Coming Out of the Shadows Thanks to Animal Companions

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“Ten years of shadows, but no longer. Light up the darkness, Majesty.”― Sarah J. Maas, Queen of Shadows


OCT 2016

Thank you for being here.  I am sincerely grateful to each of you who consciously chose to follow this blog.  I realize that there are many other ways for you to spend your time other than reading my posts.  I am touched and truly appreciate that you care enough to want to be gently challenged and inspired, and that you want to learn from my musings and mistakes.

But if we are going to stay together and grow together, and if I am going to keep sharing with you, I have to be honest. I have to be really honest with myself and with you.

I have been hiding and pretending for a long time.  But I am not going to pretend anymore.  I have been living a life out there “on the screen” but I have been living another life off screen.  I am not going to hide anymore.  So I will just say it and get it over with.

I am an Empath, an Intuitive, an Indigo, and also a BlueRay Starseed.

Holy Shizznit.  I finally freaking said it.   My heart is racing as I write this.   A flood of emotions are welling up inside of me right now.   I feel a bit scared.  I am grateful.  Relieved.  Liberated.  Free.  But there’s still a lot of fear.


So What the Heck Are Those?!

Ha! For those of you who are not totally weirded out by what I admitted (and you’re still reading) I can try to explain what these three words mean.  Maybe after reading this you will realize that your friend, a family member, or you, are an Empath, an Indigo, or an Intuitive, too! (The Starseed will be addressed at another time😸)

If you have been following this blog for some time, you already know that I am not a fan of labels – especially when it comes to our animal companions. This also goes for people; putting any specie’s behavior, choices, or preferences into a “box” is not helpful for a number of reasons.  But for the purposes of today I will use words and loose categorizes that are widely accepted in the the energy and holistic healing community.


An Intuitive is someone who experiences the world in a way that is not easy to understand or explain in words.  Our minds filter information in a way that cannot be explained in a logical-minded way.  Our bodies are filters of the world.  Intuition is our compass.

Intuitives also know things without knowing why.  We can’t prove how or why, we just know it to be true.  This is Claircognizance.  Both my husband and I are claircogs.  We receive information in a variety of ways.  It can via the mind, thoughts, sounds, or through the body – utilizing the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch).  We can receive information through all of the senses at once. – We call these senses “The Clairs.”  

The clair senses are abilities that correspond with the five senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.   Clairalience means clear smelling. Clairgustance means clear tasting.  Clairsentience means clear feeling.  Clairvoyance means clear seeing.  Claircognizance means clear knowing.  Clairaudience means clear hearing.  Intuitives vary in what Clair is their strongest, and which cliars they use most.  My strongest ones are the latter four, with Claircognazance being the strongest and Clairaudience coming in at a close second.

After many years of doing a lot of deep inner healing and energetic clearing these heightened senses became my primary senses.  And in the depths of one of my most challenging physical struggles, it was these senses that allowed me to connect deeply to animals and The Standing Ones.  Life changed forever after that.  I learned Soul Speak and now I teach this to others who are open to learning.

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Light Language

Empaths feel.  In fact, they feel profoundly on many levels.  Empaths are highly sensitive to their surroundings; everything from what they see and hear, smell and taste.  Empaths can experience sensory overload very easily.  Derived from the Greek “em” (in) and “pathos” (feeling), the term empathic means I am able to “feel into” others’ feelings.

Empaths are born an empath. You don’t become one.  My empathic traits have been passed down through my family’s lineage; this is very common.  My Cherokee/Irish mother is also an Empath, but she does not know this yet.  She is starting to learn from what I share with her.

Empaths feel everyone else’s emotions. Our body functions like a vibrational instrument.  Empaths can easily absorb other people’s thoughts and feelings.  It’s common to feel emotionally or physically drained after being in public, or having a conversation with someone in person, or via phone or Skype.  These common circumstances can be too much for an Empath if one does not have the tools to navigate the world safely and without sensory overload.

Being an Empath is way more than just being “sensitive.” We can feel physical sensitivities, spiritual urges, and can easily discern the motivations and intentions of others.  Empaths often experience chronic fatigue or unexplained aches and pains that come and go.  We “share” emotions of others.  We have the ability to read another’s body language as if it was our own, and we can truly, deeply understand what someone else is going through.

We FEEL unlike no other.

Being an empath does have its advantages, but it also has some downsides, too.  It can be physically and emotionally draining and exhausting.  That is why self love and self care is of the utmost importance! We talk about how important this is on our Empath community group. 

here are a number of types of Empaths. Only 10 are currently recognized:

1. Physically Receptive Empath

2. Emotionally Receptive Empath

3. Claircognizant Empath

4. Geomantic Empaths

5. Fauna Empath

6. Medium Empath

7. Flora Empath

8. Psychometric Empath

9. Telepathic Empath

10. Precognitive Empath

An Empath can be all of these or just one of these; it does not matter the number.  They all serve an important purpose.  I Am actually many of these types of empaths.  Some of these categories are stronger than others for me, but it does not matter.  They are merely part of who I am.  What we do need to recognize is that they will ebb and flow as we grow spiritually. And we need to recognize and honor these sensitivities in others as well. 


The Heyoka Empath

There is another type of empath, that few discuss.  They are called “Heyokas”.  The heyoka (heyókȟa, also spelled “haokah,” or “heyokha”) is a kind of “sacred clown” in the culture of the Lakota people of the Great Plains of North America.  The heyoka is a contrarian, jester, and satirist, who speaks, moves and reacts in an opposite fashion to the people around them.   The Lakota medicine man, Black Elk, described himself as a Heyoka, saying he had been visited as a child by the thunder beings (Thunderbirds).⚡

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Black Elk and Elk of the Oglala Lakota as grass dancers touring with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, London, England, 1887 (source: The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt,

I find it interesting that as a Cherokee child, I am one of these.  We are considered “mirrors” for others. Our Cherokee heritages that We Are One; one appearing as many. So the mirroring is actually a very helpful tool.

Principally, the Heyókȟa functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, and forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses.  Heyókȟa have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame.  They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair, and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are.

Heyokas’ advice and behavior is not always welcomed.  But it should be known that our  intentions are always for good.  We only mean to help those around us.   If you feel irritated or annoyed after leaving the presence of a Heyoka, it very well could be because we shined a light on that particular part of you; you were triggered.   On the other hand, if you are filled with a sense of joy, peace, love, and acceptance after being with a Heyoka, we mirrored or reflected that part of you back to you, while also reminding you of the importance of loving and accepting yourself for who you are.  The mirroring that Heyokas practice is intended to teach you to open your mind to aspects of yourself that you were not aware existed.

The Heyókȟa symbolizes and portrays many aspects of the sacred beings, the Wakȟáŋ.  His satire presents important questions by fooling around.  They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say.  Their behavior poses questions as do Zen koans.  By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way.

They are the only ones who can ask “Why?” about sensitive topics; they use satire to question the specialists and carriers of sacred knowledge or those in positions of power and authority.

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The Heyoka’s power comes from the Great Winged Ones, called Thunderbirds.

In Native American ceremonies, the Heyoka would be the one to disrupt the ceremony. The purpose was to help his people to either see things differently or to shift the energy. Heyokas today, will say or do something off hand or “out of left field” to shift the energy.  I do this ALL the time when things are tense.  Some see this “interruption” as rude or insensitive, but my goal is always to shift the energy.  This energy disruption comes from love; the goal is to act as a catalyst for growth and healing.

The Heyoka’s gift to others is bringing balance, by reflecting the opposite.  Heyoka’s carry the medicine of chaos; what my ancestors used as spiritual medicine. It ha the power to change lives.  This medicine reveals / reflects the shadow side that is unseen; we show the mirror of truth, that few are willing to look into.  When you meet a Heyoka, challenge yourself to have the courage to let love reflect back to you, the unseen within.

Most Heyoka teach us that there is no such thing as an enlightened master. We’re all spiritually dumb.  The closest we can ever get to being “enlightened” is simply to understand that we are naïve to it, and then to laugh about it together as a community.  Sacred clowns have the ability to plant this seed of sacred humor. They are constantly in the throes of metanoia, disturbing the undisturbed, comforting the uncomfortable and freeing the unfree. They remind us, as Rumi did, that “the ego is merely a veil between humans and God.” – McGee


Indigos

There are (currently) 5 Major aura colors that correspond to the spiritual types: blues, violets, Indigos Crystals, and Rainbows.  Every single person (and being) is an extension of Creator/Source. Thus every single aura color in existence is a spiritual expression.  When we have an Intention prior to incarnating, we are coming into a physical body, vibrating at a certain rate. Once here, the photons are now bouncing off of the energy frequency in a person’s energy field (aura).  It will “bounce back” and be perceived as a particular color (blues, green, violet, indigo, etc.).

Both my brother and I were Indigo Children.  Many Indigos are born in the mid to late 70’s or soon after.  The term “Indigo” was given to this generation because it most accurately describes their aura colors and energy patterns; Indigo Children have a lot of indigo blue in our auras.

This dark blue is actually my favorite color! And it’s not a coincidence to later discover that this Indigo blue happens to be the color of my Higher Self (the ascended aspect of little ego me)!  This color of blue is also in the color spectrum of the third eye chakra, which is an energy center located between the eyebrows.  This chakra regulates clairvoyance (clear sight).  There are some Indigos who now have Violet in their aura.  I am one of these.  You can see if you are too, by reading the article at the end of this post.


“When we talk about the spiritual aura colors, what that means is, the beings who came to earth with these particular frequencies, had the intention to put other people into connection with their own nonphysical essence.” – Teal


Each of the spiritual colors have their own attributes. Indigos are known as the warriors.  We are pathfinders; paving the way for the other colors. We are also walking lie detectors. 

Ah, but it’s not all as great as it sounds. For an Indigo, it’s very common for us to find resistance – whether within ourselves or within the system we want to see change within. Indigos would do well to learn how to align with what we want to see with our grander vision w/out resisting what we don’t want to see.

I will briefly list some Indigo traits:

Indigos tend to be trailblazers.  Indigos abhor conformity.  

We are incapable of idly watching any kind of injustice and staying silent.

Indigos can sense dishonesty the way a bee can sense subtle scents in flight.

Indigos know when they’re being lied to, patronized, or manipulated.  We can hear it, feel it, and know it the second we are exposed to it.  An Indigo’s inner lie detector is integral to us a people.

Indigos also have a warrior spirit.  Indigos are unable to conform to any type of dysfunctional situations at home, work, or school; indigos often rebel or speak out. -Sometimes loudly and often unapologetically.  

Indigos are, in general, old souls, or at least souls with great spiritual depth with a strong sense of life purpose.  Indigos have wisdom and depth that most people have yet to understand (or want) to understand.  They have great potential in their souls from birth, which, as time goes by, they tap into this wisdom and fully bring to fruition, during their current incarnation.

Indigos don’t have the ability to dissociate from our feelings and just pretend like everything’s okay; unless medicated or sedated. We are completely and utterly incapable of faking or pretending anything; we avoid people and situations all together at times.  We become frustrated with systems that are ritually oriented, outdated and don’t require creative thought. We easily see more effective ways of doing things – at home, work, and in school. We are very nonconforming to old systems.  We may appear antisocial at times, unless we are with those who are like us.  If there are no others of similar-consciousness around us we turn inward. We are not shy in letting others know what we need.  Many Indigos are often diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia and other learning challenges.

Here are some other (generalized) traits of Indigo children and adults:

  • radical authenticity
  • deeply loving
  • intense at times
  • empathic, curious, creative
  • strong-willed with a sense of having an important “mission”
  • often perceived by friends and family as being strange or the black sheep
  • possess a clear sense of self-definition and purpose
  • show a strong innate subconscious spirituality from early childhood
  • have a strong feeling of entitlement, or deserving to be here
  • have a high intelligence quotient
  • have an inherent intuitive ability
  • resistant to rigid, control-based paradigms of authority

Indigos began entering Earth around 45 years ago. They are born into every race and social structure in existence. They hold an innate energy vibrational frequency of Love. Indigos come into our world through the Third Eye Chakra which is the center of intuition, spiritual will, connecting ideas and developing a ‘picture’ of the world. They tend to be very strong willed, ultra sensitive, and quite “rebellious.” They also have a tremendous desire to be of service.  Therefore, one of their biggest challenges is to honor and love themselves, to have boundaries and to learn to say, “no.”


According to Tober and Carroll, indigo children may function poorly in conventional schools due to their rejection of rigid authority, their being more spiritually mature than their teachers, and their lack of response to guilt-, fear- or manipulation-based discipline. Indigos are rarely willing to settle being talked down to or being made part of a conforming “machine.” An Indigo’s most common question is “why?”. (My favorite question!) We are always questioning the status quo.

Explaining all of the traits and facets of Empaths and Intuitives and Indigos would require at least three separate posts, so this is a very abbreviated version of each.  If you would like to learn more, this is a great resource from a true Indigo.    This link has an informal quiz to see if your child might be an Indigo.  And here is one for adults.  These are not formal tests by any means, but they can at least help you to start questioning and see things more clearly.  Never stop exploring and questioning!


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Sammy and Sheba, my best friends as a child

 

For as long as I can remember I have been super sensitive to my surroundings.  This sensitivity could be anything from how my dogs were feeling, how a room feels, to how my friends or family members were feeling.   I knew people’s intentions and motivations before they spoke.  I also knew other things I shouldn’t just know. – I could just sense it.   I just knew!

I could feel how others were feeling, whether they were near me or far away.  I could always know if someone was speaking the truth, or if they were lying.   I have always known the true essence of an animal and could see past their pain and fear. I knew who they really were, beyond the body.  Animals and nature have always been who and where I felt safest.   Animals and nature were my refuge from the world.

They still are.

 


That inner voice, our intuition is always there, always reading the situation, always trying to steer us the right way. But can we hear it? Are we paying attention? Are we living a life that keeps the pathway to our intuition unblocked? Feeding and nurturing our intuition, and living a life in which we can make use of its wisdom, is one key way to thrive, at work and in life.


Energy and Others

When it comes to empaths and intuition, our bodies and minds work in conjunction to “read” the information we receive.  We are a perfect compass.  For example, my hands know where to go when I am working on an animal or person.  Someone could be coming from 50 feet away and I know if I should get out of their way.  I can feel subtle changes in the energy of animals, people, and places.  I know when an animal has disease often before a veterinarian gives an official diagnosis – not always, but I can feel an imbalance in their energy field. I hear messages.  I see clearly in situations.  I just know. Many Empaths are like this!

Kids and Critters

Most children are like this.  Animals are like this. Every one of your animal companions is just like an Empath and an Intuitive. – That is one of the reasons I do this work!  They are like sponges!  And almost every child that is being born now is like this, too. They are highly sensitive and finely tuned beings. Many children that I work with in a client’s home, or meet at my workshops are obvious Empaths and full-blown cognitive Intuitives. Most of the children we work with through Make A Wish are Intuitive Empaths.

More than Sensitive

Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it’s not just limited to emotions.  Empaths perceive physical and spiritual shifts in their body as they are observing or thinking about a person, place, idea, memory, or future event. Children and young kids who are empaths feel things way more deeply and on a much more intense level than their parents do. Their senses are heightened. They are very sensitive emotionally and physically.

Empaths process other people’s feelings and energy, and in many cases take on the emotions of others.  They are very sensitive to their surroundings and changes within their environments. They are literally energetic sponges.  Can you imagine the kinds of effects that has on a child?  Yeah.  It’s intense to say the least.  More on that later.

A Virtual Sponge

Empaths feel like you would not believe.  That has been the hardest part for me – a gift and a curse you might say.  For years I used alcohol and drugs to shield myself from feeling so much.  Depression and anxiety  were the many cloaks I was enveloped in, and I used substances to numb myself  from feeling so much (although I had no idea that’s what I was doing.)

But all that has changed.

Thankfully Energy Medicine, True Forgiveness, Mindfulness, and Self Awareness has become incredibly empowering.  I have learned other methods that are safe and natural to lovingly shield and manage my energy.   Overall, life is much easier as an empath, and far more healthier with these holistic and alternative healing tools and techniques to manage life as an Empath.

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Why This Is Hard to Admit

If you are an empath, and an intuitive healer, or a transformational coach, you may think, This is great! How wonderful that you are embracing your true self!   But I don’t see it that way. – At least, not yet.  It may come to a surprise to most folks, but the animal behavior and scientific community are not the most accepting group of people when it comes to embracing beliefs or practices that are outside their circle of traditional science or “normal” practices.   In fact, concrete, proven science is the only medium with which most of the animal behavior community operates.

Hidden Ones

There are many behavior consultants in my field that are also intuitive empaths.  A few are very close friends, and highly respected members of the science-based community.  But none of these colleagues want to admit it yet publicly. Proof, facts, and hard core science are still the safe zones they choose to work in for now. Only one of my colleagues in the dog training community has formally “come out” as an Empath and an Animal Intuitive. She has been an inspiration to me.  I hope that others will follow our lead.


I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am. ― Albert Einstein


Safer To Be Silent?

I could list a countless examples of why it’s safer to not embrace your true self in the animal behavior and scientific community.  But that would take too much of your time.  To help you understand why it’s “safer” to be silent, I’ll briefly share just a few of my experiences:

  1. When you’re at an animal behavior conference and you mention the word sacral chakra, when referring to a dog or cat and people respond to you as if you were coughing up phlegm.
  2.  Telling a client that their parrot, iguana, cat, or dog would greatly benefit from Smudging their home, and balancing their own energy can be your one-way ticket straight to Crazy Town.
  3. Explaining to your veterinarian that you can feel / see / know where the pain or discomfort is in your cat’s body and they look at you as if you are high.
  4. Knowing that the negative prognosis that the vet just gave you about your animal was not accurate, because you felt and heard a solid “No” in your body and mind.
  5. Any discussion about ‘animal communication’ will immediately send one to the time out box, where you are soon to be dismissed and discarded.

So I stayed silent for many years. And I was safe. Really Safe. But being safe is not the way I want to live my life anymore.


The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. ― C.G. Jung


Willing to Be Vulnerable

This post is not easy to share.  I am fully aware of the possible negative results of “coming out” in my scientific community, and with my religious family and must-have-proof-friends.  But I trust enough to share my truth.  If being open, honest, and vulnerable can help one person and their animal companion to grow closer, to heal, to love more deeply, to laugh more, and to see life from a new and more enlightened perspective, it will all be worth it.  If I can inspire one person, any ridicule or rejection will be worth it.

Saying it out loud to you here, and to my friends and family (who will eventually see this) doesn’t make it any more “real” and easy.   In fact, it’s still just as scary.  And I feel just as vulnerable and exposed.  I have witnessed many friends and colleagues come out in other ways, and it was not easy for them. But they are living an authentic life now. I am so proud of all of them. They were no longer willing to hide who they really are. Now I am free of what I was hiding.  I am all out there, baby! 😀

No more hiding or pretending.

But there is still some fear.  So I will take this fear and breathe into it and remember that fear is an illusion.  There is really nothing to be afraid of.  F. E. A. R. is really only False Evidence Appearing Real.

Fear is a passing emotion that has no real substance, arising when the ego-self is threatened, which makes you cling to the known and familiar.  Such fear creates untold worry, apprehension, nervousness, and anxiety.  The immediate effect of fear is to shut us down, and—in particular—to shut off the heart.


Cognitive Science

I do believe that the world will come to accept intuition and senses beyond our limited human perception as reality.  We are already starting to see this happening in the world of science.  Psychologists say that people use psychological preferences for Sensing and Intuition. Questions they will ask are, “Do you pay more attention to information that comes in through your five senses?” or “Do you pay more attention to the patterns and possibilities that you see in the information you receive?  Everyone utilizes Sensing and using Intuition.  The levels of each of these spectrum are wide and vast within each person. Science is now starting to recognize these levels.

There is now a field of study known as “Cognitive Science.” It is beginning to demystify the inexplicable presence of unconscious reasoning in our lives.  Often dismissed as unscientific because of its connections to the psychic and paranormal, intuition isn’t just a bunch of woo-woo.  The U.S. military is even investigating the power of intuition, which has helped our men and women of the military to make quick judgments during combat that ended up saving lives.

There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence, combined with solid research efforts, that suggests intuition is a critical aspect of how we humans interact with our environment and how, ultimately, we make many of our decisions. – Ivy Estabrooke, Office of Naval Research


Beyond Science and “Proof”

Science is amazing. Science is what I have used for nearly 20 years to produce ground breaking results with multiple species of threatened and endangered species. Science is what I use with my clients’ aggressive dog, fearful feline, and traumatized iguana. Science is what I use with our animal companions at home, with everything from anxiety to obesity.

But there IS more to life with our animal companions than scientific facts and “evidence”. There is more we can learn from just the proven stats.  There is so much more that science has yet to discover.  There is an infinite amount that has not been studied, or even remotely explored in the scientific community.  There is more to learn and experience than most people could possibly imagine. I have lived this and learned this fact. And the beauty that I have learned in all of this is simple but profound:  Animals and nature can be two of the greatest teachers to facilitate this learning.   If we allow them to be.


No civilization, including Plato’s, has ever been destroyed because its citizens learned too much.


What About Science and Animal training?

Of course I will continue to share tips and techniques about training, behavior, and enrichment for pets at home and in shelters because those are part of our reality that enhance lives.  Training and enrichment are needed in our homes.  Period. (Ahem … like conditioning our canine to wear goofy snow boots, modifying a dog’s aggression toward foxes, teaching our tabby to “go to your place” to keep the peace, changing a fearful feline into a confident cat, conditioning a dog to a new baby, teaching a parrot to give voluntary injections, and preventing fights between species by eliminating anger, fear, and frustration.)  That’s where science is needed and where it works. That’s where Force Free techniques reign supreme.  Those are tools and techniques that I still love to teach and practice!  In fact, I just did a 1.5 hour webinar yesterday on a specialized topic that has never been presented before in the feline community; how exotic cat species in captivity can teach us how to manage and rehabilitate companion cats. It was attended by veterinarians and animal behaviorist from all over the world. And it’s going to be a game changer for the cat community.

So yeah, science is necessary. I use it and I love it.  Science, data, and measurable results are crucial when it comes to behavior modification and healing an animal companion’s emotional and behavioral issues.  Science, facts, and results continue to be much of what I share here.

But there are many other tools that I use as well. Those techniques are not the only path to healing and modifying behavior. There is much more out there. There are other tools and techniques that are not mainstream. But they are profound. And they work.

There is so much more to explore together:  Energy medicine, animal communication, removing negative emotions that contribute to health and behavioral issues, releasing stagnant blocked energy in our pets,  how to connect on a deeper, more meaningful level with your animal companions and how they can be mirrors for our issues.  We will talk about what it really means to live “Life with Your Animal Companion Improved.”

 


Come from the heart, the true heart, not the head. When in doubt, choose the heart. This does not mean to deny your own experiences and that which you have empirically learned through the years. It means to trust your self to integrate intuition and experience. There is a balance, a harmony to be nurtured, between the head and the heart. When the intuition rings clear and true, loving impulses are favored.

― Brian L. Weiss, Messages from the Masters: Tapping Into the Power of Love


Why I Am Sharing This Now

I wrote this over 6 months ago, but was too afraid to share it.  Alanis Morrissette’s song “Excuses” perfectly parallels this kind of fear. She is also and Empath and “came out” a few years ago. She. Is. Amazing.

Now I am coming out in my own way and being completely authentic because I have moved into a space where I am now a hundred percent authentically honest with everyone – clients, friends, family, and even strangers.  But the person I am most honest with now is myself; I have to be for my health and sanity.  I also have to be for the health and peace of mind of my animal companions.

This blog was created to discuss all-things-animal-and-nature. Since 2012, I have stayed within the “safe” spaces by discussing safe topics such as animal behavior, animal training, animal enrichment, and the latest science in all-things-pets.  Every so often I would venture out of my safe space and talk about death and dying, spiritual experiences, and bits about energy, but there is so much more that I want to share and discuss with you here!  I have decided to shift this blog to better reflect how I have shifted, and how nature and the animals in my life have facilitated this shift.

Light Language _energy healing_Intuitive Art_conscious Companion
Light Language

Now this blog will parallel how I live my life.  This blog will begin to better reflect what it means to be an intuitive and empath, living and working with animals, and how we can all learn from nature and our animal companions.  This blog will be a more honest reflection of what the animals and trees have taught me, and how you  and your animal companions can benefit, heal, and grow as well.  I have even created an entirely new section on my website that celebrates and honors these gifts, to help others to grow and heal together.

We so often think of ourselves, as the “dog owner” the “cat guardian”, the “parrot trainer”, or the “horse leader”. We see ourselves as the teacher, and we are!  But what if our animal companions have things to teach us? What if we were willing to be the student?  What if we are willing to look at them and say, “Teach me. I am willing to learn from you.” …. What might happen?

October is a month of balance. I discussed this before, yet I didn’t realize how much I was out of balance. This week it hit me; it’s time to balance everything, including what I share with you. I hope you will be willing to grow with me.


Hope and Love for Others

My hope is that if I can openly share my truth and experiences, others may realize that they can share theirs as well.  I hope that those who are also an Intuitive, or an Empath or Starseed can learn to feel safe and supported.  I hope this will help others to understand their abilities and how they can dramatically improve their life with animals. 

And on the other hand, if one is not an Empath, they will be open to learning what we can see, feel, know.  Maybe people will be willing to learn how to tap into their senses so we can learn about each other, energy, animals, nature.  Maybe others will be willing to learn the endless lessons that animals and nature have to teach all of us.  

My hope is that you have the courage to be open to seeing things from another perspective.  My hope is to learn, grow, and share together here. My hope is that you will see your sensitivity as a super power! 

Light Language for Pets
Light Language

The planet does not need more ‘successful people’. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places.  It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with success as our culture is the set.  ~H.H.The Dalai Lama


 Thank you.

Thank you for listening.  Thank you for  being here. And thank you to every soul who has ever braved the safety and comfort of what they were living, to finally be who they truly are.  Thank you for daring to live fearlessly. Thank you to every brave soul who dared to speak out.  Thank you to those who would not be silent.  Thank you to everyone who came out despite the results.  Thank you to every man, woman, and child who came out by sharing their truth with the world; no matter what that truth was. Thank you for holding space to allow everyone on this planet to be authentically who they are. Thank you to the animal companions who held a mirror up for me to see who I am. Thank you to the animals and trees who have been my greatest teachers. Thank you for inspiring me to “come out” today. Thank you to all of the brave souls who have come out in other ways, and who are sharing their stories today. I love you all.

And thanks for remembering to laugh and to not take ourselves too seriously.

Life is supposed to be fun and free.

Be you.  Be fun.  Be Free.

And if my words haven’t inspired you to be brave, free, and become your authentic self, check out a snippet of what my soul sister shared with me today when I told her that I didn’t think I could publicly share this post:

“People need us. And we need them.

We don’t have to deny who we are.”

So If you need some motivation to come out with whatever you’ve been hiding, Diana can help. 😉


I can’t let them down  They’ll not understand me  They’ll hate me …

These excuses how they served me so well  They’ve kept me safe  They’ve kept me small  They’ve kept me locked inside my cell 

Bringing this into the light  Shakes their foundation  And it clears my side 

Now my imagination  Is the only thing that limits  The bar that is raised to the heights 

Alanis Morissette-Excuses

intuition

 

Learn more at our website!

If you are looking for more inspiration, tips, and guidance, I invite you to join me on my Intuitive Instagram page and on our Empath Facebook community page.

Foraging Felines!

“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. That’s living.”—Ursula Andress 

cat enrichment
What do these lions and this bloodsicle have in common with your cats? Find out below.

It’s Caturday! Let’s get our Cat-Care-Chat on!  (OK I am a little stoked about this post.)

I had some down time today, and had a lot of fun with our cats this morning so I was inspired to share one of the tools we have been using. This particular tool helps our feline family members to feel safe, confident, and at ease with each other, and their environment, no matter where life takes them.

Today we are talkin’ bout puzzles.


Did you play with puzzles as a child?  I didn’t. They were boring and frustrated me.  But my younger brother did.  He loved doing puzzles.  Even at the age of 7 he was playing with 1,000 piece puzzles.  I couldn’t believe that someone would want to sit still for that long, for days on end.  I would have died of sheer boredom!  But puzzles were anything but boring to my brother.  In fact, he lived for them.

So what does my brother and his fascination with puzzles have to do with our animal companions?

A lot actually.


Lackluster or Enriched Lives?

Most people have limited knowledge as to how to successfully enrich the lives of their animal companions.  This results in a lack of species-appropriate enrichment with most household pets.  The lack of mental and physical stimulation is linked to a myriad of medical and behavioral issues in animals.  But we can change that!  But making a few changes to their daily routines, we can greatly enhance the lives and longevity of our animal companions!


 

Feline Facts

You may think your cat is fine just hanging out and lounging around all day while you are away, but I beg to differ.  This is a common cat misconception.  Those unwanted behaviors you are seeing are not random.  Let’s look at some startling feline facts.  Some of these stats might surprise you, but they are very real. These facts are at the heart of why I am so passionate about feline enrichment:

  • Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs).  Yet cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
  • House-soiling (litter box avoidance) is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people.
  • Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)
  • Only 1-5% of house cats have access to food toys.
  • Only 0.5% of owners hide food for their cat to find.
  • House cats are significantly lacking in physical AND mental exercise.

Fact:  Many of these behavioral and medical issues can be prevented! 

Fact:  Food Enrichment can be a tool to prevent and manage many behavioral issues in homes with cats! 


“Cats are captives in these environments, akin to zoo animals, and as with zoo animals, cats’ health and welfare may be affected by their surroundings.  Because of this, they sometimes display undesirable behaviors when deprived of appropriate outlets for their expression.” – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb


 

Puzzles as Mental Enrichment

Now that I am older and more mature, I understand why my brother played with puzzles. It was mentally stimulating for him.  It kept his mind focused and it allowed him to reduce stress.  He was able to accomplish a goal and receive a reward.  Using puzzles for enrichment for our cats are not that different from this practice.

Puzzles are one tool that can be used on a regular basis to encourage an animal’s natural behaviors and alleviate boredom, reduce stress, and increase confidence.  Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.


The Value of Enrichment

Let’s take a look at a few very important reasons why enrichment (in general) should be a tool that we use in our homes on a daily basis.  Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.

Enrichment can:

  • Curb boredom and restlessness
  •  Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
  •  Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
  •  Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion

Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity.  It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time.

animal-enrichment_pets_diy-puzzle-toys
Exotic animals in captivity have acess to enrichemt, so why dont our cats in our homes?


Types of Enrichment 

Don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of using enrichment. You don’t have to be a wild animal expert to do this at home.  And you don’t need to have a lot of time to implement this important enrichment tool.   It really can be incorporated easily!

There are a variety of enrichment options, but today we will be covering food and foraging enrichment for our felines.  Just so you are aware, enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories:

  • Food based
  • Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
  • Novel objects
  • Social
  • Positive Training
  • Foraging

Foraging for Captive Big Cats 

When I was the enrichment coordinator at Audubon, we utilized foraging enrichment as management tools for several species of big cats (exotic cat species).  Offering our jaguars, African wildcats, snow leopards, and lions various types of puzzle feeders helped to reduce common stereotypical stress behaviors often seen in captivity. This could be anything from pacing in an exhibit or hiding.  We also used puzzle feeders and hiding food to improve one’s body condition (keeping them lean), and to increase exploratory behavior (encouraging them to explore their environment to prevent boredom and increase exercise). We also used food and foraging enrichment to decrease aggression, frustration, and fear.

Big cats_exotic cats_conscious Companion_amy martin
My dear feline friends at Audubon: Garth, Ditteaux, and Yaqui


House Cats Need to Forage for Food, Too!

Our fluffy cats are not that far flung from these feline ancestors. The innate desire to explore their environment with confidence, and to hunt for their food is still very alive and well within them!  Fears, frustration, aggression, and boredom are all just as common in our homes as it is for Big Cats in captivity.  A stagnant environment is a breeding ground for medical and behavioral issues.  As cat guardians we need to be encouraging healthy hunting and foraging behaviors. We need to be providing this kind of healthy mental and physical stimulation for our felines.

That’s where enrichment puzzles come into play!


 

The Semi-domesticated House Cat

House cats aren’t that far flung from their feline ancestors and modern day wildcats. But we are treating them as if they are.  Companion dogs are considered fully domesticated. Cats are only “semi-domesticated“.  In fact, the genomes of housecats have changed very little from their wild counterparts. And some house cats still breed with their wild relatives!  Scientists now say there is very little that separates the average house cat (Felis Catus) from its wild brethren (Felis silvestris).  And there is even some debate over whether our house cats fit the definition of “domesticated”.  That’s why I often refer to our cats as wee “house panthers.” Our house cats need just as much enrichment that their wild counterparts receive every day.

“We don’t think cats are truly domesticated.”Wes Warren, PhD, associate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University

cat enrichment

 


Satisfying a Feline’s Innate Need to Forage

The concept of working for food is natural for all hunters. You may see your house cat as a cuddly cat, but beneath sweet exterior is a hunter.  House cats are hardwired to hunt and forage for food just like their feline kin, such as lions, tigers, and jaguars.  All cats, no matter the species,  are hardwired to use their highly developed senses and physical skills to hunt, capture, and kill their prey.

But are we encouraging this in our homes?

Not really.

And if it’s being done, it’s not happening enough, or done properly.

 Although standard diets may adequately satisfy the nutrient needs of domestic cats, their usual presentation may not promote expression of normal hunting (exploratory) behaviors. Meeting nutrient needs in ways that mimic cats’ natural preferences provides additional enrichment. – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb

Make Them Work for Food!

Cats in the wild hunt for their food.  Not only is it in their nature to capture and kill, but they LOVE it.  Your feline family member should be “working” for their food, too.  Even if they are not living in the wild, they still should have access to this wild instinct!  Hunting is a natural feline behavior, and our couch potato cats need this outlet.  

Why make them work for it?!?,  you might ask.  Great question.  A study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more.  These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.

I have yet to see any studies that parallel this with cats , but from my professional experience with exotic cats and personal experience with house cats, all of these species get very excited when they have to work for a treat or for their meal!

Cats who are living in the wild will forage and hunt on and off for hours. They will also eat 10 to 20 small meals throughout the day.  But with our house cats, when we provide commercial cat food, we have removed the ability of housecats to hunt for survival.

But that innate desire and need to hunt is STILL present within your feline friend.

Housecats need foraging opportunities!  Most of them spend as much time eating out of a food dish as they would be foraging and eating in the wild!

“This has led to an obesity epidemic in pet cats.  Many of these cats eat out of boredom. But foraging allows cats the activity and the entertainment of ‘the hunt.’” – Ilona Rodan, veterinarian and co-chair of the AAFP’s Feline Behavior Guidelines.


Foraging Felines

One food-based enrichment foraging tool that you can try at home (or at your shelter) is a “puzzle feeder.”   The old school (traditional) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Food based and foraging enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors!  These help to satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for their food.

I have written about this topic at length, but if you are a cat guardian who’s new to this blog, and new to the idea of food enrichment, consider trying out something simple such as the Maze Bowl.  It’s an interactive slow feed bowl for cats.  In the video below Knox shows us how much he loves using it. (And King Albert peeks in at the end to see if there is any leftover.)

Note: If your cat has a sensitivity to Whisker Stress, this might not be the best enrichment feeding tool.


 

Pick Puzzles That Are Perfect for Your Pussycat.

The Maze Bowl is what I consider the beginner puzzle level.  But it’s not for every cat.  It’s easy and fun for very food-motivated felines. Two of our four cats will use it; the other two would go hungry before they used it. – mainly because of their Whisker Stress. That’s why it’s important to know that there are many other styles of puzzle feeders out there!

Here are a few that our cats, or my client’s cats have had great success with, or I trust the people/companies who make them:Catit senses food puzzle maze - small

Note: We don’t feed dry food to our felines any longer. We rotate between premade raw, canned wet food, and various freeze-dried meats.  But for those of you who are feeding dry food, another option you can explore is this feeder. 

Interactive Puzzle Feeder for Cats
Mr. Beaux, one of our senior cats using an interactive feeder. Beaux is an example of a cat who needs plenty of space to feel safe and secure while he “hunts”.


DIY Puzzles

I don’t know what I would do without recycling for enrichment. I have depended on it for nearly 20 years in both a professional and personal setting.  If you love to recycle and if you/someone in your family is creative, there is no end to the puzzle feeders that you can make!

Puzzle feeders can be made of almost anything, as long as it’s safe for the cat. There are mobile devices, stationary, sturdy devices, and even devices that you can hang and they swing. Do It Yourself Puzzle feeders can be used to provide either wet or dry food


Puzzle Feeder Feeding Stations

I should mention that each of our four cats have their own puzzle feeder “feeding station.” In the wild cats are solitary hunters.  Cats who are now living indoors are not exempt from this feline fact.  That means at mealtime in your home, they should be solo (away from other cats).  Forcing our feline family members to gobble down in a group can be very stressful to some cats.

In our home Knox is the food-frenzied feline. He used to inhale his food, then race over to the elderly cats, shove them out of the way, then gobble down their meal like a Meal Monster!  Not only is this rude and stressful, but Knox is on a very portion controlled diet, so he is not allowed to have “second breakfasties.”  Secondly, only one of the other cats (King Albert) will disagree with this rude behavior and set Knox straight.  Mr. Beaux, the more meek and gentle senior cat, will wander off and let Mr. Eats a Lot devour his dinner.

Not cool.

And it’s really not cool for us as cat guardians to allow this behavior to occur.  That’s why I love using Maze Bowls for the food frenzied feline. And that’s also why I give the senior boys their own quiet places to eat in peace.

And speaking of dining alone, any puzzle feeders that you use with your cats should be placed accordingly and safely around your home.  We want these to be novel areas, and novel enrichment items, not new feeding stations that encourage competition for a highly valued primary resource (food).


 Preference and Choice Matters!

 It’s very important to be aware that whenever we are considering changing a high value resource (food), or how it’s offered to the animal, we must offer the new resource adjacent to the familiar resource.  So if you want to try out a new puzzle feeder, such as the Maze Bowl, offer it in close proximity to where your cat’s current feeding platform or feeding bowl is currently.  This allows the cat to display his/her preference for one feeding mechanism or the other.  We don’t want to force our felines to use “this or that”. Cats need choices.  Choice encourages confidence!  When you offer your feline family member a choice, you will quickly see which one your cat prefers, and which one he/she wants to use (or ignore).

Imposing unfamiliar, undesirable resources on a cat may create an additional stressor in the cat’s environment.  –Herron, DVM, DACVB and Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVN


Encourage your Cat!

 Be there with your feline family member as he discovers his new foraging toy or feeder.  Encourage your cat every time she makes a small success!  Don’t just leave her alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder.  You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.”  You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress!  The same is true for our feline friends.  Encourage them.  Praise them when they make small progress, and reward them even when they are just trying to figure it out!

Note:  Many cat guardians perceive their cats to be “finicky eaters,” recent evidence suggests that food refusal is a common feline response to environmental threat.  So it’s important to look at the big picture. See what could be causing your cat to refuse to even explore a new feeding option. Remember to encourage your cat by making changes gradually.

senior cat enrichment_DIY cats
Senior cats like King Albert the Grey need gentle foraging options. This glue-free paper towel roll makes a fun feeder tube at one of his mealtimes during the day. Albert needs a lot of encouragement while foraging.


Keeping Peace with Puzzles

Food puzzles have been an excellent facilitator for making friends among felines. A couple of our cats would rather hang with us, or the dog, when given the choice. -Having another cat all up in their space is less than desirable.  But puzzle feeders have bridged the gap between cats who could care less about each other.

Puzzle feeders have also been a saving grace at times when we want to keep the peace in close kitty quarters.  One example of this is when we were moving.  As I talked about before, all of us were confined to various hotels across the country for nearly a month.  Puzzle feeders (and feeding stations) helped to keep the peace and increase kitty (and canine) confidence.

Since they Kitty Boys (and Hocus Pocus) were already acclimated to various puzzle feeders and their own feeding mats (stations) prior to the move, we were able to easily encourage each of them to focus their minds and energy onto something positive and highly rewarding while we were all crammed together.  Rather than focusing on what might be a very stressful situation to them (new sights, sounds, and smells) they were so excited to forage for their food!  Rather than becoming aggressive to one another, or having a full-on-feline-freak-out-fear-fest every time we had to relocate into a new hotel every day, each animal knew that once we got settled in, play time (puzzles time) was coming their way.

Puzzle feeders saved the day. And night.

Every dang day.

Cat DIY puzzle feeder_conscious Companion_hotel with cats
Thanks to a cough medicine box, King Albert the Grey was able to eat in peace, and Knox overcame his fear of the hotel room door. It was a quick and easy DIY puzzle feeder during our move.

 


Positive Side to Food Puzzles

Not only do feline food puzzles encourage cats to engage in (part of) their natural predation sequence of stalking, capturing, and consuming their prey, but there are other benefits as well.  If your feline is a tubby tabby like ours was, food puzzle toys can encourage cats to lose weight!  And in some instances, the successful introduction of food puzzle toys has helped to resolve litter box issues. (Yes, you read that correctly; mental and physical enrichment can help with other behavioral issues in your home!).

When a cat is actively engaged in getting their food (rather than having it served to them in a boring bowl) this foraging activity encourages cats to be more active. This kind of activity increases confidence, helps to reduce stress levels, and … here’s my favorite part: cats become less demanding of their owners.

Hallelujah!

DIY puzzle feeder for cats.jpg
Knox having a field day with some foraging enrichment


More to Come for Cats!

On October 10th I will be hosting a free member webinar on this topic. It is entitled, “Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental and Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Their Food.”  I would love for you to join us!
If you missed it, you can  sign up here for the replay!

For now offer your felines some food foraging fun!

cat enrichment _big Cats
Someone is enjoying a post-foraging-fun nap.


 

Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them. – Jim Davis


Recommended Reading and Videos:

Supplemental Videos for PPG Webinar: ” Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental & Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Food”

Senior Cat Enrichment – Scent Work for Senior Felines!

 What’s Environmental Enrichment and Why your Cat NEEDS it.

 Environmental Enrichment for Cats

 Puzzle Feeders for Cats

Food Puzzles for Cats

 Your Cat Would Like Food Puzzle Toys

 Ask Smithsonian: Are Cats Domesticated?

 More cat resources

Animal Emotions and That Icky Sticky Fear

animal emotions

 “Lacking a shared language, emotions are perhaps our most effective means of cross-species communication. We can share our emotions, we can understand the language of feelings, and that’s why we form deep and enduring social bonds with many other beings. Emotions are the glue that binds.” ― Bekoff

 

Ants teach.  Earthworms make decisions.  Rats are ticklish.  Chimps grieve.  Horses understand and react to human facial expression.  Some dogs have a thousand-word vocabulary.  Birds practice songs in their sleep.  Mice and rats show empathy.  Crows use tools.  Jays plan ahead.  Moths remember being caterpillars.  Cats are worlds wiser than your iPad.

What else will we learn about animals today?

 


In my last post I discussed how our personal and collective fears affect progress, success, and peace with our pets and within ourselves.  This follow up post is intended to help you to become aware of the range of emotions that animals can experience.  When we begin to see our pets as conscious beings who can experience deep and profound emotions we are better equipped with the knowledge and empathy to help them, when life challenges arise.  My hope is that you learn something here so you and your animal companions can live a more fulfilling and peaceful life together, no matter what comes your way.


Emotional Beings

Most people believe that animals have some emotions.  But there is a lot more happening within animals than most realize. Did you know that some animals, when faced with stressors, often respond in body and mind the way humans do? It’s really amazing.

Let’s take a look at what emotions are.

From the scientific perspective, emotions are the internal changes in the body (hormones, adrenal glands, etc.) that cause changes in expression (the animal’s external behavior), and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them.  From the layman’s perspective, they are feelings one experiences in the mind that affect one’s mood and body.

Emotions have evolved as animal adaptations in many species.  Emotions serve as a “social glue” to bond animals together.  Emotions also regulate a wide range of social encounters among both friends and competitors.  Emotions allow animals to protect themselves by using numerous behavior patterns in a wide variety of settings.

To assume that animals are incapable of experiencing the same kinds of fears and stresses that we as humans experience is a common pitfall and misconception of pet parents.  Animals are very capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions!  Like us, many companion animals can and do experience a range of basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, grief, and surprise.

“Common sense and intuition feed into and support science sense, and the obvious conclusion is that at least mammals experience rich and deep emotional lives, feeling passions ranging from pure and contagious joy shared so widely among others during play that it is almost epidemic, to deep grief and pain. There also are recent data that show that birds and fish also are sentient and experience pain and suffering.”


love hormone_animal emotions_conscious Companion


Sentient Beings

We are hearing more often these days that animals are “sentient beings”, but what is sentience? What does this mean?

“Sentient animals may be aware of a range of sensations and emotions, of feeling pain and suffering, and of experiencing a state of well being. Sentient animals may be aware of their surroundings and of what happens to them.”

-CIWF

Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive the world around you and as a result have subjective experiences (i.e. good, bad or neutral experiences). In its most basic sense, sentience is the ability to have sensations and as a result have experiences which then may be used to guide future actions and reactions.

Animal Emotions_fear


Similar Brain Structures

Thanks to research with imaging studies we now know that some animals have many of the same brain structures, hormones, and neurotransmitters that humans do. Just like humans, animals have temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobes of their cerebral cortex. Each region is connected in the same way. We’ve also learned that emotions are centered in the limbic system, (known as the mammalian brain). We also know that emotions such as fear, frustration, and anger drive a lot of unwanted behaviors in animals (just like in people!)

Neuroscientific research has even shown, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that elephants have a huge hippocampus. This is a brain structure in the limbic system that’s important in processing emotions. We now know that elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and likely experience the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Animals’ Advanced Abilities 

Most people believe that a human’s ability to communicate is far more complex and evolved than that of other species, but cetaceans have us beat. Cetaceans have several sound producing organs. They are capable of conveying and receiving 20 times the amount of information as we can with our ability to process sounds!  This surpasses the amount of information we can perceive based on vision (a human’s primary sense).

Research with cetaceans has even discovered that the frontal and temporal lobes (which are connected by their function in speech production and language processing) are capable of astounding abilities.  Communication is so spectacular in cetaceans that scientists believe there is a strong possibility that this species is able to project an “auditory image.” via sonar messages they receive.  The researches at MSU claim, “A dolphin wishing to convey the image of a fish to another dolphin can literally send the image of a fish to the other animal. The equivalent of this in humans would be the ability to create instantaneous holographic pictures to convey images to other people.”

Yeah.  So that’s happening in the ocean and in captivity.  Just let that sink in for a moment.

animal brain_intelligece_play_emotions


Pets, People, and the Mind’s Landscape

Could our pet’s mental map be similar to ours? According to researchers at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, the physical structure of our brain and that of felines are very similar.  Cats have the same lobes as we do in the cerebral cortex (the “seat” of intelligence).  And our brains function the same way, by conveying data via identical neurotransmitters.

In the region of the brain which controls emotion, they are similar as well.  Cats have a temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobe in their brains, just as we do.  Additionally, cat brains also contain gray and white matter and the connections within their brains seem to mirror those of humans.

We also know that cats’ brains release neurotransmitters in a similar pattern to that of humans when confronted with information from their five senses.  Cats also have a short-term and long-term memory, and are able to easily recall information from up to 16 hours in the past.  Researchers are even studying cats’ Brain structures and neurotransmitters that regulate aggression to learn more about the implications for human aggression.

Recently through MRI research doctors have discovered that dogs and humans both house impulse control in the same area of the brain. Both human and dog brains by the prefrontal lobes, but in dogs this area is much smaller relative to brain size.  There is an actual link between the level of self-control a dog has and the behavior they display. Dogs who have more brain activity in their frontal lobes, tend to have more self-control and are better able to control their behaviors, reactions, and responses to stimuli in their environment.

dog brain impulse control_MRI
Brain region in dog prefrontal cortex for impulse control.


The Workings of the Inner Clockwork

All mammals (including humans) share neuroanatomical structures: The amygdala and hippocampus and neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings.  Let’s look at two areas of the brain to better understand the commonalities of the inner clockwork:

  • The Amygdala: The “Emotion Processing Center”:  There are two almond-shaped areas in the human brain that control emotional responses. The most common function of the amygdalae involves synthesizing fear responses from the environment. Animals also have amygdalae that initiate emotional responses such as fear.

 

  • The Hippocampus:  Where Memories Trigger Emotions: The hippocampus is the area in the brain where long-term memories are stored.  The hippocampus feeds directly to the amygdala.  Scientists believe that this is why a flood of strong emotions often follows after we recall a vivid memory.

Our companion animals also have a hippocampus.  If your pet had a fearful experience before, and the sight of something reminds her of that situation, the information from her sensory cortex triggers the memory in her hippocampus, which communicates with her amygdala, which then floods her with fear.princess Amidala_fear_cats_dogs_pet brains

They have found that with dogs who are experiencing the emotion of anger, the amygdala and hippocampus play key roles. When these systems become overactive, they cause the amygdala pathway to bypass the cortex entirely.  This results in an animal who will literally react without thinking.  Ahem, Hocus Pocus and King Albert can both attest to this.  And I know of a cockatoo who lives in this state during the peak hormonal months!

But don’t we all have the ability to react this way at some point in our lives?  I find it fascinating that our animal companions have this hard-wiring as well. 

animal brain
Primary amygdalar nuclei and basic circuit connections across species.

 


Emotions and the Autonomic Nervous System At Work

When an animal looks at the world, he or she is confronted with an overwhelming amount of sensory information—sights, sounds, smells, and so on.  After being processed in the brain’s sensory areas, the information is relayed to the amygdala, which acts as a portal to the emotion-regulating limbic system.  Using input from the individual’s stored knowledge, the amygdala determines how they should respond emotionally—for example, with fear (at the sight of a predator or stranger), in affection or love (at the sight of their beloved person walking in the door) or indifference (when facing something trivial).

Messages cascade from the amygdala to the rest of the limbic system and eventually reach the autonomic nervous system, which prepares the body for action.  If the animal is confronting a threat, her heart rate will rise.  Her body might sweat in some areas to dissipate the heat from muscular exertion.  The autonomic arousal in turn, feeds back into the brain, amplifying the emotional response.  Over time, the amygdala creates a salience landscape, a map that details the emotional significance of everything in the individual’s environment.

This internal mind map is a reminder of how to stay safe and alive.

When a threat is perceived, the body’s brilliant sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. The body then releases hormones that are responsible for either Fight or Flight. The hormones are adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. These hormones serve a very important purpose: They increase chances of survival.

“Fight or flight is a body’s primal response to anything one perceives a threat, hazard or danger; it is an immediate release of hormones to pump up our body to fight or run from a threat, whether that threat is perceived or real.”

fofbraindiag


Fear Digs In Deep.

There are some fascinating facts when it comes to the subject of fear. We now know that negative experiences effect the brain more deeply than positive experiences.  Fear sinks in deep.  And it holds on tight.  Once a learner (us or an animal) learns that something is scary, should be avoided, or becomes a trigger, the negative effects can be long lasting and hard-wired in the brain.

Remember when that creep who wore a clown costume to your friend’s birthday party when you were a kid?  Or what about that roach that crawled on you once while you were sleeping as a child?  How do you feel about roaches and clowns today?  It just takes one negative experience and that fear sticks to our minds like super glue.

Animals are not unlike us when it comes to how fear can set in and grab a tight hold in their minds.


Fear from Watching

Did you know that both people and pets can learn to be fearful of something, someone, or somewhere just by watching another animal or person?  The amygdala plays a critical part in the physical expression of a fear response in humans as well as animals.  Scientists have shown that the amygdala responds when a person or animal exhibits fear through observing someone else experiencing a fearful experience. This means that the amygdala is involved in learning to fear something even without directly experiencing the aversive event. Animals can merely observe something fearful and learn to be afraid of that person, place, or event!

Knox In His Box


The Scent of Fear

You know that phrase, “I can smell fear a mile away!”, or “They can smell your fear.”?  Well, it turns out there is some truth to that.  Researches in 2014 discovered that young animals have the ability to learn fear in the first days of life. Just by smelling the odor of their distressed mother.  And this doesn’t pertain to just “natural” fears; If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her offspring will quickly learn to fear it too. How? Through her odor when she feels fear.

When the odor of the frightened rat mother was piped in to a chamber where her offspring were located and the juvenile rats were exposed to peppermint smell, they developed a fear of the scent of peppermint. Their blood cortisol levels rose when they smelled it! I mean, come on! How incredible is that?!

“During the early days of an infant rat’s life, they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories,” says Jacek Debiec, M.D., Ph.D., the U-M psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research.

“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” he adds. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally-transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”

fear learned

Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan Health System

But wait. There’s more.  The scientists exposed the rat pups of both groups of mothers to the peppermint smell, under many different conditions with and without their mothers present.  Fear still occurred.

Using special brain imaging, studies of genetic activity in individual brain cells, and cortisol in the rat’s blood, they focused on the lateral amygdala as the key location for learning fears. Note: Later in life this area is responsible for detecting and planning a response to threats; that’s why it would also be the “hub” for learning new fears.

“But the fact that these fears could be learned in a way that lasted during a time when the baby rat’s ability to learn any fears directly was naturally suppressed, is what makes the new findings so interesting”, says the lead scientist, Debiec.

Their research even showed that the newborns could learn their mothers’ fears even when the mothers weren’t present.  Merely the scent of their mother reacting to the peppermint odor she feared was enough to make them fear the same thing.


Fear In Pheromones

Fear can be passed through scent glands.  Not only can pheromones be used to scent mark, attract mates, claim territory, find prey, and identify other animals, but they can be used as alarms.  Our dogs and cats can smell when fear is present in these glands.  I refer to these as FEAR-amones When they smell fear, they instinctively know to Get The Heck Out of Dodge.

sniffing-butt
Butt Sniffing : Think of this behavior as “speaking with chemicals”. It’s how dogs learn about another dog’s diet, gender, and even their emotional state!


 

Our Similar Structures

In An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian’s Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate Adrian Morrison provides a great description of just how mammalian and animal-like we humans are. As Morrison explains, we share common brain structures with other mammals:

My cat, Buster, and I both flinch and yowl or curse at a sudden painful stimulus, and our legs both jerk in response to a tap on the patellar tendon of the knee. The spinal organization of the neurons responsible for these activities is the same in cats as it is in humans.

Moving forward into the lowest part of the brain, in both Buster and me the same neurons control basic bodily functions, such as regulation of breathing, heart rate, and vomiting. Farther forward reside the nerve cells that regulate the behaviors of sleep and wakefulness, which are identical in humans and other mammals, and where dysfunction results in similar problems, such as narcolepsy … and REM sleep behavior disorder. In this brain region in all mammals are found the neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.

At the base of the cerebral hemispheres is the almond-shaped amygdala, where mechanisms leading to fear and anxiety in people and animals operate. Monkeys and rats have contributed much to our understanding of the amygdala. The overlying cerebral cortex is where all of us mammals analyze the sensations coming from the skin, muscles and joints via the spinal cord, or eyes and ears in the cases of vision and hearing.

Where we depart from our animal brethren is in the great development of the front part of our cerebral cortex, the frontal lobes, and the greater proportion of cerebral tissue, called association areas, which integrate the information obtained from the regions that directly receive sensory information. These latter regions are called the primary sensory and motor areas because they receive simple, pure sensations and direct the movement of the body. It is within the frontal lobes that we humans mull over the past, prepare for the future, and reflect on its implications. Animals do not have this last capability in particular, as far as we can discern. Animals prepare for the future in a limited, instinct-driven way: Think of squirrels gathering and burying nuts for the winter. …

His last three sentences get right to the point of why I am sharing with you:  If we have the ability to plan, predict, and prepare, and our pets are instinctively coping, adjusting, and surviving this rollercoaster (we put them on), then we have a lot of work to do as their guardians.

If fear is sticky and hard to remove, then as animal guardians we need to know how fear sets in, how we can minimize or prevent it, and how to effectively remove it.  We have serious business at hand if we want them to live in our human world with minimal stress and fear, and with a maximum sense of security and safety.  If we want them to thrive, rather than merely survive, then we need to get to work.


Emotions Matter. 

The willingness to recognize that animals have emotions is key.  Their feelings matter, their fear is real to them.  Animals are sentient beings who experience the lows and highs of their live with us. We must respect this.

To continue with the status quo, because that’s what as always been done isn’t enough anymore. Now that we know more, we do more. Now that we know better, we must do better. For them. For us. For all species.

All that we once believed about animals has changed, and so should our relationships with the animals we live with, care, for and are stewards for.  When it comes to what we can and cannot do for animals, it is their capacity to feel, experience complex emotions that can be a catalyst for how we change the way we view them, and how we act on their behalf.


“Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them, and so do other
animals. We must never forget that”. ― Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy – and Why They Matter




My next post in this “Fear Series” will address both the causes and effects of of emotional and environmental stress on our pets, so stay tuned!

And the last post in this Fear Series will be chocked full of fun tips and techniques that you can implement to help your pets reduce their fears and live a fearless life!

Until then, I am going to plan, prepare, and be proactive about our upcoming Big Move with our animal companions!

All my love to you and yours.

-Amy & The Critter Krewe

 

Looking at Fear

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear. – Gandhi

ACIM_new thoughts_no fear_choose love

Over the past few years I have written about fear often.  Whether it’s behavioral concerns that stem from fear in an animal, or fear of an animal, fear has always been one of my favorite subjects.   As animal guardians and animal stewards and caretakers, we are sometimes really great at recognizing an animal’s fear.  Sometimes we are not so great at recognizing when an animal is afraid, uncomfortable, or feels threatened, and we fail to help them feel safe.

In my life I have found that we can be blind to another type of fear; our own fear.  When I am working with a client and they are afraid, nervous, or anxious, their fear often impedes the progress of their pet’s behavior modification process.  When they are not able to be objective, unattached, or in a healthy mind set they allow fear to run the show.  I can attest to this being true in my life with pets as well.  When I allow fear to take over, I am no longer able to help anyone.

Rather than focusing on our animal companion’s fear issues, this post is going to discuss our fear and how it affects our world, and our animal companion’s world.


All fear comes from thought in the form of memory (past) or projection (future)


Changes in the Wind

We are moving soon.  Right now my husband is out in California looking for a new home for our family.  Moving is not new to our family.  We are in the Marine Corps so we are expected to pick up and relocate every 1.5 -3 years.  My husband and I both have Wanderlust, so it’s not such a bad gig.  But because we have a number of animals who share our home, it does complicate things, to say the least.

The Upside and Downside

Although moving is a huge pain in the derriere, we are grateful.  My husband has been selected for command (hence why we are moving a year earlier than expected).  This is an opportunity of a lifetime.  So needless to say, we are all proud of him and supportive of this opportunity.  My husband and I will be a command “team”, so to speak (they even sent us both to school to prepare for this new leadership role).

I am going to be quite certainly, in a whole new playing field.  (Deep Breath).  As if all of these new duties and expectations aren’t overwhelming enough, we have a house full of animals that have to be uprooted and replanted (again).  And this all begins soon.  

We pack up.  We move.  We begin a new life chapter.

 

Fear of What We Fear Most

As excited as we both are about this new chapter, fears have been coming up in unexpected ways.  Last week these fears hit their peak.  As the animal guardian for four (very complicated) critters, I am having my own issues with the move. Here in lies the problem.

You might be wondering, What is there to fear? You’re going to live by the beach! Hello!! That’s amazing!   Right?!   But somehow my fear of completely screwing things up for the animals is front and center.  My worries and concerns have been at an all-time high.  Rather than being in joy and gratitude for the next life chapter for our family, I have managed to come up with every possible scenario of how everything can go to crap.

Maybe one of the cats escapes en transit as we make our week long trek from the east coast to the west coast.  Maybe our sometimes grey grizzly bear of a geriatric cat backslides into his former health and behavioral issues.  Maybe our recovering-reactive-canine takes a deep dive back down into the mental Reactive Dog Canyon.  Maybe our youngest cat completely loses his mind after the week long journey of multiple hotels, constant car rides, a new unfamiliar home, and he takes a deep dive into Stressville, and urinary tract issues flare up again.

Those are only four of the countless hellish scenarios that I have concocted in my mind.  

Why was I imagining those scenarios? you ask.  Well, those scenarios have either happened before during times of stress, life’s upheavals, or “Hurrications”.  Or they could be possible considering each one of the animal’s individual histories.

But is any of this helpful?  Would focusing my attention and energy on any of those scenarios help my family?  Would worrying about what-could-go-awry help the animals? NO.   My wandering and all too creative mind has not been put to good use.  

In fact, it could be the very thing that blocks our family’s success.


 “You are far too tolerant of mind wandering.” – ACIM


 

Success AND Stress Are Both Dependent upon You.

Could you relate to those crazy scenarios that I concocted?  Do you catch yourself mind wandering like that when you have something coming up that is either stressful for you, your family, and animal companions?  Have you ever been very stressed and anxious about an upcoming medical procedure with a pet?  Do you become nervous or fearful when under pressure with a timeline or big changes with your family pets?

If you do, you are not alone. You, unfortunately, are just like the majority of people on this planet.  If you are living in fear and letting fear run the show, you, my friend are a hostage to fear.  And this bondage can affect the outcome of every challenge your family faces together.


Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves.


Who’s Driving Your Life?

I was out in the forest one day with Hocus and an old school song came on my playlist. All of a sudden it was as if I was hearing the song for the very first time.  I heard, understood, and felt the lyrics completely.  He was singing about how we let our ego and fear run the show in our lives.  But we don’t have to.  We can learn to take the wheel and drive.  We can take control over our fears.  We can decide that we are no longer hostage to our fears.  Here’s an excerpt:

Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can’t help but ask myself how much
I’ll let the fear take the wheel and steer.

It’s driven me before, and it seems to have a vague
Haunting mass appeal.

But lately I’m beginning to find that I
Should be the one behind the wheel.

Whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes.
…..

It’s driven me before and it seems to be the way
That everyone else gets around.
But lately I’m beginning to find that when
I drive myself my light is found.

~ Incubus, “Drive”

That song is exactly what I am getting at here.  We can let fear take over, and create all kinds of scenarios that result in unnecessary stress and worry. We can consciously create circumstances in which our animal companions (and we) become victims of our circumstances. 

 Or we can choose another way of looking at challenges: We can remember that we have the power to choose to take control over our fears, and release them. These fears have no power over us unless we allow them.


If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. -Marcus Aurelius


 take back your power _conquering fears

Fears Hinders Guidance, Inspiration, and Solutions.

Fear is rampant in our world.  It’s everywhere we look.  We are led to believe that fear is natural and should be embraced at times, but I disagree wholeheartedly.  Fear is not your friend.   Fear is harmful and it’s unproductive.  Fear hinders.  Fear clouds our minds and creates disharmony where there could be peace. 

Whether you are a person or a pet, fear can be debilitating.

Have you ever heard of the acronym of F.E.A.R. -False Evidence Appearing Real?   I had my own F.E.A.R. come up with this move and major life transition.   Once fear set into my mind I was unable to see solutions.   I was making assumptions, creating negative circumstances, and projecting my limiting beliefs onto the moving process, our new home, and our companion animals.

As an Intuitive Empath I have learned (the hard way) that fear blocks everything.  Fear taints. Fear stalls. Fear overrides. Fear impedes. Fear ruins. Fear blocks. 

Now I know that I am not in my right mind when I am in fear.  When I am in fear I am reacting, instead of observing. When I’m letting fear take the wheel and run the show I am not able to use my intuition and my guidance. Using my intuition and abilities are how I best connect with my environment.  It’s how I am able to navigate the world on a level that helps me to connect deeply, compassionately, and objectively with everyone and everything. But when I am in fear all of this guidance and inspiration is blocked.  When I am allowing fear to run the show, I am blindly navigating this crazy world.  

I am not different from you in this way.  This is true for every person.  Fear blocks everything.  Everything.

But when we can consciously remove our limiting beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, judgments, and projections, we are able to find solutions to problems, complications, and challenges that arise.  Our perception can make or break the process with our pets!


Perception is consistent. What you see reflects your thinking.  And your thinking but reflects your choice of what you want to see. -ACIM


 

A vintage, textured paper background with an earth to sky toned gradient.

The Power of Choice

I am passionate about allowing all species of animals to have the power to choose in every circumstance.  The ability to choose to participate or choose to walk away are choices that all living beings deserve the right to exercise.  But what about our power to make choices as their guardians?  We have the power to choose as well. And the choices we make affect their lives. Even the choices we make in our mind can have a powerful effect.

When a stressful event is on the horizon and you know that it’s going to affect your pets, you have choices to make.  We have the power to choose to be in fear or to release those fears. Whether you choose to stay stressed, anxious, or worried is your choice.  But what you choose will affect the experience and the outcome for all involved.  

The success of your family and your animal companions during times of change depends upon you and how you choose to prepare, address, view, and react during, after, and before the event.


Come what may. We are never victims of our circumstances. We can chose another way.


you get to choose_how the story ends_choose your own adventure.png

Choose to tell a different story.

Let’s get Back to the power of choice.   Your perception is everything.  You can choose to see the current or upcoming circumstances in a new light.  You don’t have to remain in fear.

I just did this myself with my insane, rampant fears surrounding our upcoming move out west.  After some intense inner work, I released my fears.  All of them.  I cried.  And I even laughed at a few of them.  Then I remembered to have compassion for myself for feeling and believing those fears.

Having compassion for the fears that you are perceiving about what “could happen” to your pets is imperative.  There is no need to judge yourself when these fears pop up.   But if something horrible happened in the past, it does not mean that it will happen again.  Do not create scenarios that are not desirable.  And do not drag the past into your present circumstances.

Choose to create a new story.  Choose how you want the story to unfold this time.    If there are preventative measures that you can implement, put them in place.  If you are not sure how to implement tools and techniques that will ensure the safety and success of you animal companions, there are qualified people who can help you.

Worry seems like a form of caring, but really it’s a rumination of ego-fear energy. It does nothing to help.  In fact, it can make things worse; worry is a form of prayer and manifestation that can call more negativity to you.   

I have started to see life’s challenges as one of those books from childhood that had those “choose your own ending” options. Do you remember those? I loved them. When things got a little hairy, I knew I could choose a different outcome.  Life challenges and upheavals with our animal companions can be like those choose-your-own-ending chapters. We can choose to write a new story.

If you now know better, do better. We do!  If you have learned from your mistakes in the past, move on.  We have. But if fear is running your world, you won’t know how to do better. You won’t be able to move forward.   If fear is rampant in your mind you won’t be able to tell a different story.


I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
~Frank Herbert


 

Make-a-Difference_change your thoughts_ACIM

I finally cleared the clouds of fear that were clouding my judgment about our upcoming move.  I set aside my worst fears about the animals, and how I would fail them all. I released my fear of not measuring up. I let go of the negative and worrisome outcomes I had created in my mind.

I have decided to choose to move forward without fear.

I have remembered that I know what to do.  This is what I teach other families how to do with grace and ease!  I can do this.  And I will.  I am capable of doing it with grace, ease, and success within our own family.  I am willing to see the countless ways that we will all be successful.  I can now see that there is really nothing to fear.  I do have the power to create success with each animal, within myself, and for our family. I will remember to stay in gratitude at every moment. Gratitude will be my guide.

This is how I am choosing to experience our new life chapter.  This is how I am now choosing to view our animal companions in their new world.  A safe, empowered, and successful new life is the world that we will create for them.  This is the world they  will live in.  They will succeed.  They will thrive.  None of us will live in a world of fear.  We will be safe and sound.

green energy surrounding a heart


I decided I was safe.  I was strong.  I was brave. ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


 

Ready to Release, and Rock & Roll?

Are you ready to release your biggest fears?  I am.  And I hope you are, too.  This is part one of a four part post.  In the next post I will discuss how fear and emotions  affect the mind and body. And the following posts will cover how Fear and Stress Affects Our Pets, and in the last post I will offer Practical Advice and Tips You Can Use Before, During, and After a Big Transition with Pets. 

I am not listing these tips now for one very important reason: Before we put anything into practice, before we can think clearly and objectively, and before we are able to address any kind of behavioral or medical issue, we have to get fear out of the way.   Fear blocks.  Fear impedes.  Fear stalls.  Fear clouds judgment.  Fear is the root of failure.  Fear is not our friend.   Fear must leave. 

So for now, the first step is focusing on releasing any and all fears.  That is your first task at hand.  Then you can move forward fearlessly toward success.  You can do this.  Let go of your fears.  Live the life you were meant to live. Be brave. Trust. Let go.

 you get to choose_the power of choice



“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. –
Cheryl Strayed


 

 

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.

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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.
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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.

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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

Finding Hope Through Writing About Loss

henriandbill

Have you ever lost an animal companion so suddenly and unexpectedly that you struggled to come to terms with it for weeks, months, or even years? If you follow this blog, chances are you view your pets as part of the family, just like I do. I’d like to tell you about my experience of healing by writing about the loss of Henri.

Early in 2013, mhenriandliamy beloved Bichon, Henri, started showing signs of illness. He was gaining weight rapidly and he had strange skin issues, like a rash that wouldn’t go away and cyst-like sores. I was no stranger to a Bichon’s allergies and the vet didn’t think it was too big a deal. He was more concerned that Henri was getting fat and we both figured he was just eating too much and not getting enough exercise.

More problems kept popping up—the skin rash was a staph infection and he had fungus growing between his little toes. The vet ran tests and amped up the meds. Then, Henri went blind. It was horrible, but I was prepared to do anything for that little dog. I researched how to care for a blind dog, started a blind dog blog, and of course gave him plenty of bully sticks and games to play with. Henri is wicked smart and could solve puzzles in a snap, blind or not.

bullystick

Then, his hearing started to go. Trips to specialists were almost daily, because his sores wouldn’t heal and he kept getting more. He hated the constant poking and probing as much as anyone would! He was on so much medication I didn’t know how his little body could handle it. I had to wear gloves to give him one of the pills. I had to put eye drops in his poor blind eyes twice a day and it was obvious this scared him. One consolation was that, since he was blind, I had to carry him everywhere, so at least he was getting lots of snuggling and so was I.

Gradually, we were starting to realize that Henri was not going to puzzlesget better; he was only going to get worse. Before long, he didn’t want to be petted and comforted any longer. He didn’t want to sleep. He barked all the time, confused.

We made the hardest decision a pet owner could make, and on his last night with us we gave him a steak dinner. He couldn’t even smell the steak in front of his face. But once he had a lick, he devoured every bite.

I was so grief stricken after he died that I was inconsolable for days. Understand, I didn’t want to admit that Henri’s condition was fatal until about a week before he died. Maybe that’s what the vet was telling me, but since they couldn’t even name the disease—it seemed like some kind of multi-system, cascading thing of mysterious origin—I denied that he couldn’t be fixed until the very end. His breed should have a life expectancy of at least fifteen years. Henri was only seven-years-old when he passed.

My friend Amy Martin encouraged me to celebrate his life (and that’s something I tried so hard to embrace), but I wasn’t ready to stop mourning. I wanted to hold onto him somehow.

That’s when I decided to make Henri a character in the book I was writing at the time. We come into the story as a new character is introduced, driving into the small town of Shirley…

Driving into Shirley from the east always shocked Aaron Walsh after he had been away for a while. He’d be driving through the gentle rise and fall of the highway, traversing mostly highlands between the taller peaks, for miles. Then, he’d round the last summit, Widow-maker Point, and then bang!—the valley plunged, a deep crevice in the countryside below the granite cliffs. The transition was breath-taking. He usually felt contented by the vision, flooded with memories of a happy childhood spent rampaging through the forests with friends, siblings and cousins. But not that day.

That day, the scene made him feel homesick and sorry for himself. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in a cozy lounger and watch a Mystery Science Theater marathon under blankets. He turned up the volume on a melancholy country song and let his mood settle in. Aaron reached up to squeeze Henri’s collar. He hung it from his rearview mirror after the vet had returned the collar, empty, along with other personal items. The grain of the fabric was worn and soft, slightly oily from years of use.

Henri had started out as his wife Chloë’s, dog years before, but the dog had taken to Aaron. Aaron loved to give Henri bacon treats and dinner handouts under the table. Chloë bought him for a show dog. He was a Bichon Frisee with Champion lineage—his sire was actually named Champion, no kidding—but Aaron had spoiled her chances in a matter of months. He smiled, thinking about how mad his wife was when Henri got too fat. He remembered that glorious, flowing-white tail that Henri would wrap around his wrist while he petted him. Aaron had grown up with hounds and mutts, and he never would’ve imagined a fluffy white dog would or could steal his heart, but he had.

Then, Henri started showing signs of mysterious health problems. A pure bred dog after all, Aaron had tried to reason that inbreeding often caused strange issues. He took him to dozens of specialists and spent thousands of dollars on testing and treatments. Finally, he had to accept it. Henri was dying. Once Aaron decided to have him put to sleep, he made the commitment to be there with him when he passed away. He cried like a baby for days leading up to it and for days after it was done, but he was able to stroke his fur and whisper thanks in his ear, for being such a good dog. As difficult as it was, he was grateful to have been able to tell him good-bye.

Chloë was sympathetic and patient at first. But after several days of Aaron’s prolonged mourning, his moping around the house uselessly, she started to lose patience. He lashed out at her for not seeing Henri’s worth as a show dog (which was ridiculous; Henri would have hated that prissy crap), and Chloë suggested a week in the mountains might help.

She was right, of course. Camping always helped heal the soul. Aaron couldn’t wait to get out there, among the elements. He’d spent too much time indoors the last few years. City life did that to you. He figured he’d stop in and say hello to Dad before he headed south, into the most secluded wilderness along Red Ridge.

–Excerpted from The Tramp.

henriWhen I read that now, two years later, I know that what I was doing was witnessing Henri’s life and death. I felt so guilty about his illness, because I didn’t realize for so long how ill he was. I wondered if I had treated him kindly enough when he was probably feeling worse than I understood. Henri never complained.

Any pet owner who has had to make the decision to euthanize a beloved friend knows how hard it is; even when all professional opinion tells you you’re doing the right thing, the “right thing” is excruciating.

But also, I was sharing Henri with the world, making him eternal in literature. That helped the healing process begin. As Aaron Walsh finds peace in the book, so was I in writing about it. The sunrise that he watches, and the peace he feels afterward, was my way to describe what I hoped was in store for myself.

I’m not the camper he is, but I can imagine it…

Right on time, an American Robin broke into her, “Cheer up, cheer up, cheerily,” whistle not a hundred yards away, and Aaron decided to quit his tent for an early start.

He unzipped the door flaps and ducked out into the fresh morning air, then reached back inside for his coat, shocked at the drop in temperature. Feeling the yawn in his abdomen, he considered breakfast, but since the sun wasn’t completely up, it would be a hassle in the dark. Instead, he sat down on the blanket of fallen pine leaves outside his front door, tugged on his boots, and decided to sit out the sunrise with a better vantage point closer to the river. He inspected his jeep as he passed for any signs of ransacking, but seeing nothing amiss, he ambled toward the rim of the bluff.

The stroll was easy through towering pine trees, their high plumes of needles overhead floating over the forest floor like thunderheads. He could barely see the stars, much less the blossoming horizon to the east, but he knew the giant trees would stand aside for maples, dogwoods and holly bushes along the edge of the pinewoods. The heavens would open up for a gorgeous sunrise over the southern canyon. He heard the rapid, stuttering trill and then low, buzzing tones of a warbler in the distance, announcing the dawn.  Aaron picked up his pace. Near the edge of the forest, he slowed down to navigate a thicket of mountain laurel and rhododendron. He heard more birdsongs announcing survival of the night and warning enemies of nests still protected, and Aaron worried he might miss the sunrise.

But the canopy above cleared abruptly, and he was kissed by the fresh air of the open ravine, with an earthy smell of fast moving water churning up the riverbed below. He could just discern a delicate lavender wash seeping across the sky into the western blackness, the stars beginning to wink out with the advance of light. Aaron collapsed to the ground, leaned back in relief and dangled his boots over the side of the bluff, his palms damp on the cool, crusty granite. He thought about the healing power of a new day—of every new day—and admitted that he was starting to accept his friend Henry’s death.

“Bye, little buddy.”

The burst of sunfire was spectacular, perfect for Henry’s requiem. Bright pinks and oranges flared and rippled amongst feathers of clouds. Aaron’s face warmed as the sun rose and the pageant faded and the sky gradually fused back together in a cool, peaceful blue. It was morning, fair and full of promise.

–Excerpted from The Tramp

I am happy to report that I’m now able to truly celebrate Henri’s life. When I shed tears for him, they are tears of joy and gratitude. Recently, Amy Martin introduced me to Denise Mange, a certified animal communicator who helped me contact Henri. It was an amazing experience and one that I will share in my next post. Stay tuned! If you’d like to learn more about animal communicators, ask Amy or visit Denise’s site: www.denisenyctraining.com.

–Sarah Wathen, guest author


Headshot_1_smallTo learn more, follow Sarah’s blog at www.sarahwathen.com.

Sarah Wathen is an artist, an author, and the founder of the independent publishing house, LayerCake Productions, specializing in the fun part of creative writing—original artwork, video trailers, and musical soundtracks. She was trained in Classical Painting at the University of Central Florida, and received her Master’s in Fine Art from Parsons School of Design in New York City. If Florida was where she discovered her passion, New York was the place she found her voice. “Writing a book was my obvious next step, once I realized I’d been trying to tell stories with pictures for years,” Sarah says about transitioning from visual artist to novelist. “Painting with words is even more fun than painting with oil.”

Sarah lives in Florida with her husband, son, and at least a dozen imaginary friends from her two novels, a paranormal mystery called The Tramp, and a young adult coming of age story, Catchpenny. A painter at heart, her novels incorporate art judicially, both in narrative content and supporting materials. Her characters are derived from the people and places that have influenced her own life—at least one beloved pet makes it into every book—but the stories they live will take you places you have never imagined and won’t want to leave.

Contact

Email: layercakeproductionsllc@gmail.com

Twitter: @SWathen_Author

Facebook: SarahLWathen

Tumblr: swathen.tumblr.com

Instagram: sarah.wathen

Wattpad: SarahWathen

Medium: @sarahwathen

Save The Paw!

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?” ― Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation

declaw my cat_why not to declaw your cat

Have you had an experience that changed the way you once viewed something? Have you ever known in your gut that something you were watching unfold or helping with seemed ”so right” to everyone else, but it felt so wrong to you?  I’ve had this experience more than once, and I would like to talk to you about it today.

This is not a feel-good story, but it’s one that needs to be shared.

From the age of 14 to 17, I worked and volunteered at local veterinary clinics in Orlando Florida, where my family lived at the time.   I worked closely with pets that people brought in for boarding, minor procedures, and major surgeries.  Even though I was young, the staff let me work alongside of them for many of the procedures.  This was in the 90s, so veterinary staff were much more lax about safety procedures than now.  Some of the procedures were fascinating.  Some were bloody and heart wrenching.

As a teenager, and later as an adult, I had an all inclusive pass and a front row seat to participate in tail and ear dockings and amputations.  Tail and ear docking was considered “minor” surgery, but what I witnessed as a post-op staff was not “minor.”  The harmless-sounding term “declawing” was used to hide what amounted to an amputation procedure.   You might raise an eyebrow reading that because these procedures are something we hear about often, so they seem rather innocuous.  I am here to tell you from first hand experience: declawing is not a minor, harmless procedure.  Onychectomies (declawing of cats) is quite controversial, and quite complicated.

declawing cats procedure

Experience Changes Perception

During my teenage veterinary life chapter and my post college veterinary school chapter I witnessed and participated in many things involving or resulting from decalwing.  It always felt wrong to me, despite the docs who quickly dismissed my questions and concerns.  None of what I saw was positive.  I saw cats in pain, cats sick from the procedure, cats later euthanized due to major complications post-surgery, and I saw cat owners devastated because of the uninformed decision they made for their cats.  I have even known cougars who had been declawed out of safety for humans, but ended up living a life dominated by physical pain and discomfort.  Fast forward to today.  Now I help people who made the decision to declaw their cats (either out of convenience or because of a veterinarian’s recommendation to solve undesirable scratching behavior), but now they have more issues because of declawing their cats.  I share this with you today because tomorrow is Declaw Awareness Day.  This is your chance to spread the word and become involved.   

Educations spreads Awareness. Awareness breeds compassion


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DECLAWING

 Declawing is NOT a “Kitty Manicure” 

People often are often misled to believe that declawing is a harmless procedure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Declawing is the surgical amputation of all or part of a cat’s third phalanges (toe bones) and the attached claws.  If this surgery was done on a human, it would be like cutting off each finger or toe at the last knuckle.

declawed cat claws

Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. ~ AVMA American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

cat declaw like human amputation

Feline Fact:  Cats claws are NOT like our fingernails.

Cat-Declawing

How Declawing Is Performed 

The standard method of declawing is amputating with a scalpel or guillotine clipper.  The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged.  I had the job of doing the “kitty super glue” when I assisted veterinarian staff as a teenager.  Laser surgery is another way this procedure is done.  I helped during the post-op procedures for this technique at the Louisiana State University Veterinary Teaching School.  A beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporizing it.  This procedure still amputates the last toe bone of the cat and carries the same long-term risks as the other method.

declaw_what happens when cats are declawed_the truth about declawing_amputation

 Feline Fact:  At least 22 countries have banned declawing.


A Cat’s Anatomy Matters

Did you know that cats are digitigrade, which means that they walk on their toes?  As a cat walks or runs, he/she will usually retract their claws into sheaths, leaving behind just the smooth, small toes and footpad.  Humans and bears are plantigrade mammals.  We walk on the soles of our feet, with the toes only touching the ground briefly toward the end of each step.

Declawing Complications

Once a cat is declawed, it changes the way a cat can move.  There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage, and bone spurs.  A cat’s leg muscles and back muscles can weaken over time. This can lead to back and joint pain.

Clawed-vs-Declawed-Toes _cats Declawing

Removing claws changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground and can cause pain similar to that which humans experience when wearing a very uncomfortable pair of shoes

Medical Complications of Declawing:

  • pain in the paw
  • infection
  • tissue necrosis (tissue death)
  • lameness
  • nerve damage
  • bone chips that prevent healing
  • postoperative hemorrhage
  • regrowth of the claws inside the paw pads.

Behavioral and Physical Complications of Declawing:

  • Many cats are less likely to use the litter box due to pain after being declawed.
  • Most cats are more likely to bite because they no longer have their claws for defense.
  • There are long lasting physical problems for your cat.

 Feline Fact: Declawing changes the way the cat’s paws function, and this creates stress on the joints of the paw, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and spine.


Why Cats NEED Their Claws

1. Offense and Defense – Your cat’s claws are a vital part of his/her arsenal for offense and defense. Did you know:

  • Cats use their claws to capture prey (toys or real prey)
  • Cats use their claws to settle disputes among themselves, other animals, and with people who are hurting, threatening, or annoying them.
  • Cats who need to climb to safe place use their claws to grip onto the surface and pull themselves up to safety.

2. Health and Habits – Your cat’s claws are a vital part of his/her daily rituals.  Cats instinctually pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance (trees, logs, rugs, scratching posts, etc.) They do this to mark territory, exercise and stretch muscles, relieve stress, and to remove worn sheaths from the nails.

declaw_why cats need their claws

Scratching Serves Many Purposes.

Despite what you may believe, cats don’t’ scratch your furniture or other personal items to “get back at you”.  Cats have a biological (physical and emotional) need to do this behavior!  Scratching is a very normal and healthy behavior.   There is another popular misconception that cats scratch to sharpen their nails.  This is not true.   Cats scratch for a variety of very important reasons:

 Why Cats Scratch:kitten-with-scratchpost

  • To communicate; scratching on surfaces deposits pheromones that send messages to other cats.
  • To condition the claws by removing aged cuticles
  • To serve as a visual territorial marker
  • To defend themselves
  • To stretches the muscles of the limbs, thorax, and back
  • To express joy, excitement, frustration, stress, and as a displacement behavior

Experts Weigh-In on Declawing

Read what the respected feline veterinarians and animal welfare organizations have to say about this declawing:

The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians. The only circumstance in which the procedure could be condoned would be if the health and safety of the guardian would be put at risk, as in the case of individuals with compromised immune systems or illnesses that cause them to be unusually susceptible to serious infections.

 The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors.


Feline expert Dr. Margie Scherk shares her experience and thoughts on the issue:


Some people feel it’s unnatural to remove a cat’s claws, and it’s done for the owner’s benefit and not for the cat’s benefit. There are many other arguments you can make for this — the pain they go through, the complications after declawing. But I think it really boils down to cats are born with claws and they should keep them. ~ Drew Weigner, Atlanta veterinarian and president of the Academy of Feline Medicine

The American Association of Feline Practitioners statement on declawing (PDF) 

The AVMA’s Policy on Cat Declawing and what’s actually Involved (video)



Is declawing bad for cats AND YOU?  You bet.  Jackson Galaxy sets the record straight:



Alternatives to Declawing

Sometimes, people feel like there is no other option but to remove a cat’s claws.  Thankfully, many progressive and humane veterinarians are now teaching their clients about other humane and respectful methods for managing destructive clawing and to prevent injury from cat scratches.  Here are just a few alternatives to declawing:


Facts Aren’t Enough

I was going to simply share the facts about declawing along with the humane alternatives and just keep it at that, but as I write this I am moved to share more.  I have three cats laying around me right now.  All of them have their claws intact.  Have we had issues with scratching in the home before?  Sure. It’s what cats need to do.  But I didn’t chop off their toes because of unwanted scratching.  I taught my cats where and what to scratch on.  I took the time to learn my cats’ individual preferences and thresholds so they would never feel the need to scratch me, our house guests, each other, or the dog.  I teach my clients, family, and friends how to do this as well.  It’s humane. It’s fun. And it works.

The Bigger Picture

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know that I steer on the positive side of things.  I do my best to not judge, and I focus on compassionate education.  But I have to ask: Who do we think we are to do this to cats?  Why do we think it’s perfectly acceptable to amputate an animal’s body part because it makes our lives easier?  How did we get to this point with the animals we invited into our lives?  Will we continue to do this procedure without exploring other options?  How did the disconnect happen between caring for our cats and fully honoring them for who they are?  When did we choose to overlook their emotional and physical needs?  Who are we to decide that this procedure is justifiable? We would never consider doing this to a child if there was a behavioral issue; we would look into every other option available. Are cats considered less than deserving of the same treatment?

I understand these are tough questions, but they need to be asked, and we need to take an honest look at all of this.

Before you make the decision to amputate your cat’s toes, try humane alternatives.  There are too many available to ignore.  Choose wisely.  My cats are family.  Are yours?

Declaw awareness_why not to declaw cats
Me and Knox

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


Recommended Reading

Read This Before Declawing Your Cat

Think Twice Before You Declaw

Declawing: Another Veterinarian’s Perspective

Physical Consequences of Declawing

Declawing Cats Required to Rent?

Paw Project Movie on Netflix

Relief for Declawed Cats

Chronic Pain of Declawing

The Paw Project

Welfare Implications of Declawing of Domestic Cats

don't declaw_save the paw_Conscious Companion_Declaw awareness day