Every Day Is the 14th!

“It seems to me that love is everywhere. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” -Love Actually

Valentine’s Day is one of those days that people seem to either love or loathe.  But here’s the deal: Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be something we dread.  February 14th doesn’t have to be limited to cards and candy.  And it certainly shouldn’t be limited to the human loves in our lives.  Animals can be our Valentines, too!

Check out how you can make every day of the year, February 14th:

Conscious Companion

 This fire that we call Loving is too strong for human minds, but just right for souls.  ― Aberjhani, Elemental: The Power of Illuminated Love

One of my animal soulmates, Magma, a wise and gentle Aldabra Tortoise who is nearly 100 years of age


Are You All About The Valentine?

Valentine’s Day is one of those days that people seem to either love or loathe.  Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of Love and St. Valentine.  The history of this centuries-old holiday stems from ancient Roman rituals, but today February the 14th  has been taken over by the chocolate, flower, lingerie,  and greeting card companies.

Valentine’s Day has morphed into a world wide day of obligatory gift giving.   Men and women usually forget that the day is coming, then at the last…

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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!

 

Pupcakes and Thanks

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

 

Sunshine Hocus

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

Cinnamon: 

• 3 week old puppy
• Female
• Large breed
• Primary color: Tricolor (Brown, Black & White)
• Coat length: Medium
• Shepherd/Cattle Dog Mix
Cinnamon Hocus
Our Hocus Pocus (A.K.A. Cinnamon) as a wee pup

 

This was Hocus Pocus’ Rescue Story:

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

cinnamon lola
Why are you outside the Puppy Pile, Hocus Pocus?

Birth Dates

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

When I woke up this morning I was reminded that Hocus Pocus has the kind of life in which she’s celebrated as if it was her birthday every day, so missing her birthday doesn’t matter.  I know that she feels the love and gratitude that we have for her 356 days a year.  Plus, she doesn’t use a calendar.  Dates don’t matter to dogs.  Unconditional Love does.
IMG_4114
dog birthday

 

Daily Adventures

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

forest adventures

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

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

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

squirrel hunting
Searching for squirrels!

dog birthday

Promises Kept

A while ago I made a promise to Hocus (and myself) that I will always make time for her.   I promised to never make excuses for why we can’t spend time together.  I promised to live every day like it was our last together.  We have daily adventures. We live life to the fullest.   Even if physical challenges creep up on me, I don’t make excuses; I find compromise.  I know that one day she may have physical challenges but that won’t stop her from wanting to explore and have adventures.
Dirty Ditty
Yes, she is actually blowing bubbles in the mud.
1335
Every Day is an Adventure for Hocus.
dog birthday

PupCakes 

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

– loves to eat

– goes bonkers for tasty treats

– rarely gets “people” food

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

– has daily outdoor adventures

– could care less about most toys

Answer: PUPcakes

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

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

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

And apparently irresistible.

Here’s the lowdown:

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

Let Go of Guilt.

I mention the guilt idea because we all have busy lives and it’s easy to let things slip by us.  If you have ever forgotten a loved one’s birthday, you know how silly or even guilty you feel, but we don’t have to feel like that.  I have learned that when we are celebrating the ones we love every day their birth date kind of seems like just another day on the calendar.   If  we forget a birthday (or “hatch” day) we aren’t missing out on celebrating our friend, family member, or animal companion if we are honoring and celebrating their life every day of the year.
IMG_3748
2 years ago, Beach Day was nearly every day because we took advantage of it while we could! Never miss an opportunity to enjoy life!

Celebrate Your Loved Ones Every Day

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

 

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

 

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

Rebirth and Compassion Starts with Ourselves.

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

Katrina. 10 years later.

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


Katrina_.jpg.

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

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

Countless lessons.

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

I left someone behind.


Fate Took Over

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

Hurricane Katrina was arriving, too.

Hurricane Katrina

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

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

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


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

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

Dog fight scars
File’ was badly injured and needed to be evacuated.

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


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

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

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

I felt like we were running for our lives.


Moving quotes_relocation

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

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

Now this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She never came.


Leaving My Beloved Behind

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

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

rescue misc 220


Looking Back

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

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

Finally back together again.

