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
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.
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:
The ability to let go
Hide and seek games
Seeing the world through innocence
Seeing our people become stronger and fearless
Meals tailored to our individual needs
Foraging and hunting opportunities
Sharing our people’s bed
Knowing this world is temporary; a place away from our real Home.
Energy healing sessions
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
Seeing my people happy and healthy
Getting permission to roll in smelly goodness
Watching our person learning to let go
Communicating on a new level
Smelling the scents on the breeze
Our person learning how hidden emotions affect us
Teaching our people new life lessons
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
Unlikely friendships forged through trust
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
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.
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
“When efforts that are wisely executed, the situation and condition don’t affect the performance.” ― A.Patel
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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??
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
“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!
The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear. – Gandhi
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. –Cheryl Strayed
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?
The 4th of July is a favorite day of celebration for many people, but let’s be honest. It’s a day of terror for many pets. And while we’re at it, let’s be even more precise: the Forth of July might as well be renamed “Feline Fright Night” for most cats. So what’s a devoted cat guardian to do?? There is a cornucopia of clever advice for dog owners to help their canine companions on the Night of Assault on the Senses, but what about the cats?? Cats need help, too!
Feline Fact: Hearing is a cat’s best developed sense. A cat’s sense of hearing is far more acute than that of dogs and humans! A cat can hear sounds up to 64,000 kHz. By comparison, dogs can hear sounds up to 45,000 kHz, while humans hear sounds only up to 23,000 kHz.
So why does this matter? Well, it means that all sounds are much more intense for cats. Combine this fact with a cat’s lack of understanding (or appreciation) for a day dedicated to deliberately making things explode, and you have the perfect recipe for a full on Feline Freak Out.
Here’s the good news: family festivities such as the 4th of July don’t have to become the Feline Fright Night to our kitty friends! There are many things that you can do to help your feline family members successfully cope with the Big, Bad Booms and Bangs this weekend. Below are some of my most valuable tools to help you become a Conscious Companion, and change Fourth of July Fright Night into a stress-free experience for everyone in the home!
How to Make Your Home a SAFE, CALM Haven for your Feline BEFORE The FIREWORKS Begin!
Keep Kitty Indoors! Even the savviest of kitties can become startled, scared, disoriented, or confused and stray far from home when those frightening sights and sounds begin. More pets go missing on/after Independence Day than any other day of the year! Why risk it? Keep your cats inside the day and night before, during, and a few days after July 4th. Be aware that Independence Day is on a Friday this year. It’s a safe bet that the firework festivities will last long into the weekend, so be sure to keep your Pet Guardian guard up! Don’t assume that once the 4th of July passes, that the booms and cracks have passed, too. Be ready for anything!
Create Safe Zones. – Make a Feline Fort Hideout! Set up a “fort” or safe place of refuge for your cat(s) in the home. If you don’t have a “safe room” yet, I strongly recommend that you create one today. It can be as simple as a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy “hidey” spot in the back of the closet, the bathroom, or a covered crate that feels like a cozy kitty den. Even the space underneath a bed can comforting to cats. Be sure to set up this Safe Zone away from windows where the sights and sounds are loudest and brightest. Acclimate them to this safe zone before the firework festivities begin. Offer treats and attention when they are in this area. By doing this, you are creating positive feelings with this safe zone.
TIP: If you are not sure where to set up this safe zone, observe where each cat chooses to retreat when they are over stimulated. Ask yourself: Where do they go when company comes over, the big game is on TV, or when a storm hits? Where do they hide? That’s where you want to build Fort Hideout!
TIP: If you have a nervous kitty like we do, prepare ahead of time for their comfort and safety. Make sure they have their favorite cozy hideaway ready. If they love boxes, provide one or two for them to explore. You can also consider adding a dash of catnip to get them relaxed and increase their confidence! Remember that some cats become relaxed on catnip, while others can become very wound-up.
Play Calming Music. Soothing classical music is beneficial for many species. Therapeutic music such as Through a Cat’s Ear and iCalm for Cats has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and have calming effects on cats! It is psycho-acoustically designed and clinically demonstrated to calm the feline nervous system. However, it’s most effective when you play the music well before the fireworks begin, at a time when the cat or dog is already relaxed. Animals will start to associate the music with being calm and content. Then you play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime. Check out these free sound samples!
NOTE: Don’t just crank up any old tunes or the T.V. in an attempt to make the inside of the house louder than outside. That will only create more stress on the cats. Keep the energy inside peaceful and calm.
Consider homeopathic calming remedies. Homeopathic relaxation supplements such as Feliway (cat appeasing pheromones), Spirit Essences,HomeoPet, and Pet Rescue Remedy are very helpful with calming an cat’s nerves on the big bad boom day. We use Spirit Essences —This product does wonders for stress levels! Check with your veterinarian before you use them.
Note: Feliway is a liquid synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure. You can spray it on their favorite napping spots to make them feel more secure.
Note: If your cat has reacted very badly to fireworks, etc. in the past, you can consider discussing stronger medications with a veterinarian who specializes in feline anti-anxiety medicine. I recommend trying the above products before rushing to the vet for prescription meds! We have seen incredible success with these products. Medication alone is generally not going to “fix” much of anything. It’s can be a helpful intervention, but not a specific treatment. It needs to be paired with counter conditioning techniques.
Utilize Tactile Tools. There are two wraps on the market that reportedly help pets with noise phobias. The original Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress. Thunder Shirts have been successful with calming many cats. Over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms. The Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the fur and shields them from static charge build-up before and during storms. Rubbing an animal down with scent-free dryer sheets can help with reducing the static charge as well!
Reduce the Visual Assault. Close the windows and blinds or anything around the house that will help to eliminate the visual assault on their senses. Turn on lights around the house. This will also help to block out the flashes from the fireworks.
Comfort Your Cat! If your cat is displaying fear and anxiety when the fireworks begin, stay calm and stay near them. Contrary to some belief, this is NOT rewarding fearful behavior!
Distract them! Start playful game and break out the treats if they are beginning to show signs of fear and anxiety. You can also offer novelty items such as cat nip, special treats, and enrichment toys. Grab some of that recycling material and create a fast, homemade puzzle toy! The idea here is to turn Fright Night into Fun Night!
TIP: Withholding these toys for a few days ahead of time will make these treats even more special on the Night of Assault on the Senses.
Soon people all over the U.S. will be celebrating the Fourth of July and our neighbors to the north are preparing for Canada Day! Folks everywhere are getting ready for the visual and sound Smörgåsbord paired with good food, great friends, and family. However, most animals would probably order the food, but hold the fireworks. So while we are preparing to party, let’s prepare our pets, too.
If you have worked or lived with an animal, you know that most of them are frightened of loud or startling noises. The fear of loud sounds is called noise phobias. Even if your animal companion has not displayed this fear before, the sights and sounds on The Fourth of July could easily bring out their most intense fears.
Put yourself in their position. Imagine the scene: what is normally a peaceful evening at home suddenly turns into chaos. All of a sudden there are bright, flashing lights, loud banging sounds, people hollering boisterously, and things exploding over and over. These stimuli, paired with the unusual smell of burning sulfur and smoke, can bring on a full blown animal panic attack.
Even children can be frightened by all of this, but since parents and kids both communicate in the same language, we are able to explain to them what is happening. When our rabbit, cat, dog, or parrot is freaking out during moments like this, we cannot just sit down with them and have a calm little chat to explain, “There is really nothing to fear, so just settle down.” Anything unexpected, out of their ordinary routine, or that involves sensory overload, is a recipe for a full-on Animal Freak Out.
Whether you will be enjoying the festivities at home or away this year, you will need to prepare your home well before the festivities begin.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR HOME A SAFE, CALM PLACE BEFORE THE FIREWORKS BEGIN:
Sound Therapy: Playing calming, classical music is beneficial for many species. Therapeutic music such as Through A Dog’s Ear and Through a Cat’s Ear has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and have calming effects on cats and dogs! It is psychoacoustically designed and clinically demonstrated to calm the canine and feline nervous system. However, it’s most effective when you play the music well before the fireworks begin, at a time when the cat or dog is already relaxed. Animals will start to associate the music with being calm and content. Then you play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime. Check out these free sound samples!
Sound Therapy combined with Desensitization: The Canine Noise Phobia series (CNP) consists of four CD’s that can be used individually or as a set: Fireworks, Thunderstorms, City Sounds, and Calming. CNP is an innovative desensitization training tool that combines three distinctive elements for the treatment and prevention of sound-sensitivities and noise-phobias. This article by Mary Strauss, published in the Whole Dog Journal, gives a comprehensive overview of possible treatments for sound phobias.
Scent: Homeopathic relaxation supplements such as Canine Calm, AviCalm, Feliway, and D.A.P (dog and cat appeasing pheromones), Spirit Essences, HomeoPet, and Pet Rescue Remedy are extremely helpful with calming an animal’s nerves on the big day. Pet Rescue Remedy works on everything from horses to reptiles. You can find Pet Rescue Remedy at most health food stores or animal supply stores. Applying a few drops to their food, water, or directly into their mouth BEFORE the booms begin can do wonders for stress levels! Essential Oils such as lavender and valerian can also help with various anxieties. Learn how here. Note:Feliway is a liquid synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure. You can sprayitontheirfavoritenappingspotstomakethem feel more secure.
Tactile: There are two wraps on the market that reportedly help sound phobic pets. The original Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress. Thunder Shirts have been successful with calming many dogs and cats. Over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms. The Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the dog’s fur and shields them from static charge build-up before and during storms. Rubbing an animal down with scent-free dryer sheets can help with reducing the static charge as well!
Visual: Close the blinds or anything around the house that will help to eliminate the visual assault on their senses. Turning on lights around the house will also help to block out the flashes from the fireworks.
Fort Hideout: Set up a “fort” or safe place of refuge for them in the home. If you don’t have a “safe room” for your pets, I strongly recommend that you create one. Itcan be as simple as a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy “hidey” spot in the back of the closet, the bathroom, or a covered crate that feels like a real den. Even the space underneath a bed can comforting.
TIP: If you are not sure where to set up this safe zone, observe where each of your animal companions chooses to retreat when they are over stimulated. Ask yourself: Where do they go when company comes over, the big game is on TV, or when a storm hits? Where do they hide? That’s where you’ll want to start building Fort Hideout.
NOTE: Be sure to set up this safe zone away from windows where the sights and sounds are loudest and brightest. Acclimate them to this safe zone before the firework festivities begin. Offer treats and attention when they are in this area. By doing this, you are creating positive feelings with this safe zone.
If you have a nervous kitty like we do, prepare ahead for their comfort and safety. Make sure they have their favorite cozy hideaway ready. If they love boxes, bring one or two for them to explore. You can also consider adding a dash of catnip to get them relaxed and increase their confidence! (note: some cats become relaxed on catnip; others can become very wound-up.)
The most important thing an owner can do for their fireworks-phobic dog is to provide them with a bolt hole – a place where the dog can escape to when the festivities begin. Providing the dog access to this safe place is essential at all times, particularly during an owner’s absence. This might be a closet, bathroom or a basement, the best places usually being the ones that have no windows, but with plenty of artificial light (to mask flashes of fireworks). Music can be played close to the safe haven so that sounds can be masked. ~ Victoria Stilwell, internationally respected dog trainer
Conditioning a dog to feel differently about the sound of fireworks can be achieved by gradually exposing the dog to audio recordings of fireworks at low volume levels and, if the dog appears relaxed, playing his favorite game or feeding him his favorite food. Allowing the dog to play and relax in the presence of the soft noise for a period of ten minutes, taking a break of five minutes and repeating the exercise ensures that the dog doesn’t become bored with the training. Introducing the audio at a low level again and slowly turning up the volume if the dog continues to be relaxed and able to concentrate on playing the game or eating the food allows the dog to habituate to the noise without a fear response. If the dog shows signs of stress, going back to the previous level and building up the noise level again will take pressure off the dog. The object of noise desensitization is to gradually expose the dog to louder and louder sounds over a period of time, progress being determined by the dog’s reactions. Going too fast might make the dog even more frightened, so taking things slowly will ensure maximum benefit from the process. Some dogs will respond well to all of the above therapies, but will become panicked when the real fireworks start. It is therefore important to tackle this phobia in other ways by using effective management strategies and by masking any audio and visual stimuli that elicit a fear response during an episode.
~Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog trainer
IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER
Ideally, you should desensitize them to loud noises well ahead of time. When you have the opportunity, gently pair loud or startling sounds with their most favorite treats, new toys, and playtime. You don’t have to walk around the house banging pots and pans, but you can help them to associate startling, loud sounds with positive treats … days and weeks before the fireworks begin.
If you know when the party and fireworks will begin, get potty time, walks, and dinner done ahead of time. If these noises are frightening to them, they will often refuse to eat, go outside to do their business, or even use the litter box. Getting these evening “business” routines done ahead of time will make everyone more comfortable. When walking them, be sure to have a secure hold of them; fireworks can start earlier than you expect and could easily startle them!
Get them tired! (not exhausted): If you can give them a day of play at a puppy daycare facility, or even a just couple hours of romp and play time before the Big Bad Bangs begin, their stress levels can be greatly reduced if they are already content and tired from a fun day of play and exercise. Healthy play and exercise is great for reducing stress in cats, too!
Know the signs of STRESS! Cats and dogs, birds and other exotic companion animals show anxiety and stress in a variety of different ways. Be a Conscious Companion; learn to recognize their individual stress signals, which may include any (or all) of the following:
BEFORE they are even beginning to show signs of fear and anxiety, offer them Good Things! Be playful with them! Play games and break out the treats! You can also offer novelty items such as cat nip, frozen soup (marrow) bones, Bully Sticks, and enrichment toys, such as KONG for cats and dogs! If you have parrots, check out these goodies from The Leather Elves. Grab some of that recycling material and create a fast, homemade puzzle toy! The idea here is to turn Fright Night time into Fun Night!
TIP: Withholding these items for a few days or week ahead of time will make these treats even more special on the Night of Assault on the Senses.
Medication alone is generally not going to “fix” much of anything. It’s can be a helpful intervention, but not a specific treatment. It needs to be paired with counter conditioning techniques. — Read how and why here.
Avoid scolding or reprimanding them when they are frightened or nervous. Their anxiety doesn’t have to be understood, but merely respected. Many animals have fears that to us are not “rational,” but they are still very real for them.
Note: Always comfort the animal.You cannot reinforce Fear! If you don’t believe me, read this!
It is essential that if an owner is present, time be spent with the dog in the safe haven or attention given to the dog if it comes to seek comfort from its owner. Far from reinforcing fearful behavior, an owner’s comforting arm and presence can help a phobic dog to cope as long as the owner remains calm at all times. ~ Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog trainer
If you absolutely must take them with you during the fireworks show, always keep them on a safe, force-free harness, or in a fortified carrier. When an animal becomes startled or frightened they will run, and often run very far. Keep them attached to you at all times. Make sure their identification tags and your contact number are clearly marked on their collars; if they do break free from home, or from you, they can be reunited faster and more easily. Having your animal companion microchipped is also another important safety measure. It’s inexpensive and can be done within minutes at your vet. More pets go missing on the 4th of July more than any other day of the year.
Animals are family, so it is natural to enjoy having them around you when you are celebrating. However, the 4th of July is not be the best time to have your animal companion tag along if you’re headed out, even if you’re going to what is supposed to be a “pet-friendly” party. If you have set up safe zones, prepared the house, and your animal companions appropriately, they are going to feel safe at home when the noise chaos begins. Home is familiar, and home is safe – so please keep them inside until the celebration is well over.
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!