy, called Prana, is vital life force, which keeps us vibrant, healthy, and alive.
It’s not Woo-Woo; it’s just new to you! – Conscious Companion
Windows to Wellness
Chakras are a window to wellness. In both people and pets, the energy body (which involves the chakras) are connected to emotions. So the energy body is like a blueprint or software which gives instructions to the physical organs. These swirling wheels of energy correspond to massive nerve centers in the body. Each of the main chakras contain bundles of nerves and major organs as well as our psychological, emotional, and spiritual states of being.
Being aware of both your and your animal companion’s mental and physical health is vital, which is why we perform routine Chakra Checks! In another post I will teach you how we use a tool called a pendulum to check the status of each one, every day. For today, what I want to get across is this: When chakras are open and balanced all is well within body and mind. BUT… when even one chakra is out of balance, it affects the entire system.
Here’s one example/insight into the Heart Chakra of a feline:
An open, balanced, and aligned Heart Chakra allows for loving, harmonious relationships, tolerance, and being deeply connected to their guardian on a heart level.
-A closed or imbalanced heart chakra can adversely affect behavior.
-It could also indicate there is a physical issue in the body.
-Heart chakra governs the heart, lungs, immune system & thymus gland.
“Going from Ugh to Om”
So what does this mean for devoted animal guardians?? It brings us all to a very empowered place. It’s an invitation to be more open, more curious, and willing to grow and heal … together.
Today a very dear friend and colleague who is a dog adorer-er 😉 gifted intuitive, Empath, and certified dog trainer is kicking off an incredible online class. And it perfectly ties into today’s post. Her class is all about the Wheels of Light, and how we can keep them turning! In her 7 week class you will:
Learn an integrative approach to pet guardianship through the lens of mind, body, and energetic connection
Hear how true partnerships, heart-centered connections, and translating beyond your pets’ behaviors can help you and your animal companion heal, expand, and grow spiritually together
Discover how working with chakras, numerology, sacred geometry, animal symbolism and crystals can actually help shift your animal companion’s behavior like on-leash reactivity, separation anxiety, guest reactivity, barking, and accidents
Explore how your pet’s behaviors can provide clues to bigger energetic patterns in your life
Hear about a road map to how pet behaviors can give you specific insight into the healing that is ready to take place, including which limiting beliefs to process and which chakras they affect
Learn 3 questions that can help you call in more harmony, balance, and growth for you and your animal companion
In Denise’s groundbreaking class her focus will be mainly on canine companions and how our energy can affect them, but our feathered and feline friends will also be addressed as these topics arise. It is going to be such a joy and honor to be a part of this important, ground-breaking, and incredibly empowering program!
I truly believe that you can make an unimaginable difference in the life of your animal companion by becoming an EMPOWERED animal guardian; you can BEcome a Conscious Companion, just as they already are. You can move out of your comfort zone and be willing to learn new concepts, new ideas, and new insights. You can empower them by healing and empowering yourself! You can create an True New Year together!
“We are more alike than different. We Are One.” ― Efrat Cybulkiewicz