Living A Life That’s Golden

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I’m taking my freedom

Pulling it off the shelf

I’m taking my freedom

Wherever I choose to go

It will take me far

I’m livin’ my life like it’s golden

Livin’ my life like it’s golden, golden

I’m taking my own freedom

Putting it in my song

Singing loud and strong

Grooving all day long

I’m taking my freedom

Putting it in my stroll

I’ll be high-steppin’ y’all

Letting the joy unfold

“Golden”, by Jill Scott


Do you know that song from the goddess Jill Scott?  It’s really good.  I first saw Jill at Jazz Fest in New Orleans nearly a decade ago with a soul sister and she blew my mind; such powerful positive energy!  I shared the lyrics to her song  “Golden” because that is how someone I love very much lived his life, and it’s also how others have,too.  But before we go there, I would like to ask you some questions.

Who came into your life unexpectedly?

Who holds a key to your heart?

Who has made an impact on your life in ways you never expected?

Who has given you gifts that you can never repay?

Who has taught you some of your greatest life lessons?

Who would you do anything for?

For me, one soul that fits all of these is the focus of this post’s discussion.  His name is King Albert the Grey.

I wish you knew him.  In fact, I wish the world knew him the way I do.  He is a king. A badass.  A warrior.  He is a friend to few, a lover of fewer, and a Great Love of mine.

Please allow me to share why he is the King of our wee kingdom.

Note:  Below is an excerpt (and a very abbreviated version) of a chapter from my book about caring for senior cats.  This is one of my longer posts, so get comfy with your critters and settle in.  Oh, and you might need a tissue, too.


During the spring of 2005 a rather intimidating stray cat the size of a bobcat began sneaking into our house, via the cat window that my zookeeper boyfriend had designed. Our cats Mr. Beaux (a melanistic Siamese, and Samantha, a semi-feral cat) were free-roaming cats at the time; oh how things have changed!  

My roommate, the head Sea Lion trainer at work, would come home nearly every evening and find one of the neighborhood strays in our house.  As soon as she opened the front door this huge cat would come hauling butt out of our house!  We named this brute “Big Fat Grey Cat” (BFGC) because he was big, fat, and grey.  Not a clever name, I know. But we didn’t care. We just wanted him gone.  This shamelessly bold stray cat had a habit of creeping into our home, eating the cats’ food, playing with their toys, and pooping in their litter boxes!   I was livid.  And our cats were really starting to freak out.   So, one day I decided to put an end to the shenanigans.  I was going to catch this creepy cat in the act.

On my next day off I pretended to go take a nap on my bed, right next to the cat window where we assumed he was entering.  My plan was to scare the crap out of this cat so he would never come back.  As I laid there on my bed, I soon heard the chair below the cat window on the porch move (I knew he had hopped into the chair at this point).  I laid as still as a could with one eye open.  Within moments a huge grey head peaked through the rubber window flaps.  His long grey whiskers and ears were pushed forward fearlessly.  His bright yellow eyes were as wide as saucers, scanning the room.  I quickly closed mine, pretending to be asleep.   At this point, the only way this cat could enter the house was to literally walk over my legs.  That’s when I would pounce like a panther, forcing him to retreat and never come back!

I waited for him to step over my legs.  My heart was racing.  His must have been too.  I laid there for what seemed like forever, waiting for him to step between my legs.  To my utter shock and surprise this ballsy stray cat carefully began to lay himself down on my bed just inches away from my feet.

 “What in the world was happening here?!?!”, I thought to myself.

Both appalled and amazed, I opened my eyes and looked right at him, thinking my direct stare would surely scare him off.  As he continued to gingerly settle into the bed, he slowly glanced at me, gave me a slow blink, then turned his head slightly away from me, still maintaining his posture of confidence, but keeping his full awareness on me.

 “This cat had some nerve!”, I thought. “Who the hell does he think he is?!?”

 He knew who he was.  He was a King.  And he had just claimed my bed.  

And clearly this house.

Something came over me.  The plan of executing an angry attack on this creepy cat had changed.  I had gone from a human hunter waiting for her prey, to a curious cat lover wanting to understand what was happening in my home.  I took the bait. 

I looked at him.  He looked right at me, but with a gentle energy.  His eyes were softer.  He truly felt as if he was politely asking permission to just be there, on my bed with me, in our loving home.   I could feel and sense that he had no malice or ill intent.   He was asking for my permission to stay.  So, I took a deep breath, opened my heart to him, and said, “Well hello there.”

 For nearly six months after that, Big Fat Grey Cat stayed near our home.  It was all still very odd and a bit unsettling to me.  He was, as everyone knew, the neighborhood bully.  He was a brutal fighter and killer.  He literally captured and killed every prey animal he came across and consumed it in plain sight.  He fought every dog he saw, and every cat that was careless enough to come close to him.

 I vividly remember one examples of his fearless ferocity.  One afternoon while cleaning dishes, I looked out the kitchen window to discover BFGC standing in our driveway with a huge snake in his mouth!  I hollered at him, pounding on the window, hoping he would drop it (I am a HUGE lover of snakes!).  BFGC barely glanced over at me, intent on keeping his prey secure in his mouth.  I raced outside to rescue the snake from the jaws of death.  Big Fat Grey Cat stood his ground with the snake wrapped around his neck and head …


The rest of that story will be shared at a later date.  The point is, being a fearless hunter, an endless explorer, and an unapologetic badass was in Big Fat Grey Cat’s DNA.  Do you remember the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction at the end, with “the wallet”? (you only need to watch it until 1:05 to get the point.)  If this cat carried a wallet, that’s the kind that King Albert the Grey would have had.  It’s who he was.  He had no fear.  None.  Not for the 17 years of life that I knew him.  He lived for a thrill.  He took risks.  He never stopped exploring.  He was a badass.

But here’s what really captured my heart:  He followed sensitive, scaredy pants Mr. Beaux everywhere (which really freaked Beaux out), but he was always kind to Beaux; he never raised a paw and he let him lead.  He gave Samantha the extra space she required, and he knew when to keep his distance from our guests.  And he never came back inside through the cat window; he always asked to come in through the front door.  He even welcomed me home when my truck pulled into the driveway.

He adopted us as his family.

But I still wanted to know where he came from, and why he chose us, so I did some investigating.  It turned out, his owner was an elderly man that had become too weak to care for him and his brother, so BFGC and his sibling were left homeless.  He was truly looking for a new home, and he chose us.  I also know now that my grandmother In Spirit sent him our way (more on that later).   Eventually we embraced him fully into our family but that came much later, during and after Hurricane Katrina, and our evacuation adventures together.   I talk all about this much more in the book.   All you need to know now is that he was discarded onto the streets and became king of the streets.  He was once unwelcome, but we welcomed him.   He once intimidated us but we learned to see his softer side.

He ruled the streets with a grey iron paw, but wanted a loving home with us.  He was a ruthless hunter, but had a heart of gold for his companions.   He ruled his world with confidence, bravery, determination, focus, and strength.  He was unapologetic in every decision he made.  He understood the importance of healthy boundaries.  He was respected by all who encountered him.  He was both feared and admired, yet he could care less of what others thought of him.  He was loved by those who knew him, yet he loved only a few.  He was choosy with affection, in charge of his kingdom, and capable of attaining anything we wanted.  He truly was a great king.

This beloved King left our home for a new kingdom on the night of March 31, 2017.

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There are souls who come into this world to be the catalyst for change, healing, and growth.  And even fewer who can be fully understood for what they offer, what they embody, and who they truly Are.  King Albert the Grey was all of this and more to me.  He was my friend, my muse, my feline companion, my teacher, and my guide.

And he still is.

