Hello Bright Light. I hope this finds you and yours well in all ways.
You may have noticed that we’ve been absent from sharing here for over three months. We recently moved and have been trying to get settled into our new home. Much has been unfolding behind the scenes, including heaps of healing in our Fur Tribe, finding an editor for Beaux’s book trilogy, Conscious Kids workshops, and much more. When I have more time to share what’s been unfolding, you’ll receive the full scoop! 😉
For now, this will be a quick empowering post.
Considering the current state of the nation and our world at large lately, I Am Guided to share something beautiful with you. May this uplift, inspire, and light up your world, so that you may share your Light with All who need it now and forever.
Below is a prayer from a Bodhisattva — a being uninterested in his/her liberation alone, who strives for the well-being of all living creatures:
May I be a guard for those who need protection A guide for those on the path A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood May I be a lamp in the darkness A resting place for the weary A healing medicine for all who are sick A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles And for the boundless multitudes of living beings May I bring sustenance and awakening Enduring like the earth and sky Until all beings are freed from sorrow And all are awakened.
Read that again, but this time out loud. Really feel it in your heart. This powerful prayer is a proclamation. This is what it means to be In Service to All. – To be in service to every brother and sister of every color and creed; to every being who walks, crawls, flies, or swims in the sea.
We Are One.
I was so inspired by that powerful prayer, I created this video for the hearts who are here to be of Service to every being in need.
Let your voice be heard. Be the Light in the darkness. Let Love Lead. Create the change you want to see by BECOMING the change. Uplift yourself in every moment so you may uplift others. Be Kind. Be Love. Be a friend to strangers. We are all in this together, beloveds. We Are One.
“We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to reflect on how our actions affect other hearts.” -Pema Chödrön
There is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release. Change but your mind on what you want to see, and all the world must change accordingly. Ideas leave not their source.
How are you, bright Light?
I truly hope you and yours are doing well in all ways. I have been better. The past week or so has been hellahard. I don’t normally say life is hard; usually I find a more helpful way to describing what I am feeling, but it’s tough love time. Let’s cut through the crap shall we?
I have been creating hell on earth for myself.
I could blame circumstances, people, places, or events, but that is being a victim, of which I no longer see myself or anyone else these days. I am not a victim of the world I see. No one is. I have learned, through much trial and error, (and surprising success) that even as an Empath and Intuitive, there is nothing outside of myself that can cause me pain. Nothing. It is only my thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that can do this.
The present now remains the only time. Here in the present is the world set free. For as you let the past be lifted and release the future from your ancient fears, you find escape and give it to the world.
In every moment we are co-creating. With every thought we build our beliefs. With every feeling and emotion, we become convinced. We are constantly creating. But what are we consciously and subconsciously creating? What are we convincing ourselves? And from which part of our mind?
“Your thoughts determine what you see.” —ACIM
This is no trite statement; the Truth of this returns all power to the perceiver/thinker/observer. It brings the power back to us, and removes it from where we thought it was; outside of us.
Nothing outside ourselves can “save” us. This has been a huge lesson for me lately; something my Team has been trying to teach me for a long time. But now, through the triggers, I See. I am willing to change my thoughts, which have created false beliefs about so many things.
Most importantly, I am remembering that peace begins within.
Nothing outside of ourselves can truly give us lasting peace. This also means nothing outside of ourselves can disturb our peace of mind , unless we agree to it. Embracing this Truth, places you in charge of your universe. You have the power. Now.
What we are experiencing is not at cause of how we feel; thoughts are the source of what we experience. Continual Thoughts lead to beliefs. Emotions follow. Then with which teacher in the mind we choose to See will be reflected in our experience.
How we choose to See affects All.
I created the vlog (video below) a couple of months ago, mainly to remind myself. Then I forgot about it. Then, quite unexpectedly, ugly crud came up for me to clear. So the shadow work began. Again. As you probably know, there is no lightwork with out shadowwork. As we are ALL moving through these powerful, transformative energies, shining Light onto the shadows dispels the darkness. We see that there was nothing to fear.
Diving Deep Within Is a Game Changer.
Now that we are full swing into Pisces Season (lawd, help us all) many sensitives are experiencing the far-reaching effects in the collective energies at play. -Especially Empaths. We are also smack-dab in the middle of Mercury Retrograde (which I personally enjoy), giving us an opportunity to review, reset, and rewrite conditions all across our landscape.
Here’s a bit of astro backstory: Basically, the Sun visits a new zodiac sign every thirty days or so. During each “season” everyone feels the influence of the prevailing astrological energy. Those who are more sensitive to these shifts, such as Empaths and intuitives, can have a wild ride. The Pisces cycle lasts until March 20, assisting us to cultivate compassion and move forward with our most creative ideas. Pisces also governs the things we need to release.
If these concepts are new to you, they once were unfamiliar to me, too! But it’s not woo. I promise, you. The patterns within the universe, planets, and our star, the sun, are all at play in a major way. These energies affect All life – people, plants, pets, and every population on the planet.
So, I Am hoping this is helpful. May we all embrace the power of our Loving Mind, and become grateful and respectful for the Oneness of All.
We Are Truly All In This Together.
Love or Fear, Dear?
We have two core emotions that come in a myriad of forms: Love & Fear. One we made and one was Given. Each emotion we experience becomes a way of experiencing life and Seeing; two very different worlds arise from these two different sights.
Love or Fear are the voices/teachers/guides we all have the choice of listening to in our mind. We will know which one we have chosen, based on our attitude, feeling, thoughts, and subsequent behavior.
“Fear and love make or create, depending on whether the ego or The Spirit begets or inspires them, but they will return to the mind of the thinker and they will affect his/her total perception.”
This perception includes our concept of our Creator and our
We cannot appreciate any of Them if we regard Them
But we will appreciate all of Them if we regard Them All with
In Truth, we can love All only as One, but we can perceive it as fragmented. We see individual people, plants, and pets, but this conditioned perception of fragmentation is inaccurate. Perception is a mirror; not a fact. What we look upon is our current state of mind reflected outward. But here’s the empowering part: Anyone is free to change their mind, and all thoughts, emotions, and beliefs change with it. You have the power. Always, in all ways, beloved.
“To change our mind means we have changed the source of all ideas we think or ever thought or yet will think. We free ourselves from the past of what we thought before. We free the future from all ancient thoughts of seeking what we do not want to find. Your ability to direct your thinking as you choose is part of its power. If you do not believe you can do this you have denied the power of your thought.”
P.S. Don’t forget about the little ways we can change our perspective … Self Care is at the root of this. Something as seemingly simple as taking a catnap can give our mind and body the break it needs during a hectic day. Just ask any cat around the world. They know 😉
Hello friends! And Happy Almost March! Seriously, how are we nearly in March already?? Time really does fly when you are having fun, feeling love, and when you are in gratitude! I hope you are enjoying February and are ready for more amazing things to come in March.
If you haven’t seen it yet, Unconditional Love was the epicenter of our February Newsletter. I wish this story made the cut, but it just occurred so you’re getting the scoop here first. Although this post is also centered on love, we will switch gears a bit. This is a look into how we overcame a stressful situation by coming together as a team. It was fun to make. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope it’s helpful.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ― Leo Buscaglia
Ok, let’s get to the nitty gritty of today’s post!
But first, I have some questions for you:
How do you feel about going to the veterinarian with your pets? How do your pets feel about going to the veterinarian? Do you dread it? Do you avoid going at all because it kind of sucks for everyone? Are your pets terrified at the sight of a cat kennel? Or do they dread seeing the door to the vet’s office? Where is your stress level when they are stressed?
