“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.
And in a world where there is food enrichment for felines 😉
I hope that wherever you are in the world, you are enjoying October. And I hope you are faring well, despite hurricanes, fires, and crazy politicians. OH MY. On a much more uplifting note, I wanted to share something fun with you while I had a couple minutes.
It involves cats and pumpkins.
I am a HUGE fan of October. I mean, like a total dork about October and Halloween. I was married on Halloween. All of our cats are the colors of Halloween, and our dog’s name is Hocus Pocus. We absolutely Adore Fall and Halloween. One of the best parts about Halloween is the plethora of beautiful gourds and pumpkins. I also adore felines of all species. So what’s better than a cat or a pumpkin?
….. Cats AND pumpkins together!!!
Now that October has arrived, I took advantage of the readily available gourds that were ready to be adored … and gored.
Our cats enjoyed them as well! (Be sure your sound is ON.)
On a related note, I wanted to let you know that tomorrow I will be doing an online webinar, “Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental and Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Their Food.” I will discuss some common myths about companion cats and how dietary enrichment can be one of the most powerful tools you use with your feline family members every day! I will be discussing the importance, science, and methods behind novel enrichment that you saw in that video.
Here are some common House Cat MYTHS we will be discussing tomorrow in our webinar:
Cats are nocturnal.
Cats are aloof.
Cats are lazy.
Cats hunt in groups.
Cats are unsocial.
Cats are at the top of the “food chain”.
Cats are fully domesticated.
Cats are herbivores or omnivores.
Cats are a lot like dogs.
Senior cats won’t play with food puzzles or hunt for food.
I will also be discussing Cat’s “Super Senses!” These acute senses are unique to them as a species. Many of these super senses are not unlike their exotic ancestors; African wildcats, panthers, lions, tigers, jaguars, and cougars. Unlike their ancestors, companion cats possess extraordinary sensitivity as both a predator and prey. These feline senses and abilities are evolutionary adaptations that are unique to felines. All of these senses come into play when it comes to providing species-appropriate dietary/foraging enrichment.
House cats retain many of the instincts, traits, behavior, and needs of their wild kin and feline ancestors. Your cat may hang on the couch at home with you, but her mind and body are programmed to hunt, capture, kill and consume just as wild as the African lion on the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa, the Sumatran Tiger in the wetlands of Borneo and Sumatra, and the jaguar in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. These sensory adaptations are a huge piece of enrichment puzzle. These unique feline traits are at the heart of why we need to be using foraging enrichment for our companion felines.
Encouraging Cats to Forage
In the dog and cat community there are two very common myths currently circulating about senior and geriatric cats: They don’t need daily exercise and they won’t play with puzzle feeders! Both of these beliefs are untrue. Tomorrow our geriatric cats will show you why cats of all ages CAN and should be foraging for their food!
Food Foraging as a TOOL.
I will also talk about who, what, when, where, and why Foraging and Puzzle Feeders can be used a behavior modification tool for multiple species in the home.! A lack of mental and physical stimulation is linked to a myriad of medical and behavioral issues in cats. But this can be reversed! When properly utilized, foraging enrichment can enhance the lives of both cats and their guardians. Not only can puzzle feeders be a tool to help your tiny tiger to thrive, but puzzles can help with everything from obesity to fear. Here are some of the ways that Foraging has helped our felines:
Transitioning a feral cat indoors
Scarfing and barfing
Food competition /bullying others for their food
Wildcats and More
We will also look at house cats’ ancestors and how they relate to your modern day couch cat. We will discuss the 5 Categories of enrichment and how puzzle feeders and foraging play into those. We will discuss the Principles of Food Enrichment Planning and Individualized Enrichment Programs and why they are both crucial. There will also be a special section on foraging enrichment for senior cats. yay!
I hope you can join me for the webinar tomorrow. It’s going to be FUN and informative! But if you can’t make it, don’t worry; once you sign up you will receive a recording of the webinar after it’s over. You will also receive links to 18 videos I have created as supplements for the webinar, along with pdfs, referenced papers, and links to where you can purchase some of the puzzles I mention. These will all come to you from the Pet Professional Guild, who is hosting this event. Details here: Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental and Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Their Food.
Happy Foraging with your felines!
October Blessings to you and yours!
October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came –
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.”
― George Cooper
“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!
In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.
I don’t know any gods in this life, but I know a king.
He is a good king. This king does not live in a palace made of stone and ivory. He does not sit on a throne made of jewels and gold. His throne is any place that he claims in his palace. This king rules every being in his palace. He does not rule with an iron fist, but with calm assuredness. This king’s palace is our home. This king is wise, brave, and handsome above all others. This king’s name is King Albert The Grey. He is our feline companion. He is my teacher. And today is his 15th birthday.
All Things Grey
Just so you know, we don’t walk around referring to our grey cat as “King Albert The Grey!” (with trumpets sounding in the background). However, when the feline veterinary specialists call him by his full name we don’t correct them, because it’s hilarious to hear them say it so seriously.
But to Albert, things in his world are quite serious.
Albert is not known for being goofy and playful. Anyone who knows him views him more like a military general, a mini grey panther, or a wee grey grizzly bear. Albert is fierce. But he is also fiercely devoted and unconditionally loving to those he trusts. He is one of a kind. He is our magnificent grey cat.
As Albert turned 15 years of age today he moved out of the “senior” years and moved into the “geriatric” years. This has been a very challenging time. It has also been a miraculous and life changing time for both me and Albert. Although most people assume that senior and geriatric cats are in the “grey area” of life where things fade and waste away, Albert is proving otherwise.
As I reflected on what he is teaching us, and the many grey areas of life, I started to wonder about the color of grey. I wondered about the symbolism of Albert’s grey coloring; could the color of grey have a deeper meaning?
People understand what the color grey is, but most are unaware of this color’s role throughout history.
1. of a color intermediate between black and white
In Etymology- Grey comes from the Middle English grai or grei, from
the Anglo-Saxon graeg, and is related to the German grau. The first recorded use of grey as a color name in language was in AD 700.
In History and Art –In the Middle Ages grey was the color of undyed wool, and therefore was the color most commonly worn by peasants.
In Literature – the character Cinderella takes her name from the color of cinders (ashes).
In Military – During the American Civil War, the soldiers of the Confederate Army wore grey uniforms. This was (and still is) the color of the uniform of cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.
In Religion – In Christian religion grey is the color of ashes, and a biblical symbol of mourning and repentance used during Lent or on days of fasting and prayer. Grey was reputed to be the color of the clothing of Jesus Christ, and for that reason is the color worn by monks of the Cistercian and Franciscan as a symbol of their vows humility, modesty, and poverty. Buddhist monks and priests in Japan and Korea often wear a sleeved grey, brown, or black outer robe. Taoist priests in China also often wear grey.
In the Animal World – Grey is a very common color for species ranging from whales to mice. Gray provides a natural camouflage and allows animals to blend with their surroundings.
In the Human World – The substance that composes the brain is sometimes referred to as grey matter, or “the little grey cells”, so the color grey is associated with all things intellectual.
In Folklore – Grey is often associated with goblins, elves, and other legendary wise creatures. This is partly because of their association with dusk, as well as because these creatures were said to be outside of traditional moral standards of black and white.
The writer J. R. R. Tolkien made use of the folkloric symbolism of grey in his works, which draw upon Scandinavian folkloric names and themes. Gandalf is called the Grey Pilgrim; settings include the Grey Havens and Ered Mithrin, the grey mountains; and characters include the Grey Elves.
In Fashion – During the 19th century, Paris and
London set the fashion for women and men. The intent of a business suit was above all to show seriousness, and to show one’s position in business and society. To reflect this, bright colors disappeared and were replaced by a dark charcoal grey frock coat in winter, and lighter greys in summer.
In Society – Grey is most commonly associated in many cultures with the elderly because of the association with grey hair. It symbolizes the wisdom and dignity that come with experience and age.
Why I Celebrate The King of Grey
Albert could probably care less about those fun facts about the color grey, but they do shed light on the color of grey and its influence in the world over the centuries. And I was surprised to discover that much of the symbolism of grey is relevant to our King Albert the Grey!
There are so many things I could be doing with my time today, but I chose to share with you the many reasons why I celebrate Albert. My hope is that you might come to see one of your beloveds in a new light.
A King Who Rules Many Kingdoms.
Anyone who knows Albert understands that he pretty much rules the house. He’s not bossy, but all of the other animals – and even the humans – recognize his status. He has the air of a king! This morning when I woke I was not surprised to find that the sun had disappeared. It was not gone, but merely clouded over by deep, soulful grey skies. Today, after all, is King Albert The Grey’s birthday, so the skies reflected his day of birth. King Albert controls pretty much everything in our home (Ahem, I mean, his palace), so of course he controls the skies as well! Such is the life of a King.
A King Who Makes No Apologies
One of the best qualities about Albert is his ability to never feel guilty or remorse for his choices. What a lesson in life that is for us humans! Albert sees his options, and makes a decision without wavering. He stands firm and moves forward. There is never a doubt in his mind. He does not see right and wrong. He knows what works, what feels good, and what does not. He does not allow the meager human trappings of obligation and guilt to guide him. He makes conscious deliberate decisions that work for him.
“Guilt” isn’t in cat vocabulary. They never suffer remorse for eating too much, sleeping too long or hogging the warmest cushion in the house. They welcome every pleasurable moment as it unravels and savour it to the full until a butterfly or falling leaf diverts their attention. They don’t waste energy counting the number of calories they’ve consumed or the hours they’ve frittered away sunbathing. Cats don’t beat themselves up about not working hard enough. They don’t get up and go; they sit down and stay. Relaxation is an art form. From their vantage points on top of fences and window ledges, they see the treadmills of human obligations for what they are – a meaningless waste of nap time.― Helen Brown, Cleo
A King Who Knows What He Wants
Albert knows what his body wants. He knows what his body needs. I now know this from the energy healing sessions, communications, and the many feline veterinary visits that we have been experiencing together. He is wise in this way. He knows what will aggravate, or help his medical conditions. He openly communicates this to us, when we ask.
Albert also does what he wants, when he wants, and not a moment sooner. And when he wants something he asks for it without hesitation. These are invaluable lessons that I have learned from him!
He liked companionship, but he wouldn’t be petted, or fussed over, or sit in anyone’s lap a moment; he always extricated himself from such familiarity with dignity and with no show of temper. If there was any petting to be done, however, he chose to do it. Often he would sit looking at me, and then, moved by a delicate affection, come and pull at my coat and sleeve until he could touch my face with his nose, and then go away contented. ~Charles Dudley Warner
A King Who Requires Respect and Boundaries
There is no forcing Albert to do anything. This is another valuable lesson for anyone who wants to deepen the trust and bond between an animal and person. Forcing him to do anything will not end well for anyone. Respect and boundaries are a must. He has taught me so much about what healthy boundaries are and how to set and maintain them.
In the middle of a world that had always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence. ~Rosanne Amberson
A King Who Walks with Confidence
My Cherokee ancestors knew (and remembered) to call upon the spirit or energy of an animal for whom they needed help, guidance, or inspiration. If one needed leadership they might call upon the energy of mountain lion. If one wished to invoke the energy of grounding forces and strength, they might call on bear. We refer to this energy as an animal’s “medicine.” In fact, even our domesticated cats have this medicine! Some of their medicine includes: independence, healing, curiosity, many lives, magic, cleverness, seeing the unseen, dreaming, protection, and Love.
As the above quote alludes to, this world can be quite mad. More than once in my life I was inspired to call on the energy of King Albert the Grey. At the time I was nervous, scared, intimidated, and wavering in my thoughts. I was shaking and so unsure of myself.
You might be wondering why I would call on a domestic cat when I was feeling those emotions, instead of a bear or puma. I can explain. At the time we shared a home with four cats. None of them could offer what Albert’s energy could do. Albert walks with confidence. So much so that Albert has always felt more “bear” than feline. He has the same confident predatory energy of the jaguars and cougars I once cared for. His energy is like that of a lion. In fact, he has always felt more like an actual king than a cat.
This has always been so. Ever since the day I first met him (as he was sneaking into my window one afternoon) he was beaming with calm confidence and unwavering focus and guiltless determination. Even at 15 years of age, with his current health challenges, Albert exudes this same confidence and stability. He radiates regal authority. He rules our house with calm assuredness. He teaches us with patience and compassion. This energy was exactly the kind of energy I needed that day. And the most amazing part is that I felt his energy as soon as I called upon him.
A King Who Heals and Teaches
Albert has introduced me to ideas and experiences that I never thought were possible. Because of the healing and communication work that we have been doing together, our bond is stronger than it has ever been. Our relationship is deeper than I had ever expected, (or even wanted to have with him). There is peace and harmony in our home because he is at peace. Even with the health challenges he is currently facing, he is more alive and more vibrant than ever before. While he is healing he is teaching us all.
A King Who Waits Patiently and Allows
Another reason I humbly and excitedly celebrate King Albert today is because of the immense gratitude I feel for him. What he has taught me this year has caused me to be (and I don’t use this phrase flippantly) … in total awe of him. I am privileged to see Albert in a whole new light. I thought I knew him before, but what I thought I knew of him were mere labels I had placed on him. Now I see him. I understand him. I feel as if he has been waiting for me to listen to him, to see him, and allow everything to unfold perfectly. He is such a gift in our lives.
Today we honor and celebrate your life, King Albert! May the next 15 years be full of love, healing, and vibrant joy! May your heart only know peace. May you age gracefully. May you always feel loved.
We love you, King Bear.
P.S. Thank you for allowing me to spend so much time on this post, instead of making you those birthday “catcakes” that I promised you. Your patience will pay off quite deliciously in the near future, Albert! =^..^=
Have challenging times brought you and your beloved closer? Have circumstances in life helped you to see your animal companion from another perspective? How have they inspired or changed you? I would love to hear your story!
Have you ever met someone when you least expected it? And not only did you meet them when you least expected it, but they ended up being one of the greatest influences in your life?
I have. Many of them, actually, but the one who surprised me the most was an animal.
A black cat.
16 years ago after graduating college at Louisiana State University, I was working at LSU’s veterinary teaching school. One fateful day I happened to walk up to the front desk to receive a drop off. We often received a lot of injured wildlife, but this animal was an injured and exhausted young black kitten.
We had “no room at the inn”, but the staff agreed to hydrate and treat him if one of us could take him home temporarily. I immediately declined; I really was not a huge fan of cats. Plus, I was currently searching for our M.I.A. pit bull, Daisy. – She would have certainly thought this wee kitten was an offering to her! I couldn’t take the chance.
Taking this kitten home was not an option. Period. No way. No how. Never. Not me.
I took the kitten from the woman’s hands, and held him on my left arm. Looking back now, I realize that I was uncomfortable holding him near me. But before I knew it, this injured and dehydrated kitten was curled up in the crook of my bent arm, fast asleep. My arm ached terribly, but for some reason I didn’t want to wake him. (Note: This was the start of him training me!)
My colleagues and the woman who found the kitten continued to pressure me into taking him “for just one night!” The woman who brought him in offered to pick him up promptly the next day after work, “I promise! I’ll get him tomorrow. I just have to get to work. I’m so late!” I very reluctantly agreed. I told her, “One night. That’s it. If I find my dog the cat cannot be at my apartment.”
I never heard from this woman again.
The next day began the beginning of the rest of my life with Mr. Beaux.
Fast Forward to 2017:
18 incredible years have gone by and he’s still with me. During this time together he never ceases to amaze me. We have been through more together than any animal or person I know. We have survived countless moves, missing-in-action-adventures, misunderstandings and musings. We’ve endured countless Hurrications, heartbreaks, ghost sightings and hauntings. We have experienced the passing of loved ones, weddings, deployments and homecomings, health and sickness, and everything between.
He’s seen me at my absolute worst, on my darkest days. He has watched me bloom in my brightest hours. He has taught countless children and adults what cats are capable of. He’s watched me learn how to let down my barriers to love, thanks to his persistent ability to love unconditionally. He’s taught me how to truly listen to animals through the heart, how to listen more than speak, how to hear my inner guidance, and how to be the teacher and always the humble student. He’s taught me how truly magnificent and magical cats truly are.
Beaux has taught me more in our 18 years together than any species I’ve ever known. I have learned more from Beaux about life, love, and cats than I ever thought possible. Who knew that a melanistic Siamese could teach a person so much?? I sure didn’t. After all, he was “just a cat”.
I am still learning from him, including how to be a better guardian to him every day.
There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly led me to you
Look at the sky
It’s the color of love
There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly came down from above
He led me to you
He built a bridge to your heart
All the way
How many tons of love inside
I can’t say
I am so looking forward to more adventures with you, more magic and wonder, more love and learning, and to continue celebrating the amazing soul that you are.
Happy birthday, Mr. Beaux!!! ❤
P.S. Although you are now 18 years of age, I wrote this when you were 16 … and I know you think it ain’t no thang to you (even if it was equivalent to 80 human years!) But as you so perfectly proclaimed, “I am young and vibrant!”
Damn right you are.
And may that always be so. Cheers to another decade together.
Namaste, my feline friend.
This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat
I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either. Nobody goes faster than the legs they have. If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant. ― The Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro
Are you a patient person? Do you take your time with things? Do you want more than you need?
I am not very patient some days. I rush into things sometimes, and my natural tendency is to get greedy when it comes to animal training. But I have learned to go slow and to be patient. I have learned to be grateful and satisfied with small successes. I would like to share one of them with you.
Way back in the day when I was at the Audubon Nature Institute, one of my mentors (and my housemate) was the head animal trainer. When I was making progress with an animal at work or at home she used to calmly tell me, “Don’t be a greedy trainer, Amy. Stop when you’re ahead.”
I always grunted when I heard that advice, but I knew she was right. In fact, she was always right when it came to animal training. She was one of those brilliant trainers that always had a solution to a problem. She could create and maintain the most complicated chains of behavior. She was famous for creating long lasting bonds with every animal (and person) she worked with. She always trained and taught without fear or intimidation. And she was the trainer who make the greatest advances with any animal she worked with. I learned so much from her.
Now decades later her advice still rings true when I am working with a client or with our animals at home. – especially cats.
If you wanna get to second base, let them set the pace.
If you have lived or worked with cats you know that they set the pace. If you have not worked with cats before, know this: When you decide to set the pace and push too fast you will fail. You will both end up becoming frustrated and stressed. You might even get injured in the process, too. And then finally, you loose the cat’s trust.
It pays to go slow.
I like to think of going slow with cats as moving from first base to second base, and then eventually onto a home run. I set up our training sessions this way. First base might be the cat letting you hold his paw. Second base might be the cat letting you lift his paw, then touch his paw with nail clippers. Third base would be touching, holding, and then applying gentle pressure with the nail clippers to the actual nail. Home run is a full nail clip.
I’ll explain why I like to move through the bases slowly.
For over a decade I watched numerous veterinarians push my cats well past the point of no return. One cat in particular, Mr. Beaux, would become so stressed at the vet’s office, he had to be netted (yes, caught in a net). Then heavily sedated. They had to do this to even look at him. I watched Beaux break free of leather muzzles, attack people, climb a metal wall (yes, you read that right) and knock heavy computers off counters in the examination room.
We don’t take that route at home, or at the vet’s office anymore. I know better now. Working with any animal should not be a wrestling match.
Now we go slow. We let the animal set the pace. We let the animal say when they are done. And we make progress together while building trust.
I’ll show you how we do this in the short video. But before you watch, I need to explain something: Beaux lost all trust in people. No one could touch his ears, mouth, or feet after all of the many manhandling encounters at various vet’s offices. You couldn’t touch him in any of these areas without him becoming very aggressive.
I had to rebuild his trust. This is how I did it.
After several short, positive sessions like that, Beaux will now let me trim all of his nails while staying relaxed. It’s something I never thought was possible! By going slowly and letting Beaux set the pace I was able to build his trust. By rewarding him for calm behavior with something he finds valuable and rewarding, he learned to enjoy the process and no longer feel threatened. By ending the session when he was done he was more willing to participate the next time.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.― Ernest Hemingway
Another one of our feline family members has learned that nail trim time can be a very Good Thing! You can see us in action here: Fear-Free Feline “Pawdicure”
Husbandry with any species shouldn’t be stressful.
Some common habits of grooming cats can get in the way of success:
♦️we ask too much.
♦️we don’t know when the cat is beginning to feel stressed.
♦️we proceed to quickly.
♦️we don’t allow choice.
♦️we haven’t built up trust.
♦️we forget to reinforce.
♦️we aren’t using reinforcers the cat prefers.
♦️we create over arousal.
Tips to Remember when you are first learning how to safely trim your cat’s nails at home:
GO SLOW! It’s very tempting to want to move forward quickly when things are going well, but you will make far more progress by going slow and steady.
Set aside the temptation to get “greedy” and want to do more. Be happy with one tiny step that you make together! This way you can both enjoy the process.
By letting your cat set the pace you are gaining his/her trust.
By going slow, you learn to be respectful of your cat’s body language and what their comfort level is that day. Maybe the next time you can get 2 nails clipped!
It takes time to build trust, especially if you cat has been FORCED to have his/her nails trimmed in the past and it was traumatic for them!
Why rush the process when you can go further in the long run by building trust and creating a stress free, positive experience for both you and your cat?