The death of his body has not caused any of that to change.  He is still all of this and more.  Those subjects will be shared in much greater detail at a later date.  For now, I want to focus on the manner in which he lived his life, instead of how his physical life ended.

My intent today is to focus on how he chose to live before he became the king of our household; back in the distant days when he had the freedom to choose absolutely anything.  King Albert’s former feline life played a key role in what occurred in the days, weeks, and months before he left our world for a new one.  After 17 years, King Albert The Grey’s feline life came full circle.

My intent is to share why it’s important to recognize the life he once lived.  How he lived his life as King of New Orleans’ streets (prior to becoming an indoor house cat) affected how King Albert was invited to live his life before he left this world.

This is how his Golden Years came to be.


Hocus and albert puzzle feeder senior cats

I have written about Albert before, and also about how we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late.  I’ve shown why I.E.P.s are a vital part of helping cats to age with grace and ease, and how senior and geriatric cats can greatly benefit from gentle novel foraging activities. But what I haven’t shared with you, is the transformational  Life Force behind one’s Love of Life.   King Albert’s love of life was one of the driving forces that fueled him; not only in his youth, but well into his senior and geriatric years.

This is what I offered him in his last life chapter.

He didn’t want, or ask for our pity, our worry, or our sadness for his health challenges and complications.  He never did in his youth, and he certainly didn’t as he aged.  He saw and felt beyond all of that.   He wanted to FEEL ALIVE, no matter the age.  He wanted to experience all that he could, despite his age.  He wanted the kind of life challenges he had in his youth.

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King Albert in 2005

Albert lived with vigor and fearlessness in his younger years.  Challenging himself and trying new things set his feline soul on fire.  King Albert was most alive when he could choose to go, be, and do, anything!   But even as his body began to fail him, he never let go of his love for life.  Albert embraced this vigor, well into his geriatric years.  I was in awe of him every day.  Truly in awe.  No matter what was going on in his body, he was at peace in his mind and his heart.  He didn’t let discomfort bring him down.  He was always ready for more.   Even on days when he could barely get up, he got up.

He never gave up.

And I never gave up on him.  Not for one moment.   Albert overlooked the body.   He taught me how to do this.  I learned to see beyond his aging, struggling body to the young, vibrant soul who was within.  I learned to trust him.  I let go of trying to control everything.  I learned to let him lead me.

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Look at your animal companions right now.   How would you describe their Love for Life?  What makes their heart sing?  What makes their soul soar?  Who were they in their younger years?  Who, what, when, and where did they enjoy most?  Do you have images of them from back then?  Find them.  Look at them with your animal companion and your family.  Find and SEE that young spirit that is alive within them now.  Ask your beloved what they want.   How would they want to spend their last days, weeks, months, or years?  What would their Golden Years become if they could choose?  What would they want to have, be, see, or do if you would allow it?  Who are they at heart?? Can you see their vibrant soul within their aging body??

It’s still there.

This is some of what Albert taught me when his body began to fail.  Recognizing his vibrant youth within a geriatric body and constantly seeing beyond his body was one of the greatest gifts I could give him every moment of our days together.  Recognizing his innate feline needs, acknowledging his heart’s desires, and how much he LOVED life was what I needed to see, feel, and know.  Once I finally recognized these, I was able to give him what he needed.

I gave him a life that was golden.

I knew who King Albert was and what he wanted in his golden years.   I knew because I knew him back in his youth.  All of those adventures and escapades he had never left him; he still wanted to have those even as he aged.  He still wanted to try new things.  He wanted to live bravely and fiercely, even at 17+ years of age.  Albert wanted to be able to relish everything that life had to offer him.  The scents on the breeze;   The grass, soil, and sand between his paw pads;  The Earth’s healing energy under his body;  The warm sun on his face;  The wind in his whiskers.  These were some of his favorite things.  These are what Albert wanted every day of his life.

This is what I gave to him during his last days on Earth.

Below is a short film that I created as a tribute to our King Albert The Grey.  I hope it inspires you to give your aging animal companion a life that’s Golden.


Living a Life That’s Golden from Conscious Companion



My husband and I are both Make A Wish Granters; we have been serving in this role since 2009.  This role has been life changing for me. The incredible and unique wishes that are granted to children and their families during their most challenging times change all of their lives forever.   What we gave to our King Albert during his life threatening illness is very similar to what families of children with life threatening illnesses are able to experience through The Make A Wish Foundation.  When these amazing children are faced with constant medical procedures, daily/hourly medical care, and the stress of illness, they need a release from the emotional and physical discomfort! So Make A Wish gives them their One True Wish.  Not only is the child able to participate in their deepest heart’s desire, and receive a reprieve from the medical monotony, but so does their family.  The child, parents, and siblings are One throughout the entire process; everyone needs a break, and a chance to celebrate life together!

This is very similar to what people go through with their pets when they are going through a life-threatening illness, or when they are living their last days on Earth.  Round the clock medical care at home can be mentally and physically exhausting for everyone in the home.  Both people and all the animals need a break from the constant focus of sickness; we need a time of celebration. We need to let them Live Their Life, even in the  midst of sickness.

We have the power to grant our beloved their One True Wish.

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“ I’ve learned to heed the call of the heart.  I’ve learned that the safest path is not always the best path. I’ve learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.” ― Steve Goodier


Think about this. When your dearest friend or family member is leaving for a better opportunity, or the time has come for them to move on because of life circumstances, do you beg, cry, and plead for them to stay?  Or do you celebrate the time you had together and the time you still have left, by relishing every moment, every smile, every laugh?  Do you celebrate where they are headed?

Celebration and support is what our aging animal companions need from us.

Consider what you could create together when it’s time for your beloved to move on.  Rather than putting your energy and emotions into defeat, consider putting your energy into creating a celebration of the last days you have together!  What adventures and memories you will have! What a gift you will give them!

Please know that I am not being flippant about death by any means.  For goodness sake, I am an Empath; animals are my life and the emotions that come with them are not for the faint of heart.  Animals are my best friends and my family.  They are my heart.  But I have been in the depths of depression too many times to count when I had to suddenly say goodbye to my beloved in the past.

I finally know better.

Now I put all of my energy into loving and celebrating every moment with them.  Now I am focused on creating love and joy with them, instead of drowning in sorrow.  And I can promise you this: If you saw, felt, and knew where they were headed, you would throw one helluva party every damn day with them.  Wherever you are in this process, there is no time to waste while they are still with us.

Celebrate their life while they are still here!

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Not only did I give Albert every adventure he asked for near the end, I also gave him my unconditional love, endless support, and patience.  This love came in many forms.  From Hospice care at home, including force-free medical care multiple times a day (voluntary injections, fluids, and oral medicine).  And not once was he forced to participate; we were a team from the get-go.  This love also came in the form of finding the best holistic vet, to working in collaboration with the best feline medical hospital and their amazing team who let Albert set the pace.   This love came in the form of alternative, holistic medicines and energy healing.   This love came in the form of me consciously managing my energy, removing my fears, and learning to let go of control and trust him.  This love came in the form of creating a deeper connection and soulful communication with him every day.   This love and patience came in the form of allowing him to choose in every circumstance.

This love led us together into our best last days together.  This love allowed him to live his golden years with grace and ease.  We gave it our all with love.  We never gave up on each other.   Love led us to each other, and Love helped us all to lead him Home.

This love lead him Home to The Light.

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Although it has been just over a week since he left his kingdom here for his new Kingdom in the heavens, the grieving process is still occurring.   I am remembering to be gentle with myself, to be conscious of managing my energy, who I interact with, what I allow into my awareness, and the manner in which I continue to fully accept this hand of fate.  Although I have not written here in a few months, I felt it was important to share this with you now, especially while I am still processing his passing and honoring his incredible, full life and the lessons he taught me.

These lessons are now being shared with you.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with an aging animal companion, take heart.  Do not forget for one moment that you and your beloved are connected in heart and mind.  When we are faced with the certain (or uncertain) fate of our beloved animal companion we have two choices.  Listen well, and remember this.  We can choose to fall into fear, or we can choose to lift ourselves and our beloveds in Love.

In every moment, we have a choice.

No one else can make this choice for us.  It is ours and ours alone.  We can cry over the circumstances or we can embrace them fearlessly.  We can choose to stay angry and resentful about what’s in front of us or we can choose to celebrate their last days on Earth with them.  We can find creative solutions, or we can give up.  We can choose to accept defeat, or we can choose to proceed ahead together with an open heart of acceptance.   We can sink into the swamps of sadness that steal our joy, or we can stand tall, walk with our beloved joyfully, and celebrate every breath together.  We can choose to stare into the face of their declining mental and physical health and become burdened with despair, or we can keep searching for solutions.  We can choose to see sickness and death, or we can choose to see beyond their body; we can see, feel, sense, and know their vibrant soul within.  We can give up or we can give them a life that’s Golden.

We get to choose.

When we choose to let go of fear (anger, sadness, control, etc.) we let them (and fearless Love) lead.  When we find peace, we give them permission to live their last days in peace.  When we see beyond their body we are giving them the greatest gift; we are recognizing and remembering who they really are.  When we learn to listen to their needs, their requests, and their wishes, we are honoring them and respecting them.  When we honor and love ourselves through these challenges we are also honoring them, for We Are One.

Ea Nigada Qusdi Idadadvhn 

(Cherokee for “All my relations in creation”)

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One of the promises I made to King Albert the Grey before and during his transition was to live my life the way he did:  To be brave and fearless, to set clear and firm boundaries, to love unconditionally, to embrace each day, to never waste a moment in sadness, to remember our True Home, to love and appreciate family, to never put things off for later; to seize the day, and to relish every moment, to be focused and determined, to collect memories not things, and to celebrate the gift of life.  One of his clearest messages is to never put off what I can give to myself and others today and to have amazing adventures every damn day!!!  This is what I have been doing every day since he left this world.

It has already begun to change my life.

The all-too-familiar soul crushing sadness has not been my constant companion, like it has been countless times in the past.  Depression, stagnation, and sadness have been replaced with gratitude, celebration, and joy!  I feel unconditional love when I see him in The Light.  I feel gratitude when I celebrate his new Home in his new Kingdom.  I find joy when I remember where he is and what he gave to our family.  I feel overwhelmed with humble appreciation when I recognize that he is now my constant guardian.   And I feel alive, as Albert did, when I get up every morning and seize the day.


 

“We must be able to look forward in old age to the next day and to look forward to the great adventure that is  ahead.” -Dr. Carl Jung


I love you, King Albert.  You ruled our kingdom with strength, grace, and dignity through your very last breath here on Earth.  I know you are doing this now, in your new world.  When your fierce and brave Spirit was released from your body you were in my arms at home.  It was an honor, but it broke my heart.   The grief was almost to much to bear again.  But then my heart began to heal when I remembered:  Who you are cannot die.

You are now in a state of grace forever.  You are now a warrior of Light. And every moment that I honor you and the Truth of who you Are, all of our hearts and minds are healed.

Be well, brother.  May you never stop expanding, and may your adventures never end!

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There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. -J. Nehru

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This post is only one aspect of our journey together before he transitioned.  I will share more about these pieces in the future.  These topics include:

• Cat Harness Training – safe walks without fear and frustration for everyone

• Getting Real Consent (force-free medicine, medical procedures, and end of life choices)

• Hospice for Animal Companions

• Natural Death – Assisting with Their Transition at Home

• Utilizing Soul Speak for Life’s Challenges

• Death – The Great Divide or Daring Adventure?

All of these topics will be included in detail in the book, but I will do my best to share them here as time allows.




The picture gallery below is a beautiful reminder that we have the power to create miracles and magic during trying times. We CAN give our animal companions a Golden Life, no matter where they are on their journey.  An aging body and life-threatening illness doesn’t have to be the end of their days.  These circumstances can be the beginning!

We can grant their One True Wish (and a hundred more)!

The animals pictured in this gallery have passed on (some very recently), but but the grief of their passing is surpassed by the love and adventures their people gave them during their last days on Earth.  The gifts these souls were given will remain in their hearts and minds for all time.  Their people knew what they needed, wanted, and wished for; they gave it to their beloved animal companion.  During their last days on Earth they all lived a Golden Life.

Click on the images to read how these superstar souls spent their last days on Earth.


If you would like to share how you gave your beloved a Golden Life before they passed on, you are welcome to contact me.  I will be adding more pictures as the stories of love and celebration come in, so feel free to share their story.


Be well, friends.  Love each other.  Appreciate and celebrate every moment with your beloveds.  Don’t waste a moment.  Create adventures and memories now.  These will be part of the love they bring with them into their next life!  The time for celebration is NOW!

Conscious Companion

Their World of Gratitude

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There is always Light behind the darkness.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.

 

Hello.  I hope this finds you and yours doing very well and at peace.  I hope wherever you are in the world you are enjoying the holidays and the changing seasons of life.

You may have noticed that I have been absent in sharing with you for many weeks.  Things on our end have been nonstop and challenging, to say the least.  I haven’t had time to share here, continue writing my books, or working with clients.  I have made a few videos, but in general, all professional work has been on hold.

Since I last shared with you we have had many successes and a few scares.  We’ve had three birthdays in the house (woot!), four surgeries, one near-death experience (on a birthday), one reactive rover who trusts again (hallelujah!), funerals for fallen Marines, family and friends visiting, awards ceremonies, best friends battling cancer, and a multitude of other experiences.

But today I am allowing myself to take a break. Today I am choosing to channel my energy into this post in hopes that it will inspire and uplift you. Today I am focusing on something we often forget to focus on: gratitude.


Ever since we moved to California there has been one challenge after another. One struggle after the next. One illness after another. Pain. Heartache. Frustration. Exhaustion.

But that’s not the full story. That’s only part of the picture. There has been much more at play. There is another side to all the stress and strife.  The other side of the struggles are at the heart of this post.

Between the physical and emotional struggles there have been miracles and wonder.  There’s been growth, expansion, hope, strength, endurance, and bonding.  There have been life lessons learned, friendships forged, soul contracts at play, inspiration gained, and new horizons seen.  There have been unimaginable success, hard-fought healings, and life-changing growth on every level possible.

And through it all, somehow we have remained in gratitude. We come back to gratitude. And we remain there. Looking above it all, I am in awe.


Each one of the struggles and successes deserve a post in itself.  In fact, there will be several chapters dedicated to each of them in the books I am writing.  But for now, I will summarize a few of them because not only is there too much to cover in one post, but some stories are not ready to be shared with the world just yet. But they will be one day. I look forward to sharing that with you when the time is right.

Today I want to keep it simple.  I want to uplift and inspire.  My goal is to redirect our focus. And to see life from a new perspective. Even if it’s merely a glimpse.

Today I will be sharing something from the animal’s perspective.

I took the liberty to share not only what they have shared with me over the years, and what I have learned from them lately, but also what I perceive their truths to be.  All of this is centered on their idea of “Gratitude.”


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


 

Thanks and Giving Beyond November

I have discussed the idea of making room for gratitude before.  I have discussed why it’s so powerful, why we need it now, and why you deserve thanks.   But this post takes a new spin on a familiar topic.  And it curtails the many thanks and giving that some have been enjoying lately.

Here in the United States we just wrapped up Thanksgiving.  It’s a lovely time of year if you create the time to slow down and enjoy it.  I love seeing people smiling, sharing, and caring more this time of year.  I love seeing and hearing the words, “grateful”, “gratitude” and “thankful” tossed around like autumn leaves on the breeze.  An attitude of gratitude seems to permeate people.  It’s really quite beautiful.

But then it leaves.

Just as the vibrantly colored leaves float to the ground, briefly rest on the Earth and quickly dance off into the horizon, so too goes our gratitude.

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But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Gratitude can be an attitude that we embody during the most challenging times. Gratitude can be a cloak in which we cover a tired body.  Gratitude can be the breeze we choose to ride.  It can be the wind we set our sails to while riding the rocky seas.  Gratitude can sooth the most exhausted mind.  It can heal a broken heart.  It can change your world.  And it can radically change the world of our animal family members.

But we have to choose it.

Gratitude is not a gift. It is not reserved for the elite, the special, or the few.  It is who we are.  It is who you are without all of the other thoughts, beliefs and judgments.  Gratitude, like Love is always only a thought away.

I am reminded of this during every struggle.  In fact, I am reminded of Gratitude when I look at how the animals move through their lives.  I am reminded of the power of gratitude when I see them shine; when their light is brightest even when there is a dark cloud above them.  I am reminded of gratitude when they outshine me.

It’s as if all the world could be falling apart, but they somehow remain grateful in their heart.  They rise above it.  They see beyond temporary, fleeting circumstances. They know that this too, shall pass.  They know more than we realize and gratitude is their guide.


“Just an observation: it is impossible to be both grateful and depressed. Those with a grateful mindset tend to see the message in the mess. And even though life may knock them down, the grateful find reasons, if even small ones, to get up.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free


Gratitude as a Gift

I started thinking about how gratitude has pulled me out of my darkest depressions and my most intense anxieties over the years.  Gratitude has transformed boredom, frustration, fear, and anger into hope, trust, and joy.  I thought about how much there is to be grateful for, even during the darkest hour.  I thought about how gratitude has been a driving force pushing me through the past few months.

Then I thought about our animal family members.  I wondered what they might be grateful for this year.  I wondered how gratitude played into their perspective.  I wanted to really look into what they were thankful for, without stepping into the quicksand of anthropomorphism.  I wondered what they would say “Thank you” for every day.

What I discovered wasn’t a surprise; these aspects are all part of their journey and the story of their lives.  If the animals were to say “thanks” for the circumstances and gifts in their lives, their lists might include these:

  • Unconditional Love
  • The ability to let go
  • Hide and seek games
  • Seeing the world through innocence
  • Fireside snuggles
  • Seeing our people become stronger and fearless
  • Meals tailored to our individual needs
  • Foraging and hunting opportunities
  • Being unattached
  • Sharing our people’s bed
  • Play time
  • Knowing this world is temporary; a place away from our real Home.
  • Being unapologetic
  • Energy healing sessions
  • Holistic care
  • Animal communication
  • Living a force-free way of life
  • Being silly and goofy
  • Food used as a tool
  • Soul contracts being honored
  • Unexpected car rides in the Adventure Box
  • The ability to choose
  • Meeting nice people out and about
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Seeing my people happy and healthy
  • Getting permission to roll in smelly goodness
  • Overcoming illness
  • Watching our person learning to let go
  • Warm beds
  • Communicating on a new level
  • Smelling the scents on the breeze
  • Our person learning how hidden emotions affect us
  • Excellent boxes
  • Teaching our people new life lessons
  • Meditation moments
  • Knowing that our people are doing the best they can
  • Watching each other grow
  • Feeling the sun on our fur and face
  • Aging with dignity and grace
  • Soul mates
  • Unlikely friendships forged through trust
  • Just Being
  • Force-free medical care at home
  • Bonds that never break
  • Being seen as an individual
  • Polite play dates
  • Being listened to and heard
  • A loving home
  • Being near the one you love
  • Adventures
  • Being loved for who I Am

 

…Those were just a few of their “thanks” that came to mind.  These are a merely a snippet of what I have been honored to learn from them.  I am grateful.  I am humbled. I am honored.  And I am grateful for each of them.

Teachers. Gifts. Angels. Lights in the dark.  That is what they are to me.  This is some of what I am grateful for each day.  This is what I will focus on as we move through this life together. This is what I will remember when things get hard. When life is rough. I will remember these things and I will share their gratitude.

Our gratitude won’t end now that Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Our gratitude will last.  It will be within us 365 days a year.  And as we grow gratitude, we will pass it on to others. If you’re interested I made a quick video about this. You can view it here.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/193259849″>An Attitude of Gratitude 365</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user31689127″>Conscious Companion</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



 

What do you believe your animal companions are grateful for? What are the gifts in their lives? What supports their attitude of gratitude? What would be on their “thankful for” list?



Before I go, I would also like to share that I am grateful for you.  Thank you for being here. Thank you being a part of this community.  Thank you for reading, staying inspired, and for being willing to stay in an attitude of gratitude every moment of the day.

From our family to yours,

Much love and light


“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart

carlsbad-sunset-conscious-companion
Sunset at our home


YouTube

 

The Never Ending (Moving) Story

“When efforts that are wisely executed, the situation and condition don’t affect the performance.” ― A.Patel

road-trip with pets
The long road less traveled on our Big Move with the Animal Menagerie

We have arrived in California!  Finally.  1.1 humans, 3.0 felines, 0.1 canine, 0.0.8 plants, and 0.0.2 vehicles  made it safely from the east coast to the west coast!  It only took us a MONTH to move out of our home in VA, drive across the country, and move into our home here in Cali, but we are here. And everyone is doing very well.

We must have had Falkor with us in spirit on our move out here because we had a lot of luck, magic, and miracles along the road less traveled.  We also had a lot of patience, gratitude, and very successful animal menagerie management tools and techniques at play.

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This is going to be a quick post, because we have been going nonstop since we got here, and we still have much more to do.  But I wanted to at least update my readers because you are dear to me.  Plus with all that is going down in the world, I wanted to share some Love Light.


I Proved Myself Wrong – In the Best Way Possible

I don’t like to prove others (or myself) wrong, but here goes.  Do you remember how scared I was about the move?  Did you read the post about how I was allowing ALL my fears to take over all of my perceptions of what would happen?  Well, that was a huge waste of energy. None of that happened.

But some other major mishaps did happen.

Here’s the abbreviated Bad News from our laborious move out West:

  • The moving company packed up our household goods (everything) out of our home, then moved it all into storage (unbeknownst to us for several weeks).
  • I lost my voice on Day One of The Drive. Then that evening I had full blown flu-like symptoms.
  • Knox Zydeco decided that riding in a car was no longer an option for him anymore. In fact, it was one of the most terrifying experiences of his life (We discovered this within minutes of leaving our temporary hotel in VA and setting out on the road.)
  • Albert managed to escape from a 4 inch gap in my car window and walk around my family’s cemetery while I was paying respects.
  • One of our cars broke down at 10:30 at night while driving through the Texas desert.
  • We lived out of 8 different hotels across the country for 24 days.
  • Once we arrived in Cali the movers took another 8 days to get here so we stayed in another hotel for a week.

Good times.

But that’s not where the seemingly never-ending moving story ends. There’s more. If you have been following this blog, then you know that I always focus on the positive in life and especially with our animal companions.  

So… Here’s the abbreviated GOOD News from our Big Move:

  • Our feline veterinarian was absolutely incredible at immediately responding to and diagnosing Knox’s Full-On-Freak-Out while we were in transit.
  • We now know how incredibly helpful (and safe) the right medications can be for fearful cats. And we learned that these are the same meds that people are prescribed for panic attacks and anxiety! (more to come on this important topic ).
  • I learned why one should never have a deep healing acupuncture session prior to moving across country (hence the flu-like symptoms).
  • Hocus Pocus had zero aggression, frustration or fear reactivity issues. I am so proud of her!
  • Our senior kitty boys were total rock stars; Beaux and Albert both did exceptionally well on the long 11 hour drives each day. And King Albert’s health challenges did not cause him any noticeable duress.
  • I was able to  visit my Cherokee ancestors’ royalty resting grounds (while Albert was busy escaping and roaming around the cemetery).
  • The animals were incredibly tolerant, patient, and calm in the many hotels, long road days, and with me being unwell the entire time.
  • There were no spats or fights (between the people or pets)! Not even a single swat or hiss.
  • There was only one (appropriate) growl from Hocus the ENTIRE time. (I will talk about close-quarter management techniques in another post.)
  • None of the animals became injured, lost, sick, or any other horrible scenario I had imagined. (Although, Albert was a close call).
  • My animal communication skills were put to the test and I passed with flying colors.
  • We all grew closer together during this trial.
  • Everyone did exceptionally well, considering how hard it was on all of us for such a long time.
  • They have all settled into our new home and are far exceeding what I thought they were capable of.
  • Everyone is thriving!

anything is possible_nothing is impossible

 

It’s All Been Worth the Time and Effort!

All of the techniques, tools, and behavior modification methods I have learned over the years of being an animal trainer, pet parent, and animal behavior consultant came into play during this long transition.  The methods I share with you and use with my clients were all put to the test.  Including some I had never tried before!  They were such a huge success.

All of my efforts have paid off.  What I thought was impossible was possible.  I didn’t believe the cats or canine were capable of coping.  I had anticipated the worst, but each of them found their way to SHINE during a very difficult and long process.  Each of them adjusted, adapted, and   They proved all of us wrong.  They were total champs.  At times they even seemed to understand that we were all in this together.

I am still in awe of them.  Conscious Companion 2016 Road trip

But that’s all I am going to write about for now.  In the near future I will be sharing with you how I was able to create and maintain safety, peace, and harmony during the Long Haul with each of the animals. I will also share how we have been able to help each of them to settle into our new dojo with flying colors (and with no flying fur!).  I can’t wait to tell you all about everything that’s working, and the new tools I have discovered. These tips and techniques will make such a huge difference for you and your companion animals.


Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.-Robert Collier


In Other News

I hope those of you in the U.S. and Canada enjoyed (and survived) the recent independence holidays. We are still experiencing bomb-like-fireworks nightly here, so we are continuing to help the animals cope with that.  If you need some suggestions to help your pets with post-Independence day celebrations, check out this post and this one as well.

If you were affected by the tragic events in Orlando (my hometown), my heart goes out to you.  Our friends and family still live there, so this really hit home for us. My mother was able to send her team of therapy dogs to help the first responders from that event. You can read about that here.   Now they are visiting with the Orlando community as their team is able, helping so many to heal.

Also, if you or anyone you know are either a HSP or an Empath, this Instagram page might be helpful.  As we move forward in the world, and as I continue to share here, I will spread as much love and light as I can.  With all of the drama, anger, and sadness we are witnessing unfolding in the world right now, we need more love.  We must uplift and love one another. When the world appears dark, we need to be The Light.  Remember that our animal companions are such perfect teachers for this.  They are pure unconditional love.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula


OH! Before I go, I wanted to share one more inspiring thing with you.  Here’s the view from our new backyard.  Gah! Can you smell the salt air and feel the sand between your toes??

unnamed

Well, I am off the watch tonight’s sunset. So Much love to you and yours!


“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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


 

 

Provide Comfort When They Are Afraid.

Image

(Posted May 2014)

Have the Memorial Day weekend fireworks and celebrations started in your neighborhood yet?  They started here several nights ago, and none of the animals were pleased, to say the least.  As their guardian, it’s my job to take the time to help them cope with the onslaught of noise, and change they way they feel about those sounds.

Unfortunately, a lot of people believe this common myth:  Don’t comfort an animal when he/she is afraid; you’re only reinforcing their fears.

Here’s my science-based response to that myth:  Always Comfort the animal. You cannot reinforce Fear.  Ignoring their fear and terror is borderline neglect.

In this video you will learn (just the tip of the iceberg of) why we *should* be providing comfort when our pets are nervous or scared. You will learn why you *cannot* reinforce fear.

Fear is an emotion, not a behavior.  Comforting a fearful animal will not make the animal more afraid, and it will not “reinforce fear” (unless this is the only interaction the animal ever receives).   Petting, cuddling, or comforting an animal when they are afraid can help them — worse case, it may not do anything.  However, comforting them will not reinforce their fear.

Fact: Animals in a constant state of fear or stress are more susceptible to diseases, and their immune systems are not as effective (cited) .

Because of this, fearful animals must be helped. That’s where we, as their guardians come in.  In the video below Suzanne Clothier explains how and why:

So when the pops, cracks, booms and bangs begin, and you see that the dog/cat/bird, etc. is clearly frightened, remember to remain calm and comfort them.  You are their guardian and protector.  You can help them.  Providing comfort and a sense of safety is the sensible, loving thing to offer to anyone in need, especially our animal companions.

Learn more about why You Cannot Reinforce Fear in these links:

 

TRAINING TIP: A better approach than comforting alone, is investing some time on counterconditioning, a behavior modification technique meant to change the animal’s emotional response toward a feared stimulus by encouraging an emotion incompatible with fear. In Counterconditioning we use food to change the animal’s underlying emotional response to the perceived threat so that he/she learns that “scary things” are now good things. To “condition” means to teach, and to “counter” means to change.

—> If you would like to learn how to do this, check out my tips on how to help your pets cope during fireworks, HERE!


 

Don’t worry about rewarding a scared dog who is behaving ‘inappropriately’. You wouldn’t wait for someone who was drowning to stop screaming before you pulled them out of the water.   – Debbie Jacobs, author of “A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dogs”

 


Do you have any tips for helping your animals when they are afraid? Please share below!

 

Heading Back to School or Work and Leaving Our Feline Companions Behind

Only the lonely 
Know the way I feel tonight 
Only the lonely 
Know this feeling ain't right

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They're gone forever
So far apart

But only the lonely
Know why
I cry
Only the lonely 

- Only The Lonely Know The Way I Feel ~ Roy Orbison 


I hope my humans come home soon.

 

Last week’s post discussed the effect that our sudden and prolonged absence has on our canine companions.  But dogs are not the only ones that feel the effects of our changing and sometimes hectic schedules.

Our feline family members can feel the strain and stress of our busy lifestyles. There are steps that we can take to help our feline companions cope with our absence. This post is here to help you with that!


 




Unless you have a techno laser light club like that set up at your house while you are gone for long hours, you are going to need to provide some entertainment and fun for your feline family members. We have to remember that many animals, especially cats, do not display their feelings as outwardly as dogs do.  It is naïve to think that feline companion cannot experience loneliness or boredom.  Their anxiety and depression flies under the radar; too often their humans don’t notice. Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that a countless number of cats will display signs of separation anxiety or exhibit increased levels of anxiety if they are already prone to it.  This separation anxiety can come in  numerous forms.  It is important to understand and appreciate that cats can experience anxiety and boredom. 


 

Separation Anxiety in Cats

Cat separation anxiety syndrome (SAS) was described in felines for the first time by Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a board certified veterinary behaviorist, in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2003. According to Dr. Schwartz, separation anxiety syndrome is an emotional response that triggers misbehavior when separated from an attachment figure.  Of course, its’ not misbehaving according to the cat, but cats experiencing SAS will engage in normal cat behaviors, just at very  inappropriate times or locations by our human rules or standards.  When our feline family members “misbehave” they are not being spiteful, vengeful or vindictive.  When we label them as such, we are projecting our human traits onto them.  


Signs that your cat could be experiencing Cat Separation Anxiety (SAS):

  • Excessive meowing

 

  • Scratching furniture

 

 

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box (specifically on your personal items)

 

 

  • Knocking items off shelves, counters, or dressers

 

 

  • Stops greeting people

 

 

  • Sleeping more than usual

 

 

  • Grooming excessively

 

 

  • Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite

 

 

If your feline family member starts to display any of these behaviors, there are three simple (yet very effective) tools that you can implement to help them adjust to your changing schedule and prolonged absence: companionship, exercise, and enrichment.




 

“Happy owner, happy cat. Indifferent owner, reclusive cat.” –Chinese Proverb

 

Companions Wanted

We share our home with both young and geriatric cats.  They are not unlike most domestic cats; they sleep roughly 13 to 16 hours per day, and although they enjoy sleeping as much as they can, on the days when I am not working/home from work, they will follow me around the house.  They want to be near me whenever they can.  Regardless of what most humans think, cats do enjoy and seek out human company! In their former, more adventuresome and riskier lives, my felines had access to outdoors.  When I came home from work every day, they could hear my truck rumbling down the street.  Each of them would come running from different directions in the neighborhood to greet me in the driveway. They never missed an opportunity to greet their human mother. It always brightened my day. Some people would see them running down the sidewalk and assume it was their dinner time signal, but they had access to food around the clock.  People couldn’t believe that cats were running to greet me, merely because I was home.  Yes, cats do love to be around their humans.  Despite the many stereotypes of felines, most cats are not solitary, stoic loners.


 

Run Cat, Run!

If you have an indoor-only cat that is young, or older and still full of energy, they will need ways to express that energy, or they will find creative ways to do just that.  If your feline companion has more of an aloof or elusive demeanor, don’t let them fool you.  Cats of every temperament need plenty of activity to stimulate their mind and body.  Cats benefit from at least 30-40 minutes of exercise each day.  An indoor cat left home alone all day, with no one to play with and nothing to do, may become either listless or destructive.

Enrichment

Exercise is only one piece of the Content Cat Puzzle.  Enriching your feline companion’s environment is a must.  Toys are a necessity for any kitty stuck inside for several hours. A constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is helpful for not only entertaining them while you are gone, but this will also provide exercise and healthy playtime while they are alone.  If they are busy with enough things to play with, hunt, pounce and attack, they will hardly notice your prolonged absences. There are countless toys, games, and activities available for your feline companion.  There are interactive toys that scurry, fly, and jump to entice them to run, pounce, and leap away all of his or her stored-up energy.  Enrichment toys are tremendously rewarding for cats that are home alone all day. Keep their hunting skills sharp with Undercover Mouse.  Twist ‘n Treat Teaser   and Doorway Dangli are creative ways to give them treats while you are away, but they really have to work for them! TIP:  Take fifteen to twenty minutes before you leave for school or work to play with your feline companion.  Be sure to gradually decrease the fun and games to ease them into a calmer state in preparation for your departure. Ending a play session abruptly leaves your cat wanting more and this is bound to end badly, usually for the human. Make sure the toys that you offer them while you are away are safe or they could end up like this.


 

Think Outside the Cardboard Box

Toys are an easy additive to your cat’s Adventuredome, but there are other types of at home enrichment.  Do you know if your cat enjoys television or movies?  “Mewvie the Motion Picture for Your Cat – Backyard Buffet”  could be your cat’s favorite genre! Another easy form of entertainment that can reduce boredom is setting up a bird feeder by a window so your feline companion can watch wildlife while you are away.  This can provide hours of entertainment for a cat stuck inside all day.


 

Alternatives to Home Alone

Another option to consider is hiring a pet sitter to stop by your home once a day.  If you cannot afford a sitter, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day.  If you are not comfortable asking your neighbors to come over, ask them to listen for any unusual meowing.  Be sure that this person is comfortable being around your cat and that your cat approves of this person.  The last thing you want is a human coming over and freaking out the felines.

Holistic Options

If the toys and enrichment are not helping your feline friend cope with your absence, there are non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety.  Rescue RemedyFeliway, and Spirit Essences can help cats to relax, and feel confident and secure in their home environment.  Aromatherapy oils can be used around our animal companions to help with calming.  Discuss any holistic options with your veterinarian.

Consider All Possible Causes

It is important to consider that a medical issue could be the cause of these new or destructive behaviors.  If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your cat’s behavior, it is important to investigate.  Don’t assume that he or she is merely acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence.  A visit to your veterinarian may be in order.  Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion.  Be open to all possibilities.

Is Your Stress Stressing Them?

Our animal companions are quite adept at picking up our human emotions, even if we don’t wear them on our sleeves.  Cats are very sensitive and emphatic; they can sense human emotions.  So if you or someone else in the household are showing signs of stress, they will pick up on it and that will alter their behavior accordingly.


 

Strengthen Your Bond

 

“Time spent with a cat is never wasted.” ― Colette

 

Maintaining a strong bond between you and your feline companion will help them adjust to your hectic or demanding schedule that keeps you away from home.  Exercising and grooming your feline friend is an excellent time for bonding.  Time spent doing these activities will strengthen the human-feline bond.   Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day to devote to your feline. This will reassure them that you are still there for them and that you haven’t forgotten about them.  Remember that they enjoy affection as much as you do.  Give them your time and undivided attention. No matter how stressful your day has been, I promise that you will feel worlds better after taking a few moments out of your day to be with your feline friend.




Going back to work and school doesn’t have to result in our feline companions being left behind in a lonely, dull home.  Boredom and anxiety can be prevented if we plan ahead and give them enough exercise, enrichment, and quality time.  Cats are just as sensitive to changes in their environment as humans are.  Take the time to discover what makes your feline companion anxious and what makes them purr.  You are the one that can change their world.

What can you do to make their world a stress-free and happy home?

This is part two of a three part series.  Part three will discuss our bird buddies.  Stay tuned!

Heading Back to School and Leaving Your Canine Companion Behind

Where did my people go?

Back-to-school season has arrived!  Students of all ages are heading back to elementary, middle school or college, and teachers are going back to work.  This is a huge transition for the entire family, as parents and kids learn to adjust to an entirely new routine.  As the excitement and stress of getting the kids back to school mounts, it is also a difficult time for our animal companions.

Animals are sensitive to any change in their schedules, and they thrive on predictability.  They love routine. It makes them feel secure.  They like knowing that certain things happen at about the same time each day, and they know where they want to be when those things happen.  You have probably experienced how displeased your animal becomes when their dinner or breakfast is late, but that’s a minor disruption in their routine compared to an entire season of change.

When we head back to school or work, the play, excitement, attention, and adventures that our animal companions have known all summer long suddenly come to and end.  Suddenly they have nothing to do.  There is no one around to entertain them, so now they are forced to find entertainment for themselves often to the dismay of their human.

Think about it from their perspective: For months they have grown accustomed to being showered with attention during the summer vacation.  Someone has been around every day showering them with attention, love, and affection, and then suddenly you’re gone all day, for days!  There were family trips and adventures to parks and beaches!  Then the freedom and attention they received abruptly ends without any notice.  All of the coming and going, playing, exercising, and freedom becomes limited and human companionship lessens. Their human playmates of summer suddenly have new interests and new friends.  This disruption in their daily routine is a huge stressor for our animal companions.  It adds uncertainty and fear and can cause a myriad of behavior problems.

This is especially true for animals that thrive on human attention and interaction.  Many become psychologically unglued. -Especially if their best friend in the household happens to be one of the kids that suddenly ‘disappears’ and goes off to college.  It definitely leaves a void in their lives. If everyone is suddenly gone all day, both parents included, your animal companions are going to be upset, not to mention very bored.  Extremely sociable animal members will most likely begin to show undesirable behaviors as a result of boredom and anxiety.

Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that at least one in six dogs, along with a countless number of cats, will exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety or display increased levels if they are already prone to the condition when these sorts of lifestyle changes occur.   One study suggests that dogs left alone at home feel just as much isolation as children abandoned by their parents.


Signs of Stress

IMG_4039
You were gone for so long. I missed you, and I was bored. P.S. The cat told me I could do it.

Separation anxiety can come in a myriad of forms. These are behaviors that your canine companion could exhibit if he or she is not adjusting well to the new Home Alone Schedule:

  • Goes crazy when he or she sees you or the kids getting ready to leave for school or work
  • Barking or howling more often
  • Defecating or urinating in the house
  • Pacing
  • Digging
  • Trying to break out of the yard

    You left them out. They smelled like you, and I didn’t have anything else to chew on when I was stressed.
  • Chewing “unauthorized” items (shoes, clothing, etc)
  • Eating strange objects (gravel, dirt, plants, toys)
  • Raiding the garbage
  • General destructive behavior
  • Becomes frightened by loud noises or thunderstorms
  • Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite

If any of these behaviors suddenly occur after a big schedule change, they could be signs that your animal companion is having a difficult time adjusting to the new family schedule.  This can be very frustrating and annoying to us humans, but it is important to realize that our animal companions are just as frustrated.

Whether we want to admit it or not, animals can suffer from depression. This can lead to a depressed immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to serious health issues.

NOTE:  Some cases of separation anxiety are severe; we must recognize if a dog is suffering from true anxiety, rather than just being bored, and trying to entertain themselves during our absence.

So what can you do?  There are simple measures that we can take to help these important members of our family.


Prevention Is Key 

The best strategy is to prepare ahead of time and avoid an abrupt change in your schedule.  Make changes and adjustments slowly, over a period of time.

Before heading back to work or school, gradually introduce your animal companions to short periods of separation.  You can do this in several ways. Slowly reduce interaction (play, attention, treats) with your animal companion during the times when you will be at work or when the kids will be at school.  Increase interaction and exercise activities during the times when they will be home.  Mealtimes, exercise times, potty time – the timing and amount of attention can all be gradually shifted from the summer to the fall routine, over the course of a few weeks.  Although it may seem counter-intuitive to make your animal companion feel better by spending less time with him, it will help shift in routine to flow more smoothly.

Desensitize!

Start getting out the lunchboxes, backpacks, briefcases, purses, etc now. Bring out anything that your animal companion could associate with you leaving in the morning.  The idea is to desensitize them to any anxiety-producing cues prior to the schedule changing.  By doing this several times a day you can prevent nervousness and anxiety.

Set out anything that your canine companion associates with you leaving

If your family has decided to kennel your canine companion when the new routine begins, start kenneling slowly for shorter periods of time before your job or school schedule changes.  When used properly, a crate is not a punishment device; it is a safe haven or a den.  The purpose of utilizing a kennel at home is to prevent your dog from getting into trouble or injuring himself while you are away from home.  Also, the security of having one’s own space is comforting to dogs. Be sure to leave fresh water, a blanket or bed, and a favorite toy.  The ideal crate size should be just big enough for them to comfortably stand up, turn around and stretch out.

Rotate the toys you leave with him in the kennel.  Use fun or yummy toys that you can stuff with treats to keep them engaged while you’re away.


Practice “Home Alone” Time

If you are, (and even if you are not) using a kennel, you should still be practicing “home alone” time.  This is fairly straightforward: Leave your pup home alone for short periods.  Depending on the anxiety that your animal displays, you may need to start slowly.  You can walk to the mailbox or to the next door neighbor’s house then come back inside.  Act like your coming and going is no big deal.   Then eventually extend your “away time” by going to the store, then out to dinner, and so forth.  Ideally, you will want to practice “away time” early in the morning to simulate school time or work time.  The idea is to get them accustomed to the fact that long, fun (or lazy) summer mornings are coming to an end.

You can also can give your pup something fun to focus on as you head out the door!  It reduces their stress and helps them to associate you leaving with “Good Things”!



Addressing Destructive or Anxious Behaviors

If an abrupt schedule change is unavoidable or already in full motion you may already be experiencing signs of separation anxiety.  If your animal companion is displaying any of the behaviors listed above, you can still address them now. Unless you have a hidden camera at home, many of these behaviors will not be discovered until you come home and find the canine crime scene.  Knowing if your animal companion is stressed or anxious can be difficult because it usually happens when you are not home to see the behavior, but there are a few signs that you can be on the look out for.  (These are mentioned below at the end of this article.)

What to Avoid

Please realize that scolding or punishing your animal companion’s unwanted behavior will make the situation worse, so be patient.

Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.
Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.

Remember, our animal companions get nervous, upset, anxious and lonely just like we do, except they don’t have the benefit of knowing that you’ll be back when you leave.  It’s up to you and your kids to make your pets feel secure in ways they understand. Would you scream or punish your child if he or she acted out because they thought you had abandoned them?   Then why treat your animal companion differently?



 WHAT YOU CAN DO!


Alternatives to Home Alone

Dog daycare facilities provide socialization and exercise for your canine companion

When we head back to school or work, our canine companion’s excitement and adventures don’t have to end.  Doggy day care is a very important option to consider, even if it’s only once or twice a week.  Not only does it encourage socialization, but it provides adequate exercise and stimulation.  Even a half day of playcare will exhaust them enough to spend the rest of the day relaxed at home alone.  Doggie day care also gives them something to look forward to each week.  I guarantee they will learn the days of the week once they are on a regular doggie playcare schedule.  Just ask any dog that goes to playcare on a regular basis.  If you skip a day, they will be sure to remind their human what day it is.

If you have a geriatric dog, or one with medical conditions, doggie day care might not be the best option.  Pet sitters are a calmer, safer alternative.  You can hire a pet sitter to stop by the house once a day.  Ask your friends or veterinarian to see if anyone has any recommendations in your area.  If you cannot afford either of those options, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day.  Ask the neighbor come over ahead of time to get to know your animal companion first.  The last thing you want is a strange human coming over unannounced and freaking out your animals.

If you are not comfortable asking any of your neighbors to come over, then ask them to listen for any unusual howling or barking.  Remember that your canine companion may exhibit these behaviors while you are gone, so having others keep an ear and eye out for you will help tremendously.


Soothing Sounds and Scents

Leave soothing music playing low whenever your canine companion is left alone.  The sound of human voices and nature sounds can calm them.  Music to Calm Your Canine Companion has been shown to reduce stress levels considerably in dogs of all ages.

There are also non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety.  Rescue Remedy, valerian, melatonin, SAM-e, fish oil, dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) a calming synthetic pheromone spray, can help animals to relax in their home environment.  Other natural products such as Bach Flower Remedies may help some dogs.  Aromatherapy can also be useful.  Discuss holistic options with your veterinarian about how to reduce your animal companion’s anxiety.

If you are seeing signs of severe separation anxiety, you will need to seek help from a qualified professional who specializes in dog separation anxiety.


Wear That Pup Out!

Exercise is a required daily routine for healthy canine companions

Exercise is an absolute necessity.  One of the reasons that animals exhibit destructive behavior while you gone is simply because they have the energy to do so (which makes the anxiety even worse).  Make sure your dog has enough daily exercise!   At a minimum, most dogs should be receiving an hour a day of cardio vascular activity such as chasing, running, exploring, etc. (if the weather allows for it).  This can be broken up into two half hour sessions, or four 15 minute sessions, depending on the dog and what he/she can handle. Please remember to make sure they are not becoming overheated, just for the sake of “exercise”.

Exercise is also necessary for a dog’s mental enrichment.  Studies have shown that increasing aerobic activity to as little as 30 minutes a day reduces the signs of separation anxiety in dogs.  Make some effort and get up a bit earlier to take your canine companion for a short walk.   It’s the least you can do before you leave them home alone for eight or nine hours.  Tired muscles plus a full belly equals a relaxed, sleepy pup.  A relaxed, tuckered dog is less likely to be bothered about being left alone, since he is going to want to nap.

Remember that you and your kids may have had a very busy day, but your canine companion has done virtually nothing all day, unless there is evidence to the contrary – as in a shredded or chewed up sofa.  By providing your dog with healthy play each day after work or school, this will help them burn up their pent-up energy.  This is also a great time to bond with your companion.  Invest the energy and time.  They deserve it, and it will pay off.


Create a Home Environment Full of Toys and Fun

Enriching the environment with a constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is incredibly helpful in making your animal companion feel relaxed at home when he or she is alone.  Keep them busy with things to do, appropriate things to chew, and things to smell!  One clever human designed an interactive toy to keep his canine companion occupied for hours!

Even if you aren’t a crafty mechanical engineer, you can still provide hours of entertainment through a number of fun options.

Set up a bird feeder outside a window that will attract both birds and squirrels.

Hiding treats in boxes is great enrichment

If your canine enjoys watching TV, there are dog movies and Dog TV designed to keep them entertained.  Enrichment like this offers both audio and visual entertainment.  Remember to not leave it too loud though.  You want it just loud enough for your dog to hear it, but not too loud as to over excite him or her.

There are so many things to choose from today.  You can find anything from high tech laser toys,  puzzle toys and Hide a Squirrel.  Stuffing a Kong with food provides stimulation as well.  You can even make your own homemade puzzles by hiding toys, balls, or treats into a closed cardboard box.  Leave the box and let them discover how to get the treats out on their own. The possibilities are endless!

Whether your dog is contained in his/her kennel, or running about the house all day, you need to provide toys and enrichment to help occupy their time alone.



 Potty Time!

If you are going to be gone for more than four hours, you should have someone come over to let him out to potty and stretch, play, or walk.  Keeping them confined for hours on end is not ideal, especially for younger dogs that require more activity.  Just because a dog is capable of holding their urine and feces all day long doesn’t mean that they should. Dr. Marcela Salas, of Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital, explains that holding urine for long periods can lead to urinary tract infections. And the highly concentrated urine a dog produces during a long wait can increase the likelihood of crystal formation and cystitis.  Why make them hold it all day when you can put forth a little effort to help your canine companion.


Make Time for Quality Time

Quality time is essential.  Be sure to make the most of the time you have with your animal companions when you are not at school or work.  You can do this through grooming, long walks or runs, playing together, lounging around on the couch, or whatever it takes to re-connect at the end of a busy week. If your child has a set time to do homework or read, that’s an excellent time for your dog to curl up next to your child and “help” with studying.  Ask your children to think of other ways to include their animal companion in their routines.  Get them actively involved in creating solutions!  This will help everyone make a much smoother “back to school” transition.   Remember that even though your animal companion wasn’t at work or school all day, he or she still needs time to unwind.  Find time to enjoy the unique relationship that you have. Although you can’t replace human companionship and human attention completely, you can find alternatives to help your animal companion with boredom, loneliness and frustration.  By enriching the home environment, providing adequate exercise and stimulation for their minds, you are helping them to transition to a lifestyle that contrasts to what has been happening all summer long.




It’s a Family Affair

Hocus Pocus and Jenny

It is important to recognize that this is a family matter.  If you have kids, this is a great opportunity for your children to take more responsibility for the care of your family’s companions.  Sit down together and discuss the fact that their animal companions are going to miss them when they’re gone all day.  Discuss what they can do to help them.  Create a plan together.  Be a responsible human.  Help your kids to succeed with their animal companions.  There are steps that you and your family can create and implement to set your animal companions up for success.

 



Sit Down with Your Family and Ask Important Questions.

Ask:  Has anyone noticed new or odd behaviors?

Your child may have noticed something that you have overlooked. You may have noticed something that your partner has not.

Ask:  Has your canine companion become very clingy when he or she had not been before? Are they showing an excessive attachment to you, one of your kids, or to your partner?

These are signs that he or she may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Ask:  Have you come home to find things disturbed or moved, or any signs of destruction?

If so, your canine companion could be venting. New behaviors such as overly exuberant greetings or a dejected look in the morning are also signals that they are not happy with this new schedule and need a bit of encouragement.

Ask:  How do you all leave the house each day? Are you making it a dramatic goodbye?

Your kids may feel sorry for their animal buddy and do a long goodbye.  This only reinforces your pet’s fears and builds up their anxiety.  It’s better to make the goodbye upbeat and brief.  All you need to do is a quick, “See ya later!” and head out the door.  The brief but happy goodbye should happen before your canine companion gets upset.  If she is stressing out, absolutely do not reward her with anything.  Get her to calm and settle down.  A simple “sit” command will work for this.  Then reward with attention and telling her she’s ok, only once she is calm.

It is important to not make a big deal about your leaving.  If you get emotional about leaving your friend behind, she will pick up on it and become anxious, too.  If your canine is used to lots of lovin’ in the morning, give it to her when you first wake up, then taper off the attention leading up to your departure.  Give them a very exciting, highly rewarding treat every time you leave the house.  This will help them develop positive feelings about being alone.  You leaving means that it’s Treat Time!

Ask:  Are there times when your canine companion becomes more anxious?

If he becomes upset just by seeing the backpacks, purses, or car keys being picked up, then pick those items up and walk around the house with them several times a day, but don’t leave. This will help him to learn to not associate those items with the impending “doom” of you leaving.

Another tool you can use is “The Fake Out”. Every so often, pretend you are leaving, but don’t.  Pick up your bag, go out the door, and then come back and sit down.  She will never know when you’re really leaving and will learn to relax when you are getting ready to leave.

Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.
Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.

Ask:  How do you treat your canine companion when you come home from work or school? Do you make it a huge celebration?

The key is to not to get them excited upon your return. Remember that you coming home is no big deal. Change clothes or do something else until they settle down. Then, after they are calm, take a few minutes to interact with them. Give them your undivided attention. Do this before you read the mail, start dinner, watch TV, or get into your evening routine. Spend a few minutes focused only on them. This will do wonders for their stress levels. But remember to do this when they are calm. Calm behavior gets rewarded with their favorite reward-YOU!

Ask:  Could there be a medical issue causing these new or destructive behaviors?

It is important to mention that medical issues may cause behavior problems in our animal companions.  If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your animal companion’s behavior or a behavior that you can’t seem to explain, it is important to investigate.  Don’t assume that your animal companion is just acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence.  A visit to your veterinarian may be in order.  Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion.   Be open to any possibilities for new or unexplained behaviors.



– What do you do to keep your animal companions entertained while you are away at work or school?

– What kind of destruction have you come home to find?  How did you address it?

– What kind of preventative and creative measures is your family using to help your pup to transition smoothly?

This is part one of a three part series.  Part two will discuss our feline friends.  

Part three will discuss our bird buddies.  

Stay tuned!