Where are you?

mindful dog walking


Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone. ― Louis L’Amour


FEB 2016


I Faked It.

When I was working at Audubon Nature Institute my coworkers and I used to lovingly joke about a “rambling” coworker.  One of our colleagues had a tendency to ramble on and on for what seemed like an eternity.  And those of us on the receiving end of the ramble would totally zone out.   I mean, we would completely check out.  Gone.  We would mentally leave the situation. But we were clever enough to appear as if we were listening;  we would chime in with a word or nod every few minutes and say something along the lines of “Oh”, “wow” , “huh”, “really”, or “yeah”.  We faked as if we were there, but we were mentally checked out.


Do You Fake It? 

As rude as what we did may sound, it’s all too common for most people when they are bored, distracted, or worried about either something that just happened, or what might happen later.  We fake that we are listening, or we fake that we care.  We fake interest in the person, the topic of discussion, or the situation.  We fake that we are actually there with the person as they are sharing.  It’s a rare event for people to be truly present with others.  Let’s be honest:  We are faking it all the time with people.

But we also fake it when we are with our pets.


My Mind is Either Full or Mindful.

I am the first to admit that I can completely zone out like it’s going out of style.  My mind goes a million miles a minute.  I am easily distracted.  I get bored very easily.   I don’t enjoy doing tedious chores. (Ahem, I was in the middle of a very boring  and tedious attempt to clean and organize our house for upcoming guests right as I was suddenly compelled to write this post. ha!)

As a highly creative person, it can be an enormous challenge to be fully present.  I will get these amazing insights or inspirational ideas while someone is talking to me, or when I am doing the dishes or feeding the animals.  As great as that inspiration may sound, it’s not the best use of my mind.  It’s not mindfulness.  And it’s not helpful or respectful to the ones who are choosing to share their time, presence, or insight with me.

But I can train my mind to be mindful.  I can practice being fully present, even if what I am doing or listening to is boring or tedious.  Or I can practice being bored and distracted.  I can choose to focus on what’s right in front of me.  Or I can choose to zone out.   I can choose to be consciously aware of where my mind is, or I can choose to not care.

I have that choice, and you do too.


Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.


The Most Mindful Ones

Animals are mindful.  Their minds are not full.  Take a look a the image at the top of this post.  Look at what is in the man’s mind. Then look at what is in the dog’s mind. The man’s is cluttered and full of his worries, wants, and concerns.  The dog’s mind is focused on exactly what is in front of him/her.  The dog is no where else.  The dog is fully present.  The dog is taking in the sight, scents, and experience of being right there, in that field with his/her person.  Animals have the conscious ability to be fully focused, and fully present.  And they practice this at every opportunity.  It’s truly extraordinary. And we can learn from their practice and habit of being mindful.  In fact, recently, Hocus Pocus had some insights to share with me on this very subject. You can read her wisdom here!

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I’m pretty sure that Hocus Pocus is focused. Her mind is not anywhere but Right Here Now.

We Are Missing Out When We Are Not Mindful.

If you are asking, So what’s the big deal about being fully present?  then you are right were I was many years ago.  You are starting to at least question your behavior and thoughts.  Asking that question and learning the answer is how we start to become more aware of our presence (or lack of) with our animal companions.

Over a decade ago when I first started consciously practicing mindfulness in my day-to-day activities, I was appalled at myself.  When I slowed down and noticed my behavior and thoughts, I started to observe how frantic, chaotic, busy, and random my thoughts were.  My mind was more like a mindless monkey machine.   I wasn’t focused on anything that was in front of me.  I was anywhere in my mind, but right there!  I was missing out on life. I was not even present and absorbing all that was happening right in front of me!

Mindfulness-and-Busy-Life


Mindful or Mind Full Walks?

One area that I noticed I was really mentally checked out was when while walking my dog. I was dismayed to discover that I was in my head the entire time on our walk.   I found myself wandering off in my mind, thinking about so-and-so at work, planning my next day’s events, how I wish I had said blah-blah blah in that meeting, and so on.  I was pursuing my own agenda.  I was stuck in the past.  I was fixated future.

I was not fully in the present with my dog.

Eventually I noticed that while I was mentally absent, I wasn’t paying attention to my dog at all!  I wasn’t focused on what she was doing, what she was sniffing, what she was looking at, what she was reacting to, or where she was choosing to walk.  As she walked down the sidewalk sniffing and popping her head up every so often I noticed that the walk wasn’t about her at all.   The walk was about the distractions in my head.  It was about me and all the things I wanted, fretted, and worried about.  I was there with my dog physically, but my mind had left her.

She was essentially walking alone.

being fully present _dogs_pets

“Be here now.” ― Ram Dass

Where Are You?

One aspect I love to address with clients is helping them to notice where their mind wanders.  An easy way to determine their ability (or inability) to be fully present is when they are relaxing at home.   Relaxation time is an important tool.  This tool can help an animal guardian recognize “where they are” because this is the window to where their mind goes, when they can allow themselves to relax.

If they are in the habit of allowing themselves to sit down and relax for at least 20 minutes a day, then we start there.  People soon learn if they are able (or unable) to maintain focus on their animal while doing something as simple as petting them, or just sitting with them.  They can start to ask themselves questions such as, While I am petting my dog or cat, am I really focused on what’s happening right here now?  Am I distracted about what happened today or what will happen tomorrow?  Is my dog (or cat) even enjoying this? Am I?  Is what’s happening “out there” more important than my friend at my side, or in my lap?  As silly as those questions may seem, they are a window to where your mind is.

That’s the answer to where you are mentally.

If we are making time for “down time” every night, we can start to look at where our mind goes when relaxing with our pets.   If you can’t even focus on your pets while you are relaxing at home, with no distractions, how are you going to be able to focus when it gets hectic or when things go awry?  How will you be able to be fully present when they are nervous, afraid, reactive, sick or injured? 10561798_10153818917353485_4302261506518738885_n

Being able to be fully present with your pet when you are relaxing is a precursor to being fully present during more challenging times.  If you can’t mentally connect with your pet on the couch, then you certainly aren’t going to be fully present and connect with her during a walk, when she is becoming anxious, fearful, or reactive, at the veterinarian, or even during a simple training session.  Your mind will wander.  Your dog (and cat) will know and feel it.  And the negative effects of this can be enormous.


Practice Being Present. 

It takes time and practice to become fluent at anything.  It takes a concerted effort to change our habits and our reactions.  But you can practice being present! There are a number of ways that you can learn how to do this, from mediation to body awareness, but for the sake of brevity we won’t go into all of those in this post.  Instead, I’ll mention a couple of common situations that people encounter often.  In each scenario, you get to choose how to respond.

The next time your cat/dog/kid interrupts you while you are working:

  • You can stress out and become reactive to them (because you clearly have other things to worry about, and now your kid/cat/dog is adding to your worries).

OR

  • You can take a deep breath, slow down, look at them calmly, be open, be present, and be there with them.

When we choose the latter, we are shifting from our fearful and reactive mind to our conscious and loving mind.   If you can do this you will find that in that moment there is only you and them.  There is nothing else.  They get your full focus. Then you can go back to what you were doing, but you are doing it out of love.

The next time you take your dog for a walk you have two choices:

  • You can fiddle with your phone the entire time.

OR

  • You can be full present with your dog.  You can enjoy and appreciate your time together.  You can notice subtle behaviors.  You can learn where your dog enjoys sniffing, and where your dog tends to avoid. You can discover new sights, sounds, and scents with your dog. You can walk together.

Being there now, in that moment is a choice.  We get to choose this a thousand times a day.  We get to choose where we are.  We get to decide if we want to appreciate who is in front of you.  It’s in that moment where you can be grateful for that moment with him/her.  Or you can let that moment pass you by.  A thousand times  a day. It’s a choice we all get to make.

When we are fully present we are allowing their presence to be enough for us.


Their Presence is Enough. 

When we are fully present we are fully engaged.  We are saying to our loved ones, “I care enough about you to be here fully with you now.”  We are saying to them, “Nothing else is more valuable than you and me right now.”  When we are fully present we are releasing our worries, regrets, frets, and concerns.  When we are fully present with our pets, we are saying that we value their presence.  And we are saying that their presence is enough for us right then and there.

thich-nhat-hanh-presence

Being Fully Present IS a Gift.

As Conscious Companions, one of the most powerful and respectful things we can do is to be fully present with our animal companions.  When we make a conscious decision to be mindful we are giving ourselves and the ones we love a gift.  Mindfulness takes conscious and deliberate focus but the more you practice, the easier it gets, and the more joyful your life becomes. And I promise you: Your pets will feel it, too.

Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur.   It helps you to become fully engaged in activities and be more aware of everything.   It creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events when they arise.   It allows you to recognize and prevent stressful encounters, and conflicts.

I sometimes briefly look back and think about how often I was not fully present with the people and animals who I loved.  Many of them are gone now, but the ones who are still by my side will have the gift of my presence.   When I am walking with Hocus, petting Albert, brushing Knox, or listening to my husband, mother, or brother, they will have all of my focus.  My mind may wander sometimes, but I will consciously choose to come back to them.  I will remember that their presence is a gift, and my presence is my gift to them.

gift of your presence.jpg

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. – Thích Nhất Hạnh


Recommended Reading:

Active presence

Five Steps to Mindfulness

The physical, psychological, and social benefits of Mindfulness 

The Power of Pause

TTouch – a universal language and mindful way of making contact

Will It Be The Eve of Chaos or Calm?

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Sits & Sips – Enjoying a peaceful morning view and a cup of tea with my furry soulmate during the holidays

December has been a month of multicultural holiday celebrations, but the holidays ain’t over folks.

New Year’s Eve will be here in just a few days.  The question isn’t “when will it arrive?”  The question is, will it arrive at your home with a big bang, or will it arrive with grace and ease?   I can tell you honestly that New Year’s Eve will arrive at our house this year without whimpers or bangs.

But this wasn’t always so.

Festivus for Us! 

In the past, my home wasn’t calm and peaceful.  In fact, it was pretty crazy, especially this time of year.  For many years I used to host an annual New Year’s Eve party.  Friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers knew that my dojo was The Place To Go if you wanted to have a great night on New Year’s Eve.  For hours on end it was a fabulously fun FESTIVUS. People were coming and going all night. There were endless fireworks and food. Music was blasting, voices were booming, and drinks were pouring.  I threw one heck of a party.

Now I know better.

Consider every living being in your home. 

I can say with all sincerity that as much as I loved hosting for others, I know now that it was a bit selfish of me because I wasn’t thinking of everyone.  I had not considered how my housemates might have felt.  These roomies were not like most.  They didn’t speak my language.  I didn’t speak theirs at the time.  I did not consider the effects that New Year’s Eve’s shenanigans would have on them.

My roommates were the animals with whom I shared my home.


 

Despite what we often may think, animals are pretty complex creatures. They speak a different language than we do, they have quirks in their personalities that can make them quite unusual sometimes (like us humans) and they often display anxiety and discomfort in ways we don’t. -No Dog About It

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Consider Their Individual Needs. 

I can’t say that I ignored my furry, feathered, and scaly roomies’ needs when New Year’s Eve came around.  15 years ago I didn’t know their individual or species-specific needs.  I was unaware of what each animal in my home truly needed to feel safe and secure, content and stress-free when the party got started!

Many years ago I was in the old school dogs-and-dominance domain.  I knew just enough to get by.  I had a heart for fish and herps.  And I knew the basics of birds, cats, rats and rabbits.

But knowing the basics and having a heart for them wasn’t enough. -Not if they were to live long, healthy, peaceful, content, and minimally stressed lives.  Using old-school, masculine management techniques create more harm than good.  And a whole lotta love isn’t enough if we want our animal companions to flourish!

pets_conscious Companion 2016

I am who I am today because of the mistakes I made yesterday. ―The Prolific Penman


Know Their Needs. 

We all have opinions about pets.  But what do we really know to be true? Science and metaphysics are constantly discovering new and fascinating insights about animals.

Let’s look a just a few facts and stats to be aware of concerning our animal companions that will help everyone in your home move into the New Year with grace and ease:

  • Do you know how to determine when your cat is stressed?
  • Did you know that play can be a wonderful stress reliever?

Interactive Play_Cats_Fear_anxiety

  • Did you know that yawning when not sleepy,  grooming out of context, shaking off, and stretching deeply are just a few examples of displacement behavior in cats and dogs?
  • Did you know that pets and kids don’t make the best combo during celebrations?
  • Do you know why it’s important to always have stuffed, frozen bones and Kongs available?

pets_kongs_puzzle feeders_conscious Companion 2016


Behaviors that reduce fear

signs of anxiety and fear aggression cats dogs


Stress is both a physical and mental problem.


 

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    Power of Food_cat fear

     

    Science of how food helps in dog training

     

  • animal chakras_pets

     

     

     

     

    All of this matters.Especially during the holidays.


     

    Are the holidays stressful for you? Consider how it affects your animal companions. Consider how they feel.  Consider their individual needs.  I failed to do this in years past, but now that I know better, I do better.

    Now we spend New Year’s Eve cuddled and calm. We don’t throw wild parties, and if we do have friends over, we set up our home environment to ensure the animals feel safe.


    How will you spend your New Year’s Eve this year?  Will you welcome it with calmness and without fear?   My wish is that you will.  May you find comfort and peace being home with the ones you love, and may you be content being together.

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    If you would like tips on HOW to make your home safe and calm BEFORE your New Year’s Eve company arrives, and BEFORE the fireworks and festivities begin, visit here.

    pets new years eve.png

    Oh Mr. Postmaaan…

    one day the mailman is going to

     

    Our U.P.S. delivery dude is pretty hot.

    He’s also a total sweetheart.  Our mail person is adorable as well.  She sings songs so loudly from her postal vehicle I can hear her from inside my house.  It always makes me giggle and smile.  

    But what I think of our postal and package delivery people doesn’t matter; what does matter is what our dog thinks of them.

    Now that the holidays are here, I am unbelievably grateful that our dog adores the Dudes and Dudettes Who Bring the Boxes.  In fact, our dog thinks the UPS people and their big brown sleigh are hawt-doggity-dawg.

    But she didn’t always love them.

    In fact, she used to go absolutely insane when the postal people came; you would have thought our house was being invaded by a SWAT team every time the truck pulled up to our house, or when he came to the door.

    dogs barking at post man
    Is this how your dog sees the delivery people?

     

    Let’s Get A New Perspective:

    Imagine what it must feel like to your canine companion:  You are resting comfortably on your cushion in your canine castle. Then all of a sudden a loud, intrusive rumbling sound comes racing down your street.

    Rumble! Bang! Boom!  Metal clangs and rattles.  Door slams.

    You leap up from the comfort of your canine bed, wide-eyed and wildly wondering: 

    Is that thunder!??  

    Take Cover!!!  HIDE!!
    No.  Wait.  It’s just a car.

    Now the doors are slamming!!  OMG! Someone is here!!!

    I will alert my people with my canine call!!!

    They will be so glad I told them!

    WAIT. Do I know this person?!!?

    NO!  Agh!  It’s a stranger!!

    DANGER! 
    All canines on deck!!! 
    Oh noooo! He is getting out of his monster machine and coming up to our house!!! — MY CASTLE!

    Must defend my canine castle!!!

    Must alert my people more loudly!  They don’t understand the danger!

    Knock-Knock. Doorbell rings.

    AGH!!! The Chimes of Doom!   

    People …. HELP!!!!!
    Now he’s banging on the door!!!  He’s coming in! OMG! I must defend my canine castle!!!

    All life forms in your home fearfully flee the scene, or they do the opposite: They physically go after your invisibly-caped canine crusader to make her shut-the-heck-up and calm-the-heck-down.


     

    Does this sound familiar?  As chaotic as that scene sounds, it’s all too common in family homes, but it can and should be prevented. 

    We prevent this by removing fear. 

    Think about it: Everyone’s response in that moment was based on fear. If you have a cat or dog that flees (or fights) the dog when she goes nuts, it’s a behavior that stems from fear.  The other animal is either trying to keep themselves safe from the threat, or he/she is trying to eliminate the threat.   If you go after or scream at your dog when he/she is screaming at the perceived threat, you are experiencing anger (which is actually just a mask for fear).  And, anyone or animal that goes after the dog when the dog is in the middle of a full-on-freak-out, that animal or person is only adding more fear and frustration to the already out of control fire.

    Let me repeat that:  If you are reactive to your reactive dog, you are adding fear-fuel to the fear-fire. 

    Hollering and forcing a dog into a position to make them “behave” isn’t going to help.  This approach can backfire. It’s very dangerous and honestly, very irresponsible.  And it’s only teaching your dog (and any other animal or child in the house) that there is something to be afraid of when the “stranger-danger” appears.  If you are reacting angrily when your dog reacts, what are you teaching them?


     

    The flawed idea that a dog will only learn to behave through force and fear is sad and misguided, but people are still misled into thinking that these methods are the right way to go. This leads to elevated stress levels that could be avoided if time was taken to understand how dogs’ learn and how they can be taught effectively. Choice training is a beacon of hope in what is still a dominating world. -Victoria Stilwell, world-renowned humane dog trainer


     

    So, what do we do instead of screaming “SHUT UP!” or wrestling the dog away from the door or window?

    –> We teach the dog that the approaching monster man in his monster machine is A MA Z I N G, and something to look forward to! 


    Here are a few (very simplified) steps to get you started:

    1.Form a friendly relationship with your postal service people. These people have a very exhausting job this time of year, so go out of your way to have some compassion for them.  Find out their names.  Ask them how their day is going.  Maybe even ask how their family is doing.  Care about them, instead of seeing them as the people who drop off the-item-you-have-been-waiting-for-forever.  Not only is doing this a kind gesture, but it will pay off tremendously when you ask for their help with calming your chaotic canine!

     

    2. Explain to your postal person that your dog is having a hard time with him/her coming to your house.  Just take a few minutes to let them know that you are working on helping your dog to be more calm around them. They might appreciate that you are making their life easier! They may even have some suggestions or offer ways to help you.

     

    3. Ask them how they feel about dogs.  –If you know their perspective on dogs, you can know whether you need to keep your dog away from them, or allow your dog to eventually say hello calmly.  Remember that some postal people may be just as fearful of, or frustrated with dogs as your dog is to them!  Learn what their comfort level is and be respectful of it.

     

    4. Change how your dog feels about the postal people.  –Many dogs who lunge or bark have been “corrected” (punished) for their behavior.  This kind of reaction has only added to their fear or frustration.  If your dog has never been corrected in any form, congrats to you, but your dog’s fear or frustration about the postal people is still present, so we need to address it.   We do this by changing the association that the dog has with the perceived threat.  We use food to transform the dog’s negative emotions to positive emotions by pairing pleasant things with the appearance of the unpleasant thing (Mr. Postman).  When done correctly, this results in a dog who turns and looks happily and expectantly at his person as soon as the dog spies the stranger-danger that used to elicit a reactive outburst.

    Ever since Hocus became reactive (barking and going berserk) around the UPS and mailman vehicles I decided to rain down delicious treats when they approached.   Note: The key word is DELICIOUS.  Don’t grab a dog biscuit. Get the bacon, people.  

     

    Science of how food helps in dog training

     

    If we were in the house I calmly presented any one of Hocus’ favorite treats (like bacon, cheese, cat food, or chicken) to Hocus when she heard them pull up; I did this on our walks when they rumbled by; I did this when she saw them in the window; I did this anytime she heard or spied them coming.  (This video from Urban Dogs is a great example of how this can  be done outside.)  Eventually her fear and frustration turned to glad, calm anticipation.

     

    5. Change how YOU feel about your dog going berserk.  Folks, you are the adults here.  You can see the full picture.  Have compassion for your canine.  Learn to control your reaction to your dog.  Take a deep breath and remember that your dog truly believes he/she is doing their job!  Thank them for doing such a good job of letting you know the postal person is here!  Remove your frustration!  Don’t allow yourself to go into your own fear or reactivity.  That only creates more confusion, fear, and frustration.

     

    6.  Help your dog to focus on something else.   If you are inside and the monster machine arrives, tell your dog you will take over from here, and ask them to focus on something else that they do really well.  We call this an incompatible behavior.  Identify a behavior that’s incompatible with, or cannot occur at the same time as, the problem behavior. For example, your dog can’t be at the door barking if she’s going to get her favorite toy.

    My husband and I (literally) say, “Hocus, you did a great job letting us know they’re here.  We will take over from here.  You are safe. We are all safe!  Now go get your Kong and bring it to me!”.   Once she brings us the Kong or squeaky toy, she gets rewarded with something that will keep her attention and focus for a while  (usually via frozen stuffed Kong or pig ear).

    Remember to stay calm. Take deep breaths!  Be easy.  Think about what you want your dog to do instead!  By the way, “not barking” doesn’t count. What could your dog be taught to do instead of her self-assigned job of Caped Canine Crusader?  Be playful and easy about all of this while helping your dog to move her energy into something healthier, and more peaceful and fun!

     

    7. Ask the postal people for their permission. If they are comfortable with it, and you have already been working on counter conditioning your dog to the sights and sounds of them from a distance, bring your dog out on a secure leash and harness. Then offer irresistible treats to your dog.  You don’t need to be close to the postal person at this point.  Merely standing on the doorstep while they are at the street can be too much for some dogs.   Just let your dog see them while you offer the tasty treats.

     

    food for dogs anxiety and fear

     

    8.  Ask the postal people for their participation. Not only is our UPS dude a hottie, but he is well prepared for pooches.  He has a huge bag of dog treats that he drives around with, ready to offer to dogs at the houses he visits.  All of the dogs on our block love him!  All the pups know that whenever a package arrives, a treat will be arriving too!  Our dog learned very quickly that the stranger-danger coming to the door was not only bringing a boxed goodie for her people, but she gets goodies too!

     

     

    9.  Make safety a priority.   Always err on the side of caution, and if you are not sure about these steps, hire a force-free professional to help you. If your dog is displaying aggressive behavior, please consult a force-free animal behavior consultant .  Don’t try to fix this on your own.

     

    NOTE:  Hocus Pocus is not aggressive towards humans.  She absolutely adores people, but can become quite frustrated and vocal when she cannot get to the person.  She has a history of reactivity to loud, unexpected sounds, and to some dogs.


     

    dogs and mailman_pets and UPS man_reactive dogs_conscious Companion

     

    Don’t let the fear of the postal people be the Fear Grinch that steals your holiday cheer.  Show your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of.  Teach your dog that all is well, and that he/she is safe.

    🎄Merry Christmas and Holiday Blessings to you and yours! ⛄❄️

     


     

    Recommended Reading 

     

     

    King Albert The Grey

    King Albert the Grey

    In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.

    I don’t know any gods in this life, but I know a king.

    He is a good king.  This king does not live in a palace made of stone and ivory.   He does not sit on a throne made of jewels and gold.  His throne is any place that he claims in his palace.  This king rules every being in his palace.  He does not rule with an iron fist, but with calm assuredness.  This king’s palace is our home.  This king is wise, brave, and handsome above all others.  This king’s name is King Albert The Grey.  He is our feline companion.  He is my teacher.  And today is his 15th birthday.

    All Things Grey

    Just so you know, we don’t walk around referring to our grey cat as “King Albert The Grey!” (with trumpets sounding in the background).   However, when the feline veterinary specialists call him by his full name we don’t correct them, because it’s hilarious to hear them say it so seriously.

    But to Albert, things in his world are quite serious.

    Albert is not known for being goofy and playful.  Anyone who knows him views him more like a military general, a mini grey panther, or a wee grey grizzly bear.   Albert is fierce.  But he is also fiercely devoted and unconditionally loving to those he trusts.  He is one of a kind.  He is our magnificent grey cat.

    As Albert turned 15 years of age today he moved out of the “senior” years and moved into the “geriatric” years.  This has been a very challenging time.  It has also been a miraculous and life changing time for both me and Albert.  Although most people assume that senior and geriatric cats are in the “grey area” of life where things fade and waste away, Albert is proving otherwise.

    As I reflected on what he is teaching us, and the many grey areas of life, I started to wonder about the color of grey.  I wondered about the symbolism of Albert’s grey coloring; could the color of grey have a deeper meaning?

    People understand what the color grey is, but most are unaware of this color’s role throughout history.

    Grey.  ɡrā/
    1. of a color intermediate between black and white

    synonyms: silvery, silver-gray, gunmetal, slate, charcoal, smoky

    • In Etymology- Grey comes from the Middle English grai or grei, from

      Griselda_chaucer
      Griselda, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, is known for her patience despite her suffering, and takes her name from the color grey.

      the Anglo-Saxon graeg, and is related to the German grau. The first recorded use of grey as a color name in language was in AD 700.

    • In History and Art –In the Middle Ages grey was the color of undyed wool, and therefore was the color most commonly worn by peasants.
    • In Literature – the character Cinderella takes her name from the color of cinders (ashes).
    • In Military – During the American Civil War, the soldiers of the Confederate Army wore grey uniforms. This was (and still is) the color of the uniform of cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.
    • In Religion – In Christian religion grey is the color of ashes, and a biblical symbol of mourning and repentance used during Lent or on days of fasting and prayer.  Grey was reputed to be the color of the clothing of Jesus Christ, and for that reason is the color worn by monks of the Cistercian and Franciscan as a symbol of their vows humility, modesty, and poverty. Buddhist monks and priests in Japan and Korea often wear a sleeved grey, brown, or black outer robe. Taoist priests in China also often wear grey.
    • In the Animal World –  Grey is a very common color for species ranging from whales to mice.  Gray provides a natural camouflage and allows animals to blend with their surroundings.
    • In the Human World – The substance that composes the brain is sometimes referred to as grey matter, or “the little grey cells”, so the color grey is associated with all things intellectual.

      elves
      Scandinavian folklore depicts gnomes & nisser in grey clothing.
    • In Folklore – Grey is often associated with goblins, elves, and other legendary wise creatures.  This is partly because of their association with dusk, as well as because these creatures were said to be outside of traditional moral standards of black and white.

    44b5569dfb0e2ceba1f828a70c594920

    The writer J. R. R. Tolkien made use of the folkloric symbolism of grey in his works, which draw upon Scandinavian folkloric names and themes. Gandalf is called the Grey Pilgrim; settings include the Grey Havens and Ered Mithrin, the grey mountains; and characters include the Grey Elves.

    • In Fashion – During the 19th century, Paris and

      cary grant
      The 1950s & 1960s were the age of glory for grey suits, worn by movie stars and President Kennedy

      London set the fashion for women and men. The intent of a business suit was above all to show seriousness, and to show one’s position in business and society.  To reflect this, bright colors disappeared and were replaced by a dark charcoal grey frock coat in winter, and lighter greys in summer.

    • In Society – Grey is most commonly associated in many cultures with the elderly because of the association with grey hair. It symbolizes the wisdom and dignity that come with experience and age.

     

    King Albert The Grey
    Albert in his excellent grey suit – He is not a monk, a soldier, or a movie star, but he is quite dignified.


    Why I Celebrate The King of Grey

    Albert could probably care less about those fun facts about the color grey, but they do shed light on the color of grey and its influence in the world over the centuries.  And  I was surprised to discover that much of the symbolism of grey is relevant to our King Albert the Grey!

    There are so many things I could be doing with my time today, but I chose to share with you the many reasons why I celebrate Albert.  My hope is that you might come to see one of your beloveds in a new light.

    Geriatric Senior Cats _conscious Companion_king Albert

    A King Who Rules Many Kingdoms.   

    grey skies
    Grey skies over our house today, on King Albert the Grey’s 15th birthday

    Anyone who knows Albert understands that he pretty much rules the house. He’s not bossy, but all of the other animals –  and even the humans – recognize his status.    He has the air of a king!  This morning when I woke I was not surprised to find that the sun had disappeared.  It was not gone, but merely clouded over by deep, soulful grey skies.  Today, after all, is King Albert The Grey’s birthday, so the skies reflected his day of birth.  King Albert controls pretty much everything in our home (Ahem, I mean, his palace), so of course he controls the skies as well!  Such is the life of a King.

    A King Who Makes No Apologies 

    One of the best qualities about Albert is his ability to never feel guilty or remorse for his choices.  What a lesson in life that is for us humans!  Albert sees his options, and makes a decision without wavering.  He stands firm and moves forward.  There is never a doubt in his mind.  He does not see right and wrong. He knows what works, what feels good, and what does not.  He does not allow the meager human trappings of obligation and guilt to guide him.  He makes conscious deliberate decisions that work for him.

    “Guilt” isn’t in cat vocabulary.  They never suffer remorse for eating too much, sleeping too long or hogging the warmest cushion in the house. They welcome every pleasurable moment as it unravels and savour it to the full until a butterfly or falling leaf diverts their attention. They don’t waste energy counting the number of calories they’ve consumed or the hours they’ve frittered away sunbathing.  Cats don’t beat themselves up about not working hard enough. They don’t get up and go; they sit down and stay.  Relaxation is an art form.  From their vantage points on top of fences and window ledges, they see the treadmills of human obligations for what they are – a meaningless waste of nap time.― Helen Brown, Cleo

    A King Who Knows What He Wants

    Albert knows what his body wants. He knows what his body needs.  I now know this from the energy healing sessions, communications, and the many feline veterinary visits that we have been experiencing together.   He is wise in this way.  He knows what will aggravate, or help his medical conditions. He openly communicates this to us, when we ask.

    Albert also does what he wants, when he wants, and not a moment sooner.  And when he wants something he asks for it without hesitation. These are invaluable lessons that I have learned from him!

    Conscious Companion_senior Cats _copyright 2016
    King Albert enjoying a few minutes of stretches and sunshine on his prescribed walkabout to help with arthritis and other physical challenges

     


    He liked companionship, but he wouldn’t be petted, or fussed over, or sit in anyone’s lap a moment; he always extricated himself from such familiarity with dignity and with no show of temper.  If there was any petting to be done, however, he chose to do it. Often he would sit looking at me, and then, moved by a delicate affection, come and pull at my coat and sleeve until he could touch my face with his nose, and then go away contented. ~Charles Dudley Warner

    A King Who Requires Respect and Boundaries

    There is no forcing Albert to do anything.  This is another valuable lesson for anyone who wants to deepen the trust and bond between an animal and person.  Forcing him to do anything will not end well for anyone.  Respect and boundaries are a must.  He has taught me so much about what healthy boundaries are and how to set and maintain them.


     

    In the middle of a world that had always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence. ~Rosanne Amberson

    A King Who Walks with Confidence 

    My Cherokee ancestors knew (and remembered) to call upon the spirit or energy of an animal for whom they needed help, guidance, or inspiration.  If one needed leadership they might call upon the energy of  mountain lion.  If one wished to invoke the energy of grounding forces and strength, they might call on bear.  We refer to this energy as an animal’s “medicine.”  In fact, even our domesticated cats have this medicine!  Some of their medicine includes: independence, healing, curiosity, many lives, magic, cleverness, seeing the unseen, dreaming, protection, and Love.

    As the above quote alludes to, this world can be quite mad.  More than once in my life I was inspired to call on the energy of King Albert the Grey.  At the time I was nervous, scared, intimidated, and wavering in my thoughts.  I was shaking and so unsure of myself.

    You might be wondering why I would call on a domestic cat when I was feeling those emotions, instead of a bear or puma.  I can explain.  At the time we shared a home with four cats.  None of them could offer what Albert’s energy could do.   Albert walks with confidence.  So much so that Albert has always felt more “bear” than feline.  He has the same confident predatory energy of the jaguars and cougars I once cared for.  His energy is like that of a lion.  In fact, he has always felt more like an actual king than a cat.  

    This has always been so.  Ever since the day I first met him (as he was sneaking into my window one afternoon) he was beaming with calm confidence and unwavering focus and guiltless determination.  Even at 15  years of age, with his current health challenges, Albert exudes this same confidence and stability.  He radiates regal authority.  He rules our house with calm assuredness.  He teaches us with patience and compassion. This energy was exactly the kind of energy I needed that day. And the most amazing part is that I felt his energy as soon as I called upon him.

    Animal Totems Susan Seddon Boulet
    To the ancients, all animals had a sacred and spiritual meaning. The tribal healers knew the animal spirits well.  Each one offered their unique energy to anyone who called upon them.   Image from “Shaman: The paintings of Susan Seddon Boulet”

    A King Who Heals and Teaches

    Albert has introduced me to ideas and experiences that I never thought were possible.  Because of the healing and communication work that we have been doing together, our bond is stronger than it has ever been. Our relationship is deeper than I had ever expected, (or even wanted to have with him).  There is peace and harmony in our home because he is at peace.  Even with the health challenges he is currently facing, he is more alive and more vibrant than ever before.  While he is healing he is teaching us all.

    Albert_Senior Cats _conscious Companion_just cats clinic
    Offering Albert love and support while we were at the feline specialist last month

    A King Who Waits Patiently and Allows

    Another reason I humbly and excitedly celebrate King Albert today is because of the immense gratitude I feel for him.  What he has taught me this year has caused me to be (and I don’t use this phrase flippantly) … in total awe of him.  I am privileged to see Albert in a whole new light.  I thought I knew him before, but what I thought I knew of him were mere labels I had placed on him.  Now I see him.  I understand him.  I feel as if he has been waiting for me to listen to him, to see him, and allow everything to unfold perfectly. He is such a gift in our lives.

    unnamed (2)

    Today we honor and celebrate your life, King Albert!  May the next 15 years be full of love, healing, and vibrant joy!  May your heart only know peace.  May you age gracefully.  May you always feel loved.

    We love you, King Bear.

    P.S. Thank you for allowing me to spend so much time on this post, instead of making you those birthday “catcakes” that I promised you.  Your patience will pay off quite deliciously in the near future, Albert!  =^..^=


     

    Have challenging times brought you and your beloved closer? Have circumstances in life helped you to see your animal companion from another perspective?  How have they inspired or changed you? I would love to hear your story!

     

    Honoring a King, Whose Death Sparked Outrage Around the World

    All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. – Chief Seattle

    Cecil the Lion

    I was deeply saddened and angered today when I learned of another senseless and preventable death.  His name is Cecil. He was a 13 year young African male lion (Panthera leo).  Cecil was a regal male who was breeding and helping to increase Africa’s lion populations.  Cecil was -and remains- a symbol of strength, beauty, and courage. Cecil was in the prime of his life just weeks ago.

    His body was found decapitated and skinned outside of his preserve earlier this month.

    This Was Not an Honorable Death

    According the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a charity which focuses on the conservation and preservation of wildlife in the southern African country, Cecil was lured from the safety of the private safari across an old railway line, which acts as an invisible boundary, onto hunting lands.  It was here where the hunters were waiting to take advantage. They used a goat carcass to bait Cecil onto their land -an all too common and dirty practice seen throughout Africa.

    Cecil was then shot with a crossbow in the Gwaai concession about 1,100 yards from the protection of the national park. Cecil did not die immediately; it took two days to track the lion and kill him with a rifle.  Cecil was then skinned and his head was removed as a trophy.  They left his body there to rot.

    Hwange conservation consortium says this hunt was illegal.

    Although it is legal to kill Big Game such as lions, giraffe, elephants in some of these areas, the hunters claim they had not realized who this lion was: “It was a magnificent, mature lion,” they said.  “We did not know it was well-known lion.  I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.”

    Apparently, there were other irregularities in the hunt which are being investigated, including the fact that in the Gwaai Conservancy no lion hunting quota was issued for 2015, and the GPS collar on Cecil was destroyed by the hunters.

    Cecil was wounded by a crossbow and arrow, and then killed, skinned and decapitated 40 hours later


    Cecil Was a Part of a Conservation Research Program.

    When he was killed, Cecil was wearing a GPS-collar.  A team of researchers in Hwange National Park have been conducting an ongoing study on behalf of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University since 1999.  It’s been an ongoing ecological study of African lions in Hwange.  They are measuring the impact of sport-hunting beyond the park on the lion population within the park, using radio-telemetry and direct observation.  The research they have gathered to date is startling.

    34 of 62 tagged lions died during the study period; 24 were shot by sport hunters.  These sport hunters killed 72 percent of tagged adult males from the study area. This caused a decline in numbers of adult males in the population.


    Cecil’s Prides

    Conservationists are concerned that by killing Cecil, his death leaves as many as 12 cubs vulnerable to infanticide by male lions who will assume leadership of Cecil’s prides. (Males commonly kill the cubs of ousted pride leaders so that they may sire their offspring with the females they inherit.)  Cecil was in coalition with another male lion, Jericho.  Between them they had two prides that consisted of six lionesses, and about a dozen cubs.

    Cecil lion cubs pride

    Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe, but because now his cubs will die too; a new male won’t allow them to live, to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate.  Hunting predators on the boundaries of national parks such as Hwange causes significant disturbance and knock-on effects such as infanticide when new males entered the prides.  As a single male, Jericho will be unable to defend the two prides and cubs from new males that invade the territory. This is what we most often see happening in these cases. Infanticide is the most likely outcome.

     -Dr. Andrew Loveridge


     Cecil the African Lion in Hwange, Zimbabwe

    The video below shows Cecil, like many of the species in the area, enjoying life on the preserve with his family.

    Footage of Cecil with one of his prides

    Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.
    Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.


    Lions Are Complex.

    A recent study conducted on the socio-spatial behavior of lion population following the perturbation by sport hunting shows that there’s growing evidence that lion populations which are socially disrupted may be more prone to coming into conflict with human communities on the boundaries of protected areas.  They believe this is largely because movement patterns become erratic and lions are more likely to leave the park.

    “These cats are complex, which is why disturbance of their social system has such far reaching knock-on effects.” – Dr. Loverage


    Lions By the Numbers

    • 600 lions are killed by tourists each year.
    • Lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range.
    • Lions are listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
    • In West and Central Africa, the species is now classified as Endangered.
    • Lions exist today in 29 countries, including 28 countries in Africa and 1 country in Asia.
    • Illegal killing, relentless habitat loss, and over hunting of wild prey by humans have left lions precariously close to extinction.
    • Kenya loses 100 of its 2,000 wild lions every year due to killing by humans.
    • At this rate, lion experts believe there will be no wild lions left in Kenya by 2030.
    • 100 years ago there were 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa. Today there are fewer than 30,000.
    • Lions are extinct in 26 countries.

    The premature death of this lion highlights a sobering reality: lion populations are in catastrophic decline across Africa. A century ago, more than 200,000 lions roamed the continent; yet recent surveys estimate that in the last two decades alone, lion numbers have decreased from approximately 30,000 to around 20,000. –Panthera

    Africa’s Lions Face a Tri-Fold Threat:

    1. Retaliatory persecution by herders and farmers
    2. Dramatic loss and fragmentation of habitat
    3. Scarcity of wild prey due to overhunting by hu­mans.

    lion
    Graphic from Panthera

    Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger. – Dr. Guy Balme, Panthera’s Leopard Program Director


    Weighing In

    Below are recent statements from sport hunters and conservationists in the area where Cecil resided.

    Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides AssociationJuly 23 at 10:33am ·

    “Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority, are currently still conducting an investigation on the legalities of the hunt that took place and for which they are the appropriate authority to do so. We therefore can not and will not comment on the legal aspect, whilst this investigation is ongoing. ZPHGA are working together with ZPWMA and Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ).  ZPHGA confirms the Professional Hunter in charge of the Safari is a member of ZPHGA. Therefore ZPHGA can make a ruling on the aspect of ethics and his membership at this time.  ZPHGA in the follow up of the investigation concludes that in regarding the responsibility of his membership, the PH was is in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA.  ZPHGA therefore with immediate effect, suspend his membership indefinitely.  The professional hunter and company he works for have been co-operative in the investigation.  ZPHGA re-iterates it will not tolerate any illegal hunting or any unethical practices by any of its members and their staff. ZPHGA will await the completion of the current investigation by ZPWMA before commenting any further.  We ask all members of ZPHGA, as well as the general public, to please respect the ongoing investigation underway by the appropriate authorities ZPWMA.”

    ——

    Bhejane Trust  July 23 at 1:58am · An update on the killing of Cecil, the famed Hwange lion.

    “The PH, Theo Bronkhurst, and the concession “owner”, one Honest Mpofu, were arrested and appeared in Hwange Magistrate court on the charge of illegally killing a lion. According to sources, there was no permit for lion on their hunt, and the concession area (Antionette) does not have any lion on quota. They have been remanded out of custody until August 6th. so Parks can continue their investigations.  Cecil was shot at night, no doubt after being blinded with a spotlight, undoubtedly over a bait which would have been dragged along the Parks boundary (supposedly for a leopard!) – indicative of the poor ethics and the poor quality hunter that we see too often these days. Undoubtedly, the PH intended to do a “quota transfer” where Cecil would have been recorded as shot in another area which had a quota and permit – the satellite collar blew the plan ( although Bronkhurst apparently tried to destroy the collar and all evidence of the dead Cecil). Had this lion not been collared, Bronkhurst probably would have got away with this crime, and I very much doubt this is the first dodgy episode in his hunting career.   Lets hope that corruption does not prevail and the full force of the law falls on both these characters – we do not need these types operating in Zimbabwe.”

    Latest update on Cecil’s killing, July 28:

    JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY ZIMBABWE PARKS AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND SAFARI OPERATORS ASSOCIATION OF ZIMBABWE ON THE ILLEGAL HUNT OF A COLLARED LION AT ANTOINETTE FARM, HWANGE DISTRICT ON 1 JULY 2015 IN GWAYI CONSERVANCY BY BUSHMAN SAFARIS

    “Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris is facing criminal charges (VIC FALLS Police CR 27/07/2015) for allegedly killing a collared lion on Antoinette farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015. The lion named ‘Cecil’ was well known and regularly sighted by tourists in the Main camp area of Hwange National Park. It is alleged that the hunter connived with the Antoinette land owner, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu to kill the lion. Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges.  Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.   Both professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst’s licence number 553 who was involved in the hunt and the owner of Antoinette farm, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion. The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Efforts are being made to interview the other professional hunter, Zane Bronkhorst, licence number 558, who was also involved in the illegal hunt. The Professional Hunter Theo Bronkhosrt’s Licence has been suspended with immediate effect. The lion trophy has also been confiscated. The relevant stakeholders have been informed and are being updated about this matter.”

    Cecil the Lion
    Cecil in his prime


    Cecil Is Not the Exception. 

    The premeditated killing of Cecil is tragic and heartbreaking.  People all around the world are in shock.  But be aware, friends: This situation is not the exception, but rather the rule all around the world.  American hunters kill hundreds of African lions each year. – 600 in fact. That’s almost 2 per day.  Poaching, sport hunting, illegal animal trade, and everything between happens every day.  Most people don’t know about it until a story like Cecil’s strikes a deep nerve.

    The loss of Cecil is absolutely reprehensible, and sadly, this case is not an anomaly. Many people around the world are unaware that what happened to this lion is happening all over Africa, dozens of times a day. Illegal killing of lions is a real threat to the species’ survival. If we are to save the lion, the international community must come together, as it has in support of Cecil, to fund conservation initiatives that are mitigating the species’ greatest threats. -Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter

    A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species
    A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species

    We are all outraged today because an iconic animal and protected species was lured out of his sanctuary and murdered for sport, but this kind of business has been, and continues to happen in every country in the world.  And what’s really happening is a much greater problem than we are willing to recognize and admit.  Killing for sport, trophies, profit, and fun is happening within younger generations.  We are even seeing young girls being encouraged to hunt and kill for the thrill of taking life.

    Cecil’s story has gone viral within hours, but there are countless other species whose lives have ended for much less profit; species far less iconic and less “attractive” than Cecil.  Whether it’s critically endangered species such as the Blue Iguana, Pangolin, or Northern white rhino, people are treating all species as if their lives don’t matter.

    The team of hunters who killed Cecil are going to be prosecuted, but honestly, I am not focused on blaming this guy and his hunting team in particular, because there are a thousand more rich Americans who are willing to do what he did, and they do it legally every day.  In fact, while we all mourned Cecil’s death, 5 of Kenya’s endangered elephants were killed.  This is insanity to me.

    I have to ask,  Where is the disconnect?  

    When did honor and dignity of life become so undervalued?  

    How did we become so disconnected from the other lives with whom we share this planet?  

    How are so many of us behaving unconsciously?  

    Where is the compassion and connection? 

    Big 5: Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to bag the Big 5 African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion)
    Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to “bag the Big 5” African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and lion)


    May Cecil’s Death Shed Light On Our Darkness …. and Our Ability to Love.

    Conservationists are heavily involved in working to stop this illegal (and legal) activity.  These people and organizations are incredibly passionate and dedicated, but they have their work cut out for them.  I know because I have been involved with various conservation projects for decades.  In the process  I have witnessed incredible people doing amazing things to save species and conserve lands, but I have also witnessed more ugliness, greed, disdain, complacency, and tragedies than I care to recall.

    Along the way I learned something: When we are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the world that surrounds us, people can easily do what we have witnessed with Cecil.

    Understanding this fact has helped me to rise above the disgust, anger, and judgement that I initially feel.   When I see blatant disregard and respect for life I am urged to look at the situation from a broader perspective.

    Once I get the anger and sadness out, I am free to be able to ask, What can be learned from this?  How can we grow from this?  How can we guide and inspire others to respect all life?  It’s not enough to be angry and judge “the people who did this”, or merely want things to change.  We have to do more.

    Change Begins with Each of Us.

    If you want to see change, look within.  Once we look within and are honest with ourselves we are better equipped to make a real difference out there in the world.  This current situation with beloved Cecil is an opportunity for that.

    If we want to end this kind of heartless and disconnected behavior around the world, we must ask ourselves tough questions:

    What are we looking away from that needs to be discussed?

    Are we idly sitting by and allowing this to happen?

    Where can we take productive and meaningful action?

    Have I done something like this to another species?

    How can we remove the hate and prejudices that blind us?

    Am I  withholding love to anyone or any form of life?  

    Have I taken any specie’s life without forethought?

    Am I disconnected from others?

    Am I disconnected and from nature?

    How can we maintain and enhance our connection to all life?

    How can I become more connected?

    How can we remove judgement and blame and find solutions?

    How can we infuse Love into situations like these?

    How can we do our part to protect species and the Earth?

    How can we encourage children to appreciate all people and all species of life?

    What are we teaching our children?

    Before we judge anything outside of us, before we throw hate, anger, and blame at others, we must look within.  


    Honoring Cecil

    Cecil’s death has inspired millions of people to see things from a different perspective, and to take action around the ongoing global issue of animal abuse. His death has shined light on how disconnected so many are from our fellow travelers on planet Earth.   Cecil, thank you for bringing awe, joy, and awareness into countless people’s lives while you were here with us.  Thank you for the lessons that you continue to teach us.  May your soul be at peace.  May the circumstances of your death be the catalyst for change.  May all nations learn from this.  May one day, we all see every living being as our kin.

    Cecil the Lion
    Be at peace, brother.

    I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.  -David Suzuki 


    Recommended Related Reading

    As the world mourned Cecil the lion, five of Kenya’s endangered elephants were slain 

    Rich American tourists kill hundreds of lions each year, and it’s all legal. 

    The State of the Lion.

    –> Project Leonardo: Saving Africa’s Lions

    –> How you can help Lions right now

    –> Panthera and WildCRU Call for Global Efforts to Conserve the African Lion

    Petitioning CEO, Delta Air Lines and 4 others to End the Transport of Exotic Animal Hunting Trophies

    Wanna Get to Second Base? Go Slow and Steady, Babe.

     I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either. Nobody goes faster than the legs they have.  If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant. ― The Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro

    Black cats_cat training

    Are you a patient person?  Do you take your time with things? Do you want more than you need?

    I am not very patient some days.  I rush into things sometimes, and my natural tendency is to get greedy when it comes to animal training.  But I have learned to go slow and to be patient.  I have learned to be grateful and satisfied with small successes.  I would like to share one of them with you.


    My mentor and friend, Secret, teaching the sea lions how to paint
    My mentor and friend, Secret, teaching the sea lions how to paint

    Way back in the day when I was at the Audubon Nature Institute, one of my mentors (and my housemate) was the head animal trainer.  When I was making progress with an animal at work or at home she used to calmly tell me, “Don’t be a greedy trainer, Amy. Stop when you’re ahead.”

    I always grunted when I heard that advice, but I knew she was right.  In fact, she was always right when it came to animal training.  She was one of those brilliant trainers that always had a solution to a problem.  She could create and maintain the most complicated chains of behavior. She was famous for creating long lasting bonds with every animal (and person) she worked with.  She always trained and taught without fear or intimidation.  And she was the trainer who make the greatest advances with any animal she worked with.  I learned so much from her.

    Now decades later her advice still rings true when I am working with a client or with our animals at home. – especially cats.


    If you wanna get to second base, let them set the pace. 

    If you have lived or worked with cats you know that they set the pace.  If you have not worked with cats before, know this: When you decide to set the pace and push too fast you will fail.  You will both end up becoming frustrated and stressed.  You might even get injured in the process, too.  And then finally, you loose the cat’s trust.

    It pays to go slow.

    I like to think of going slow with cats as moving from first base to second base, and then eventually onto a home run. I set up our training sessions this way. First base might be the cat letting you hold his paw. Second base might be the cat letting you lift his paw, then touch his paw with nail clippers. Third base would be touching, holding, and then applying gentle pressure with the nail clippers to the actual nail. Home run is a full nail clip.

    I’ll explain why I like to move through the bases slowly.

    For over a decade I watched numerous veterinarians push my cats well past the point of no return.  One cat in particular, Mr. Beaux, would become so stressed at the vet’s office, he had to be netted (yes, caught in a net).  Then heavily sedated. They had to do this to even look at him.  I watched Beaux break free of leather muzzles, attack people, climb a metal wall (yes, you read that right) and knock heavy computers off counters in the examination room.

    We don’t take that route at home, or at the vet’s office anymore.  I know better now.  Working with any animal should not be a wrestling match.

    Now we go slow.  We let the animal set the pace. We let the animal say when they are done. And we make progress together while building trust.

    I’ll show you how we do this in the short video.  But before you watch, I need to explain something:  Beaux lost all trust in people. No one could touch his ears, mouth, or feet after all of the many manhandling encounters at various vet’s offices. You couldn’t touch him in any of these areas without him becoming very aggressive.

    I had to rebuild his trust.  This is how I did it. 

    After several short, positive sessions like that, Beaux will now let me trim all of his nails while staying relaxed.  It’s something I never thought was possible!  By going slowly and letting Beaux set the pace I was able to build his trust.  By rewarding him for calm behavior with something he finds valuable and rewarding, he learned to enjoy the process and no longer feel threatened. By ending the session when he was done he was more willing to participate the next time.


    A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.― Ernest Hemingway


    Another one of our feline family members has learned that nail trim time can be a very Good Thing!  You can see us in action here: Fear-Free Feline “Pawdicure”


    Husbandry with any species shouldn’t be stressful.
    Some common habits of grooming cats can get in the way of success:
    ♦️we ask too much.
    ♦️we don’t know when the cat is beginning to feel stressed.
    ♦️we proceed to quickly.
    ♦️we don’t allow choice.
    ♦️we haven’t built up trust.
    ♦️we forget to reinforce.
    ♦️we aren’t using reinforcers the cat prefers.
    ♦️we create over arousal.


    Tips to Remember when you are first learning how to safely trim your cat’s nails at home:

    • GO SLOW!  It’s very tempting to want to move forward quickly when things are going well, but you will make far more progress by going slow and steady.
    • Set aside the temptation to get “greedy” and want to do more. Be happy with one tiny step that you make together! This way you can both enjoy the process.
    • By letting your cat set the pace you are gaining his/her trust.
    • By going slow, you learn to be respectful of your cat’s body language and what their comfort level is that day. Maybe the next time you can get 2 nails clipped!
    • It takes time to build trust, especially if you cat has been FORCED to have his/her nails trimmed in the past and it was traumatic for them!
    • Why rush the process when you can go further in the long run by building trust and creating a stress free, positive experience for both you and your cat?

     Recommended Related Reading 

    Our Brothers and Sisters

    The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension 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 splendor and travail of the earth.    ~ Henry Beston

    compassion_animals_soulful_pets souls

    Having a blog allows me to share my thoughts, experiences, and opinions with the world.  I have finally arrived at the point in my life where I will no longer hold back what I feel and experience out of fear that it might offend someone or make them uncomfortable.  I am going to share what moves me, what inspires me, and what frustrates me.  People don’t have to agree, like what I say, or give me a loud amen, but my hope is that people will listen and consider the ideas that I feel compelled and inspired to share here.

    So here goes.

    Yesterday was Independence Day here in America.  People in every city all over the United States were celebrating and honoring our Nation’s birthday in their preferred way, and our neighbors to the north just wrapped up their celebrations of Canada Day.  We live just outside our Nation’s Capital, so you can imagine how extravagant and far reaching the festivities here can be. We had plans to get up-close and personal to the big display downtown, but decided at the last minute to stay home because a number of factors.

    I am glad we did.

    Although it was relatively quiet all day in our neighborhood, there were some loud celebratory 4th of July explosions around our town when the sun went down. They lasted well into the night.  Considering the disruptive and startling nature of fireworks, the animals in our home did really well.  I spent most of the night helping them to feel safe and counterconditioning them to the Big Bad Booms.

    As things finally settled down in our town, we all settled in for the night.  It was then that I became very frustrated and upset with something I saw unfolding on social media.

    Countless strangers, friends, acquaintances, and various connections on social media sites shared pictures from all around the world of their cats, dogs, parrots, rabbits, ferrets, etc. being scared out of their minds because of the fireworks.  I saw dogs shaking and trembling in bathtubs, cats crouching in terror under chairs, and parrots terrified in their cages.  As I was sadden to see SO MANY ANIMALS IN SUCH PANIC AND TERROR, I was even more saddened to see people taking pictures of this and posting them!

    Let me be clear: These people weren’t asking for help or advice.  They were making sarcastic comments about how their pet “wasn’t feeling patriotic” or that “he needs a drink”.  Rather than helping their pets cope with the assault on their senses, they were sharing their pet’s misery with the world.

    Most would claim that these pet owners weren’t being cruel to their pets, and maybe they had other harmless intentions that I am unaware of, but what I saw begs this question: Would you take a picture of your grandmother or child while she was cowering in the corner, experiencing real terror and fear?  Would you take a snapshot of your mother panicking and post in on social media?

    You wouldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  Who would?

    So why are we doing this to the animals we claim to love so much?

    I believe it’s because there is a disconnect – a missing link – between people and their animals.

    I see this disconnect manifested in a dad who calls me to “fix his dog.”  I see the disconnect in the young woman who tells me she’s “going to kick the cat outside for good if I can’t stop it from pissing everywhere.”   I see the disconnect in the countless parrots that are abandoned at shelters and zoos.  I see this disconnect in the people who release their pet rabbits into the wild because they are “too much work.”

    This disconnect is why people give up so easily on their pets.  It’s why people find it easier to euthanize than understand, and then compromise with their pets.  It’s why we see animal cruelty even in the most subtle forms all over the world.

    This disconnect is deeply damaging.


    I have to ask:

    How did we become so deeply disconnected from the animals we share our homes with?

    How is it 2015, and we still see a dog as just a dog, a cat as just a cat, and any other animal companion as just a pet?

    Where is our compassion, empathy, and understanding?

    Where is the meaningful, soulful connection?


    This post isn’t meant to berate, judge, or condemn people who are disconnected from their animal companions. I am asking tough questions and bringing up something that I hope people will consider and ask themselves.  My goal is to encourage pet owners (and dog trainers, veterinary technicians, veterinarians, zoo keepers, aquarists, and other animal care professionals) to really take a hard and honest look at how they view, treat, and respond to the animals under their care.

    Although it deeply frustrates and saddens me, I can understand the disconnect, because I’ve lived it.  Well over a decade ago I saw animals as something separate from me.  I failed to recognize their universal connection to me that my Cherokee ancestors understood.  As a child, religion taught me that humans are the superior species and that all animals were here for “human purposes”, but somehow, I think somewhere deep inside my heart, I knew this was not true.

    Now, from personal and professional experiences, I see their suffering, their joy, their depth, and who they really are.  I see them as species living along side of us, in a world of their own; a world that is just as meaningful and dear to them as we view our world. Their lives are no less than ours. Their souls are as infinite as our own.  Their lives are just as valuable.

    We are the earth, made of the same stuff; there is no other, no division between us and “lower” or “higher” forms of being.  – Lauder

    It took countless difficult (and beautiful) experiences for me to see all animals as our brothers and sisters in this world.  This requires questioning what we have been taught.  It requires looking deeply at our personal beliefs that have never been challenged.  It also requires a great deal of inner reflection at who we are as a person.

    I learned that when we are open to, and compassionate about our own suffering in life, this allows us greater strength and courage to recognize the suffering of others, and to fully embrace it – instead of looking away or dismissing it with laughter and jokes.  This includes the animals we are guardians of in our professional and personal lives.

    Compassion requires both openness and equanimity. As we practice opening to and coming close to the suffering in our own lives with compassion, we then have greater strength and courage to be with the suffering of others. – Awakening Compassion in Ourselves


    I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on all of this.  Have you felt a disconnect with an animal companion at some point in your life?  What helped you to bridge that gap and connect more deeply?  Are you still feeling disconnected? Are you willing to make a deeper connection?  I ask because I really do understand this feeling and frustration. I have been there many times, over many years.  I ask because I genuinely want to see people and animals form a lifelong, deeply enriching and life changing bond.  It’s there.  It’s available to all of us.  We just have to open our hearts.

    When we understand that all animals are our relatives, perhaps then we will treat them as our brothers and sisters. ~ A.D. Williams


    On a side note, I would like to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who shared this post about food, stress, and fear on your personal Facebook feed last night.  I had a feeling that you all were watching many similar posts about pets and fireworks.  Thanks so much. You guys rock.  I hope you were able to help other people and their pets.  Because isn’t helping people – helping all living things – one of the best things in life?


    Recommended Reading

    Music to Calm the Canine and Feline!

    Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. ― Plato

    Tibby the kitten listens to a radio program on February 1, 1926.  We all know cats don't care about news, but  a new study shows that felines enjoy music that's tailored to their ears.
    Tibby the kitten listens to a radio program on February 1, 1926. We all know cats don’t care about news, but a new study shows that felines enjoy music that’s tailored to their ears.


    Got a cat? Got a Dog? Get some tunes to soothe them.

    But don’t just turn on your favorite jams. The kind of music you play for your pets matters.  Science has shown that music specifically tailored for cats or dogs helps to heal, soothe, and calm them!  This is referred to this as BioAcoustic Music.  You can read about the research here.

    This short video explains the research and inspiration behind iCalmDog, “The Portable Solution to Canine Anxiety”


    The scientific foundation of species-specific music rests on discoveries about the fundamental nature of music and about differences among mammalian species in the perception and processing of sound. All mammals are born with templates of sound in the brain that govern emotional response. Many of these templates come as “standard equipment” and are not always learned, as demonstrated by the observation of a monkey that had been raised in isolation reacting appropriately the first time it heard an alarm call from one of its own species. We humans are built similarly. If someone were to scream in your presence your heart rate would increase; there is no way for you to prevent it. You would not, however, respond similarly to the alarm call of a squirrel. Study of the characteristics of a given species gives us a basis for music for that species. ~ Teyus Music LLC


    music-notes-on-staff-clipart-dT6XGz8T9

    Lisa Spector has created a series of CDs and devices for cats and dogs. There are a variety to choose from:

    • Driving Edition – Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car: Riding in the car can be very stressful for many dogs, and very exciting for others. In either case, this can create anxiety for the driver. You may be concerned about your dog barking, excessively panting, jumping up and down (even in a kennel), or running from window to window.
    • Music for the Canine Household: Uplifting and psychoacoustically designed classical music can be played for the enjoyment and relaxation of people while simultaneously creating a positive sound environment for dogs.
    • Music to Comfort Your Elderly Canine, Vol. 1, 2 and 3:  As your dog gets up in years, older dog syndromes may cause a change in behavior. If your pooch is less responsive, sleepless at night, or stares at a wall, now you have a tool to help – without resorting to pharmaceuticals. Elderly Canine is the first therapeutic sound program designed for mature dogs.
    • Music to Calm Your Puppy, Vol. 1 and 2: Your puppy’s nervous system is fragile; their sensory environment can positively or negatively impact personality, perception, and tolerances for years to come. From 6-weeks to 18-months, all pups are sensitive and highly receptive. An early peaceful sound environment helps mold a calm canine. Music to Calm Your Puppy contributes to a soothing sonic environment and helps mask unwelcome noises. With puppy-specific frequency modulation, CYP also becomes an auditory trigger to help transitions from playtime to training or sleep.
    • The Calm Your Canine Series (Vols. 1-3)

    Learn more about Through a Dog’s Ear here.

    music for pets_dogs


    • Through a Cat’s Ear, Volume 2 is provides sensory enrichment for indoor cats. Why is environmental enrichment important? Without high sensorial activities, your indoor cat’s nervous system becomes chronically stressed. This leads to difficult behaviors and/or illnesses that impact the entire cat household.

    Learn more about Through a Cat’s Ear here. 

    cat-music2


    The best part of all of this is the sale that Lisa is having in honor of her 12 year old dog, Sanchez, who inspired Through a Dog’s Ear! Check out the sale here.

    Where words leave off, music begins.
    ― Heinrich Heine

    dog-cat-music-229384_870x230