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

Samantha


Lessons Learned

Katrina Rescue Pets

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

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

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

Laura Maloney_SPCA_louisiana_new Orleans _Katrina

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

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

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

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

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

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

More importantly, I have forgiven myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REBIRTH

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

New orleans Second line Katrina

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

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

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

Compassion

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

Full Moon_compassion_self Love Quotes_conscious Companion


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

May your soul heal from the challenges in life.

May the heartbreaks and setbacks be brief.

May your heart and mind only know peace.

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

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

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

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

firepit

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


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

Stranger in Black 

There are no ordinary cats. – Colette beaux_Conscious Companion

August 2, 2015

Have you ever met someone when you least expected it? And not only did you meet them when you least expected it, but they ended up being one of the greatest influences in your life?

I have. Many of them, actually, but the one who surprised me the most was an animal.

A black cat.

16 years ago after graduating college at Louisiana State University, I was working at LSU’s veterinary teaching school. One fateful day I happened to walk up to the front desk to receive a drop off.  We often received a lot of injured wildlife, but this animal was an injured and exhausted young black kitten.

We had “no room at the inn”, but the staff agreed to hydrate and treat him if one of us could take him home temporarily.  I immediately declined; I really was not a huge fan of cats.  Plus, I was currently searching for our M.I.A. pit bull, Daisy. – She would have certainly thought this wee kitten was an offering to her!  I couldn’t take the chance.

Taking this kitten home was not an option. Period. No way. No how. Never. Not me.

I took the kitten from the woman’s hands, and held him on my left arm. Looking back now, I realize that I was uncomfortable holding him near me.  But before I knew it, this injured and dehydrated kitten was curled up in the crook of my bent arm, fast asleep.  My arm ached terribly, but for some reason I didn’t want to wake him. (Note: This was the start of him training me!)

My colleagues and the woman who found the kitten continued to pressure me into taking him “for just one night!”  The woman who brought him in offered to pick him up promptly the next day after work, “I promise! I’ll get him tomorrow. I just have to get to work. I’m so late!”  I very reluctantly agreed. I told her, “One night. That’s it. If I find my dog the cat cannot be at my apartment.”

I never heard from this woman again.

The next day began the beginning of the rest of my life with Mr. Beaux.


 

 

Beaux Fall carlsbad 2017


Fast Forward to 2017:

18 incredible years have gone by and he’s still with me.  During this time together he never ceases to amaze me. We have been through more together than any animal or person I know.  We have survived countless moves, missing-in-action-adventures, misunderstandings and musings.  We’ve endured countless Hurrications, heartbreaks, ghost sightings and hauntings.  We have experienced the passing of loved ones, weddings, deployments and homecomings, health and sickness, and everything between.  Beaux snuggling as usual

He’s seen me at my absolute worst, on my darkest days.  He has watched me bloom in my brightest hours.  He has taught countless children and adults what cats are capable of.  He’s watched me learn how to let down my barriers to love, thanks to his persistent ability to love unconditionally.  He’s taught me how to truly listen to animals through the heart, how to listen more than speak, how to hear my inner guidance, and how to be the teacher and always the humble student.  He’s taught me how truly magnificent and magical cats truly are.

Beaux has taught me more in our 18 years together than any species I’ve ever known.  I have learned more from Beaux about life, love, and cats than I ever thought possible.  Who knew that a melanistic Siamese could teach a person so much??  I sure didn’t.  After all, he was “just a cat”.

I am still learning from him, including how to be a better guardian to him every day.

Conscious Companion_black cats
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” ― Charles Dickens

 


There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly led me to you
Look at the sky
It’s the color of love
There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly came down from above
He led me to you
He built a bridge to your heart
All the way
How many tons of love inside
I can’t say

-Kiss of Life, SADE


Thank you, Beaux, for being one of my greatest teachers in life.  Thank you for being my  Bodhisattva.  Thank you for helping me to write our book about you.

I am so looking forward to more adventures with you, more magic and wonder,  more love and learning, and to continue celebrating the amazing soul that you are.
Happy birthday, Mr. Beaux!!! ❤

Conscious Companion_Copyright 2015_black cats_Mister Beaux

P.S. Although you are now 18 years of age, I wrote this when you were 16  … and I know you think it ain’t no thang to you (even if it was equivalent to 80 human years!)  But as you so perfectly proclaimed, “I am young and vibrant!”

Damn right you are.

And may that always be so.  Cheers to another decade together.

Namaste, my feline friend.