Going to the veterinarian does not need to be a stressful experience. In fact, it should not be. Not only can going to the veterinarian be a positive experience for your pets, it should also be a positive experience for you as their guardian. Health challenges, routine checkups, and emergencies can be challenging to say the least, but they don’t have to be terrifying for anyone involved.
Both you and your pets can feel empowered together, in any situation.
The experience that each of you will have in any of these circumstances is directly linked to one another. Not only will your stress levels affect each other, but your attitude, responses and reactions are inexplicably linked. You may have separate physical bodies, but the emotions and energy between you are connected.
You are a team.
Today I was reminded of this in a very powerful way. I am incredibly grateful and inspired after what happened, which is why I’m sharing this with you! For the first time in what feels like forever, our family had a wonderful experience at the vet. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was by far the most positive experience I’ve ever had at a veterinarian’s office. I wish for everyone to have these kinds of experiences. And I wish that every animal companion had access to this kind of care.
Our companion animals are deserving of this and more.
I created a video describing a couple of aspects concerning this subject. I guess you could call it a Vlog (a video blog). But before you watch the video, it would be helpful if I gave you a bit of history about each of the animals that you will see in the video. It’s important to explain these aspects because with any animal companion in question, their individual history, individual temperaments, preferences, and personalities are all very important aspects to consider when it comes to creating conditions for compassionate animal care.
For the sake of time and to keep this short I will be brief about each of them.
Hocus Pocus is a 7-year-old Black-mouth cur with a history of reactivity towards very specific unfamiliar dogs and familiar cats who “creep into her canine space.” Over a year ago she was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, and was immediately put on medication. Hocus’ reactivity to unfamiliar dogs, and the cats with whom she shares her home dramatically decreased. We have not had an indecent in reactivity in well over 8 months. With regards to people, Hocus’ trust and love of humans (of all ages and physical stages) knows no bounds. She is a true love bug when she is at her best.
“Mood swings and unexplained aggression can be caused by low thyroid.” – Shannon Wilkinson
Hocus’ overall experiences with veterinary offices (from my observation of her behavior) have been very positive over the past 6 years. During her first year of life she had one very aversive experience with an old school vet, concerning her ears. But thankfully, we have not had a repeat of that unkindness. I invest a lot of time and effort to build up Hocus’ confidence and to create lasting positive associations with the staff, the machinery, and the sight and scent of veterinary clinics everywhere we move.
The positive associations pay off profoundly.
Bred to Hunt!
Hocus‘ breed was designed to chase, hunt, and kill small mammals. Despite this inherent genetic predisposition, she became very bonded to our beloved King Albert the Grey. She remained by his side until his soul left his Earthly vessel. Since King Albert’s passing, Hocus has become very bonded to Beaux. She keeps a close eye on him on his walks, body blocking other dogs if they come closer than she would prefer 😉 She has now become exquisitely attuned to Mr. Beaux since the beginning of his seizures. She races to him when she hears any sudden noises that sound like the start of a seizure, and she alerts us whenever he appears to need help.
Hocus Pocus has become Beaux’s Guardian.
Mr. Beaux is a 19+ year old cat. He is considered geriatric at this age. Mr. Beaux has a history of extreme aggression that only manifests in a veterinarian clinic. This aggressive behavior stems from extreme fear.
Fear is the apprehension of a stimulus, object or event. Fear is a highly adaptive response, which is essential for survival. Fear manifests itself in many forms in all species. It’s not something, as their guardians, we are to judge, make wrong, or be embarrassed by. It’s quite natural. More importantly, as this post poignantly pointed out, the appropriate response to any fearful reaction should be compassionate, kind, and unconditionally loving.
Thankfully, the fear response can be changed in all species.
If you have read this past post, then you are aware of 4 common patterns of behavior in fearful animals: The four F’s (Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fiddle About). If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. As the article explains, the choice to F,F,F or F depends on the situation, but the tendency to choose one over the other also varies greatly with breed and species. Cats tend to choose to escape as their first response to fear. If they are unable to leave the situation, they often resort to fighting (becoming aggressive) as a means to escape.
When people, pets, and even plants, respond to stimuli in
their environment, there is a very complex range of potential reactions. The response is both specific to the stimulus
encountered, and to the situation. This will
depend on two very important factors:
The genetic influence on behavior. This influences the species and breed-specific behavioral responses that have become established over generations.
The individual aspect of behavior. This has been established through the process of learning and which reflects not only the individual’s innate response to specific stimuli, but also its unique experience.
Beaux, when given a choice, will flee in the presence of danger or a perceived threat. In the past, at veterinary offices who did not practice force free medical care, Mr. Beaux did not have the choice of fleeing. So being the incredible House Panther than he is, his next and most natural innate feline response was to fight.
He fought hard.
Fast forward to today: I don’t allow that bullshizzill to happen anymore, with any of our animal family members, in any situation.
I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. ― Maya Angelou
I have learned to love my failures and mistakes. They have become my greatest learning opportunities. Miracles come from mastering the lessons of our mistakes. Now I teach others how to prevent these kinds of situations, how to be proactive with their pets, and how to create conditions that help everyone involved to feel safe, secure, and as peaceful as possible. We won’t go into all of those today. We will just focus on a couple of conditions that were very helpful for our family in this particular situation.
Recently, Mr. Beaux had a seizure. Thankfully, he hasn’t had one of these in many months prior to this recent event. The last time it occurred was when we were living in California. At that time, he was under the care of a feline only health practitioner who practiced fear free techniques. This incredible veterinarian was assisting all of our cats with various medical challenges at the time. Because of the techniques that this certified fear free clinic was providing our feline family members, Mr. Beaux was learning to trust veterinarians and technicians for the first time in a long time. And considering he and King Albert were senior cats, they were being seen every six months. It was all going splendidly.
But then we moved. Again.
So, the search for a new qualified kitty vet began. Again.
Wanting to maintain Mr. Beaux’s level of trust, (for not only me, but for strangers who provide medical care to him), I researched, interviewed, and scouted out the best possible medical care facility in the area we now live. They say the third times a charm. And well, that was certainly the case with this cat. Mr. Beaux was seen by two other veterinary clinics before I “broke up” with them and began taking our feline family members to this new veterinarian clinic.
We hit the jackpot.
At first, I was incredibly disappointed that there was no certified fear free all feline (cat only) veterinarians in this new area. Going to a mixed species clinic has not worked out for our family in the past, so we usually avoid them when we can. But this new mixed species clinic did not disappoint. It was a calm and respectful experience for both Mr. Beaux, and myself. The staff were absolutely amazing. They did not push him, and they let him set the pace. I knew we’d be returning, and happy to do so when the time came to do so.
Six months later it was time to return.
To my great delight and amused surprise, taking Mr. Beaux to a mixed species vet worked out in our favor again. This time, our dog, Hocus Pocus, was invited to come along with us, and it was a smashing success.
Life with your animal companion, Improved.™
Of course, every situation is unique. Each person and pet bring both their individual and collective history, fears, preferences, emotions, beliefs, and energy into each challenging situation. And of course, who we choose to come along as our trusted companion will have consequences. This is true for both people and pets! I would not bring along a friend who asks a million annoying questions while I am trying to stay focused and centered. I would not bring along a friend who has the slightest aversion to medical offices or who has a history of panic attacks. I am going to bring the most grounded, calm, and secure person.
