“Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon;and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”
~Rossiter Worthington Raymond
Hello beloveds, and hello November!
Wow, we are 2 months away from 2018! How can this be?? So much has happened in our individual worlds and around the world in such a short period of time. Speaking of time, let’s get to it!
The Day of the Dead is here.
Before you get all freaked out, please hear me out. This period of time we find ourselves in is a very sacred one to many cultures around the world. But the topic of “death” is not a favorite topic to many. I used to be one of these people. Discussing the details of death was something I dreaded, feared, and hated. The idea of “death” was truly the most dreaded thing to me.
Now I know better.
If you have been following this blog you know that as an Intuitive Empath and a science-geek, I do my best to lived a balanced life. I navigate both the metaphysical and physical worlds. I have to; they are both integral to a healthy, happy, harmonious life and home – for me at least – because this is what I know.
If I could give a gift to anyone who had their world torn apart, or their heartbroken from loosing a beloved, I would shown them what I have seen, felt, and learned over the years. I would give them the gift of knowing that there is no death; there is only an extension of consciousness. I would give them the gift that would let them know that the ones who left “too soon”, the ones whom we had to say goodbye are not gone.
They are not dead.
They are very much alive, but in a new form. A better form. An expanded, healed and complete form. At peace. And assisting us.
My family’s Cherokee teachings touch on this sensitive topic. Below is a traditional Cherokee story that explains:
He held the little seeds in his hand and let them scatter to the wind and he said, “We are Cherokee, but we are also man … and within us is the Spirit. Our bodies may fall to the ground, but nothing real is ever lost. Who can pick up a seed and see the tree or the stalk that is sleeping inside, waiting for the right time to burst forth … and who can look at a man and see the Great Spirit and the Sacred Self that grows within? It is there, waiting for the right time to manifest and grow. You are a seed. What lies within you? What will your Spirit do for The People?”
In the book I will share more on this subject. But for now, let’s look at something happening all around the world that serves to honor this very Truth.
Today is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)! This is a holiday that began on Tuesday, October 31 and ends on Thursday, November 2. It is a time of celebration for many! It is a time to connect with, and honor loved ones in Spirit. Although most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including here in California!
Here’s an easy rundown:
Day of the Dead: a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican ancestry living in other places, especially the United States.
Ends: November 2
Starts: October 31
Observed by: Mexico, and regions around the globe with large Hispanic populations
Significance: Prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died
Related to: All Saints’ Day
Celebrations: Creation of altars to remember the dead, and offer traditional Day of the Dead’s food and drink
Day of the Dead follows a similar two-day structure (and occupies the same two days of the calendar year, Nov. 1 and 2nd), but the focus is different. On the first day, families remember children who have died, and on the second, the adults. Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.
The central belief these celebrations are based is that the spirits of loved ones join the living on these days and openly commune with them. Families leave toys and calaveras (the iconic skull — made from sugar that inspires the makeup) for children. They leave food, favorite possessions, and other gifts for the adults at elaborate homemade altars called “ofrendas.” You can read more about all of this here.
Dia de los Muertos is a happy holiday filled with bright colors, candles, food, and cheer! It’s a time for families to gather together and remember and honor those who have left this physical earth. Dia de los Muertos honors the innocent children and companion animals, too! The people and pets who have passed on are remembered, cherished, honored, and celebrated with love and joy.
Our Day Of The Dead “Door Knock”
Something happened to me on this very day, back in November of 2014. This something was quite startling; it was a knock at my “door” when I was finally ready to hear it and open the door.
After returning home from our Make A Wish class, I put away all of the Halloween decor outside. I was going to start on the inside decor next but decided to wait. Afterward we were chilling on the couch about to watch a movie/snooze, when out of the blue, I watched our two glass pumpkins on this table turn ON by themselves. First the white one, then the green one. Someone was trying to get my attention.
After a bit of “ethereal investigating” we discovered it was my grandmother. She had reached out to me, to give our family a very powerful, healing message. More on that later 😉 But it was her “knock” on The Day of The Dead that got my attention. When grandmother knocked, and I chose to set fear of the unknown aside, she showed me a new world. I have always been “open”, but grandmother’s knock invited me to stay open.
Our loved ones desperately want to stay connect to us, in this physical world. They are our guardians now. They want us to know this. Our beloveds behind the veil want to connect with us, support us, and offer nothing but unconditional love. These messages continue to come through to this day; both from furry family members, and the human ones! They are always messages of hope, love, peace, joy, and frankly, FUN.
The Veil is Thinning.
The veil between this world and others is thinning, unlike never before. But this is nothing to fear. The “veil” is the ethereal curtain that, unfortunately, sets the scene for the mass belief in illusions such as separateness, limitations, and death. Fortunately, quantum theory, ancient mysticism, and new research into the mysteries of consciousness shows that everything is connected, that We Are One, and that consciousness exists beyond the physical body, and that the potential of the universe and many worlds within it is limitless and just waiting for us to tune into it.
The Veil Is Lifting.
The time to “tap in” is now because our guides behind the veil are tapping on our shoulders. Now. This thinning of the veil allows helpful influences “on the other side” become more available than ever before. With the intense energies “upgrades” we’ve been powering through, our extrasensory abilities are allowing more people to tune into the world beyond our physical one.
Out of Sight, but Not Mind
Our beloveds who have passed on, our spiritual guides who assist in our growth, our spirit animals, and the magical bounty of angels and ascended masters are there. These divine beings are always with us, but now in ways never possible before. Just because they may be out of your sight, does not mean that you are out of their mind.
Their love has not left us. Their love is true. This love lasts forever.
“True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.”
― François de La Rochefoucauld
Create Time to Connect
This is such a beautiful and powerful time to honor loved ones that have passed on, and to connect with your ancestral guides. The Day of the Dead is not limited to people. It is also a time to celebrate the lives of our fury, scaly, and feathered animal companions who are just beyond this world at some call “the rainbow bridge.” – more on that topic later. 😉
I have to mention; the grammar nerd in me got a kick out of playing around with the comma placement in the title of this post. If you were confused, this post isn’t about disco frogs, disco cats, or disco dogs, but it does involve these species, with a touch of the genre of music I just adore: disco!
I appreciate that this genre of music isn’t everyone’s preferred choice. But since I am a child of the 70’s I have a super positive association with DISCO that stems way back to childhood and well into high school. From rocking out to The Bee Gees in the backseat, to breakin’ it down until the break of dawn with my girlfriends; Disco was my dope.
It was a natural high for me. Even to this day, if I am in a funk, I play F U N K! Disco can get me movin’ and groovin’ unlike no other music! Play me some Soundgarden or Bob Marley and I am ready to rock-n-roll or love everything around me. Put on “Super disco, disco breakin” by The Beastie boys, and I am amped! But when real old school Disco starts to play … watch out world … my sass emerges and I am ready to shake-that-aaaaaa … !!!
Ok, you get it. 😀 The right kind of music can totally shift me out of a funk. And as someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain for more than half of my life, music is my medicine.
But I am not unique in this way.
We are all moved by the right kind of tune. Music shifts our mood. Chemical reactions occur. Endorphins are released. Music promotes positive movement, and dare I say, healing?
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley
Movement Shifts Energy. When we physically move the body, it supports and facilitates the movement of Life Force Energy. When the physical body moves, the energy shifts within. This is not woo; it’s legit. Science has yet to prove this fact, but Eastern cultures have known this for centuries. Our western world is just catching onto this fact. But this fact is not limited to humans. Because physical movement shifts energy, physical movement supports the chakras of all living beings. Animals of all shapes, sizes and species benefit from positive movement and motivation.
But are we, as animal guardians, providing this opportunity enough?
The body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other.” ~ Dr. Candice Pert
Back in another life, during my Audubon Zoo Dayz, I was an Enrichment Coordinator. Providing species-specific enrichment for everything from parrots to poison dart frogs was my passion! So now, providing this necessary, science-based enrichment for companion animals is second nature to me. My hope, is that once you learn how, this will come naturally to you, too! Knowing how to do this is vital if we want to provide a healthy environment for our animal companions to thrive in captivity.
So what do poison dart frogs have to do with disco, cats, and dogs? A lot, actually.
We now know that offering a coconut foraging feeder to captive Dendrobates (poison dart frogs) produces new behaviors. This particular kind of enrichment feeder produces the greatest increase in frog activity in both traditional and new exhibits. The increase in mobility is most likely due to a coconut feeder’s complicated nature, which randomizes the release of insects into the exhibit. The complexity of the enrichment increases both mental and physical aspects of the frogs.
Now think about how we can create something like this at home or in shelters, and why it’s so important. If something as simple as placing prey (fruit flies) in a coconut feeder for frogs to foraging and hunt from, creates more desirable behaviors and healthy mental stimulation, what can we offer to our companion animals??
The possibilities are endless!
They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal. Create choice, offer control, and add complexity. The goal is to elicit species-specific behaviors and to stimulate their natural abilities, senses, and enhance cognition. This is what proper enrichment offers. Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs. The scientific principles in which structured enrichment programs are created are not reserved for lions, tigers, bears, and sea lions in zoos and aquariums.
Enrichment Is For Everyone.
And considering the high number of unhealthy pets in homes, increasing behavioral problems, and animals surrendered to shelters every week, I say we aren’t doing enough enrichment. But we can change this. And when we do it will shift everything. Not only will we shift the energy within the animal, which will result in healthier bodies and minds, but we will create a more empowered way of living for each animal within the home. We will also shift the energy between guardians and the animals.
We create a total shift for everyone on every level.
“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
― Frank Zappa
There is enough craziness and fear unfolding around the globe. Why don’t we bring some joy and humor into our home? Why don’t we pull our focus from that insanity and consciously create really fun but safe ways to shift the energy with our animals? There are amazing souls right under our nose! Let’s engage with them more! Let’s focus on the joy and love that’s waiting for us!
That is where we can choose to focus our energy.
Creating fun games that are tailored for the individual animal/group are one way that we can pull away from the drama and fear in the world and create harmony at home. We can create our own music that moves us all! Music moves us and gets us groovin, but what can we offer our animal companions to get their bodies and minds movin’ and groovin??
I have talked about enrichment at great length before. But if you haven’t read those posts, here’s a quick run down on enrichment:
promotes naturalistic behaviors
stimulates the mind
increases physical activity
promotes overall health
increases an animal’s perception of control over their environment
empowers the animal with more choices
provides constructive ways to occupy their time
Enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.
All of that is so important, but one of my favorite by-products of proper enrichment is the bonds it strengthens. – both between animals of the same species and between different species. This has been a powerful tool in our home. One of our favorite ways to shift the energy of our group while building bonds that last is by providing species-specific enrichment every day.
For the 3.0 cats (3 males) and 0.1 dog (female) in our family, this was not only a way to shift stagnant energy in their body, but it was a tool to build a bridge between them. We created conditions to create a fun, harmonious, and happy home. Hocus Pocus and King Albert once had a very combative relationship, but these kind of enrichment activities (and other tools) have dramatically changed their relationship to one based on trust. Physical challenges in older animals were addressed and healing occurred. Minds were stimulated and stagnation faded.
Behavioral enrichment is the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.
Now to the disco.
In the short video below, “Wake-and-Hunt” (not to be confused with Wake-and-Bake) 😉 you will see one example of how we do this.
“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Of course the cats and dog aren’t dancing to disco while they do these foraging activities, but you can see how excited they are to participate! Seeing their energy shift from stagnation to determination, and boredom to curiosity, is similar to shifting our energy via the right kind of music! We just need to find the right tune and melody, so to speak, for each individual.
Seniors, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger. Nose work is one way that we can do that.
For 18 years I have been creating I.E.P.s (Individualized Enrichment Programs) for animals of all shapes, sizes, and species, so it’s now second nature to me. I often forget that this kind of program isn’t in everyone’s go-to-tool box. But it should be! I believe that proper, individualized, species-specific enrichment can be more powerful than basic training.
Choice, control and complexity are key.
Providing conditions in a captive animal’s environment (home, shelter, zoo) that parallels a life were they would normally have endless choices is empowering. It’s life changing! Science and experience have proven that by providing this for all species of animals living in captivity, we have the power to reduce and eliminate a myriad of medical and behavioral issues. When we create conditions that enhance cognition, encourage movement, and improve overall well-being through resources that tap into the individual species’ senses, we can change lives!
With the right kind of movement and music to match the soul, we shift out of pain and suffering into bliss and joy. – Conscious Companion
You don’t have to be a professional in this area. You can learn how to provide safe and species-appropriate enrichment to the animals with whom you care for, in your shelter or home! It does require some planning and creativity, but the effort pays off in the long run. I will be creating a free E-Book that discusses this in greater detail, but for now:
You too, can create and provide this kind of fun but carefully created mental and physical stimulation for your animal companions every day. Heck, even once or twice a week could completely shift so much energy in your home! But before you do, please remember to ask these questions:
We need to ask important questions BEFORE providing this kind of food enrichment.
A successful food enrichment program is goal-oriented and considers The Big Picture.
Do we have a goal in mind?
Is the enrichment for one cat? Multiple cats? A cat and another species?
What behaviors of each do we want to encourage?
How will these behaviors be encouraged?
Will the foraging enrichment be created (or purchased)?
“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer
You might have noticed that I am highlighting cats in this post. I am because the majority of people believe that cat’s don’t need as much mental and physical stimulation as dogs. But this is untrue and very harmful. Another misconception is that senior and geriatric cats don’t need to get moving daily. Friend, they DO!
Some Cat Stats at a Glance:
• Cats are currently the most commonly kept pet in the United States
• Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs).
• Cats are mislabeled as low-maintenance pets.
• This leads to cats housed in suboptimal environments.
• Cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
• Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)
When the environment of house cats don’t match the conditions they need in order to thrive, medical and behavioral issues arise. Medical issues lead to behavioral issues which leads to a stressful household. It can be a vicious cycle. All of this can lead to a weakening of the human-animal bond, which often results in the owners surrendering the cat to a shelter, tossing the cat onto the streets, or euthanizing the cat.
Sub-optimal conditions are associated with increases in dozens of health and behavioral issues. Aggression, attention-seeking behaviors, and stress-related behaviors can be results of suboptimal conditions of captivity. In fact, House-soiling is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people. Below are just a few common conditions created by sub-optimal conditions for house cats:
Type 2 diabetes mellitus
Chronic lower urinary tract issues
Behavioral and mental health problems
The Reality is that house cats and their conditions don’t match.
The conditions house cats are kept in are often the least natural to their species. Our feline companions are very similar to their closest ancestor, the African wildcat, in terms of their behavioral needs and instincts. Therefore, the conditions of house cats should parallel those of their closest wild ancestor, the African wildcat.
Scent is another biggie that’s overlooked in companion cats. A cat’s sense of smell is 40x stronger than ours. Scent is crucial when it comes to social situations, locating prey, and maintaining safety. Scent is also crucial when it comes to evaluation of food. If more cat guardians gain a better understanding of the vital role that scent plays in a pussycat’s life, they can use this tool to enhance their feline friend’s life!
“Importantly, a better understanding of cat chemical signals has critical applied implications, as scent (and marking) plays an important role in many species-typical cat behaviors, problem behaviors, and can also serve as enrichment if properly understood and applied.” – Vitale Shreve and Udell
Providing various scents for cats to find is very enriching to cats. We can use everything from catnip to canned food. Some other great options are silver vine, honey suckle, local bird feathers, potting soil, beach sand, etc. Encouraging cats to harness these innate abilities and natural instincts is necessary.
Senior and geriatric cats, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger. Nose work (like you saw in the video above) is one way that we can do that every day. When we set the scene for a cat to use his/her exquisite senses we are helping our house cats to live a life worthy of their ancestors. We are allowing house cats to THRIVE.
That is why we provide these kind of fun enriching activities every day!
The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors
Animal guardians can learn about who their pet is as a species. We can learn their individual hunting styles, personal preferences, and dislikes /fears. Guardians can provide proper species-specific conditions inside their home that parallel the animal’s natural life in the wild. People can learn how to help their companions to thrive inside!
We can change lackluster homes into thriving environments!
We can enhance the lives and longevity of our animal family members!
We can enhance the bond between animals and their guardians!
We can build bonds between every species in the home!
We can keep animals in homes.
We can Build Bonds That Last!
My challenge to you is to allow yourself to let go of the drama and stress of life by creating a peaceful kingdom at home. Let laughter and joy become the centerpiece of your home. Create memories that last, well after your beloved moves on. Create harmony by enriching their environment … and yours.
There doesn’t need to be any pressure. There is enough pressure in this crazy world; we need not add any to our life. The idea is to create therapeutic, enriching, and fun activity time together every day. We all need more fun! Funk it up! Help them get their groove back! And yours! Create the time to add in more playtime, more ways to bond, and to release the stress of life. Together.
You know you ought to slow down
You been working too hard and that’s a fact Sit back and relax a while Take some time to laugh and smile
Lay your heavy load down So we can stop and kick back It seems we never take the time to do All the things we want to do
I am curious. What kind of fun mental and physical games do you play with your animal companions? What has worked well? What kinds of exciting enrichment opportunities will you create this week together?
My hope is that you will choose to create moments of joy together and memories that last forever. My hope is that you will create your own musical masterpiece together and dance to your own tune. My hope is that you will turn to your beloveds when the world is too much with you. My hope is that you can find peace within your animal kingdom at home.
Be at peace.
Let your heart be light.
Let your animals be your greatest teachers.
Let go and remember to laugh with the ones you love!
I’m taking my freedom
Pulling it off the shelf
I’m taking my freedom
Wherever I choose to go
It will take me far
I’m livin’ my life like it’s golden
Livin’ my life like it’s golden, golden
I’m taking my own freedom
Putting it in my song
Singing loud and strong
Grooving all day long
I’m taking my freedom
Putting it in my stroll
I’ll be high-steppin’ y’all
Letting the joy unfold
Do you know that song from the goddess Jill Scott? It’s really good. I first saw Jill at Jazz Fest in New Orleans nearly a decade ago with a soul sister and she blew my mind; such powerful positive energy! I shared the lyrics to her song “Golden” because that is how someone I love very much lived his life, and it’s also how others have,too. But before we go there, I would like to ask you some questions.
Who came into your life unexpectedly?
Who holds a key to your heart?
Who has made an impact on your life in ways you never expected?
Who has given you gifts that you can never repay?
Who has taught you some of your greatest life lessons?
Who would you do anything for?
For me, one soul that fits all of these is the focus of this post’s discussion. His name is King Albert the Grey.
I wish you knew him. In fact, I wish the world knew him the way I do. He is a king. A badass. A warrior. He is a friend to few, a lover of fewer, and a Great Love of mine.
Please allow me to share why he is the King of our wee kingdom.
Note: Below is an excerpt (and a very abbreviated version) of a chapter from my book about caring for senior cats. This is one of my longer posts, so get comfy with your critters and settle in. Oh, and you might need a tissue, too.
During the spring of 2005 a rather intimidating stray cat the size of a bobcat began sneaking into our house, via the cat window that my zookeeper boyfriend had designed. Our cats Mr. Beaux (a melanistic Siamese, and Samantha, a semi-feral cat) were free-roaming cats at the time; oh how things have changed!
My roommate, the head Sea Lion trainer at work, would come home nearly every evening and find one of the neighborhood strays in our house. As soon as she opened the front door this huge cat would come hauling butt out of our house! We named this brute “Big Fat Grey Cat” (BFGC) because he was big, fat, and grey. Not a clever name, I know. But we didn’t care. We just wanted him gone. This shamelessly bold stray cat had a habit of creeping into our home, eating the cats’ food, playing with their toys, and pooping in their litter boxes! I was livid. And our cats were really starting to freak out. So, one day I decided to put an end to the shenanigans. I was going to catch this creepy cat in the act.
On my next day off I pretended to go take a nap on my bed, right next to the cat window where we assumed he was entering. My plan was to scare the crap out of this cat so he would never come back. As I laid there on my bed, I soon heard the chair below the cat window on the porch move (I knew he had hopped into the chair at this point). I laid as still as a could with one eye open. Within moments a huge grey head peaked through the rubber window flaps. His long grey whiskers and ears were pushed forward fearlessly. His bright yellow eyes were as wide as saucers, scanning the room. I quickly closed mine, pretending to be asleep. At this point, the only way this cat could enter the house was to literally walk over my legs. That’s when I would pounce like a panther, forcing him to retreat and never come back!
I waited for him to step over my legs. My heart was racing. His must have been too. I laid there for what seemed like forever, waiting for him to step between my legs. To my utter shock and surprise this ballsy stray cat carefully began to lay himself down on my bed just inches away from my feet.
“What in the world was happening here?!?!”, I thought to myself.
Both appalled and amazed, I opened my eyes and looked right at him, thinking my direct stare would surely scare him off. As he continued to gingerly settle into the bed, he slowly glanced at me, gave me a slow blink, then turned his head slightly away from me, still maintaining his posture of confidence, but keeping his full awareness on me.
“This cat had some nerve!”, I thought. “Who the hell does he think he is?!?”
He knew who he was. He was a King. And he had just claimed my bed.
And clearly this house.
Something came over me. The plan of executing an angry attack on this creepy cat had changed. I had gone from a human hunter waiting for her prey, to a curious cat lover wanting to understand what was happening in my home. I took the bait.
I looked at him. He looked right at me, but with a gentle energy. His eyes were softer. He truly felt as if he was politely asking permission to just be there, on my bed with me, in our loving home. I could feel and sense that he had no malice or ill intent. He was asking for my permission to stay. So, I took a deep breath, opened my heart to him, and said, “Well hello there.”
For nearly six months after that, Big Fat Grey Cat stayed near our home. It was all still very odd and a bit unsettling to me. He was, as everyone knew, the neighborhood bully. He was a brutal fighter and killer. He literally captured and killed every prey animal he came across and consumed it in plain sight. He fought every dog he saw, and every cat that was careless enough to come close to him.
I vividly remember one examples of his fearless ferocity. One afternoon while cleaning dishes, I looked out the kitchen window to discover BFGC standing in our driveway with a huge snake in his mouth! I hollered at him, pounding on the window, hoping he would drop it (I am a HUGE lover of snakes!). BFGC barely glanced over at me, intent on keeping his prey secure in his mouth. I raced outside to rescue the snake from the jaws of death. Big Fat Grey Cat stood his ground with the snake wrapped around his neck and head …
The rest of that story will be shared at a later date. The point is, being a fearless hunter, an endless explorer, and an unapologetic badass was in Big Fat Grey Cat’s DNA. Do you remember the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction at the end, with “the wallet”? (you only need to watch it until 1:05 to get the point.) If this cat carried a wallet, that’s the kind that King Albert the Grey would have had. It’s who he was. He had no fear. None. Not for the 17 years of life that I knew him. He lived for a thrill. He took risks. He never stopped exploring. He was a badass.
But here’s what really captured my heart: He followed sensitive, scaredy pants Mr. Beaux everywhere (which really freaked Beaux out), but he was always kind to Beaux; he never raised a paw and he let him lead. He gave Samantha the extra space she required, and he knew when to keep his distance from our guests. And he never came back inside through the cat window; he always asked to come in through the front door. He even welcomed me home when my truck pulled into the driveway.
He adopted us as his family.
But I still wanted to know where he came from, and why he chose us, so I did some investigating. It turned out, his owner was an elderly man that had become too weak to care for him and his brother, so BFGC and his sibling were left homeless. He was truly looking for a new home, and he chose us. I also know now that my grandmother In Spirit sent him our way (more on that later). Eventually we embraced him fully into our family but that came much later, during and after Hurricane Katrina, and our evacuation adventures together. I talk all about this much more in the book. All you need to know now is that he was discarded onto the streets and became king of the streets. He was once unwelcome, but we welcomed him. He once intimidated us but we learned to see his softer side.
He ruled the streets with a grey iron paw, but wanted a loving home with us. He was a ruthless hunter, but had a heart of gold for his companions. He ruled his world with confidence, bravery, determination, focus, and strength. He was unapologetic in every decision he made. He understood the importance of healthy boundaries. He was respected by all who encountered him. He was both feared and admired, yet he could care less of what others thought of him. He was loved by those who knew him, yet he loved only a few. He was choosy with affection, in charge of his kingdom, and capable of attaining anything we wanted. He truly was a great king.
This beloved King left our home for a new kingdom on the night of March 31, 2017.
There are souls who come into this world to be the catalyst for change, healing, and growth. And even fewer who can be fully understood for what they offer, what they embody, and who they truly Are. King Albert the Grey was all of this and more to me. He was my friend, my muse, my feline companion, my teacher, and my guide.
And he still is.
The death of his body has not caused any of that to change. He is still all of this and more. Those subjects will be shared in much greater detail at a later date. For now, I want to focus on the manner in which he lived his life, instead of how his physical life ended.
My intent today is to focus on how he chose to live before he became the king of our household; back in the distant days when he had the freedom to choose absolutely anything. King Albert’s former feline life played a key role in what occurred in the days, weeks, and months before he left our world for a new one. After 17 years, King Albert The Grey’s feline life came full circle.
My intent is to share why it’s important to recognize the life he once lived. How he lived his life as King of New Orleans’ streets (prior to becoming an indoor house cat) affected how King Albert was invited to live his life before he left this world.
This is what I offered him in his last life chapter.
He didn’t want, or ask for our pity, our worry, or our sadness for his health challenges and complications. He never did in his youth, and he certainly didn’t as he aged. He saw and felt beyond all of that. He wanted to FEEL ALIVE, no matter the age. He wanted to experience all that he could, despite his age. He wanted the kind of life challenges he had in his youth.
Albert lived with vigor and fearlessness in his younger years. Challenging himself and trying new things set his feline soul on fire. King Albert was most alive when he could choose to go, be, and do, anything! But even as his body began to fail him, he never let go of his love for life. Albert embraced this vigor, well into his geriatric years. I was in awe of him every day. Truly in awe. No matter what was going on in his body, he was at peace in his mind and his heart. He didn’t let discomfort bring him down. He was always ready for more. Even on days when he could barely get up, he got up.
He never gave up.
And I never gave up on him. Not for one moment. Albert overlooked the body. He taught me how to do this. I learned to see beyond his aging, struggling body to the young, vibrant soul who was within. I learned to trust him. I let go of trying to control everything. I learned to let him lead me.
Look at your animal companions right now. How would you describe their Love for Life? What makes their heart sing? What makes their soul soar? Who were they in their younger years? Who, what, when, and where did they enjoy most? Do you have images of them from back then? Find them. Look at them with your animal companion and your family. Find and SEE that young spirit that is alive within them now. Ask your beloved what they want. How would they want to spend their last days, weeks, months, or years? What would their Golden Years become if they could choose? What would they want to have, be, see, or do if you would allow it? Who are they at heart?? Can you see their vibrant soul within their aging body??
It’s still there.
This is some of what Albert taught me when his body began to fail. Recognizing his vibrant youth within a geriatric body and constantly seeing beyond his body was one of the greatest gifts I could give him every moment of our days together. Recognizing his innate feline needs, acknowledging his heart’s desires, and how much he LOVED life was what I needed to see, feel, and know. Once I finally recognized these, I was able to give him what he needed.
I gave him a life that was golden.
I knew who King Albert was and what he wanted in his golden years. I knew because I knew him back in his youth. All of those adventures and escapades he had never left him; he still wanted to have those even as he aged. He still wanted to try new things. He wanted to live bravely and fiercely, even at 17+ years of age. Albert wanted to be able to relish everything that life had to offer him. The scents on the breeze; The grass, soil, and sand between his paw pads; The Earth’s healing energy under his body; The warm sun on his face; The wind in his whiskers. These were some of his favorite things. These are what Albert wanted every day of his life.
This is what I gave to him during his last days on Earth.
Below is a short film that I created as a tribute to our King Albert The Grey. I hope it inspires you to give your aging animal companion a life that’s Golden.
My husband and I are both Make A Wish Granters; we have been serving in this role since 2009. This role has been life changing for me. The incredible and unique wishes that are granted to children and their families during their most challenging times change all of their lives forever. What we gave to our King Albert during his life threatening illness is very similar to what families of children with life threatening illnesses are able to experience through The Make A Wish Foundation. When these amazing children are faced with constant medical procedures, daily/hourly medical care, and the stress of illness, they need a release from the emotional and physical discomfort! So Make A Wish gives them their One True Wish. Not only is the child able to participate in their deepest heart’s desire, and receive a reprieve from the medical monotony, but so does their family. The child, parents, and siblings are One throughout the entire process; everyone needs a break, and a chance to celebrate life together!
This is very similar to what people go through with their pets when they are going through a life-threatening illness, or when they are living their last days on Earth. Round the clock medical care at home can be mentally and physically exhausting for everyone in the home. Both people and all the animals need a break from the constant focus of sickness; we need a time of celebration. We need to let them Live Their Life, even in the midst of sickness.
We have the power to grant our beloved their One True Wish.
“ I’ve learned to heed the call of the heart. I’ve learned that the safest path is not always the best path. I’ve learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.” ― Steve Goodier
Think about this. When your dearest friend or family member is leaving for a better opportunity, or the time has come for them to move on because of life circumstances, do you beg, cry, and plead for them to stay? Or do you celebrate the time you had together and the time you still have left, by relishing every moment, every smile, every laugh? Do you celebrate where they are headed?
Celebration and support is what our aging animal companions need from us.
Consider what you could create together when it’s time for your beloved to move on. Rather than putting your energy and emotions into defeat, consider putting your energy into creating a celebration of the last days you have together! What adventures and memories you will have! What a gift you will give them!
Please know that I am not being flippant about death by any means. For goodness sake, I am an Empath; animals are my life and the emotions that come with them are not for the faint of heart. Animals are my best friends and my family. They are my heart. But I have been in the depths of depression too many times to count when I had to suddenly say goodbye to my beloved in the past.
I finally know better.
Now I put all of my energy into loving and celebrating every moment with them. Now I am focused on creating love and joy with them, instead of drowning in sorrow. And I can promise you this: If you saw, felt, and knew where they were headed, you would throw one helluva party every damn day with them. Wherever you are in this process, there is no time to waste while they are still with us.
Celebrate their life while they are still here!
Not only did I give Albert every adventure he asked for near the end, I also gave him my unconditional love, endless support, and patience. This love came in many forms. From Hospice care at home, including force-free medical care multiple times a day (voluntary injections, fluids, and oral medicine). And not once was he forced to participate; we were a team from the get-go. This love also came in the form of finding the best holistic vet, to working in collaboration with the best feline medical hospital and their amazing team who let Albert set the pace. This love came in the form of alternative, holistic medicines and energy healing. This love came in the form of me consciously managing my energy, removing my fears, and learning to let go of control and trust him. This love came in the form of creating a deeper connection and soulful communication with him every day. This love and patience came in the form of allowing him to choose in every circumstance.
This love led us together into our best last days together. This love allowed him to live his golden years with grace and ease. We gave it our all with love. We never gave up on each other. Love led us to each other, and Love helped us all to lead him Home.
This love lead him Home to The Light.
Although it has been just over a week since he left his kingdom here for his new Kingdom in the heavens, the grieving process is still occurring. I am remembering to be gentle with myself, to be conscious of managing my energy, who I interact with, what I allow into my awareness, and the manner in which I continue to fully accept this hand of fate. Although I have not written here in a few months, I felt it was important to share this with you now, especially while I am still processing his passing and honoring his incredible, full life and the lessons he taught me.
These lessons are now being shared with you.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with an aging animal companion, take heart. Do not forget for one moment that you and your beloved are connected in heart and mind. When we are faced with the certain (or uncertain) fate of our beloved animal companion we have two choices. Listen well, and remember this. We can choose to fall into fear, or we can choose to lift ourselves and our beloveds in Love.
In every moment, we have a choice.
No one else can make this choice for us. It is ours and ours alone. We can cry over the circumstances or we can embrace them fearlessly. We can choose to stay angry and resentful about what’s in front of us or we can choose to celebrate their last days on Earth with them. We can find creative solutions, or we can give up. We can choose to accept defeat, or we can choose to proceed ahead together with an open heart of acceptance. We can sink into the swamps of sadness that steal our joy, or we can stand tall, walk with our beloved joyfully, and celebrate every breath together. We can choose to stare into the face of their declining mental and physical health and become burdened with despair, or we can keep searching for solutions. We can choose to see sickness and death, or we can choose to see beyond their body; we can see, feel, sense, and know their vibrant soul within. We can give up or we can give them a life that’s Golden.
We get to choose.
When we choose to let go of fear (anger, sadness, control, etc.) we let them (and fearless Love) lead. When we find peace, we give them permission to live their last days in peace. When we see beyond their body we are giving them the greatest gift; we are recognizing and remembering who they really are. When we learn to listen to their needs, their requests, and their wishes, we are honoring them and respecting them. When we honor and love ourselves through these challenges we are also honoring them, for We Are One.
Ea Nigada Qusdi Idadadvhn (Cherokee for “All my relations in creation”)
One of the promises I made to King Albert the Grey before and during his transition was to live my life the way he did: To be brave and fearless, to set clear and firm boundaries, to love unconditionally, to embrace each day, to never waste a moment in sadness, to remember our True Home, to love and appreciate family, to never put things off for later; to seize the day, and to relish every moment, to be focused and determined, to collect memories not things, and to celebrate the gift of life. One of his clearest messages is to never put off what I can give to myself and others today and to have amazing adventures every damn day!!! This is what I have been doing every day since he left this world.
It has already begun to change my life.
The all-too-familiar soul crushing sadness has not been my constant companion, like it has been countless times in the past. Depression, stagnation, and sadness have been replaced with gratitude, celebration, and joy! I feel unconditional love when I see him in The Light. I feel gratitude when I celebrate his new Home in his new Kingdom. I find joy when I remember where he is and what he gave to our family. I feel overwhelmed with humble appreciation when I recognize that he is now myconstant guardian. And I feel alive, as Albert did, when I get up every morning and seize the day.
“We must be able to look forward in old age to the next day and to look forward to the great adventure that is ahead.” -Dr. Carl Jung
I love you, King Albert. You ruled our kingdom with strength, grace, and dignity through your very last breath here on Earth. I know you are doing this now, in your new world. When your fierce and brave Spirit was released from your body you were in my arms at home. It was an honor, but it broke my heart. The grief was almost to much to bear again. But then my heart began to heal when I remembered: Who you are cannot die.
You are now in a state of grace forever. You are now a warrior of Light. And every moment that I honor you and the Truth of who you Are, all of our hearts and minds are healed.
Be well, brother. May you never stop expanding, and may your adventures never end!
There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. -J. Nehru
This post is only one aspect of our journey together before he transitioned. I will share more about these pieces in the future. These topics include:
• Cat Harness Training – safe walks without fear and frustration for everyone
• Getting Real Consent (force-free medicine, medical procedures, and end of life choices)
• Hospice for Animal Companions
• Natural Death – Assisting with Their Transition at Home
• Utilizing Soul Speak for Life’s Challenges
• Death – The Great Divide or Daring Adventure?
All of these topics will be included in detail in the book, but I will do my best to share them here as time allows.
The picture gallery below is a beautiful reminder that we have the power to create miracles and magic during trying times. We CAN give our animal companions a Golden Life, no matter where they are on their journey. An aging body and life-threatening illness doesn’t have to be the end of their days. These circumstances can be the beginning!
We can grant their One True Wish (and a hundred more)!
The animals pictured in this gallery have passed on (some very recently), but but the grief of their passing is surpassed by the love and adventures their people gave them during their last days on Earth. The gifts these souls were given will remain in their hearts and minds for all time. Their people knew what they needed, wanted, and wished for; they gave it to their beloved animal companion. During their last days on Earth they all lived a Golden Life.
Marley loved the beach as a young pup, so her people invited her to experience nature near the waterfront just before she passed. She was so at peace. Marley spent her last days abroad in France with her beloved family; what she valued most. As she took her last breath she was at home surrounded by their love.
Bailey loved being with family. He spent his last earthly days invited on short walks, beach strolls, and being with the people he loved.
Guinness loved being with his people and going for adventurous swims in his pond. He was able to do this one last time just before he passed.
April loved being with her people and enjoying the scents on the breeze on her lake in her backyard. April spent her last day just sitting in the yard with me enjoying the outdoors.
Oakley LOVED to check the yard perimeter! Up until his last days he was able to be his people’s First Line of Defense at the fence 😉 He also enjoyed caramel popcorn as his reward for being so brave.
Maggie spent her last days adventuring with friends at Mardi Gras and being the quiet, faithful shadow to her most favorite person. She enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the levee on her last night with her person.
Bailey came to his family as a severely neglected dog who was found on their property. He spent his last days enjoying ample cuddles and eating delicious soft foods with the people he loved most.
Since Henri went blind in his last days AND he never lost his appetite, he was constantly either in my arms or sitting right next to me with all his favorites: bully sticks, peanut butter, and porterhouse steak dinners!
Chicory was blind at the time of her passing, but that didn’t stop her from running, chasing, and exploring nature! She spent her last days in such JOY!
Annie’s Oakley was named after his canine mother, Annie. And his human mom loved her Annie Oakley BB gun as a child, so it made sense that Oakley was always up for a wild adventure! Car rides weren’t a horse, but they sure made him happy in his last days!
File` (Feelay) enjoyed the last of her days getting to see parades and get biscuits from people.
Big April loved swimming in the lake and being outside-also barking a lot 😉 Always the protector. She was Penny’s big sister! Even though she was younger. Pretty Penny always liked being in charge and making sure no one messed with her mama! Penny had mini strokes but just kept on going and being fiesty! Go Penny!
Click on the images to read how these super souls spent their last days on Earth.
If you would like to share how you gave your beloved a Golden Life before they passed on, you are welcome to contact me. I will be adding more pictures as the stories of love and celebration come in, so feel free to share their story.
Be well, friends. Love each other. Appreciate and celebrate every moment with your beloveds. Don’t waste a moment. Create adventures and memories now. These will be part of the love they bring with them into their next life! The time for celebration is NOW!
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
“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. That’s living.”—Ursula Andress
It’s Caturday! Let’s get our Cat-Care-Chat on! (OK I am a little stoked about this post.)
I had some down time today, and had a lot of fun with our cats this morning so I was inspired to share one of the tools we have been using. This particular tool helps our feline family members to feel safe, confident, and at ease with each other, and their environment, no matter where life takes them.
Today we are talkin’ bout puzzles.
Did you play with puzzles as a child? I didn’t. They were boring and frustrated me. But my younger brother did. He loved doing puzzles. Even at the age of 7 he was playing with 1,000 piece puzzles. I couldn’t believe that someone would want to sit still for that long, for days on end. I would have died of sheer boredom! But puzzles were anything but boring to my brother. In fact, he lived for them.
So what does my brother and his fascination with puzzles have to do with our animal companions?
A lot actually.
Lackluster or Enriched Lives?
Most people have limited knowledge as to how to successfully enrich the lives of their animal companions. This results in a lack of species-appropriate enrichment with most household pets. The lack of mental and physical stimulation is linked to a myriad of medical and behavioral issues in animals. But we can change that! But making a few changes to their daily routines, we can greatly enhance the lives and longevity of our animal companions!
You may think your cat is fine just hanging out and lounging around all day while you are away, but I beg to differ. This is a common cat misconception. Those unwanted behaviors you are seeing are not random. Let’s look at some startling feline facts. Some of these stats might surprise you, but they are very real. These facts are at the heart of why I am so passionate about feline enrichment:
Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs). Yet cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
House-soiling (litter box avoidance) is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people.
Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)
Only 1-5% of house cats have access to food toys.
Only 0.5% of owners hide food for their cat to find.
House cats are significantly lacking in physical AND mental exercise.
Fact: Many of these behavioral and medical issues can be prevented!
Fact: Food Enrichment can be a tool to prevent and manage many behavioral issues in homes with cats!
“Cats are captives in these environments, akin to zoo animals, and as with zoo animals, cats’ health and welfare may be affected by their surroundings. Because of this, they sometimes display undesirable behaviors when deprived of appropriate outlets for their expression.” – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb
Puzzles as Mental Enrichment
Now that I am older and more mature, I understand why my brother played with puzzles. It was mentally stimulating for him. It kept his mind focused and it allowed him to reduce stress. He was able to accomplish a goal and receive a reward. Using puzzles for enrichment for our cats are not that different from this practice.
Puzzles are one tool that can be used on a regular basis to encourage an animal’s natural behaviors and alleviate boredom, reduce stress, and increase confidence. Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.
The Value of Enrichment
Let’s take a look at a few very important reasons why enrichment (in general) should be a tool that we use in our homes on a daily basis. Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.
Curb boredom and restlessness
Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion
Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity. It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time.
Types of Enrichment
Don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of using enrichment. You don’t have to be a wild animal expert to do this at home. And you don’t need to have a lot of time to implement this important enrichment tool. It really can be incorporated easily!
There are a variety of enrichment options, but today we will be covering food and foraging enrichment for our felines. Just so you are aware, enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories:
Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
Foraging for Captive Big Cats
When I was the enrichment coordinator at Audubon, we utilized foraging enrichment as management tools for several species of big cats (exotic cat species). Offering our jaguars, African wildcats, snow leopards, and lions various types of puzzle feeders helped to reduce common stereotypical stress behaviors often seen in captivity. This could be anything from pacing in an exhibit or hiding. We also used puzzle feeders and hiding food to improve one’s body condition (keeping them lean), and to increase exploratory behavior (encouraging them to explore their environment to prevent boredom and increase exercise). We also used food and foraging enrichment to decrease aggression, frustration, and fear.
House Cats Need to Forage for Food, Too!
Our fluffy cats are not that far flung from these feline ancestors. The innate desire to explore their environment with confidence, and to hunt for their food is still very alive and well within them! Fears, frustration, aggression, and boredom are all just as common in our homes as it is for Big Cats in captivity. A stagnant environment is a breeding ground for medical and behavioral issues. As cat guardians we need to be encouraging healthy hunting and foraging behaviors. We need to be providing this kind of healthy mental and physical stimulation for our felines.
That’s where enrichment puzzles come into play!
The Semi-domesticated House Cat
House cats aren’t that far flung from their feline ancestors and modern day wildcats. But we are treating them as if they are. Companion dogs are considered fully domesticated. Cats are only “semi-domesticated“. In fact, the genomes of housecats have changed very little from their wild counterparts. And some house cats still breed with their wild relatives! Scientists now say there is very little that separates the average house cat (Felis Catus) from its wild brethren (Felis silvestris). And there is even some debate over whether our house cats fit the definition of “domesticated”. That’s why I often refer to our cats as wee “house panthers.” Our house cats need just as much enrichment that their wild counterparts receive every day.
“We don’t think cats are truly domesticated.” – Wes Warren, PhD, associate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University
Satisfying a Feline’s Innate Need to Forage
The concept of working for food is natural for all hunters. You may see your house cat as a cuddly cat, but beneath sweet exterior is a hunter. House cats are hardwired to hunt and forage for food just like their feline kin, such as lions, tigers, and jaguars. All cats, no matter the species, are hardwired to use their highly developed senses and physical skills to hunt, capture, and kill their prey.
But are we encouraging this in our homes?
And if it’s being done, it’s not happening enough, or done properly.
Although standard diets may adequately satisfy the nutrient needs of domestic cats, their usual presentation may not promote expression of normal hunting (exploratory) behaviors. Meeting nutrient needs in ways that mimic cats’ natural preferences provides additional enrichment. – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb
Make Them Work for Food!
Cats in the wild hunt for their food. Not only is it in their nature to capture and kill, but they LOVE it. Your feline family member should be “working” for their food, too. Even if they are not living in the wild, they still should have access to this wild instinct! Hunting is a natural feline behavior, and our couch potato cats need this outlet.
Why make them work for it?!?, you might ask. Great question. A study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more. These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward. The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.
I have yet to see any studies that parallel this with cats , but from my professional experience with exotic cats and personal experience with house cats, all of these species get very excited when they have to work for a treat or for their meal!
Cats who are living in the wild will forage and hunt on and off for hours. They will also eat 10 to 20 small meals throughout the day. But with our house cats, when we provide commercial cat food, we have removed the ability of housecats to hunt for survival.
But that innate desire and need to hunt is STILL present within your feline friend.
Housecats need foraging opportunities! Most of them spend as much time eating out of a food dish as they would be foraging and eating in the wild!
“This has led to an obesity epidemic in pet cats. Many of these cats eat out of boredom. But foraging allows cats the activity and the entertainment of ‘the hunt.’” – Ilona Rodan, veterinarian and co-chair of the AAFP’s Feline Behavior Guidelines.
One food-based enrichment foraging tool that you can try at home (or at your shelter) is a “puzzle feeder.” The old school (traditional) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors. Food based and foraging enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors! These help to satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for their food.
I have written about this topic at length, but if you are a cat guardian who’s new to this blog, and new to the idea of food enrichment, consider trying out something simple such as the Maze Bowl. It’s an interactive slow feed bowl for cats. In the video below Knox shows us how much he loves using it. (And King Albert peeks in at the end to see if there is any leftover.)
Note: If your cat has a sensitivity to Whisker Stress, this might not be the best enrichment feeding tool.
Pick Puzzles That Are Perfect for Your Pussycat.
The Maze Bowl is what I consider the beginner puzzle level. But it’s not for every cat. It’s easy and fun for very food-motivated felines. Two of our four cats will use it; the other two would go hungry before they used it. – mainly because of their Whisker Stress. That’s why it’s important to know that there are many other styles of puzzle feeders out there!
Here are a few that our cats, or my client’s cats have had great success with, or I trust the people/companies who make them:
Note: We don’t feed dry food to our felines any longer. We rotate between premade raw, canned wet food, and various freeze-dried meats. But for those of you who are feeding dry food, another option you can explore is this feeder.
I don’t know what I would do without recycling for enrichment. I have depended on it for nearly 20 years in both a professional and personal setting. If you love to recycle and if you/someone in your family is creative, there is no end to the puzzle feeders that you can make!
Puzzle feeders can be made of almost anything, as long as it’s safe for the cat. There are mobile devices, stationary, sturdy devices, and even devices that you can hang and they swing. Do It Yourself Puzzle feeders can be used to provide either wet or dry food
Puzzle Feeder Feeding Stations
I should mention that each of our four cats have their own puzzle feeder “feeding station.” In the wild cats are solitary hunters. Cats who are now living indoors are not exempt from this feline fact. That means at mealtime in your home, they should be solo (away from other cats). Forcing our feline family members to gobble down in a group can be very stressful to some cats.
In our home Knox is the food-frenzied feline. He used to inhale his food, then race over to the elderly cats, shove them out of the way, then gobble down their meal like a Meal Monster! Not only is this rude and stressful, but Knox is on a very portion controlled diet, so he is not allowed to have “second breakfasties.” Secondly, only one of the other cats (King Albert) will disagree with this rude behavior and set Knox straight. Mr. Beaux, the more meek and gentle senior cat, will wander off and let Mr. Eats a Lot devour his dinner.
And it’s really not cool for us as cat guardians to allow this behavior to occur. That’s why I love using Maze Bowls for the food frenzied feline. And that’s also why I give the senior boys their own quiet places to eat in peace.
And speaking of dining alone, any puzzle feeders that you use with your cats should be placed accordingly and safely around your home. We want these to be novel areas, and novel enrichment items, not new feeding stations that encourage competition for a highly valued primary resource (food).
Preference and Choice Matters!
It’s very important to be aware that whenever we are considering changing a high value resource (food), or how it’s offered to the animal, we must offer the new resource adjacent to the familiar resource. So if you want to try out a new puzzle feeder, such as the Maze Bowl, offer it in close proximity to where your cat’s current feeding platform or feeding bowl is currently. This allows the cat to display his/her preference for one feeding mechanism or the other. We don’t want to force our felines to use “this or that”. Cats need choices. Choice encourages confidence! When you offer your feline family member a choice, you will quickly see which one your cat prefers, and which one he/she wants to use (or ignore).
Be there with your feline family member as he discovers his new foraging toy or feeder. Encourage your cat every time she makes a small success! Don’t just leave her alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder. You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.” You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress! The same is true for our feline friends. Encourage them. Praise them when they make small progress, and reward them even when they are just trying to figure it out!
Note: Many cat guardians perceive their cats to be “finicky eaters,” recent evidence suggests that food refusal is a common feline response to environmental threat. So it’s important to look at the big picture. See what could be causing your cat to refuse to even explore a new feeding option. Remember to encourage your cat by making changes gradually.
Keeping Peace with Puzzles
Food puzzles have been an excellent facilitator for making friends among felines. A couple of our cats would rather hang with us, or the dog, when given the choice. -Having another cat all up in their space is less than desirable. But puzzle feeders have bridged the gap between cats who could care less about each other.
Puzzle feeders have also been a saving grace at times when we want to keep the peace in close kitty quarters. One example of this is when we were moving. As I talked about before, all of us were confined to various hotels across the country for nearly a month. Puzzle feeders (and feeding stations) helped to keep the peace and increase kitty (and canine) confidence.
Since they Kitty Boys (and Hocus Pocus) were already acclimated to various puzzle feeders and their own feeding mats (stations) prior to the move, we were able to easily encourage each of them to focus their minds and energy onto something positive and highly rewarding while we were all crammed together. Rather than focusing on what might be a very stressful situation to them (new sights, sounds, and smells) they were so excited to forage for their food! Rather than becoming aggressive to one another, or having a full-on-feline-freak-out-fear-fest every time we had to relocate into a new hotel every day, each animal knew that once we got settled in, play time (puzzles time) was coming their way.
Puzzle feeders saved the day. And night.
Every dang day.
Positive Side to Food Puzzles
Not only do feline food puzzles encourage cats to engage in (part of) their natural predation sequence of stalking, capturing, and consuming their prey, but there are other benefits as well. If your feline is a tubby tabby like ours was, food puzzle toys can encourage cats to lose weight! And in some instances, the successful introduction of food puzzle toys has helped to resolve litter box issues. (Yes, you read that correctly; mental and physical enrichment can help with other behavioral issues in your home!).
When a cat is actively engaged in getting their food (rather than having it served to them in a boring bowl) this foraging activity encourages cats to be more active. This kind of activity increases confidence, helps to reduce stress levels, and … here’s my favorite part: cats become less demanding of their owners.
More to Come for Cats!
On October 10th I will be hosting a free member webinar on this topic. It is entitled, “Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental and Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Their Food.” I would love for you to join us!
If you missed it, you can sign up here for the replay!
For now offer your felines some food foraging fun!
Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them. – Jim Davis