 

Black Cats_ Mr. Beaux_Conscious Companion

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.  ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat


 

Beaux
Mr. Beaux, my beloved Bodhisattva at 18 years young

“Cats are good; half in, half out anyway.”

– John Constantine

Ben and Denali – Companionship That Transcends Time

When someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.

Denali

I came across something today that moved me to tears within minutes. I am a sensitive woman, but few things move me to tears that easily.  This did.

Maybe it’s because I can relate to saying goodbye.  Or maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to love another soul deeply, with every fiber of my being, that I would do anything to help them.

Regardless of why it moved me, I would like to share it with you.

Normally I wait until the end of the week, for my Soulful Sunday posts, but I couldn’t wait. It’s too amazing.  Please take a moment to turn inward, and set aside all of life’s distractions to watch something truly beautiful. You’ll be glad you did.


This is a filmmaker’s tribute to his beloved and loyal canine companion.  The video, Denali, is told from the point of view of the dog. – quite hilariously at times.  It’s so well done.  And other artists have recognized it’s brilliance: The film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice, and was an official selection at Telluride Mountainfilm.

This short film is a gorgeous and poignant expression of friendship, gratitude, honoring a beloved companion, and unconditional love.

This film is a celebration of life.

It’s a celebration of real friendship.

It’s a glimpse into how powerful a bond can become between a person and their beloved animal companion.

It’s something that I hope you can experience one day.


As I have written about before, friendships come in all shapes and sizes.  And this film shows us just that; an illumination of the resilience we can create together with the help of true friends.   But as many of you know, these friendships have to end sometimes.  That’s just the crappy part of this life.

And as Ben shows us in his deeply moving film …  

There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a friend, especially when they’ve supported you through your darkest times.


Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Whatever we were to each, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be the household word it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was;
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near just around the corner…
All is well. Nothing is past, nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before,
Only better and infinitely happier,
And forever we will be one together.

~ Henry Scott Holland


Denali on beach

Love Transcends Time and Space.  

All of the souls you loved are never lost.  They are merely a thought away. 

Keep them close to you in your heart. 


Related Links

What Our Dogs Teach Us About Aging by David Dudley

Ben Moon

In ‘Denali,’ Remembering a Man and His Dog

Don’t Wait. It may be too late.

There Is No Death

Every Day Is the 14th!

 
This fire that we call loving is too strong for human minds, but just right for souls.  ― Aberjhani, Elemental: The Power of Illuminated Love 
One of my soulmates, Magma, a wise and gentle Aldabra Tortoise who is nearly 100 years of age

 


 

Are You All About The Valentine?

Valentine’s Day is one of those days that people seem to either love or loathe.  Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of Love and St. Valentine.  The history of this centuries-old holiday stems from ancient Roman rituals, but today February the 14th  has been taken over by the chocolate, flower, lingerie, and greeting card companies.

Valentine’s Day has morphed into a world wide day of obligatory gift giving.  Many of us forget that the day is coming, then at the last minute we scramble to find something love-worthy for our new lover or life partner.  After the last minute shopping is done, we often realize that our V-day gift for our Valentine is awkwardly over-the-top or given with very little thought.   I have been (and have had) both of those types of Valentine’s over the years.   And considering the true history of the date, I don’t really honor the whole gig.

Personally, I could honestly care less about the day itself.  Years ago it took on a whole new meaning for me when I had to suddenly say goodbye to three of my furry valentines on Valentine’s weekend (on three separate occasions!).  I was single each time, so each of their deaths were a whopper of a heartbreak.  After several life changing losses around Valentine’s Day, I started to look at February 14th  very differently.


 A Day of Despondence?

If you are one of the fortunate few who are cerebrating with someone who plans ahead and gives with their whole heart, you are blessed indeed.   But not everyone is so fortunate.  Valentine’s Day can be a depressing day for many.  Some are sad to be single.  Some are miserable in a relationship.  Some have tragically lost their life partner.  Valentine’s Day can be a brutal reminder of circumstances in life that some would rather not admit.

But Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a day of despondence.

This post is my way of suggesting another way of looking at Valentine’s Day.  And if you are able to see February 14th in a new light, you might look at the other 364 days differently, too!


 If I know what love is, it is because of you. – Hermann Hesse

Great Loves

I would like to ask you a few questions, and I hope that you will at least consider answering them.  Here goes:

Have you loved before?

Have you been loved by another?

What did each of those loves feel like?

How often do you say I love you?

Who do you say it to?

Have you experienced unconditional love?

How many souls have you loved in this life?

Who has been/is your true love in this life?

When I asked myself those questions and answered  honestly I laughed and smiled at the highly varied memories and images that come to my mind.  Some are painful.  Some are hilarious.  Some are breathtakingly beautiful.  But they all have one thing in common:   Love was at the center of it all.

Reflecting on those questions above helped me to really see the truth about Love in my life.  I have to admit: I have been blessed.  If I had experienced just one great love in this life, I could gladly pass in peace.

But I didn’t have just one great love.

I have had countless great loves in this lifetime.  Some were my family, my friends, my romantic partners, my husband, and my soul sisters.  But since childhood, most of my Great Loves were not human; they were from the animal kingdom.

“You don’t need to justify your love. You don’t need to explain your love. You just need to practice your love.  Practice creates the master.” – Miguel Ruiz

Last Day At Zoo cockatoos
Great loves aren’t limited to people.

What’s Love Anyway?

At some point in our lives we will have a quick crush, a fleeting fling, a rocky romance, or a soulful, fiery, and passionate love affair.  But not everyone has known true love.   True love is life-changing.  It’s Real.  It breaks your heart wide open.  It allows you to feel peace, clarity, and compassion far beyond what you have known before.  It can cut through to your deepest core.  It allows you to experience what it means to be whole, healed, and who you really are.  It is all encompassing.  It is unconditional.

This is love.

Love is intended to be a circle.   Love is intended to be endless. Infinite.  Unconditional.  Love is not a one way flow.  Love gives, and love receives.   Love allows us to be raw and open.  Love allows us to be exactly who we are, flaws and all.  Love heals the broken. Love heals the heart.  Love allows us to grow and heal each other.  Love Gives Unconditionally.

This is love.

True Love dives deep.  It’s never ending.  It’s the kind of love that makes your heart feel at peace, but also race with joy when you think about your beloved.  It’s the kind of love that you would do anything for.  It’s selfless love.  It’s the kind of love that reminds you what it’s like to really feel alive.  It’s the kind of love that we all desperately hope never ends.  And it’s also the kind of love that breaks your heart in half when it ends abruptly.  But true Love will also immediately enter into any mind and heart  that truly wants it.  Real love is incapable of asking for anything.

This is true, real love.

File

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,  And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”  ― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Looking Through Love Lenses

When we talk about “love” and the idea of what Valentine’s Day represents, we usually think about a lover, a spouse, our mother, father, sibling, or maybe a soul sister.  But what about the other soul family in our lives?

I’d like to ask you another question:  How many of your romantic, family,  or friend relationships included all of those traits listed above?   Which of the love relationships in your life have never failed to give you those kind of experiences?   Who has given you an endless, unconditional love?   Who has loved you ceaselessly?   Who has loved you without conditions or judgement?

I will honestly admit that only one of my romantic relationships has given me those true love LOVE Soul matesexperiences, and only a small handful of friendships have. (Thank you to my husband and to my soul sisters!!)

Although only a few of my personal relationships have been based on selfless, unconditional love, there have been countless others who gave me every one of those “true love” experiences that I had always yearned for.   These souls knew what unconditional love was.  They had a endless supply.  And they gave it freely, without conditions or judgement. 

All of these souls were animals.

Their love was there when I least expected it.   But their love was also there when I needed it most.  They were the ones who taught me how to truly love.  They taught me how to let someone love me.  They taught me that it was safe to be myself.  They taught me that only the courageous ones will love you for all that you are.  They showed me what it means to love unconditionally and without judgement.  Their love healed me.  They have been some of my truest and deepest loves in this life.  They were (and are) my soul mates.



People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, someone who shows you everything that is holding you back. This is someone who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important soul you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.  Soul mates come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. 

A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master.  ― E. Gilbert


 Great Love Brings Great Gifts.

Loving another and having them love you back is an obvious gift. But opening your heart only to later have it aching in pain can be another gift in strange wrapping paper.  The downside to loving fiercely can be painful, but it does have its gifts.   My animal soulmates have taught me this lesson many times.

During heartache and loss we can receive gifts.  These gifts are immeasurable and life changing if we are willing to see these gifts.  With every one of them that passed, my heart broke, but it healed and grew stronger.  It allowed me to love others more, and to be prepared for their inevitable passing or departure out of my life.