Bonus points: Someone who can make me laugh 😉
The two images below are examples of beautiful souls who can not only make me laugh when I am mad or sad, but they are giant oak trees who help me to stay grounded. Kathleen and Hocus are two strong souls I call on anytime I need support.
Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace. ― S. Goodier
Personality and energy set aside, there are also important puzzle pieces at play that we need to know about to stay empowered, together as a team. Below this post are a few links that go into this, including why we use food as a tool. The point is, there are countless ways to empower each other. There are tried and true science-based methods. And there are trials by fire. But to stay empowered takes time, compassionate effort, and a bit of creativity.
That’s what we did today. And it worked.
Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things. –Thomas Merton
Questions to Consider
As the video alludes to, when it comes to creating empowering conditions, we want to consider:
What will be helpful?
What will be a hindrance?
What will empower?
What will be compassionate choices?
What will create more fear or frustration?
What will reduce fear?
What will enhance everyone’s confidence, peace of mind, and sense of security.
Asking these questions is critical if we want to create a Life with Our Animal companion, Improved.
Sometimes it’s helpful when we step back, reevaluate, take carefully calculated risks, and think outside of the proverbial pet box.
Canines In Kahootz
As we all know, there are no coincidences in life.
No less than an hour after we returned home from the vet,
our lovely mail person popped onto our porch, and began to share a similar
story. While petting Hocus she explained
how and why her family now brings her dog’s “BFF” with them to the vet, to help
her senior dog feel more secure. Before trying this unusual technique, she
could never get her whopping 100-pound Labrador through the front door, even
with food, compassion, and a lot of patience.
It took an entire team to force the dog into the vet, and the entire
time the dog was terrified, the people were stressed, and the staff were
strained. But when her best pup pal is
by her side, she struts right through the door, feeling confident and more
And the best part: Her pup chose to participate. No force needed.
Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering. – The Dalai Lama
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.
What has been your experience with taking your pets to the vet? How do you manage their stress levels? How do you manage yours? Do your pets go to a certified fear free clinic? Have you ever brought a friend or family member along with you? Was this helpful or not? Do you have a good relationship with your pets’ veterinarian? Do you trust the staff? Do your pets? If you could wave a magic wand concerning your pets medical care, what would you change? What would you create? What would they change? What would they choose?
Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you. ― Neil deGrasse Tyson
“Lacking a shared language, emotions are perhaps our most effective means of cross-species communication. We can share our emotions, we can understand the language of feelings, and that’s why we form deep and enduring social bonds with many other beings. Emotions are the glue that binds.” ― Bekoff
Ants teach. Earthworms make decisions. Rats are ticklish. Chimps grieve. Horses understand and react to human facial expression. Some dogs have a thousand-word vocabulary. Birds practice songs in their sleep. Mice and rats show empathy. Crows use tools. Jays plan ahead. Moths remember being caterpillars. Cats are worlds wiser than your iPad.
What else will we learn about animals today?
In mylast postI discussed how our personal and collective fears affect progress, success, and peace with our pets and within ourselves. This follow up post is intended to help you to become aware of the range of emotions that animals can experience. When we begin to see our pets as conscious beings who can experience deep and profound emotions we are better equipped with the knowledge and empathy to help them, when life challenges arise. My hope is that you learn something here so you and your animal companions can live a more fulfilling and peaceful life together, no matter what comes your way.
Most people believe that animals have some emotions. But there is a lot more happening within animals than most realize. Did you know that some animals, when faced with stressors, often respond in body and mind the way humans do? It’s really amazing.
Let’s take a look at what emotions are.
From the scientific perspective, emotions are the internal changes in the body (hormones, adrenal glands, etc.) that cause changes in expression (the animal’s external behavior), and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them. From the layman’s perspective, they are feelings one experiences in the mind that affect one’s mood and body.
Emotions have evolved as animal adaptations in many species. Emotions serve as a “social glue” to bond animals together. Emotions also regulate a wide range of social encounters among both friends and competitors. Emotions allow animals to protect themselves by using numerous behavior patterns in a wide variety of settings.
To assume that animals are incapable of experiencing the same kinds of fears and stresses that we as humans experience is a common pitfall and misconception of pet parents. Animals are very capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions! Like us, many companion animals can and do experience a range of basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, grief, and surprise.
“Common sense and intuition feed into and support science sense, and the obvious conclusion is that at least mammals experience rich and deep emotional lives, feeling passions ranging from pure and contagious joy shared so widely among others during play that it is almost epidemic, to deep grief and pain. There also are recent data that show that birds and fish also are sentient and experience pain and suffering.”
We are hearing more often these days that animals are “sentient beings”, but what is sentience? What does this mean?
“Sentient animals may be aware of a range of sensations and emotions, of feeling pain and suffering, and of experiencing a state of well being. Sentient animals may be aware of their surroundings and of what happens to them.”
Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive the world around you and as a result have subjective experiences (i.e. good, bad or neutral experiences). In its most basic sense, sentience is the ability to have sensations and as a result have experiences which then may be used to guide future actions and reactions.
Similar Brain Structures
Thanks to research with imaging studies we now know that some animals have many of the same brain structures, hormones, and neurotransmitters that humans do. Just like humans, animals have temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobes of their cerebral cortex. Each region is connected in the same way. We’ve also learned that emotions are centered in the limbic system, (known as the mammalian brain). We also know that emotions such as fear, frustration, and anger drive a lot of unwanted behaviors in animals (just like in people!)
Neuroscientific research has even shown, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that elephants have a huge hippocampus. This is a brain structure in the limbic system that’s important in processing emotions. We now know that elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and likely experience the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Animals’ Advanced Abilities
Most people believe that a human’s ability to communicate is far more complex and evolved than that of other species, but cetaceans have us beat. Cetaceans have several sound producing organs. They are capable of conveying and receiving 20 times the amount of information as we can with our ability to process sounds! This surpasses the amount of information we can perceive based on vision (a human’s primary sense).
Research with cetaceans has even discovered that the frontal and temporal lobes (which are connected by their function in speech production and language processing) are capable of astounding abilities. Communication is so spectacular in cetaceans that scientists believe there is a strong possibility that this species is able to project an “auditory image.” via sonar messages they receive. The researches at MSU claim, “A dolphin wishing to convey the image of a fish to another dolphin can literally send the image of a fish to the other animal. The equivalent of this in humans would be the ability to create instantaneous holographic pictures to convey images to other people.”
Yeah. So that’s happening in the ocean and in captivity. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Pets, People, and the Mind’s Landscape
Could our pet’s mental map be similar to ours? According to researchers at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, the physical structure of our brain and that of felines are very similar. Cats have the same lobes as we do in the cerebral cortex (the “seat” of intelligence). And our brains function the same way, by conveying data via identical neurotransmitters.
In the region of the brain which controls emotion, they are similar as well. Cats have a temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobe in their brains, just as we do. Additionally, cat brains also contain gray and white matter and the connections within their brains seem to mirror those of humans.
We also know that cats’ brains release neurotransmitters in a similar pattern to that of humans when confronted with information from their five senses. Cats also have a short-term and long-term memory, and are able to easily recall information from up to 16 hours in the past. Researchers are even studying cats’ Brain structures and neurotransmitters that regulate aggression to learn more about the implications for human aggression.
Recently through MRI research doctors have discovered that dogs and humans both house impulse control in the same area of the brain. Both human and dog brains by the prefrontal lobes, but in dogs this area is much smaller relative to brain size. There is an actual link between the level of self-control a dog has and the behavior they display. Dogs who have more brain activity in their frontal lobes, tend to have more self-control and are better able to control their behaviors, reactions, and responses to stimuli in their environment.
The Workings of the Inner Clockwork
All mammals (including humans) share neuroanatomical structures: The amygdala and hippocampus and neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings. Let’s look at two areas of the brain to better understand the commonalities of the inner clockwork:
The Amygdala: The “Emotion Processing Center”: There are two almond-shaped areas in the human brain that control emotional responses. The most common function of the amygdalae involves synthesizing fear responses from the environment. Animals also have amygdalae that initiate emotional responses such as fear.
The Hippocampus: Where Memories Trigger Emotions: The hippocampus is the area in the brain where long-term memories are stored. The hippocampus feeds directly to the amygdala. Scientists believe that this is why a flood of strong emotions often follows after we recall a vivid memory.
Our companion animals also have a hippocampus. If your pet had a fearful experience before, and the sight of something reminds her of that situation, the information from her sensory cortex triggers the memory in her hippocampus, which communicates with her amygdala, which then floods her with fear.
They have found that with dogs who are experiencing the emotion of anger, the amygdala and hippocampus play key roles. When these systems become overactive, they cause the amygdala pathway to bypass the cortex entirely. This results in an animal who will literally react without thinking. Ahem, Hocus Pocus and King Albert can both attest to this. And I know of a cockatoo who lives in this state during the peak hormonal months!
But don’t we all have the ability to react this way at some point in our lives? I find it fascinating that our animal companions have this hard-wiring as well.
Emotions and the Autonomic Nervous System At Work
When an animal looks at the world, he or she is confronted with an overwhelming amount of sensory information—sights, sounds, smells, and so on. After being processed in the brain’s sensory areas, the information is relayed to the amygdala, which acts as a portal to the emotion-regulating limbic system. Using input from the individual’s stored knowledge, the amygdala determines how they should respond emotionally—for example, with fear (at the sight of a predator or stranger), in affection or love (at the sight of their beloved person walking in the door) or indifference (when facing something trivial).
Messages cascade from the amygdala to the rest of the limbic system and eventually reach the autonomic nervous system, which prepares the body for action. If the animal is confronting a threat, her heart rate will rise. Her body might sweat in some areas to dissipate the heat from muscular exertion. The autonomic arousal in turn, feeds back into the brain, amplifying the emotional response. Over time, the amygdala creates a salience landscape, a map that details the emotional significance of everything in the individual’s environment.
This internal mind map is a reminder of how to stay safe and alive.
When a threat is perceived, the body’s brilliant sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. The body then releases hormones that are responsible for either Fight or Flight. The hormones are adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. These hormones serve a very important purpose: They increase chances of survival.
“Fight or flight is a body’s primal response to anything one perceives a threat, hazard or danger; it is an immediate release of hormones to pump up our body to fight or run from a threat, whether that threat is perceived or real.”
Fear Digs In Deep.
There are some fascinating facts when it comes to the subject of fear. We now know that negative experiences effect the brain more deeply than positive experiences. Fear sinks in deep. And it holds on tight. Once a learner (us or an animal) learns that something is scary, should be avoided, or becomes a trigger, the negative effects can be long lasting and hard-wired in the brain.
Remember when that creep who wore a clown costume to your friend’s birthday party when you were a kid? Or what about that roach that crawled on you once while you were sleeping as a child? How do you feel about roaches and clowns today? It just takes one negative experience and that fear sticks to our minds like super glue.
Animals are not unlike us when it comes to how fear can set in and grab a tight hold in their minds.
Fear from Watching
Did you know that both people and pets can learn to be fearful of something, someone, or somewhere just by watching another animal or person? The amygdala plays a critical part in the physical expression of a fear response in humans as well as animals. Scientists have shown that the amygdala responds when a person or animal exhibits fear through observing someone else experiencing a fearful experience. This means that the amygdala is involved in learning to fear something even without directly experiencing the aversive event. Animals can merely observe something fearful and learn to be afraid of that person, place, or event!
The Scent of Fear
You know that phrase, “I can smell fear a mile away!”, or “They can smell your fear.”? Well, it turns out there is some truth to that. Researches in 2014 discovered that young animals have the ability to learn fear in the first days of life. Just by smelling the odor of their distressed mother. And this doesn’t pertain to just “natural” fears; If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her offspring will quickly learn to fear it too. How? Through her odor when she feels fear.
When the odor of the frightened rat mother was piped in to a chamber where her offspring were located and the juvenile rats were exposed to peppermint smell, they developed a fear of the scent of peppermint. Their blood cortisol levels rose when they smelled it! I mean, come on! How incredible is that?!
“During the early days of an infant rat’s life, they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories,” says Jacek Debiec, M.D., Ph.D., the U-M psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research.
“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” he adds. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally-transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan Health System
But wait. There’s more. The scientists exposed the rat pups of both groups of mothers to the peppermint smell, under many different conditions with and without their mothers present. Fear still occurred.
Using special brain imaging, studies of genetic activity in individual brain cells, and cortisol in the rat’s blood, they focused on the lateral amygdala as the key location for learning fears. Note: Later in life this area is responsible for detecting and planning a response to threats; that’s why it would also be the “hub” for learning new fears.
“But the fact that these fears could be learned in a way that lasted during a time when the baby rat’s ability to learn any fears directly was naturally suppressed, is what makes the new findings so interesting”, says the lead scientist, Debiec.
Their research even showed that the newborns could learn their mothers’ fears even when the mothers weren’t present. Merely the scent of their mother reacting to the peppermint odor she feared was enough to make them fear the same thing.
Fear In Pheromones
Fear can be passed through scent glands. Not only can pheromones be used to scent mark, attract mates, claim territory, find prey, and identify other animals, but they can be used as alarms. Our dogs and cats can smell when fear is present in these glands. I refer to these as FEAR-amones. When they smell fear, they instinctively know to Get The Heck Out of Dodge.
Our Similar Structures
In An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian’s Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate Adrian Morrison provides a great description of just how mammalian and animal-like we humans are. As Morrison explains, we share common brain structures with other mammals:
My cat, Buster, and I both flinch and yowl or curse at a sudden painful stimulus, and our legs both jerk in response to a tap on the patellar tendon of the knee. The spinal organization of the neurons responsible for these activities is the same in cats as it is in humans.
Moving forward into the lowest part of the brain, in both Buster and me the same neurons control basic bodily functions, such as regulation of breathing, heart rate, and vomiting. Farther forward reside the nerve cells that regulate the behaviors of sleep and wakefulness, which are identical in humans and other mammals, and where dysfunction results in similar problems, such as narcolepsy … and REM sleep behavior disorder. In this brain region in all mammals are found the neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.
At the base of the cerebral hemispheres is the almond-shaped amygdala, where mechanisms leading to fear and anxiety in people and animals operate. Monkeys and rats have contributed much to our understanding of the amygdala. The overlying cerebral cortex is where all of us mammals analyze the sensations coming from the skin, muscles and joints via the spinal cord, or eyes and ears in the cases of vision and hearing.
Where we depart from our animal brethren is in the great development of the front part of our cerebral cortex, the frontal lobes, and the greater proportion of cerebral tissue, called association areas, which integrate the information obtained from the regions that directly receive sensory information. These latter regions are called the primary sensory and motor areas because they receive simple, pure sensations and direct the movement of the body. It is within the frontal lobes that we humans mull over the past, prepare for the future, and reflect on its implications. Animals do not have this last capability in particular, as far as we can discern. Animals prepare for the future in a limited, instinct-driven way: Think of squirrels gathering and burying nuts for the winter. …
His last three sentences get right to the point of why I am sharing with you: If we have the ability to plan, predict, and prepare, and our pets are instinctively coping, adjusting, and surviving this rollercoaster (we put them on), then we have a lot of work to do as their guardians.
If fear is sticky and hard to remove, then as animal guardians we need to know how fear sets in, how we can minimize or prevent it, and how to effectively remove it. We have serious business at hand if we want them to live in our human world with minimal stress and fear, and with a maximum sense of security and safety. If we want them to thrive, rather than merely survive, then we need to get to work.
The willingness to recognize that animals have emotions is key. Their feelings matter, their fear is real to them. Animals are sentient beings who experience the lows and highs of their live with us. We must respect this.
To continue with the status quo, because that’s what as always been done isn’t enough anymore. Now that we know more, we do more. Now that we know better, we must do better. For them. For us. For all species.
All that we once believed about animals has changed, and so should our relationships with the animals we live with, care, for and are stewards for. When it comes to what we can and cannot do for animals, it is their capacity to feel, experience complex emotions that can be a catalyst for how we change the way we view them, and how we act on their behalf.
“Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them, and so do other animals. We must never forget that”. ― Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy – and Why They Matter
My next post in this “Fear Series” will address both the causes and effects of of emotional and environmental stress on our pets, so stay tuned!
And the last post in this Fear Series will be chocked full of fun tips and techniques that you can implement to help your pets reduce their fears and live a fearless life!
Until then, I am going to plan, prepare, and be proactive about our upcoming Big Move with our animal companions!
With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose. ― Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Katrina. 10 years later.
As I reflect back on what happened a decade ago my feeble words cannot come close to describing what thousands of souls experienced that fateful day and the following long months. And honestly, no one wants to hear all of that. It’s too much. But I can share a tiny glimpse into what my animal companions and I endured, in hopes of bringing awareness and opening hearts. I hope that by sharing part of my story others can heal, too.
“You cannot un-hear what you have heard. You cannot un-see what you have seen. What you can do, however, is stop wishing that whatever happened in the past hadn’t happened.”
A decade ago the world watched the city, people, and animals of New Orleans suffer unimaginable terror, pain, and destruction. It was one of the biggest national disasters, and total lack of national and local response on record. What did we learn from it all?
One poignant lesson that pet guardians learned the hard way during and after this tragedy was simple but vital: If it isn’t safe for you to stay, it isn’t safe for your animals. They are family members. Do not leave them behind!
I left someone behind.
Fate Took Over
That fateful day, I was at work with my Audubon Zoo colleagues, preparing to welcome hundreds of conference attendees and speakers. We were hosting the annual American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) conference that weekend; an event we had been planning for years. Our guests were arriving that day.
Hurricane Katrina was arriving, too.
As the dismal weather reports continued to flood in, we knew that instead of welcoming our guests with New Orleans sunshine and celebration, they would be welcomed with a category 4 or 5 storm. As we prepared for our guests while listening to the news reports, we soon learned that Katrina was quickly changing course and headed right toward us. We were going to have to relocate ourselves and our pets to the hotel downtown where our conference guests were scheduled to stay.
But as Katrina changed course and complications came up, I was forced to leave home, like so many souls.
I use the word forced, but that’s only how it felt. No one kidnapped me and drove me away from my beloved city. I did what I had to do, and I acted on the best interest of many people and pets. The conference delegates were now stranded in a city that was about to be ravaged by the storm of the century, so we had to get them, and ourselves to safety. On top of that pressure, a dearly beloved canine and her people – my very good friends – needed my help.
The General Curator of the zoo was the leader of our Hurricane Team, and his wife was the director and CEO of the Louisiana SPCA, so they were both staying behind to lead their teams. One of their dogs had recently been severely injured in a dog fight with another dog in their household. Since Dan and Laura were staying behind with their teams, and the combative dogs couldn’t be evacuated together, the canines needed to be split up for their safety. One of the dogs was in really bad shape and needed constant medical care, but it was not an option to leave her with our zoo’s veterinary staff; the Hurricane Team would have their hands full after the storm hit, and they had finite resources.
I adored and greatly respected both Dan and Laura. And when I was needed, I cared for their dogs. File’ (pronounced Feelay), the dog in need, had my whole heart. As if that wasn’t motivation enough to do the right thing, I was also written into their will to take care of their house and dogs, in the event anything happened to them. So of course I would evacuate with File’. Dan and Laura and the dogs were family. I loved them all. I would just add sweet File’ to the overgrowing caravan of people and pets. We would be fine!
Now that a severely injured File’ was in the picture, relocating myself and my animal companions to the hotel downtown with my zoo colleagues and the conference attendees was not an option for me. I had to leave. And we had to leave quickly. From what we were told, we had hours to get out.
I remember very little about how things went down. (Fear creates a muddy memory.) But I vaguely remember being more afraid than I had ever felt before. I remember feeling a panic steadily creeping into my chest. Hell, everyone was scare and on edge. Even my tough, always-oh-so-professional boyfriend and colleagues who were staying behind to “ride it out” as the Zoo Hurricane Team were nervous. And frankly, none of us wanted to leave. That was the last damn thing I wanted to do. This was my home. We were New Orleanians. We don’t run. We deal. We can handle anything.
Katrina, and the epic failure of the city’s levee system, were not something that could be handled.
Eventually I accepted my fate of having to evacuate with strangers, a severely injured dog (who hated cats), three cats; one of whom recently adopted us (and who I wasn’t fond of), and a turtle. I said goodbye to the Hurricane Team and my colleagues, invited strangers into my car, picked up File’ and her medical gear, and left the zoo. We drove to my house a few miles away and started the oh-so-dramatic, pressured-filled process of evacuating; something I had never done (or considered doing) before.
I felt like we were running for our lives.
The curator of mammals was a good friend of mine, so she offered to evacuate her animal menagerie in a caravan behind me so we could be there to support one another. She met us at my house after she gathered her critter crew (and as many conference delegates as she could cram into her car). She arrived at my house to find me wandering around aimlessly with nothing accomplished. None of the cats or turtle were packed up. I was spinning my wheels with nothing to show for it. In hindsight I can see that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was acting out of pure fear and panic. I couldn’t process what was happening, and I was scared.
As if a category 4 hurricane barreling towards us wasn’t enough, one week earlier I had returned from a nightmare of a trip. My family and I had been at the nationally televised trial of a serial killer. This monster, who had tortured and murdered one of our family members, was finally brought to justice. I hadn’t even had time to process all that my family witnessed and learned during the trial.
Being true to my procrastinating nature, I still hadn’t unpacked my suitcase from that difficult trip. As I continued to wander in circles, my friend zipped up my unpacked suitcase, grabbed the cat carriers, and started filling up the bathtub with water (apparently we weren’t taking Little David, the turtle with us). I had no idea what was happening. I was still trying to process what was unfolding at what felt like warp speed.
But I did notice that Samantha, my beloved semi-feral black cat was no where to be found.
Samantha felt and heard the stress of the scene and left the house. This couldn’t have been worse timing.
I didn’t have hours to look for her. I had minutes.
I honestly don’t remember a lot about that day, but I do remember searching for her everywhere inside and outside of the house. I remember yelling for her over and over. I remember hearing panic in my voice. Standing outside shaking her “kitty crack” treats, (the one thing she could never resist) I prayed desperately that she would come running to me.
I finally realized that she had no intention of coming to me with all of the commotion that was happening in the house, in the driveway, and everywhere else around her home. I decided I would wait for her to come to me. I would just sit and wait and she would come eventually, and I would get her into her cat carrier. Then we could leave.
She never came.
Leaving My Beloved Behind
I remember driving away sobbing uncontrollably. I could barely breathe, let alone drive. But I cannot remember why I left without her. I honestly cannot remember the thoughts I had. I have no idea how I was able to justify it in my mind. I don’t know exactly why I felt I had no other choice. (Fear and panic tends to muddy the waters in your mind and you forget these kinds of things.) Maybe I had to make that heartbreaking decision because we had such a small window to evacuate before the storm was on top of us; we would be stuck on the highway and bridges as Katrina came ashore. Maybe it was because of a severely injured dog that needed help. Maybe it was because of the two other cats, the strangers, colleagues, the pressure, and the feeling of having no other choice.
Regardless of why, leaving Samantha was the choice I made that day.
Leaving my dearly beloved Samantha behind is a decision that has haunted me, and pained my heart to this day.
Although she and I were eventually reunited during the third time I came back into the city to look for her, she paid the price of my decision to evacuate without her. The terror and emotional and physical trauma she endured during that month alone eventually took her life a decade later. (One day I will write a fascinating post on how we know this.) Despite our long separation and what she endured, the bright side of it all was that we were reunited. We were both done running, and doing our best to survive. We had to relocated to a new home, but we were finally safe.
Finally back together again.
To this day, all of these events are something that I still cannot recall. I don’t remember any details. In fact, I don’t remember much; my mind won’t let me remember. For years I still had to remind myself that I did find her. I found her. I went to unimaginable lengths to search for her, and I found her. She was found. Alive.
There were very few in our city (and nation) who were prepared.
But the few that were prepared, saved the lives of many, and brought peace and hope to countless souls. These people learned from those who came before them; they learned from the mistakes and success of other who weathered previous storms. They learned how to be ready for the worst. They were ready and they did what no one had ever done before. Those who were prepared, and who responded to the chaos shined like diamonds. These people were some of the greatest heroes our city had ever seen. The Audubon Zoo’s Hurricane Team and the Louisiana SPCA were two of these bright diamonds.
As I reflect back on that life-changing event, I realize that my decisions at the time, and that of our team’s, would indeed be those of the life and death kind and our leadership skills were tested in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined. – Laura Maloney, former director of the Louisiana SPCA
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Dr. Wayne Dyer
As life unfolds, we are bound to have heartache. We find ourselves in situations we would never consciously choose. But if we are wise enough, we learn from our mistakes, and misjudgments. We live and we learn. We make better choices for ourselves and others. We see things in a new light. We have another perspective. We grow. We forgive.
That fateful life chapter changed my life, Samantha’s life, and countless others in innumerable ways – some for the better; some we would gladly give back. Looking back a decade later, I know I would have done so many things differently. I would have never left her. I would have waited for her. But those choices aren’t an option now. All I can do today is ask her for forgiveness. I know she hears me from beyond this world. I know she holds no grievances. I know she has forgiven me.
More importantly, I have forgiven myself.
Two nights ago I laid in bed unable to sleep, thinking about everything my friends, colleagues, and myself witnessed and endured pre and post Katrina. Until the decade “anniversary”, I never allowed myself to dwell on the past. Not until now. As my dear friend Laura so eloquently explains, Like many New Orleanians, I haven’t dug up Katrina memories; we tend to move on rather than look back.
I don’t believe in looking back, but this weekend my past caught up with me. It was time for me to face it.
Laying in bed, sitting there with all of it, I couldn’t look away. I felt panic setting in again. I felt the overwhelming grief, sadness, pain, and judgement of my decision. I needed to understand the “whys?” of leaving Samantha behind. How could I make that choice?!? Why?! How could I?! How did I??
And why was this coming up for me to remember now?
I tried to push it away. It was too difficult. Overwhelming. I asked and asked why, but I never heard the answers I wanted so desperately to hear. So instead, I prayed for the strength to endure the heartache and pain. Suddenly a deep and comforting presence of calm came over me and I clearly heard: Have compassion for yourself.
Compassion for myself was the last thing I thought I deserved.
Then I remembered that compassion is what I freely give to animals, children, nature, my family,friends, clients, and strangers. Compassion heals. Compassion opens hearts. Compassion is how we forgive. After everything I had gone through I needed to give compassion to myself.
As I continued to contemplate the idea of compassion, I remembered that compassion was what helped New Orleans to heal after the storm. Compassion was what we New Orleanians gave to strangers, and what strangers gave to us when we were rebuilding. Compassion was our glue. Compassion was part of our Rebirth.
As I thought about how much love and compassion we felt during the darkest days, I was reminded that no matter what we experienced as individuals in that challenging chapter of life, we overcame it. We made the best of it. We grew stronger within ourselves and with each other.
We came TOGETHER. We cried. We laughed. We loved hard. We danced. We rebuilt. We. Were. Rebirth.
Most importantly, this weekend I finally realized that the only thing we “need to do” is have total and complete compassion for ourselves, in all of life’s challenges. We need to have compassion for what we endured and overcame – and what we are still enduring. No matter what choices we made, we made the best ones we could at the time. We did the best we could do at that time. And that is O.K. There’s no one to blame. No judgement. Only compassion.
As you walk your path in life, my prayer for you is this:
May your soul heal from the challenges in life.
May the heartbreaks and setbacks be brief.
May your heart and mind only know peace.
May you never be afraid to live your life with a full and open heart.
May your heart always be able to love more, give more, and accept more.
May the trials and tribulations in your life be transmuted by the healing fires of forgiveness and love.
May you have an endless supply of compassion for yourself, and remember that you are doing the best you can.
The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth. ~ Henry Beston
Having a blog allows me to share my thoughts, experiences, and opinions with the world. I have finally arrived at the point in my life where I will no longer hold back what I feel and experience out of fear that it might offend someone or make them uncomfortable. I am going to share what moves me, what inspires me, and what frustrates me. People don’t have to agree, like what I say, or give me a loud amen, but my hope is that people will listen and consider the ideas that I feel compelled and inspired to share here.
So here goes.
Yesterday was Independence Day here in America. People in every city all over the United States were celebrating and honoring our Nation’s birthday in their preferred way, and our neighbors to the north just wrapped up their celebrations of Canada Day. We live just outside our Nation’s Capital, so you can imagine how extravagant and far reaching the festivities here can be. We had plans to get up-close and personal to the big display downtown, but decided at the last minute to stay home because a number of factors.
I am glad we did.
Although it was relatively quiet all day in our neighborhood, there were some loud celebratory 4th of July explosions around our town when the sun went down. They lasted well into the night. Considering the disruptive and startling nature of fireworks, the animals in our home did really well. I spent most of the night helping them to feel safe and counterconditioning them to the Big Bad Booms.
As things finally settled down in our town, we all settled in for the night. It was then that I became very frustrated and upset with something I saw unfolding on social media.
Countless strangers, friends, acquaintances, and various connections on social media sites shared pictures from all around the world of their cats, dogs, parrots, rabbits, ferrets, etc. being scared out of their minds because of the fireworks. I saw dogs shaking and trembling in bathtubs, cats crouching in terror under chairs, and parrots terrified in their cages. As I was sadden to see SO MANY ANIMALS IN SUCH PANIC AND TERROR, I was even more saddened to see people taking pictures of this and posting them!
Let me be clear: These people weren’t asking for help or advice. They were making sarcastic comments about how their pet “wasn’t feeling patriotic” or that “he needs a drink”. Rather than helping their pets cope with the assault on their senses, they were sharing their pet’s misery with the world.
Most would claim that these pet owners weren’t being cruel to their pets, and maybe they had other harmless intentions that I am unaware of, but what I saw begs this question: Would you take a picture of your grandmother or child while she was cowering in the corner, experiencing real terror and fear? Would you take a snapshot of your mother panicking and post in on social media?
You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. Who would?
So why are we doing this to the animals we claim to love so much?
I believe it’s because there is a disconnect – a missing link – between people and their animals.
I see this disconnect manifested in a dad who calls me to “fix his dog.” I see the disconnect in the young woman who tells me she’s “going to kick the cat outside for good if I can’t stop it from pissing everywhere.” I see the disconnect in the countless parrots that are abandoned at shelters and zoos. I see this disconnect in the people who release their pet rabbits into the wild because they are “too much work.”
This disconnect is why people give up so easily on their pets. It’s why people find it easier to euthanize than understand, and then compromise with their pets. It’s why we see animal cruelty even in the most subtle forms all over the world.
This disconnect is deeply damaging.
I have to ask:
How did we become so deeply disconnected from the animals we share our homes with?
How is it 2015, and we still see a dog as just a dog, a cat as just a cat, and any other animal companion as just a pet?
Where is our compassion, empathy, and understanding?
Where is the meaningful, soulful connection?
This post isn’t meant to berate, judge, or condemn people who are disconnected from their animal companions. I am asking tough questions and bringing up something that I hope people will consider and ask themselves. My goal is to encourage pet owners (and dog trainers, veterinary technicians, veterinarians, zoo keepers, aquarists, and other animal care professionals) to really take a hard and honest look at how they view, treat, and respond to the animals under their care.
Although it deeply frustrates and saddens me, I can understand the disconnect, because I’ve lived it. Well over a decade ago I saw animals as something separate from me. I failed to recognize their universal connection to me that my Cherokee ancestors understood. As a child, religion taught me that humans are the superior species and that all animals were here for “human purposes”, but somehow, I think somewhere deep inside my heart, I knew this was not true.
Now, from personal and professional experiences, I see their suffering, their joy, their depth, and who they really are. I see them as species living along side of us, in a world of their own; a world that is just as meaningful and dear to them as we view our world. Their lives are no less than ours. Their souls are as infinite as our own. Their lives are just as valuable.
We are the earth, made of the same stuff; there is no other, no division between us and “lower” or “higher” forms of being. – Lauder
It took countless difficult (and beautiful) experiences for me to see all animals as our brothers and sisters in this world. This requires questioning what we have been taught. It requires looking deeply at our personal beliefs that have never been challenged. It also requires a great deal of inner reflection at who we are as a person.
I learned that when we are open to, and compassionate about our own suffering in life, this allows us greater strength and courage to recognize the suffering of others, and to fully embrace it – instead of looking away or dismissing it with laughter and jokes. This includes the animals we are guardians of in our professional and personal lives.
Compassion requires both openness and equanimity. As we practice opening to and coming close to the suffering in our own lives with compassion, we then have greater strength and courage to be with the suffering of others. – Awakening Compassion in Ourselves
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on all of this. Have you felt a disconnect with an animal companion at some point in your life? What helped you to bridge that gap and connect more deeply? Are you still feeling disconnected? Are you willing to make a deeper connection? I ask because I really do understand this feeling and frustration. I have been there many times, over many years. I ask because I genuinely want to see people and animals form a lifelong, deeply enriching and life changing bond. It’s there. It’s available to all of us. We just have to open our hearts.
When we understand that all animals are our relatives, perhaps then we will treat them as our brothers and sisters. ~ A.D. Williams
On a side note, I would like to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who shared this post about food, stress, and fear on your personal Facebook feed last night. I had a feeling that you all were watching many similar posts about pets and fireworks. Thanks so much. You guys rock. I hope you were able to help other people and their pets. Because isn’t helping people – helping all living things – one of the best things in life?
As Conscious Companions we do this every day, but this week we have the opportunity to be proactive about it and encourage others. Here are a few of my suggestions on what YOU can do:
Adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue
Every year over 3.7 million animals are euthanized in U.S. shelters because they could not be adopted into loving homes. Help animals find a second chance at happiness by adopting your next animal companion from a local shelter or rescue group. If you can’t adopt, consider fostering a parrot, cat, or dog.
Take excellent care of your animal companion
Our animal companions need us to help keep them healthy and safe throughout their lives. We do this is by ensuring they are on the cleanest and healthiest foods, schedule regular visits to a trusted and well respected veterinarian, make sure…
I feel keeping a promise to yourself is a direct reflection of the love you have for yourself. I used to make promises to myself and find them easy to break. Today, I love myself enough to not only make a promise to myself, but I love myself enough to keep that promise ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
So often around the New Year we make promises and resolutions for ourselves that we never seem to keep. Did you know that less than 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept? I’ll admit that I usually set pretty high stakes for myself and then I fall into that 8 percent. This year I thought that maybe I could keep my new year’s intentions if I made them about something greater than myself. I started to ask myself these questions:
What if I set the intention to be a little kinder and more patient with myself? Would this carry over to my family members and our animal companions?
What if I focused more on what I saw was possible in myself, instead of only what I see now? Would this help me to do the same with my animal companions and the people in my life?
What if I listened more, and observed more, and reacted less? What would happen?
The answers were clear to me; What I give to (or withhold from) myself will parallel how I treat others. What I practice in life will parallel life with others, including my animal companions. As I reflected on this before and after New Year’s, I was inspired to share some of the things that I have learned over the years, and what I have set the intention to focus on, and improve upon in 2015:
Daily Does It.
“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” ― John Mayer
Setting your mind up to start a new habit, a new way of thinking, or anything that you want to do with your animal companion takes daily determination. You have to choose to do it over and over. However, it doesn’t have to take an hour. Set aside 5 minutes each day. Make a point to repeat your new behavior, or the behavior you are working on with your companion animal every day. Aim high! Shoot for 40-days straight! Science has shown us that doing a quick but daily repetition changes the neural pathways in our brains and helps to create long-lasting change. I have tried this and it really works! Be dedicated to it. Daily repetition creates permanent change.
Have Fun or Let It Go.
When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED. ― Dr. Seuss
I love to laugh, and I live to have fun. Ever since I was a kid I felt that if it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t worth it doing. Don’t you think our animals want this too? Ask yourself: Are you having fun with them? Are they having fun when you are training or working with them? The best way to make any resolution stick is to have fun with it. Do you dread doing something? Find a way to make it exciting and something you look forward to doing! Get creative! Be playful! Add music into it! Make it a game or a challenge with an awesome reward! Use some of that positive reinforcement on yourself! Animals and people learn so much faster when they are having FUN!
Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system. ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
I cannot even begin to tell you all of the myths and nonsense that I have been taught since childhood, even up to today! Teachers, friends, family, doctors, nutritionists, veterinarians, and even other animal trainers and educators have shared some real whoppers with me. None of them were trying to deceive me. They had been taught a particular belief so they were just passing it onto me. It was up to me to either digest the fact or barf it up, so to speak.
Everyone has an opinion on something they are passionate about, but it doesn’t make it a fact. I used to teach my interns and volunteers at the zoo to question everything they heard, even if it came from me, or another highly respected staff member. You may be wondering why. Well, think about the “facts” that you were once taught, only to find out later on that a fact turned out to be a myth or a popular misconception that merely spread like wildfire from passionate, well meaning friends or colleagues. When you hear a fact, a suggestion, opinion, or something about an animal, especially yours at home, question what you’re told. Do your own research about it. Read as much as you can on that subject. Become an expert on it, or find an expert with credentials. And remember that just because it’s on the internet or T.V., that doesn’t make it true. You get to decide what’s true for you and your animal family members. Go with what resonates with you.
Easy Now. Be Like The Duck.
The best way is not to fight it, just go. Don’t be trying all the time to fix things. What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Be easy with yourself, your partner, your kids, and your animal companions. Let mistakes happen and forgive them. Don’t hold onto the mistakes and mishaps of anyone, including yourself. Let yourself, your partner, family member, coworker, boss, and your animal off the hook! Release the judgments, guilt and blame – especially the ones about yourself! We are all doing the best we can with where we are. Animals don’t waste a single ounce of energy on any of those and that’s a powerful life lesson that we can all learn from them. Let it roll off your back like water on a duck!
Embrace the “Inner Ding”.
Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of my biggest deterrents is doubt. I used to always look outside myself for answers. I never believed that I had the knowledge or experience to do something out of my comfort zone, or share something personal with others without the fear of criticism. But over the years I have learned how to better rely on my (as Louise Hay says) “inner ding” to validate my thoughts and feelings instead of doubting them. Spoiler Alert: The Answers Are Inside YOU. They are not “out there”! If we can learn to slow down, step away from the situation, remove the emotion, and tune into our own built-in, inner guidance system, we will live life as mother nature and animals know how to do naturally; they flourish without doubt or worry, and they don’t look for answers outside of themselves. Sure we can read books to learn more, we can go to educational conferences, and we can ask others we respect for their opinions and get their advice, but remember to ask yourself those same questions first and last. When we strengthen our inner awareness, our outer experience becomes miraculous.
Oh, and about the criticism issue: the only one really criticizing and judging you is yourself. One way that I started to overcome this fear was by asking myself this question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. You’ll find that when you ask yourself this question, the answer you receive is pretty cool every time. Try it the next time you are afraid or intimidated to do something. Your “Inner Ding” won’t fail you. And you never know how much of a difference you might be making in other’s lives!
Trust the Process
Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see. ― Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal
Patience has never been my strongest quality but working with animals has certainly helped that. Giant tortoises were the first to teach me how to just chill out, slow down, keep it simple, and celebrate the heck out of every little success, no matter how small it seems. Change within ourselves, and our animals doesn’t happen overnight. So be patient with yourself and with them. We are all trying to better ourselves, but let’s face it; it’s a lifelong process for us stubborn, thick-headed humans. Animals don’t measure things as successes or failures, so why should we? It’s ok when things don’t happen right away. Remember that every little success adds up! “Each subtle shift creates a new experience of positive change.” Then, before we realize it, new behaviors are created! You’ll look back and those small successes will turn out to be huge leaps. Keep it simple. Miracles are in the subtle details of life. All good things will grow with time.
Observe More. React Less
To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. ― Marilyn Vos Savant
I admit it; I can be sassy as heck when I am tired or stressed, and in general I tend to talk more than I listen. Just ask my family; I have been mouthy ever since my mother can remember, and my husband must have the patience of an oak tree to deal with me some days. Sometimes I find myself reacting to comments or behavior instead of observing quietly, without judging or taking things personally. Interestingly, our dog is reactive sometimes when she is stressed or tired. I now know that her canine peace of mind can only come when she learns how to observe things (from a safe distance) instead of overreacting to them. We work on this daily with her. When she is calm and feeling safe and secure, the world and all of its normal chaos does not affect her negatively. She watches instead of reacts. I see this in myself as well. We are both a work in progress in many ways, but with a lot of patience and a lot of daily practice, I know that I can become a conscious observer every minute of the day, and she can too. “Be Passersby”. You don’t have to react to everything you see and hear. Communicate clearly, but listen and watch more.
Flaws and All
Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her. ― Laozi
Here are the Cliff notes: You’re good enough, for whatever it is. In fact, you are perfect, and so is every one of your animal companions -just the way they are. Sure, they may have a few (or a lot of) behavioral issues that can be modified so they can function better in our human world, but so do we. It’s a constant challenge for me to embrace all of my many flaws. Loving and accepting ourselves exactly as we are is the first step in accepting others – including our animals – for exactly as they are. If we are hard on ourselves, or judge and criticize the flaws, we are bound to view others this way too, including our animal companions. I don’t believe that animals have “flaws”. They are products of their genetics and their environment. So are we. But we are not our past, and neither are they. We are who we decide we are going to become. When we are able to look past the “flaws” and “imperfections”, and instead, consciously choose to focus on what’s possible, and what he or she can become, miracles occur. Fear, judgement, and criticism are limitations. They only hold you and your animal companions back. Instead of constantly reliving or talking about your animal companion’s hard or tough past, focus on where they are headed and what they are capable of becoming. Believe in the impossible. Embrace the flaws and all.
Your Presence Is Needed.
The greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else is just being present. ― Rasheed Ogunlaru
My mind is always racing, and I am easily distracted. (Anyone that knows me well is probably laughing out loud at that statement.) Thankfully I’ve found many ways to quiet my mind over the years, but I still find myself not being fully present when I’m with a friend, a family member, or my animal companions. I catch myself thinking of what I need to do next, or a conversation that happened earlier. A year ago I decided to remove all of my social media apps off of my phone because I found myself mindlessly checking them instead of just being aware of what was going on around me! It has made a huge difference in helping me to be fully present.
One of the things that I admire about animals is that they are always fully present in the moment; they aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday, or what is going to happen tomorrow. They are always here, now. I’d like to suggest that you try this: when you come home from your busy or stressful day, make a conscious effort to spend a few minutes of your “decompressing” time with your animal family members. Pet them. Throw the ball. Play tug. Brush them. Look at them in the eye. Be fully present with them. I promise that doing this will turn your day around and uplift you. Their presence is a gift to us. Your presence is also a gift to them.
Be In Gratitude.
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Even in the crappiest moments in life I can find something to be grateful for. I am not a Saint by any means, but I have learned to do this. This technique has changed my life in more ways than I can explain. I now know that my moods directly affect everyone around me, especially my animal companions. Whether you know it or not, our animal companions are sponges for our emotions and moods. They are soaking up all that we are sending out. Now I can catch myself when I start to send out negative energy. This is how I do it: If I am feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, (insert any emotion), I choose one thing that I am grateful for. I say it out loud or to myself. When I do this my mood will start to shift. I can feel myself lighten up and feel better. I start to focus on more things that I am grateful for, and whatever I was so upset about starts to fade. Try it. The next time you are upset, reach for a thought that helps you to feel better; find one thing to be thankful for. More will follow.
Last year before New Year’s Eve I asked a few friends, colleagues, and close acquaintances what their resolutions and intentions were for their animal companions and themselves. This is what they graciously shared with me. (If you don’t have Adobe PDF reader, click here to read Promises from around the world.)
I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone what intentions they have set for this New Year, but I would LOVE to hear yours! Did you make any promises to yourself or your animal companions for 2015? Please share them with us in the comment section below!
Go for it, while you can. I know you have it in you. And I can’t promise you’ll get everything you want, but I can promise nothing will change if you don’t try. ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre