Skip the Stuffing. Let’s Get Reeeal.

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The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there … – “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, 1779 – 1863

Happy Holidays, friends!

I hope this finds you and yours well.  Here on the wild, wild West Coast we are dodging wildfires, doing our best to stay safe and sane, helping a senior cat recover from a recent seizure, and remembering to laugh at life.  More on all of that in my next post 😉 …

Today I wanna talk about some positive things that we can all relate to: eating delicious goodies, de-stressing, and family fun!

Ok, that sounds really cheesy, but hear me out.

The holidays can be hectic in most homes.  Families have freak-outs.  Pets get stressed.  We all need emotional and physical releases, right?  So why not eat goodies, have fun, and de-stress all at the same time … Together?!?

That’s what we do in our dojo.

This short post serves to show you how to do just that!  I know I can get wordy, but don’t worry; this will be a short post.  There are some fun videos in here, so grab your pup, parrot, pussycat, or piglet and get ready to try something new!


“Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.”
― Shannon L. Alder


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Hocus at her toy box as an adolescent pup

We see them everywhere.  Those plush, adorable, colorful stocking stuffers.  They seem to be literally everywhere we look this time of year.

I have to admit; they are hard to pass up.  We used to give our canine companion all kinds of stuffed toys for Christmas.  Most of my clients and family offer them to their pups as well.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it can pose a danger.  No matter how adorable that stuffed dog toy is, chances are, some part of it will wind up inside your dog. Hopefully it will make it’s way out the other end.

But sometimes it doesn’t make it out.

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Skip the Usual Stuffing.

I have a suggestion.  This holiday season, instead of offering them the usual stuffed toy, consider offering your companion animals something REAL.  -Something they would choose over and over again, if given the choice.  Consider offering your animal companion something more natural, and more to their liking.

Stuff their stockings with a new treat this year!

The safest and healthiest option is to offer what your omnivore or carnivore really wants:  Stuffed Body Parts.

You read that correctly.  We offer body parts to our pets. 😉

Hear me out, before you get totally grossed out.  Body Parts are Natural Chews.  You can view some of the ones we use here: BODY PARTS (aka Natural Chews) .   As they state, it’s nothing but the good stuff!  No preservatives, salt, wheat, corn, or sugar!  Nothing that has ever been on the continent of Asia.  No rawhide. They are easily digestible and safe for all ages.  And the animals absolutely love them!

But we don’t just offer those natural chews, willy nilly.  We stuff and freeze them. It makes them last much longer, and it’s a tool that we use to modify behavior, prevent problem behaviors, and tap into their innate instinct to CHEW!

You can watch me quickly create one of these stuffed chew toys here:

  • Prep time:  2 minutes
  • Total time to make:  3 minutes
  • Freeze time:  2 hours
  • Time it takes most pups to eat it:  45 min – hour
  • Win-win for everyone in our home and neighborhood 😉

If that video was too fast for you to see how to create these stuffed chews, here is another video of me making one, but with a Kong.


If you still have to get gifts or stocking stuffers for the animal companions in your life, consider skipping the toys filled with cotton stuffing.  They are quickly and easily “disemboweled”. They often end up going in one end of the dog and end up (hopefully!) coming out the other.

In the pic below  is one example of me coming home to see that Hocus Pocus had disemboweled her stuffed toys, beds, and other items when she was a wee lass.  (a very common result from boredom and frustration).  And of course, King Albert was there on standby watching the storm.

Now we know better, so we do better. 😉

Hocus and Albert
We call this one “Hurricane Hocus”

 


“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. Eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway


 

Instead of offering toys filled with cotton or polyester stuffing, consider gifting them REAL, natural goodies such as organic raw bones, yummy natural high-protein treats, and stimulating puzzle toys and Kongs!  They last much longer than the usual stuffed toy, and they encourage natural canine chewing and foraging behaviors.


The same goes for your feline family members.  Cats are predators.  Period.  Portions of their natural diet consists of hard bones.  Those lizards, birds, snakes, and frogs aren’t filled with air, folks.  Even if your cat lives indoors, he/she still craves these things.

And they are healthy tools!

Bones clean tartar and help to maintain healthy teeth and gums.  Since most indoor cats don’t have access to bones, veterinarians recommend them as a treat.  But, be careful not to give your cat pork, chicken or fish bones.  These could splinter and cause severe internal injures.  Raw bones are also better than cooked ones, since they are less likely to splinter.

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Clearly this is an exaggeration, but cats DO love bones!

Tooth decay and gum disease have been linked to heart, kidney, and other serious chronic illnesses in cats.  Many cats do not show obvious signs of discomfort until they’re in considerable pain.  Don’t wait until your cat shows signs of distress to have his teeth checked out.  Start now by offering them healthy, safe chew items.  Always consult your feline veterinarian.

You can view Knox Zydeco enjoying a natural chew “toy” here:


You can also view Knox enjoying a raw bone in this video (here)!

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Real Meat is Required. 

I get it; the idea seems gross to most.  Being a borderline vegan-vegetarian, I understand. But I used to be a zookeeper, so I am well desensitized to all of this. – Crocodiles, lions, tigers, komodos, and jaguars ate whole carcasses!  It’s natural.  Our feline family members may chill on our couches, but they are not far removed from their wild ancestors; they need these items in their diet.  If you don’t believe me, check out what the experts have to say.


Tap Into Natural Behaviors!

If you are completely incapable of even considering the idea of offering stuffed body parts to your pets, at least consider offering them toys that tap into their natural instincts!  I have written about this topic at great length before; cats need to have outlets to express their natural behaviors!  If there’s a cat on your Christmas gift list, go for toys that stimulate his hunting instincts! Or how about a new stimulating scratching surface?  You can also consider a toy that allows you to interact with him and gives him some exercise at the same time, like a laser beam toy (that always ends with a food reward) or a feather teaser like Da Bird.

Consider toys that stimulate their natural instincts!

Offer a toy that allows your kitty or ferret to chase and hunt!  Offer a new “approved” scratching surface, window seat, or cat tower!  Consider getting your cat a toy that allows you to interact with him or her, while giving your feline friend some exercise at the same time. If you need some ideas, HausPanther has a new 2017 Holiday Gift Guide for Cats and their people!

This holiday season is an opportunity for you to give them this gift!

Cat toys_christmas_conscious Companion


Feathered Friends!

Let’s not forget our feathered friends this holiday season!  But don’t let those flirtatious faces and colorful feathers fool you.  Parrots are not domesticated animals. Cats, dogs, and horses have been selectively bred for qualities that enable them to live more harmoniously among humans.  Parrots are exotic, and by definition, are not a species indigenous to the U.S.  Companion parrots have the same instinctual needs as their wild counterparts. Your parrot may live in a cage at home with you, but his mind and body are just as wild as the green-winged macaw that’s flying free in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America.   Parrots bred in captivity have the same instinctive physical and behavioral needs of parrots living in the wild.  Offering natural chews helps them to better adapt to life in captivity!

Parrot toys_chew toys for parrots_The LEather Elves
The Crab nut and fruit toy

For the feathered family member, consider these “real” stocking suffers from our friends and colleagues at The Leather Elves:

 

 

 

 

 


Interactive Toys Are a Necessity!

For companion animals, and all exotic animals in captivity, toys are not a luxury, but a necessity.  Interactive Toys are vital to their well-being.  They prevent boredom and frustration when you have to leave your companion alone at home.  They provide comfort when they need it.  They are a great outlet for excessive energy!  Toys can even help prevent your pup, pussycat, parrot, pig, or poison dart from from developing unwanted/unhealthy “problem” behaviors.  If there’s a feline, canine, parrot or ferret on your holiday gift list, get real and go natural this year!

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Safety First!

Regardless of what natural item you offer as a gift this year, remember that we need to be particularly careful when monitoring playtime to prevent any “unauthorized” activities and to ensure safety.  Always monitor the animal when they are exploring, eating, or playing with these new items.


Let’s Get Real.

As I have stated before:

… considering the high number of unhealthy pets in homes, increasing behavioral problems, and animals surrendered to shelters every week, I say we aren’t doing enough enrichment.  But we can change this.  And when we do it will shift everything.  Not only will we shift the energy within the animal, which will result in healthier bodies and minds, but we will create a more empowered way of living for each animal within the home.  We will also shift the energy between guardians and the animals.

So as you are out and about this holiday season, consider how you can offer a unique experience for you and your animal family members.  Think outside the box!  Create fun and long-lasting memories that will enrich everyone’s lives!


“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!


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Recommended Related Reading!

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Day of The Dead Celebrating Life!

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“Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon;and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”

~Rossiter Worthington Raymond


Hello beloveds, and hello November!

Wow, we are 2 months away from 2018! How can this be? So much has happened in our individual worlds and around the world in such a short period of time!  Speaking of time, I don’t have much today as we are leaving town tomorrow, so I won’t waste any of your time, or mine, so let’s get to it!

The Day of the Dead is here.

But before you get all freaked out, hear me out.  This period of time we find ourselves in is a very sacred one to many cultures around the world.  But the topic of “death” is not a favorite topic to many.  I used to be one of these people.  Discussing the details of death was something I dreaded, feared, and hated.  The idea of “death” was truly the most dreaded thing to me.

Now I know better.


If you have been follow this blog, you know that as an Intuitive empath and a science-geek, I lived a balanced life. I am able to live in both the metaphysical and physical worlds.  I have to; they are both integral to a healthy, happy, harmonious life and home – for me at least – because this is what I know.  It’s who I Am.

And if you have been reading my posts, you know that we recently said goodbye to one of our beloveds of 17 years.  In the past this kind of death would have broken me.  I would have sunk into a deep depression and stayed there.

But now I celebrate him, and his new Life.

King Albert the Grey_Conscious Companion_copyright_Amy Martin


Our Beloveds Are … Always.

If I could give a gift to anyone who had their world torn apart, or their heartbroken from loosing a beloved, I would shown them what I have seen, felt, and learned over the years.  I would give them the gift of knowing that there is no death; there is only an extension of consciousness.  I would give them the gift that would let them know that the ones who left “too soon”, the ones whom we had to say goodbye are not gone.

They are not dead.

They are very much alive, but in a new form.  A better form.  My family’s Cherokee teachings touch on this sensitive topic.  Below is a traditional Cherokee story that explains:

He held the little seeds in his hand and let them scatter to the wind and he said, “We are Cherokee, but we are also man … and within us is the Spirit. Our bodies may fall to the ground, but nothing real is ever lost. Who can pick up a seed and see the tree or the stalk that is sleeping inside, waiting for the right time to burst forth…and who can look at a man and see the Great Spirit and the Sacred Self that grows within? It is there, waiting for the right time to manifest and grow. You are a seed. What lies within you? What will your Spirit do for The People?”

On another day when I have more time, and in the book  I will share more on this subject.  But for now, let’s look at something happening all around the world that serves to honor this very Truth.


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Today is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)! This is a holiday that began on Tuesday, October 31 and ends on Thursday, November 2.  It is a time of celebration for many!  It is a time to connect with, and honor loved ones in Spirit.  Although most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including here in  California!

Here’s an easy rundown:

  • Day of the Dead: a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican ancestry living in other places, especially the United States.
  • Ends: November 2
  • Starts: October 31
  • Observed by: Mexico, and regions around the globe with large Hispanic populations
  • Significance: Prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died
  • Related to: All Saints’ Day
  • Celebrations: Creation of altars to remember the dead, and offer traditional Day of the Dead’s food and drink
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Part of Dia de los Muertos often involves cleaning and decorating the graves of loved ones. Adult graves are marked with orange marigolds, while white orchids are left at children’s graves.

Day of the Dead follows a similar two-day structure (and occupies the same two days of the calendar year, Nov. 1 and 2nd), but the focus is different. On the first day, families remember children who have died, and on the second, the adults.  Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

Day Of The Dead Parade Mexico City 2016

The central belief these celebrations are based is that the spirits of loved ones join the living on these days and openly commune with them.  Families leave toys and calaveras (the iconic skull — made from sugar that inspires the makeup) for children.  They leave food, favorite possessions, and other gifts for the adults at elaborate homemade altars called “ofrendas.” You can read more about all of this here.

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Dia de los Muertos is a happy holiday filled with bright colors, candles, food, and cheer! It’s a time for families to gather together and remember and honor those who have left this physical earth.  Dia de los Muertos honors the innocent children and companion animals, too!  The people and pets who have passed on are remembered, cherished, honored, and celebrated with love and joy.

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A Dia de los Muertos decor that we displayed in honor of our beloved Samantha after she transitioned. We bring it out every year now!

Our Day Of The Dead “Door Knock”

Something happened to me on this very day, back in November of 2014.  This something was quite startling; it was a knock at my “door” when I was finally ready to hear it and open the door.

After returning home from our Make A Wish class, I put away all of the Halloween decor outside.  I was going to start on the inside decor next but decided to wait.  Afterward we were chilling on the couch about to watch a movie/snooze, when out of the blue, I watched our two glass pumpkins on this table turn ON by themselves.  First the white one, then the green one.  Someone was trying to get my attention.

After a bit of “ethereal investigating” we discovered it was my grandmother.  She had reached out to me, to give our family a very powerful, healing message.  More on that later 😉  But it was her “knock” on The Day of The Dead that got my attention. When grandmother knocked, and I chose to set fear of the unknown aside, she showed me a new world.  I have always been “open”, but grandmother’s knock invited me to stay open.

Our loved ones desperately want to stay connect to us, in this physical world. They are our guardians now.  They want us to know this.  Our beloveds behind the veil want to connect with us, support us, and offer nothing but unconditional love.  These messages continue to come through to this day; both from furry family members, and the human ones! They are always messages of hope, love, peace, joy, and frankly, FUN.

Conscious Companion_Amy Martin _copyright
My beloved grandmother knew how to get my attention that day!

The Veil is Thinning.

The veil between this world and others is thinning, unlike never before.  But this is nothing to fear.  The “veil” is the ethereal curtain that, unfortunately, sets the scene for the mass belief in illusions such as separateness, limitations, and death.  Fortunately, quantum theory, ancient mysticism, and new research into the mysteries of consciousness shows that everything is connected, that We Are One, and that consciousness exists beyond the physical body, and that the potential of the universe and many worlds within it is limitless and just waiting for us to tune into it.

The Veil Is Lifting.

The time to “tap in” is now because our guides behind the veil are tapping on our shoulders. Now.  This thinning of the veil allows helpful influences “on the other side” become more available than ever before.  With the intense energies “upgrades” we’ve been powering through, our extrasensory abilities are allowing more people to tune into the world beyond our physical one.


Out of Sight, but Not Mind

Our beloveds who have passed on, our spiritual guides who assist in our growth, our spirit animals, and the magical bounty of angels and ascended masters are there. These divine beings are always with us, but now in ways never possible before. Just because they may be out of your sight, does not mean that you are out of their mind.

Their love has not left us.
Their love is true.
This love lasts forever.

“True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.”

― François de La Rochefoucauld

True love_ghost quotes_

This is such a beautiful and powerful time to honor loved ones that have passed on, and to connect with your ancestral guides.  The Day of the Dead is not limited to people.  It is also a time to celebrate the lives of our fury, scaly, and feathered animal companions who are just beyond this world at some call “the rainbow bridge.” – more on that topic later. 😉

As we enter into this sacred, special time I encourage you to create quiet time to Just Be, and to allow your mind to become still.  Allow your loved ones just beyond the veil to come to you, surround you with love and support.  Allow yourself to see through the illusion of death, and know that they are life everlasting, at peace, and always by your side when you call on them.

Think of them. Honor them. Remember them. Call on them.

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Blessed Dia de los Muertos.
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Think of me
Think of me fondly
When we’ve said goodbye.

Remember me
Once in a while
Please promise me you’ll try.

When you find
That once again you long
To take your heart back and be free
If you ever find a moment
Spare a thought for me

We never said our love was evergreen
Or as unchanging as the sea
But if you can still remember
Stop and think of me.

Think of all the things we’ve shared and seen
Don’t think about the way things might have been.

Think of me
Think of me waking
Silent and resigned
Imagine me
Trying too hard
To put you from my mind.

Recall those days
Look back on all those times
Think of the things we’ll never do
There will never be a day
When I won’t think of you.

-“Think of Me”,  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera

 

Disco, Dart Frogs, Cats, and Canines!

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Hello gorgeous!

Considering the current state of affairs around the world, I thought we could all use some levity.  We all need a break from the fear, hate, insanity, and the seemingly never-ending drama.

This post serves to give you just that.

As promised, I will be swaying between science and spiritual stuff U.F.N. 😉  Since my last post swung to the spiritual side, I thought we could dance to a different beat today!

And once again, I am grateful you are here.

I have to mention; the grammar nerd in me got a kick out of playing around with the comma placement in the title of this post.  If you were confused, this post isn’t about disco frogs, disco cats, or disco dogs, but it does involve these species, with a touch of the genre of music I just adore: disco!

disco shoes dancing retro

I appreciate that this genre of music isn’t everyone’s preferred choice.  But since I am a child of the 70’s I have a super positive association with DISCO that stems way back to childhood and well into high school.  From rocking out to The Bee Gees in the backseat, to breakin’ it down until the break of dawn with my girlfriends; Disco was my dope.

It was a natural high for me.  Even to this day, if I am in a funk, I play F U N K!  Disco can get me movin’ and groovin’ unlike no other music!  Play me some Soundgarden or Bob Marley and I am ready to rock-n-roll or love everything around me.  Put on “Super disco, disco breakin” by The Beastie boys, and I am amped!  But when real old school Disco starts to play … watch out world … my sass emerges and I am ready to shake-that-aaaaaa … !!!

Ok, you get it. 😀  The right kind of music can totally shift me out of a funk.  And as someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain for more than half of my life, music is my medicine.

But I am not unique in this way.

We are all moved by the right kind of tune.  Music shifts our mood.  Chemical reactions occur.  Endorphins are released.  Music promotes positive movement,  and dare I say, healing?

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
― Bob Marley

 

Movement Shifts Energy.  When we physically move the body, it supports and facilitates the movement of Life Force Energy.  When the physical body moves, the energy shifts within.  This is not woo; it’s legit.  Science has yet to prove this fact, but Eastern cultures have known this for centuries.  Our western world is just catching onto this fact.  But this fact is not limited to humans.  Because physical movement shifts energy, physical movement supports the chakras of all living beings.  Animals of all shapes, sizes and species benefit from positive movement and motivation.

But are we, as animal guardians, providing this opportunity enough?

The body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other.” ~ Dr. Candice Pert

 


Back in another life, during my Audubon Zoo Dayz, I was an Enrichment Coordinator. Providing species-specific enrichment for everything from parrots to poison dart frogs was my passion!  So now, providing this necessary, science-based enrichment for companion animals is second nature to me.  My hope, is that once you learn how, this will come naturally to you, too!  Knowing how to do this is vital if we want to provide a healthy environment for our animal companions to thrive in captivity.

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blue poison dart frogs (Dendrobates) enjoying novel multi-sensory enrichment (hunting for fruit flies out of a seasonal pumpkin)  Seriously. How adorable are they?

 


So what do poison dart frogs have to do with disco, cats, and dogs?  A lot, actually.

We now know that offering a coconut foraging feeder to captive Dendrobates (poison dart frogs) produces new behaviors.  This particular kind of enrichment feeder produces the greatest increase in frog activity in both traditional and new exhibits.  The increase in mobility is most likely due to a coconut feeder’s complicated nature, which randomizes the release of insects into the exhibit.  The complexity of the enrichment increases both mental and physical aspects of the frogs.

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Now think about how we can create something like this at home or in shelters, and why it’s so important.  If something as simple as placing prey (fruit flies) in a coconut feeder for frogs to foraging and hunt from, creates more desirable behaviors and healthy mental stimulation, what can we offer to our companion animals??

The possibilities are endless!

They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.  Create choice, offer control, and add complexity.   The goal is to elicit species-specific behaviors and to stimulate their natural abilities, senses, and enhance cognition.   This is what proper enrichment offers.   Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs.  The scientific principles in which structured enrichment programs are created are not reserved for lions, tigers, bears, and sea lions in zoos and aquariums.

Enrichment Is For Everyone.

And considering the high number of unhealthy pets in homes, increasing behavioral problems, and animals surrendered to shelters every week, I say we aren’t doing enough enrichment.  But we can change this.  And when we do it will shift everything.  Not only will we shift the energy within the animal, which will result in healthier bodies and minds, but we will create a more empowered way of living for each animal within the home.  We will also shift the energy between guardians and the animals.

We create a total shift for everyone on every level.


“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” ― Frank Zappa


 

There is enough craziness and fear unfolding around the globe.  Why don’t we bring some joy and humor into our home?  Why don’t we pull our focus from that insanity and consciously create really fun but safe ways to shift the energy with our animals?  There are amazing souls right under our nose!  Let’s engage with them more!  Let’s focus on the joy and love that’s waiting for us!

That is where we can choose to focus our energy.


Creating fun games that are tailored for the individual animal/group are one way that we can pull away from the drama and fear in the world and create harmony at home.  We can create our own music that moves us all!  Music moves us and gets us groovin, but what can we offer our animal companions to get their bodies and minds movin’ and groovin??

Enrichment.

I have talked about enrichment at great length before. But if you haven’t read those posts, here’s a quick run down on enrichment:

  • promotes naturalistic behaviors
  • stimulates the mind
  • increases physical activity
  • reduces stress
  • promotes overall health
  • increases an animal’s perception of control over their environment
  • empowers the animal with more choices
  • provides constructive ways to occupy their time

animal enrichment_zoos

Enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.

All of that is so important, but one of my favorite by-products of proper enrichment is the bonds it strengthens. – both between animals of the same species and between different species.  This has been a powerful tool in our home.  One of our favorite ways to shift the energy of our group while building bonds that last is by providing species-specific enrichment every day.

For the 3.0 cats (3 males) and 0.1 dog (female) in our family, this was not only a way to shift stagnant energy in their body, but it was a tool to build a bridge between them. We created conditions to create a fun, harmonious, and happy home.  Hocus Pocus and King Albert once had a very combative relationship, but these kind of enrichment activities (and other tools) have dramatically changed their relationship to one based on trust. Physical challenges in older animals were addressed and healing occurred.  Minds were stimulated and stagnation faded.

Behavioral enrichment is the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.

Now to the disco.

In the short video below, “Wake-and-Hunt” (not to be confused with Wake-and-Bake)  😉 you will see one example of how we do this.


“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Of course the cats and dog aren’t dancing to disco while they do these foraging activities, but you can see how excited they are to participate!  Seeing their energy shift from stagnation to determination, and boredom to curiosity, is similar to shifting our energy via the right kind of music!  We just need to find the right tune and melody, so to speak, for each individual.

Seniors, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger. Nose work is one way that we can do that.


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Casey, the critically endangered lowland gorilla enjoying his birthday carrot cake

For 18 years I have been creating I.E.P.s (Individualized Enrichment Programs) for animals of all shapes, sizes, and species, so it’s now second nature to me.  I often forget that this kind of program isn’t in everyone’s go-to-tool box.  But it should be!  I believe that proper, individualized, species-specific enrichment can be more powerful than basic training.

Choice, control and complexity are key.

Providing conditions in a captive animal’s environment (home, shelter, zoo) that parallels a life were they would normally have endless choices is empowering.  It’s life changing!  Science and experience have proven that by providing this for all species of animals living in captivity, we have the power to reduce and eliminate a myriad of medical and behavioral issues.  When we create conditions that enhance cognition, encourage movement, and improve overall well-being through resources that tap into the individual species’ senses, we can change lives!

With the right kind of movement and music to match the soul, we shift out of pain and suffering into bliss and joy.  – Conscious Companion

You don’t have to be a professional in this area.  You can learn how to provide safe and species-appropriate enrichment to the animals with whom you care for, in your shelter or home!  It does require some planning and creativity, but the effort pays off in the long run.  I will be creating a free E-Book that discusses this in greater detail, but for now:

You can View one example of how we created an I.E.P for one of our geriatric cats here. 

You can view another IEP for our younger cat here.

You can download an overview of our Guidelines for planning an Individualized Enrichment Program here.

Dog and cat foraging enrichment

You too, can create and provide this kind of fun but carefully created mental and physical stimulation for your animal companions every day.  Heck, even once or twice a week could completely shift so much energy in your home!  But before you do, please remember to ask these questions:

Creating enrichment program for CATS_What's the Goal_Questions to ask_Conscious Companion

 

We need to ask important questions BEFORE providing this kind of food enrichment.
A successful food enrichment program is goal-oriented and considers The Big Picture.

  • Do we have a goal in mind?
  • Is the enrichment for one cat? Multiple cats? A cat and another species?
  • What behaviors of each do we want to encourage?
  • How will these behaviors be encouraged?
  • Will the foraging enrichment be created (or purchased)?
  • Is it safe? (see unsafe/failed enrichment here)
  • How will we implemented it?
  • How will we evaluate the response and the effect?
  • Are there any diet restrictions?
  • Health issues?
  • Is there any oversight that should involve a feline nutritionist or a feline health practitioner?
  • Are we utilizing the 5 categories of enrichment? – If not, why?


“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.”
― Albert Schweitzer


You might have noticed that I am highlighting cats in this post.  I am because the majority of people believe that cat’s don’t need as much mental and physical stimulation as dogs.  But this is untrue and very harmful.  Another misconception is that senior and geriatric cats don’t need to get moving daily.   Friend, they DO!

Some Cat Stats at a Glance:

• Cats are currently the most commonly kept pet in the United States
• Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs).
• Cats are mislabeled as low-maintenance pets.
• This leads to cats housed in suboptimal environments.

• Cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
• Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)

When the environment of house cats don’t match the conditions they need in order to thrive, medical and behavioral issues arise.  Medical issues lead to behavioral issues which leads to a stressful household.  It can be a vicious cycle.  All of this can lead to a weakening of the human-animal bond, which often results in the owners surrendering the cat to a shelter, tossing the cat onto the streets, or euthanizing the cat.

Sub-optimal conditions are associated with increases in dozens of health and behavioral issues. Aggression, attention-seeking behaviors, and stress-related behaviors can be results of suboptimal conditions of captivity.  In fact, House-soiling is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people. Below are just a few common conditions created by sub-optimal conditions for house cats:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Joint problems
  • Chronic lower urinary tract issues
  • Behavioral and mental health problems

 

The Reality is that house cats and their conditions don’t match.

The conditions house cats are kept in are often the least natural to their species. Our feline companions are very similar to their closest ancestor, the African wildcat, in terms of their behavioral needs and instincts.  Therefore, the conditions of house cats should parallel those of their closest wild ancestor, the African wildcat.

Scent is another biggie that’s overlooked in companion cats.  A cat’s sense of smell is 40x stronger than ours.   Scent is crucial when it comes to social situations, locating prey, and  maintaining safety.  Scent is also crucial when it comes to evaluation of food.  If more cat guardians gain a better understanding of the vital role that scent plays in a pussycat’s life, they can use this tool to enhance their feline friend’s life!

“Importantly, a better understanding of cat chemical signals has critical applied implications, as scent (and marking) plays an important role in many species-typical cat behaviors, problem behaviors, and can also serve as enrichment if properly understood and applied.” – Vitale Shreve and Udell

Providing various scents for cats to find is very enriching to cats. We can use everything from catnip to canned food.  Some other great options are  silver vine, honey suckle, local bird feathers, potting soil, beach sand, etc.  Encouraging cats to harness these innate abilities and natural instincts is necessary.

Senior and geriatric cats, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger.  Nose work (like you saw in the video above) is one way that we can do that every day.   When we set the scene for a cat to use his/her exquisite senses we are helping our house cats to live a life worthy of their ancestors. We are allowing house cats to THRIVE.

That is why we provide these kind of fun enriching activities every day!

Albert foraging yard

The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors

Animal guardians can learn about who their pet is as a species. We can learn their individual hunting styles, personal preferences, and dislikes /fears.  Guardians can provide proper species-specific conditions inside their home that parallel the animal’s natural life in the wild.  People can learn how to help their companions to thrive inside!

We can change lackluster homes into thriving environments!
We can enhance the lives and longevity of our animal family members!
We can enhance the bond between animals and their guardians!
We can build bonds between every species in the home!
We can keep animals in homes.
We can Build Bonds That Last!


My challenge to you is to allow yourself to let go of the drama and stress of life by creating a peaceful kingdom at home.  Let laughter and joy become the centerpiece of your home.  Create memories that last, well after your beloved moves on.  Create harmony by enriching their environment … and yours.

There doesn’t need to be any pressure.  There is enough pressure in this crazy world; we need not add any to our life.  The idea is to create therapeutic, enriching, and fun activity time together every day.  We all need more fun!  Funk it up!  Help them get their groove back! And yours! Create the time to add in more playtime, more ways to bond, and to release the stress of life.  Together.

 


You know you ought to slow down

You been working too hard and that’s a fact
Sit back and relax a while
Take some time to laugh and smile

Lay your heavy load down
So we can stop and kick back
It seems we never take the time to do
All the things we want to do

The S.O.S Band (video)


 

I am curious.  What kind of fun mental and physical games do you play with your animal companions?  What has worked well?  What kinds of exciting enrichment opportunities will you create this week together?

My hope is that you will choose to create moments of joy together and memories that last forever.  My hope is that you will create your own musical masterpiece together and dance to your own tune.  My hope is that you will turn to your beloveds when the world is too much with you.  My hope is that you can find peace within your animal kingdom at home.

Be well.

Be at peace.

Let your heart be light.

Let your animals be your greatest teachers.

Let go and remember to laugh with the ones you love!

Abstract background blue,yellow and orange


 

Recommended Videos and Links:

 

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
― Arthur O’Shaughnessy