Here are a few other life lessons that my Great Loves have taught me over the years:

  • Soul mates can come in all shapes, sizes, and species.
  • Our love for them never dies, even when their bodies do.
  • Their love for us never fades, even when they leave this earth.
  • The love that you shared never ends; it remains with you forever.
  • The unconditional love they offer us is a gift.
  • We often take this gift for granted.
  • These gifts teaches us how to love ourselves unconditionally.
  • Great loves teach us what it really means to love others unconditionally
  • They teach us how to love and appreciate ourselves every day.
  • Love is right there, waiting for us to see it.

 

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.  I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you.  ― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets


These souls are just a few of my Great Loves:

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Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. -Franklin P. Jones

 


Make Every Day the 14th!

Whether you are sexy and single, miserably married, happily hitched, blissfully bonded, proud and poly, or silently separated, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be something we dread.  February 14th doesn’t have to be limited to cards and candy.  And it certainly shouldn’t be limited to the human loves in our lives.

Just think about all of the love we are missing out on if we only include the people!  Your Valentine could be sitting right next to you now, purring in your lap, or wagging a happy tail as you enter the room.  Your soul mate could be covered in scales, or brightly colored feathers.  He could run like the wind, or she could soar like an eagle.  True Love is not limited to human form.

Expand your horizon.  Look for love in all of the animal relationships in your life.  Your cat is not just a cat.  Your dog is not just a dog.  Your horse, rat, parrot, pig and lizard aren’t just pets.  All of them could be some of your greatest loves.   They can be your Valentine, too!

Learn to see love everywhere.  Look into their eyes and let them reflect love back to you.  Animals can be the bridge to the kind of love we are looking for … if we allow them to be.  Their love is the kind of love that is everlasting.  And it’s right there in front of us.  We just have to recognize it and accept it. Let that love in.  If we learn to shift our perspective to recognize all of the loves in our life, we may learn to look forward to February 14th!

Let’s make every Valentine’s Day about the great loves in our life.  Years ago I adopted the famous phrase in Outkast’s song, “Every day’s the 14th!” , to remind myself to give my love to them every day, to accept their love every day, and to remember the love we shared every day. – Not just on Valentine’s Day.

true Love_conscious companion_valentines day for pets_great loves_soul mates 2

 It seems to me that love is everywhere.  If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around. -Love Actually

Promises Fulfilled

Happy New Year_Inspiration 3

I feel keeping a promise to yourself is a direct reflection of the love you have for yourself. I used to make promises to myself and find them easy to break. Today, I love myself enough to not only make a promise to myself, but I love myself enough to keep that promise ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

So often around the New Year we make promises and resolutions for ourselves that we never seem to keep. Did you know that less than 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept?  I’ll admit that I usually set pretty high stakes for myself and then I fall into that 8 percent. This year I thought that maybe I could keep my new year’s intentions if I made them about something greater than myself. I started to ask myself these questions:

What if I set the intention to be a little kinder and more patient with myself? Would this carry over to my family members and our animal companions?

What if I focused more on what I saw was possible in myself, instead of only what I see now? Would this help me to do the same with my animal companions and the people in my life?

What if I listened more, and observed more, and reacted less? What would happen?

The answers were clear to me; What I give to (or withhold from) myself will parallel how I treat others. What I practice in life will parallel life with others, including my animal companions.  As I reflected on this before and after New Year’s, I was inspired to share some of the things that I have learned over the years, and what I have set the intention to focus on, and improve upon in 2015:

 

Daily Does It.

“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” ― John Mayer

Setting your mind up to start a new habit, a new way of thinking, or anything that you want to do with your animal companion takes daily determination. You have to choose to do it over and over.  However, it doesn’t have to take an hour. Set aside 5 minutes each day.  Make a point to repeat your new behavior, or the behavior you are working on with your companion animal every day.  Aim high! Shoot for 40-days straight!  Science has shown us that doing a quick but daily repetition changes the neural pathways in our brains and helps to create long-lasting change. I have tried this and it really works!  Be dedicated to it.  Daily repetition creates permanent change.

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Have Fun or Let It Go.

When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED. ― Dr. Seuss

I love to laugh, and I live to have fun.  Ever since I was a kid I felt that if it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t worth it doing.  Don’t you think our animals want this too?  Ask yourself: Are you having fun with them?  Are they having fun when you are training or working with them?   The best way to make any resolution stick is to have fun with it.  Do you dread doing something?  Find a way to make it exciting and something you look forward to doing!  Get creative!  Be playful!  Add music into it!  Make it a game or a challenge with an awesome reward!  Use some of that positive reinforcement on yourself!  Animals and people learn so much faster when they are having FUN!

happy pets, happy animals

Question Everything.

Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system. ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

I cannot even begin to tell you all of the myths and nonsense that I have been taught since childhood, even up to today!  Teachers, friends, family, doctors, nutritionists, veterinarians, and even other animal trainers and educators have shared some real whoppers with me.  None of them were trying to deceive me.  They had been taught a particular belief so they were just passing it onto me.  It was up to me to either digest the fact or barf it up, so to speak.

Everyone has an opinion on something they are passionate about, but it doesn’t make it a fact.  I used to teach my interns and volunteers at the zoo to question everything they heard, even if it came from me, or another highly respected staff member.  You may be wondering why. Well, think about the “facts” that you were once taught, only to find out later on that a fact turned out to be a myth or a popular misconception that merely spread like wildfire from passionate, well meaning friends or colleagues.  When you hear a fact, a suggestion, opinion, or something about an animal, especially yours at home, question what you’re told.  Do your own research about it.  Read as much as you can on that subject. Become an expert on it, or find an expert with credentials.  And remember that just because it’s on the internet or T.V., that doesn’t make it true. You get to decide what’s true for you and your animal family members. Go with what resonates with you.

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Easy Now. Be Like The Duck.

The best way is not to fight it, just go. Don’t be trying all the time to fix things. What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

Be easy with yourself, your partner, your kids, and your animal companions.  Let mistakes happen and forgive them.  Don’t hold onto the mistakes and mishaps of anyone, including yourself.  Let yourself, your partner, family member, coworker, boss, and your animal off the hook!  Release the judgments, guilt and blame – especially the ones about yourself!  We are all doing the best we can with where we are.  Animals don’t waste a single ounce of energy on any of those and that’s a powerful life lesson that we can all learn from them. Let it roll off your back like water on a duck!

duck water be the duck

Embrace the “Inner Ding”. 

Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of my biggest deterrents is doubt.  I used to always look outside myself for answers.  I never believed that I had the knowledge or experience to do something out of my comfort zone, or share something personal with others without the fear of criticism.  But over the years I have learned how to better rely on my (as Louise Hay says) “inner ding” to validate my thoughts and feelings instead of doubting them.  Spoiler Alert: The Answers Are Inside YOU. They are not “out there”!   If we can learn to slow down, step away from the situation, remove the emotion, and tune into our own built-in, inner guidance system, we will live life as mother nature and animals know how to do naturally; they flourish without doubt or worry, and they don’t look for answers outside of themselves.  Sure we can read books to learn more, we can go to educational conferences, and we can ask others we respect for their opinions and get their advice, but remember to ask yourself those same questions first and last.  When we strengthen our inner awareness, our outer experience becomes miraculous.

Oh, and about the criticism issue: the only one really criticizing and judging you is yourself.  One way that I started to overcome this fear was by asking myself this question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.  You’ll find that when you ask yourself this question, the answer you receive is pretty cool every time. Try it the next time you are afraid or intimidated to do something. Your “Inner Ding” won’t fail you. And you never know how much of a difference you might be making in other’s lives!

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Trust the Process

Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see. ― Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

Patience has never been my strongest quality but working with animals has certainly helped that. Giant tortoises were the first to teach me how to just chill out, slow down, keep it simple, and celebrate the heck out of every little success, no matter how small it seems. Change within ourselves, and our animals doesn’t happen overnight.  So be patient with yourself and with them.  We are all trying to better ourselves, but let’s face it; it’s a lifelong process for us stubborn, thick-headed humans.  Animals don’t measure things as successes or failures, so why should we?  It’s ok when things don’t happen right away.  Remember that every little success adds up!  “Each subtle shift creates a new experience of positive change.”   Then, before we realize it, new behaviors are created!  You’ll look back and those small successes will turn out to be huge leaps.  Keep it simple.  Miracles are in the subtle details of life.  All good things will grow with time.

Magma The Aldabra Tortoise

Observe More. React Less

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. ― Marilyn Vos Savant

I admit it; I can be sassy as heck when I am tired or stressed, and in general I tend to talk more than I listen.  Just ask my family; I have been mouthy ever since my mother can remember, and my husband must have the patience of an oak tree to deal with me some days.  Sometimes I find myself reacting to comments or behavior instead of observing quietly, without judging or taking things personally.  Interestingly, our dog is reactive sometimes when she is stressed or tired.  I now know that her canine peace of mind can only come when she learns how to observe things (from a safe distance) instead of overreacting to them.  We work on this daily with her. When she is calm and feeling safe and secure, the world and all of its normal chaos does not affect her negatively.  She watches instead of reacts.  I see this in myself as well.  We are both a work in progress in many ways, but with a lot of patience and a lot of daily practice, I know that I can become a conscious observer every minute of the day, and she can too. “Be Passersby”.  You don’t have to react to everything you see and hear. Communicate clearly, but listen and watch more.

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Flaws and All

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her. ― Laozi

Here are the Cliff notes: You’re good enough, for whatever it is.  In fact, you are perfect, and so is every one of your animal companions -just the way they are.  Sure, they may have a few (or a lot of) behavioral issues that can be modified so they can function better in our human world, but so do we.  It’s a constant challenge for me to embrace all of my many flaws.  Loving and accepting ourselves exactly as we are is the first step in accepting others – including our animals – for exactly as they are.  If we are hard on ourselves, or judge and criticize the flaws, we are bound to view others this way too, including our animal companions.  I don’t believe that animals have “flaws”.  They are products of their genetics and their environment. So are we.  But we are not our past, and neither are they. We are who we decide we are going to become.  When we are able to look past the “flaws” and “imperfections”, and instead, consciously choose to focus on what’s possible, and what he or she can become, miracles occur.  Fear, judgement, and criticism are limitations. They only hold you and your animal companions back.  Instead of constantly reliving or talking about your animal companion’s hard or tough past, focus on where they are headed and what they are capable of becoming.  Believe in the impossible.  Embrace the flaws and all.

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Your Presence Is Needed. 

The greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else is just being present. ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

My mind is always racing, and I am easily distracted. (Anyone that knows me well is probably laughing out loud at that statement.)  Thankfully I’ve found many ways to quiet my mind over the years, but I still find myself not being fully present when I’m with a friend, a family member, or my animal companions.  I catch myself thinking of what I need to do next, or a conversation that happened earlier.  A year ago I decided to remove all of my social media apps off of my phone because I found myself mindlessly checking them instead of just being aware of what was going on around me!  It has made a huge difference in helping me to be fully present.

One of the things that I admire about animals is that they are always fully present in the moment; they aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday, or what is going to happen tomorrow. They are always here, now.  I’d like to suggest that you try this: when you come home from your busy or stressful day, make a conscious effort to spend a few minutes of your “decompressing” time with your animal family members. Pet them. Throw the ball. Play tug.  Brush them.  Look at them in the eye.  Be fully present with them.  I promise that doing this will turn your day around and uplift you. Their presence is a gift to us. Your presence is also a gift to them.

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Be In Gratitude.

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the crappiest moments in life I can find something to be grateful for.  I am not a Saint by any means, but I have learned to do this.  This technique has changed my life in more ways than I can explain. I now know that my moods directly affect everyone around me, especially my animal companions.  Whether you know it or not, our animal companions are sponges for our emotions and moods.  They are soaking up all that we are sending out.  Now I can catch myself when I start to send out negative energy.  This is how I do it: If I am feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, (insert any emotion), I choose one thing that I am grateful for.  I say it out loud or to myself.  When I do this my mood will start to shift. I can feel myself lighten up and feel better. I start to focus on more things that I am grateful for, and whatever I was so upset about starts to fade. Try it. The next time you are upset, reach for a thought that helps you to feel better; find one thing to be thankful for. More will follow.

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Last year before New Year’s Eve I asked a few friends, colleagues, and close acquaintances what their resolutions and intentions were for their animal companions and themselves.  This is what they graciously shared with me.  (If you don’t have Adobe PDF reader, click here to read Promises from around the world.)

I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone what intentions they have set for this New Year, but I would LOVE to hear yours! Did you make any promises to yourself or your animal companions for 2015?  Please share them with us in the comment section below!

Happy New Year_pets_Inspiration

Go for it, while you can. I know you have it in you. And I can’t promise you’ll get everything you want, but I can promise nothing will change if you don’t try.  ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre